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Is paying up for Breece Hall part of your best auction draft strategy? These 7 tips dig into how you should plan, spend, and build in your fantasy football league.

Best Auction Draft Strategy (Salary Cap) Fantasy Football

By Matt Schauf | Updated on Thu, 16 May 2024 . 1:49 PM EDT
  1. Don’t Victimize Yourself in the Bidding FrenzyUnlock your best plan for budgeting, team-building & strategy
  2. Make Player Tiers Your Secret Weapon in Bid TimingFind out how player tiers will be essential to your auction drafting
  3. Seize Value Rather Than Sticking to a Fixed PlanLearn how to maximize value throughout your draft
  4. Why You Shouldn’t Overspend on One-Starter PositionsSee why the math doesn’t justify buying Patrick Mahomes or Travis Kelce
  5. Balance Aggressiveness with Smart SpendingAvoid these budget-killing mistakes during your auction draft
  6. Win Psychological Battle with Player NominationsLearn how to frustrate your opponents and drain their banks
  7. Leverage Technology to Track Budgets and Positional ScarcitySee how to easily track the info you need to dominate your draft

Win Your Auction Draft by Making it Easier to Manage

An auction draft is the most fun – and fairest – way to start your fantasy football season. And it’s also the easiest format to screw up.

Auction is the only draft format that gives every manager a shot at any player they want. You’re not limited by draft position. The only potential hurdles are poor planning and bad management.

I’ve been doing auction drafts for more than 10 years now – most commonly against other fantasy pros. I’ve made plenty of mistakes … and honed some winning strategies

Matt Schauf has proved his ability to put together the best auction draft strategy by beating his peers in competitions such as the Fantasy Index auction league.

Now I want to use what I’ve learned to help you skip right past the mistakes – and get right to the winning.

Here are the key pieces of my auction draft strategy …


1. Don’t Victimize Yourself in the Bidding Frenzy

The moment your auction draft begins, you have decisions to make and lots to track.

If you’re not prepared, the draft can get away from you in a hurry. One bad overspend can derail your entire build. A minute of hesitation can mean you miss “your guy” and spend the season chasing upgrades at that position.

Here’s how you avoid those issues:

Set Your Pre-Draft Budget by Position

The best thing about an auction draft: You can go after any player you want. But you can’t get everyone. That makes it vital to map your positional spending plan ahead of time. The first step is splitting your total budget into buckets to cover each position.

Assuming a typical 1-QB format with multiple RB and WR starters, we recommend this spending breakdown as a starting point:

  • QB = 7%
  • RB = 40%
  • WR = 45%
  • TE = 7%
  • K = $1
  • DST = $1

Use Your Budget as a Guide … Not Strict Limits

Those percentages are neither barriers … nor bars that you need to reach. They’re guidelines/ranges. And having this plan will make it easier to be flexible within your draft. Say you land a couple of starting WRs at cheaper prices than you expected. Now you know you have extra spending power that you can shift to RB or another position – if needed.

Decide on a Framework for Building Your Team

Do you want to pay up for high-level starters and leave only minimal spending room for your backups? Or maybe you want a more even spread, to guard against the impact of injuries in season. 

There’s no single “right” way to build your team. That’s why we offer three strategies when you’re setting up your Auction Draft War Room.

But there are definitely wrong ways to carry out your plan. Let’s dig in …

1. Focus on Starters Over Depth

This has become my preferred method. I used to be more of a “spread it around” guy, figuring that my knowledge edge would allow me to feast on value picks.

That worked for building sturdy, deep, competitive rosters. But I found that I commonly lacked the high-end scoring punch of a stud player or two.

So pay up – within reason – for a couple of lineup leaders that can push your team over the top. The trade-off will really just be more $1 players on your bench at the end of the draft than $5 backups.

2. Balanced Roster

This can still be a worthy strategy if your entire league is chasing those top-shelf studs and pushing the prices too high. (Remember: Pay up within reason.)

In that case, shift your focus to the next tier or two down. Take multiple guys in that range, especially targeting players with the upside to score like a stud.

Be aware, though, that if the top prices go higher than you expected, the next level probably will as well. Don’t be too stingy with your spending, or you’ll risk dropping too far down the positional tiers and limiting your team’s upside.

