Building an Auction Draft Budget (Fantasy Football)

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Whether it’s your first time or you are a seasoned veteran of auction drafts, understanding this year’s “market” is vital to a successful draft. The Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” applies even more to auction drafts than traditional snake drafts.

Fantasy football managers have limited funds available to fill out their roster on draft day. Recognizing that there are hard limits to the number of players drafted and the available auction funds is paramount to starting your planning. In a 12-team league with 16 roster spots, there will be 192 players drafted. Using the standard $200 salary cap, you have $2,400 league-wide to acquire the services of those 192 players, which means there is an average of $12.50 per player. Obviously, some top-ranked players will go much higher, and low-ranked players, such as late-round flyers, kickers (if you’re still using them), and defenses will only require a $1 salary.

The importance of a budget is to keep your in-draft salaries in check. While there are multiple strategies out there, such as “studs and scrubs” or a balanced roster, you still need to have a plan on how to achieve that goal. Creating a pre-draft budget will help you determine what route to take early in the draft while also guiding you past potential landmines throughout the draft and remaining flexible when it counts.

Understanding Player Salary Valuation

The key to a successful auction draft is to acquire the best players possible for each auction dollar. If there are two players ranked side-by-side, acquiring the one with the least amount of auction funds allows you to spend more on other players. Simple right?

The truth is, in the moment, it’s very difficult to identify if that salary is a good deal or not. That is where Average Auction Values (AAV) come into play. AAV is the auction version of a snake draft’s Average Draft Position (ADP). Remember, AAV is an average, not a hard and fast figure. In 100 different auctions, a player’s salary can vary greatly depending on many different factors, such as scoring settings, roster requirements, nomination order, or even your league mates’ favorite team or player. Maximizing your salary cap can be achieved by understanding a few of these factors that can drive AAV.

More importantly, reviewing AAV gives you an idea of which players are all being drafted at a similar salary range. If there are five WRs that you would be happy to have as your WR2 and they are all commanding a similar salary, that is a great indication of what you should budget for that roster position.

Study the Competition

This one is hard when starting a new league, but if you’re playing in an established league, reviewing past drafts can give you great insight into the league’s spending habits, because fantasy managers are creatures of habit. Year-over-year, many fantasy managers will have consistent tendencies on building out their roster. Are they WR-heavy, or RB-heavy? Do they like to get an elite TE or top-tier QB? While each year will bring minor adjustments, you’ll be surprised to see how consistent most fantasy managers are with their overall spending.

You can also derive league trends as well. Does this league, in general, spend really high at the top, creating mid-tier values, or are they conservative with their spending, spreading the salaries out on a flatter trend line across a position? Having some level of understanding of the general spending habits of your league and league mates will make your budget much more accurate.

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Creating Your Budget

Some fantasy managers will go into a draft with just a “bucket” of funds for each position. That system might look like this: $12 for QBs, $80 for RBs, $90 for WRs, $15 for TEs, $2 for D/ST, and $1 for a PK.

While that works for some people, I suggest that you dig even deeper. Reviewing both league history and AAV trends, assign specific salaries to each roster spot. (I call this “roster-based construction.” I wrote about it a couple of seasons ago.).

By assigning specific salaries to each roster spot, you can then use your research to identify which players might be available at that salary. Using the Ballers UDK, at the time of this writing, there are 14 WRs with an AAV between $19-$24. It’s unlikely that you like each of those players, but there is a good chance that you’d be happy with four to five of them as your WR2, which means you can budget $22 and feel confident that you will get one.

As I build out my budget, I also list specific players that fall into the salary range and are typically from the same or adjacent tiers of a tiered rankings list. Remember, AAV is an average, meaning that a player can often be found below or above that AAV salary. A $20 AAV means that players will go for $23 as often as they go for $17. There may be outlier scenarios where they can be acquired for $15, or they might command a $28 salary.

This process of identifying multiple players in that salary range allows you to use the AAV data to tweak the budget to find your preferred roster construction. If you want a strong WR2, you may need to move funds around from other positions to put your team in the suitable range to acquire the targeted player.

Additionally, using this tactic will allow you to create multiple different roster builds. What does it look like if I want to draft Travis Kelce? How does stacking Mahomes and Kelce impact my RB/WR spending? As you begin entering players into your budget at your chosen salaries for each roster spot, you will inevitably find that you are not satisfied with a couple of the positions, based on the initial budget you created.  If, for example, you don’t like the possible players that your QB budget is presenting, you will have to adjust funds across a few positions to either allocate more funds to move up a tier to get the higher-ranked QB you want. Conversely, you may decide that you can reduce funds and drop down a tier, while still feeling comfortable with that tier of players in the QB slot. This process would open funds to improve another position.

Multiple Budgets

It’s important to create multiple budgets before your auction draft. If you’ve played in an auction league before, you know that nothing will go according to plan. You’ve got to be flexible, and having multiple budgets will allow you to have an idea of how to pivot when something doesn’t play out as you expected. If you budgeted for an elite TE and were still outbid on the top options, then you have to be able to change your strategy over to a low-cost TE, high-value RB/WR budget.


Creating budgets, especially when using your league history, is one of the best ways to prepare for your fantasy football auction draft. The simple act of working through multiple budgets, playing around with different potential roster builds, and seeing which players are likely available at specific salary ranges will give you a leg up on your competition.

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Josh Kahn says:

I’m considering buying the UDK, I’m in a 10 team, auction draft, standard scoring league. I’m wondering if the UDK allows me to enter my own budget numbers per player to manage my bids?

Travis says:

This is year 8 of our Auction keeper league and we love it. You get to keep a player at what they were drafted at a year before and each year you add an additional $5 for year 1, $10 for year 2 and $15 3 years and beyond. This is year 3 in keeping Jefferson but he’s still super cheap at $33. Auctions are the way to go imo.

Keepers can create some inflation in other players due to the concepts discussed in the article: there is a finite amount of funds to spend of a specific number of players.
When the high priced players are kept at lower costs, you now have more money chasing less talent. So what might seem like an over-pay vs a redraft AAV, it’s actually not. Keep that in mind during your draft and dominate!

James says:

Our league has been going for 12 years and we each get 3 keepers at a 30% addition to what we paid for them the year before. I grabbed Chase cheap his forst year amd this year he is only costing me $21. Keepers will sku the values tremendously.

When the high priced players are kept at lower costs, you now have more money chasing less talent. So what might seem like an over-pay vs a redraft AAV, it’s actually not. Keep that in mind during your draft and dominate!

I actually wrote about this a few years ago, check it out (just ignore the names and focus on the process!)

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