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Best Auction Draft Strategy (Salary Cap) Fantasy Football

By Jared Smola | July 2023

Build the Best Team (Imaginary) Money Can Buy

Which fantasy football draft format is best? That’s subjective. 

But which is the fairest? That has to be fantasy football auction drafts.

With Auction draft fantasy football, there’s none of the luck or hierarchy that comes with snake or linear drafts. 

We regularly get asked, “What is the best strategy for an auction draft?”

But there is no simple answer. We summarized the best fantasy auction draft strategy into these seven pillars: 

  1. Choose how you build
  2. Keep player tiers in mind
  3. Work with a budget
  4. Prioritize positions with multiple starters
  5. Don’t pay for a handcuff
  6. Try to flex WRs in PPR leagues
  7. Win the psychological battle with player nominations

Here is an in-depth look into the seven principles to best strategize your auction draft…

1. Choose How You Build

Plan out how you want to build your roster

As in any fantasy football format, there is more than one way to approach an auction draft. And no single method is necessarily the “right” way.

However, you can get it wrong by not entering your draft with a clear vision.

We’ll dig into the details throughout this article, but you should start with an overarching roster-building strategy.

(We’ll address those “limits” more in a minute.)

Choose Your Strategy

Your draft approach boils down to one of two paths: 

1. Focus on Starters Over Depth

This will often be your best approach to a single redraft league.

Beyond the auction draft, your league usually functions like other redraft leagues. You’ll have waivers and trades to refine your roster throughout the season.

So you’ll want to start the year with as strong a starting group as possible – even if that means some sacrifice at the reserve spots.

In this approach, you should come away from your draft with at least several $1 players

And that’s just fine.

Think of how many season-long solid contributors commonly emerge on waivers over the first few weeks (or even later in the year). Now realize that you can dump those $1 guys off your roster for the hot waiver pickups whenever you want.

Consider that an encouragement to go harder after the players most likely to deliver points in your lineup week to week. As you progress down the rankings during your draft, the player prices even out across formats.

This setting in your Draft War Room will increase the suggested bids for the highest-ranked players in your league.

If you’re building your roster this way, make sure you identify the tiers of elite players that you plan to chase on draft day

It also doesn’t hurt to highlight some high-upside value picks to watch as you draft.

The key here is to ensure you don’t run your bankroll down too much by bidding for down-the-roster guys before you’ve secured your stud(s). 

You might also see this approach referred to as “studs and duds.”

2. Building Out Depth

Use this path if you play in a larger league or with more starting lineup spots than usual. The top player-price suggestions won’t rise as high as they do in the previous setting. 

That’s because this strategy favors spreading your spending around a bit more rather than chasing after top-shelf performers.

Why? 

The more players started across your league, the less likely you are to build out a studly group. Instead, you’ll wind up with top-end guys at some spots … and late-round types starting for you regularly.

You’re trying to build a good team for the coming season and laying the base for years of fantasy success.

How to build a 'balanced roster'

However, pursuing a “balanced roster” doesn’t necessarily mean spreading your spending evenly across positions and throughout the depth chart.

In building balance, you might stay out of the bidding for the top-shelf players to spend a little more for starters across positions. 

Instead of paying up for first-round types at both RB and WR, you might focus on a few second-rounders and aim higher than you would otherwise at QB and TE. Your balance could also come from boosting the spending on a WR4-5, your RB3 – or both.

You're focused less on studs in this auction draft approach, so it’s less important to zero in on specific targets ahead of your draft. But setting up player tiers will still be vital. We’ll get more into that in a minute.

TIP

It's already late August, so we want to make your Auction Draft Strategy super easy... and incredibly powerful. So here's what you're missing out on...

There's a live-sync draft tool (dynamic cheat sheet) that keeps track of everything you need to nail your auction draft. We call it the Draft War Room.

Here are some of the advantages you'll get:

  • When you set up your Draft War Room for the auction, you can set a strategy. The price limits for each player will be affected by the chosen strategy.
  • Input your league's set up and scoring rules. Our unique algorithm uses 17 draft value indicators to give you dollar values for each player. The War Room recalibrates player value for you after every pick. Live -- on the fly.
  • Yes, there is a setting for auction dynasty startup drafts.