3. Focus on Depth Over Starters

There are only two scenarios in which you might consider this spending path:

  • A dynasty startup draft
  • A best ball format

In each of those cases, you can gain an advantage by holding off the top options and building out a deep roster – especially if that plan differs from the way your leaguemates are drafting.

Outside of those situations, though, this path is likely to produce a “fine” roster and lacks scoring punch.

Key Insight

Auction drafts are complicated, so you need a plan. Set your positional spending expectations ahead of time and determine how you want to build your team. You’ll nearly always want to secure a couple of studs to lead your roster, amid a calculated overall plan. The key: Never lose sight of what you’re trying to build and pay close attention to how each move affects the rest of your roster.

Best Way to Execute

Auction drafts are too fast and complicated to budget without a draft tool. Your auction tool should not only display player values. It should allow you to customize the settings to fit your league format and adjust to your plan. That way, you have player values specific to your league. And it’ll keep you ahead of the competition amid the flurry of player bidding.



2. Make Player Tiers Your Secret Weapon in Bid Timing

You already know the importance of drafting from the most accurate rankings.

And you probably already understand the value of creating player tiers in your rankings before you draft.

But have you realized they’re especially crucial to a successful auction draft?

Player Tiers Reveal Value Breaks in Your Rankings

WR rankings tell you that “Player A” is  projected to score more than “Player B.” But one pair of players might be separated by a single point – while another pair features a 23-point gap. Player tiers highlight those gaps. You’ll know how long you can wait at a position and still get a comparable talent. And also know when that talent drops off, creating greater urgency.

Knowing HOW to Use Those Tiers is Vital

But you’ll also use those player tiers a bit differently in your auction draft … In a snake draft, those tier breaks tell you when you can wait. But in your auction draft, waiting for that last guy in a tier in your auction can unravel your plan.

Why Tiers Play Differently in Auctions

Unlike in a snake draft, you’re not simply waiting for a player to get to you at a certain spot. An auction is more active. You have to either nominate that player or bid on him after someone else nominates. Either way, you’re not the only manager in play.

Why You Can’t Just Wait for the Last Guy in the Tier

Say you’ve been eyeing a specific tier of RBs. You watch your league mates overpay for the first few guys in that tier … you know there are more options. You’re even willing to watch a couple go for decent prices –  you’re sure that means your guy will cost even less later. When it’s time to bid on that final member of the tier, you’re ready … but you unexpectedly have competition! Now you’re stuck in a bidding war for a suddenly scarce asset. Pay up or lose out. (Both suboptimal solutions.)

How You Avoid the Problem

Instead of waiting until the end, go after a player or two in the middle of the tier. You still have your customized player values and your pre-draft plan to keep you from overspending. And you can bail when a player gets out of your range because you know other options remain in the tier. Wait until the end of the tier, though, and you lose that flexibility.

Key Insight

Player tiers highlight value breaks at every position. That’s important for your pre-draft planning – helping you decipher some targets before the bids start flying. And those tiers remain important as you draft. But you also need to use them properly to take full advantage. Wait too long and you risk blowing up your draft.

Best Way to Execute

Set good player tiers ahead of your draft. Know which tiers – or players within a tier – you’d like to target. Doing some auction mock drafts can help with this aspect. Then keep tabs on players from those tiers as you draft. Don’t wait too long to act, though, or you risk screwing your team over. The ideal tool for your draft will help you keep track of all these factors.

We put a lot of work into the MOST ACCURATE rankings



3. Seize Value Rather Than Sticking to a Fixed Plan

We’ve talked about how important it is to start your auction draft with a plan.

What you’re not doing is building a checklist of players that you just mark off as you get them.

No draft in the history of fantasy football has played out that rigidly. And no matter how long you’ve played in your league, something is bound to surprise you on draft day.

That Pre-Draft Plan Guides When You Can Stray

Rules are made to be broken. You’ve heard it too many times. And it’s usually BS … But in this case, your pre-draft plan is the “rules.” And a BIG reason you made those rules is to know when you can break them. Or at least bend them.

That percentage of your budget you allotted to WRs? That accomplishes two key things:

  1. It gives you a reference point for how much you’re looking to spend on the position.
  2. It lets you see where you can pull extra funds from when needed – or shift surplus dollars to if you got better prices than anticipated.

But Why Stray From Your Own Plan?

So, wait a second. If we plan on straying … then wasn’t the initial plan flawed? Nah. That’s where “seizing value” comes in. You know what you want. You know what you’re willing to spend. But – you don’t know what the rest of your league will do.

Top WRs Costing More Than You Expected?

Target the next two tiers down at receiver and shift some of that WR budget to RB. Even if you opened your draft expecting to be out on the top RBs, consider how much more attractive they become with lower-than-expected price tags.

See a Top-Shelf QB About to Go Too Cheaply?

Throw a few extra dollars at the position to gain a scoring boost you didn’t think you’d be able to access. Remember, the plan isn’t to stick inflexibly to the plan. The plan is to get value with every pick.

Watching Your League Overpay for Top-12 TEs?

Stay out of that rush, pay down for two or three low-cost lottery tickets and see which one works out. You can shift the extra spending power to land a stud at another position. That’s how you build a winning roster.

Everything Sticking Pretty Close to Your Pre-Draft Plan?

Great! No need to stray if your league is letting you get everything you want.

Key Insight

You need to have a plan going into your draft. But you should also remain flexible to take advantage when value arises in your draft. That predraft plan will make it easier to know how every spending shift and draft surprise affects your remaining budget – as well as your roster.

Best Way to Execute

Keep your predraft spending plan handy. Track the winning bids for players on your team and others, so you’ll know who the true values are. Any draft assistant you use should track not only your spending, but your league’s spending as well. And, of course, remain flexible to capture value unique to your draft.



4. Why You Shouldn’t Overspend on One-Starter Positions

This point relates to each of the previous three listed.

You should have noticed pretty quickly that we don’t recommend spending much of your auction budget on QBs or TEs. (And that extends to any other one-starter positions in your league.)


Two issues: production and opportunity cost.

QB Production is Easy to Find

Josh Allen’s a stud. Jalen Hurts too. But you’ll have to pay up quite a bit for either … and it’ll challenge the rest of your team build.

Check out this graph of QBs from the past three seasons ...

This graph of QB scoring and auction prices shows that paying up for a QB has not been part of the best auction draft strategy in fantasy football.

You’ll see that the top scoring averages actually came from guys who went for well under $20 in average auction cost.

Paying up at QB hasn’t necessarily meant difference-making fantasy points. You know what it does guarantee? That you won’t have those bid dollars to spend at another position.

TE Cost Has Run High

Check the same graph for TEs, and you’ll quickly notice that the winning auction bids run even higher. 

Travis Kelce hasn't killed your fantasy football team. But paying up for even him hasn't proved to be the best auction draft strategy. And paying for other high-priced TEs just might kill your salary cap strategy.

Those three dots to the far left? The past three years of Travis Kelce. And although he never really let you down, two of those three dots got outscored by someone who cost less than half as much.

And what about the non-Kelce high-end TEs? Well, their dots sure don’t seem to sit much higher than plenty of much cheaper options.

Opportunity Cost is the Killer

“Opportunity cost” here refers to the opportunity you lose by spending too much at QB and/or TE. That opportunity? Being able to spend up for a stud at another position – or a couple of higher-level No. 2 types.

When you “win” Kelce or Patrick Mahomes, you’re also choosing to lose a high-end option elsewhere.

Key Insight

You’ll probably get solid-to-good fantasy scoring from a top-shelf QB or TE. But the premium price means you need to get elite scoring from that player. He’ll need to score enough to justify not only his high cost, but also the opportunity cost of leaving you without those bid dollars at RB or WR. Ultimately, it makes a lot more sense to not pay top prices for one-starter positions.

Best Way to Execute

Your draft rankings need to consider value-based drafting and your format. They need a systematic way to compare value across all positions and customize player auction values. So you can see at a glance how TE “X” aligns with the remaining players at other positions. Combine that with your predraft budget plan and the spending of your draft, and you’ll know when to secure your TE and QB. Want to see how your team turns out with and without “studs” at these one-starter positions? Run some mock drafts to prepare for the real thing.