Why Our Auction Values Look Different

Most auction values are cobbled together based on gut feel.

Not ours.

Our auction values are built with sound mathematical process.

We start with each player's DMVP points -- a precise measure of his value based on your league's specific starting requirements and scoring rules.

We then translate that DMVP value into an auction value, showing you exactly how much that player is actually worth in your league.

Our auction values tend to be a bit lower than what you'll see elsewhere. We generally believe that passing on the highest-priced "elite" players and stockpiling more "good-to-great" players is optimal.

Hear Our Best Auction Draft Strategies 

  

2. Keep Player Tiers in Mind

Building tiers into your player rankings is an effective strategy, no matter the fantasy football draft format.

Rankings get much more attention, but the space between consecutively ranked players at a position can differ quite a bit. That drop-off can be called a “tier.”

Player tiers honor those spaces and tell you how many similar guys are left at a position.

In a snake draft, this helps you determine whether you should take a RB at this turn. Or if there’s a solid chance a similar player makes it back to you.

Tiers will serve a vital function in an auction draft as well

Let’s say the bidding runs higher than you’re comfortable with on a certain WR. But three other guys from the same tier remain on the board. Then you know you can let someone else have that guy.

On the flip side, if the WR currently up for bidding is trending toward going for less than an already-drafted wideout from the same tier, you know you’re getting good value.

And that extra money could help you at another spot

Another key reason to keep your player tiers in focus: You want to avoid waiting for the last guy in a target group.

At first glance, such patience can seem like a good plan. But it rarely works the way you’d expect.

Rather than waiting out the rest of your league burning bankroll and getting your guy on the cheap, you get stuck in a bidding war for that last attractive player.

What if the plan DID work as you envisioned?

If you’re the only drafter interested in this player, then you just might be the one who’s wrong about him. Plus, by saving enough money to ensure you got him, you’ve likely kept yourself out of the bidding for another attractive player or two along the way.

TIP

Draft Shark Insiders: You can find player-tier breaks on the positional-rankings pages of your Draft War Room.

 

3. Work With a Budget

Know what you have spent and what you still can spend

You begin your auction draft in fantasy football with a finite amount of “money” to spend on players. Everything you spend to acquire a player will affect how you build the rest of your roster.

But if you just try to wing it through your auction draft, you’re setting yourself up for issues. Instead… 

Come up with a pre-draft budget outline

In a more traditional format, the bulk of your spending should be planned for RB and WR. How you divide that between those two groups will depend at least some on your league’s settings and your preferred approach.

Finding value with less spending at QB and TE is generally easier. That said, you can build a winning lineup with Travis Kelce or Josh Allen as a key piece. 

And you’ll have a better sense of how to build around that piece if you plan your budget.

Entering your draft with a plan doesn’t mean you need to rigidly stick to it

The other benefit of pre-planning your budget is that you’ll have an easier time adjusting throughout your draft for anything that doesn’t match the plan.

You had to spend a little more than you expected for that lead WR?

The budget can help you see just how much you have left to spend at the position – or where else you might be able to siphon some extra spending room.

Get a key player for less than you expected? Then you can see exactly where you can shift that extra spending money.

It’s OK to break your budget … by a couple bucks

Sometimes the bidding will go too high for a player to make sense for your roster build.

Other times, going just a couple of dollars above your preset ceiling is optimal. If you do this early in your draft, you have more time to figure out where to siphon these extra few bid dollars from elsewhere in your draft budget.

Money will get tighter as you move through your draft, so shifting your budget will be more difficult.

Just keep in mind: You’re more likely to get to the end of your draft and regret not going a couple of dollars higher on that stud than you are to wish you had $2 more remaining to fill out your bench spots.

Keep Track of Winning Bids

Pay Attention to Winnings Bids to Help with Budgeting

As you draft, this can be a challenge, with plenty of things to focus on.

Knowing who has been drafted and his winning bid price can help you gauge both values and remaining available talent. 

This can work together with your player tiers to help guide your bidding.

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Your Draft War Room will track every player's winning bid via live-draft sync.