Running mock auction drafts ahead of the real thing will help you test different strategies and sharpen your plan before your league's actual draft.


5. Balance Aggressiveness with Smart Spending

Winning your auction draft is all about being smart with your spending. But that does not mean sitting back and holding firm to your price ceilings.

You should generally adhere to it. In certain situations, you can (responsibly) get away with going a little above. But do so recklessly and you’re in trouble.

  • Go Get Your Guy … Within Reason
    I can’t tell you how many times I used to stop a few bucks short of winning a player because his price climbed higher than I wanted to pay. Most of the time, I came to regret it. That $3?  Rarely the difference between landing or missing some later-draft steal. Worst case: I finished my draft with extra money staring at me. Unused. And that star WR I wanted? Staring at me from another roster. All. Season.

Key Insight

Sometimes you need to let a player go when his bidding gets crazy. But when his price goes just above your preset line, it’s OK to chase. You have your plan set for just this reason. You know you can make up those extra few dollars elsewhere. You’re prepared. And you’re flexible.

Best Way to Execute

This one’s based on “feel,” because you can’t know exactly how the bidding will proceed on any given player. What you can do is practice ahead of time. Auction mock drafts get you ready for the draft environment. They give you the chance to chase that player – or let him go. Like the result? Then you know you can travel that path in the real thing. Don’t like it? It’s just practice … and you’ve learned something.



6. Win Psychological Battle with Player Nominations

This is an area you don’t want to spend too much time and mental energy on. But that’s what makes these quick-hitting tips so valuable.

Over-thinking your nomination when your turn comes up is a great way to lose sight of what matters.

But keep this cheat sheet in mind (or near you as you draft) to gain small edges over your competitors …

Tips to Psych Out Your Competitors

  1. Don't wait too long for your guys
  2. Follow bidding war with another expensive guy
  3. Nominate high-level QBs & TEs you don't want
  4. Follow starting RBs with their handcuffs

Don’t Wait Too Long Before Nominating Your Guys

You’ll find plenty of “experts” recommending that you don’t post players you want until late in your draft. The problem with that: You’re handcuffing your own draft.

While you’re busy waiting for the “right time” to nominate him, you’re either forced to hold back on other players to save money – or you’re spending what you hoped to bid on your guy.

And if someone else nominates him in the meantime, now you’re chasing instead of driving.

Follow Bidding War with an Expensive Player You Don’t Want

There will be players you don’t want – usually because you expect them to draw a higher price than you’re willing to pay.

Throw a player like that onto the board right after another high-priced bidding war ends. Especially if that previous war happens at the same position.

You’re probably going to tap into your league mates’ sense of loss. That competitor who wanted the first RB but just missed is more likely to throw dollars at the next guy.

Nominate High-Level QBs (or TEs) You Don’t Want

This is the corollary of our earlier tip about not paying top dollar for a QB or TE.

If you know you don’t want those guys – and that they’ll probably drive big spending – then nominate them early to get those opponent dollars moving.

The earlier you do this, the more likely that someone pays top price.

But what if I try this and the bidding stays surprisingly low?

If you find a room of hesitant bidders instead of bold spenders, then you just might find an opportunity to land a top-shelf talent at reduced cost. Win-win scenario.

Follow Starting RBs with Their Perceived Handcuffs

Whenever a starting RB goes off the board right before my turn to nominate, I like to follow by posting his handcuff.

Ideally, I’m motivating that last winning bidder to throw a few extra dollars at what he/she thinks is valuable insurance.

Worst case: No one else bites and I’ve got a bench player with huge upside if the starter goes down.

Key Insight

You can gain small edges on your league mates by strategizing your player nominations ahead of time. Just make sure you don’t overthink this aspect as you draft. There’s a reason it’s this low on our list of tips.

Best Way to Execute

You’ve already done half of the execution for this one. Have these nomination tips in mind – or open in a separate browser tab – and apply as you see fit. Of course, the more you’re on top of all the aspects of your auction draft, the easier it will be to take advantage of even the small stuff. More on that in our final tip …


7. Leverage Technology to Track Budgets and Positional Scarcity

The auction draft format's excitement lies in its complexity. However, this complexity also presents you with big-time challenges. Especially in maintaining focus amid the dynamic nature of player valuations and roster management.

Your Auction Draft Goes Way Beyond Just Budgeting

Monitoring your budget is critical, but understanding the broader auction environment—including your opponents' rosters and their financial flexibility—is equally vital.

This broader view informs your nomination strategy, bidding decisions, and overall team composition, transforming the draft into a multidimensional chess game.

Auction Draft Interfaces Aren’t Enough

The draft interface provided by most leagues, while helpful, often falls way short in offering a comprehensive view of your draft.

Typically, it displays each team's remaining budget but lacks detailed insights into player rosters, requiring tedious manual checks that can distract from the auction's fast pace.

Auction Live-Draft Syncs Are Next-Level Tools

You need a dynamic live-draft sync tool that gives you real-time information:

  • Real-time budget tracking for you and your opponents
  • Comprehensive overview of rosters, including acquisition costs
  • Dynamic, customized valuation of remaining players, adjusting to the draft's flow and your strategic needs

And, yes, there’s an auction live-draft sync tool that does all that and more.

Key Insight

Success in auction drafts hinges on your ability to manage and interpret a wealth of information. Organization and strategic insight are your best tools against the inherent challenges of this format. Fall short, and you risk pivotal errors that could ruin your season.

How To Execute

Ready to take the lead in your auction draft with unparalleled efficiency and insight? Your Auction Draft War Room awaits—your ultimate tool for dominating the draft with technology.

Curious to see it in action? Discover the power of advanced draft technology through this concise demo:

Draft War Room will vault you ahead of the competition



Frequently Asked Questions About Auction Draft Strategy

Which is better, snake draft or salary cap?

Because snake drafts are the default format on all platforms, they are more popular than salary cap or auction drafts. When polled, more than 44% of users had never played in a salary cap draft. Salary cap drafts are fairer or more even – and the preferred drafting format among Draft Sharks analysts.

Why snake draft is better than auction?

There are two main advantages to a snake draft over an auction draft: time and familiarity. A snake draft can be completed in one-third to one-half the time of a typical auction draft. Snake drafts are the default on nearly all platforms; more users have experience with that format.

The Draft Sharks analysts still prefer auction or salary cap drafts over snake drafts for home leagues.

Why are auction drafts the most fair?

Auction drafts are fairer than snake drafts because every player is available to every team. Although you can acquire anyone in an auction, you obviously can't have everyone. And this format forces a lot more strategy than your typical round-by-round draft. If you prepare properly, you can gain an unfair advantage over your league mates in this fairest of formats.

What are the basics of an auction draft?

A fantasy auction draft is similar to a regular auction. Managers take turns nominating fantasy players and then make ascending bids or offers until a single manager wins. A bid clock with a 30- to 120-second timer resets when a manager places a larger bid.

Once the bid clock hits 0, the manager with the highest bid is awarded the player to their roster. Auction draft roster settings usually mimic snake draft roster settings.

Fantasy managers have to construct a team using budgets of typically $100 to $200. 

How long should an auction draft take?

A typical auction draft will take 2-3 hours, assuming 12 teams and 15-person rosters (180 players total). If your league rosters more players or has more managers, the auction draft can be well over 4 hours. In-person auctions often take longer than online variants but are much more fun!

Who should I nominate first in auction draft?

In an auction draft (or salary cap league), your first nomination should be either a high-priced player you don’t particularly want – or a lower-level player you’d be OK with losing. Every team in your auction is flush with bid money at this point, so big-name players aren’t likely to sneak through at below-market prices. Nominating that type of player can get the spending going.

The lower-level player, on the other hand, serves two purposes. You can either get someone in your league to overpay vs. what that player would have drawn later. Or you might be able to sneak the player through the bidding at lower cost while other managers save their bank for bigger names.

Matt Schauf Author Image
Matt Schauf, Editor
Matt has earned two Fantasy Pros accuracy awards for IDP rankings and won thousands of dollars as a player across best ball, dynasty, and high-stakes fantasy formats. He has been creating fantasy football content for more than 20 years, with work featured by Sporting News, Rotoworld, Athlon, Sirius XM, and others. He's been with Draft Sharks since 2011.
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