   

4. Prioritize Positions with Multiple Starters

Limit your spending where you only need one starter

This aspect will differ at least some by season.

We address each position in our annual Auction Strategy Guide and do at least one recap of an actual auction draft to show our philosophies in practice. 

Prioritize which positions you’ll spend most of your money on

In general, you’ll want to avoid investing too heavily at QB in a league that only requires you to start one. The same has been true for a while at TE – at least beyond Travis Kelce. You’ll also want minimal investment into your kicker or team defense.

That leaves the bulk of your spending for RB and WR, and we’ll get more specific on strategy at those spots by season. 

 

5. Don’t Pay for a Handcuff

There are multiple ways this can backfire

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t handcuff any RB at all. It just means that you shouldn’t pay up to do so.

Even if you’re correct in landing a player that takes over a near-identical workload after your starter goes down, you’ll almost certainly get less production from the backup.

So it’s still a net loss for your team. Get that guy for $1-2, and absorb that difference. Doing so at $5-7, however, and you’re hurting another spot or two on your roster. 

 

6. Try to Flex WRs in PPR Leagues

Get more consistent production and better bang for your buck

More than enough research has shown the value of playing WRs over RBs or TEs in your PPR flex positions. The position simply runs deeper with viable fantasy options.

And generally, higher target counts make it easier for #2 and #3 NFL WRs to deliver meaningful PPR totals in a given week than replacement-level options at the other positions.

What does this mean for your auction? 

Prioritize WR over the other positions with your higher-level reserves. You’ll generally want a stronger WR4 than RB3, for example.

This can differ some by your specific build. For example, if you’re going cheaper at your RB2 spot, you’ll want more strength at RB3 – and maybe even RB4 – to present weekly platoon options.

Even in those cases, you’re probably spending down at RB on the whole to shift more of your budget to WR.

 

7. Win the Psychological Battle with Player Nominations

How you apply strategies will leave your opponents full of regret

Everyone in your league will take a turn nominating players for bid through every round of your auction.

And then every league member will have the opportunity to bid on that player – at least until teams start running out of money.

Treat every turn posting a player like it’s a big strategic move, and you risk overthinking and losing focus on other areas of your draft that deserve more attention.

That said, there are some tricks you can use along the way.

Don’t Wait Too Long Before Nominating Your Guys

Saving your favorite targets until the end brings consequences

There will be a natural inclination to save your favorite players until as late as possible in the draft. 

The logic is to wait until your league mates run low on money and then snag your guys at value prices.

This might work at times, but it’s risky.

How long will you have to wait before everyone else in your league runs low on dollars? Secondly, what happens if/when you don’t get that guy?

Why you should nominate the players you love

If you spend most of the draft letting others pluck players from that same WR tier, for example – but then miss out on the player you coveted all along – you’re suddenly left scrambling.

You might then be forced to overspend for multiple players in the next tier or two down. Or you could finish your draft with leftover money. And regret.

Don’t immediately throw your favorite players onto the board when all teams are flush with cash. But keep an eye on those positional tiers along the way, and try not to wait until that tier is dried up. 

You can sometimes sneak early players through at lower winning bids than they’ll pull later.

Although the early part of the draft finds more teams with plenty to spend, you’re also more likely to find drafters playing the waiting game at this stage: trying to be patient and not overspend too early.

Follow a Bidding War with a High-Level Player You Don’t Want

Play into your league mates’ sense of loss by offering the “next best” guy

Auction drafts leave more room for you to use psychology to your advantage.

One obvious way is to let the player rankings and price recommendations influence your league mates in the draft room on your league site. Even “good” rankings are bound to have plenty of player listings you disagree with.

What to do after a “bidding war” 

A less-obvious tactic is to follow a bidding war with another big name in the same position. Odds are a league mate or two feels a sense of loss over not getting that previous stud RB or WR.

So throw another stud up there and let others fight it out again. Just make sure your nomination in this scenario isn’t a player you’re hoping to get.

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

Let others burn money at a ‘onesie’ position

QB and TE are often called the “onesie” positions.

That’s because fantasy football leagues commonly only start one player at each. Posting big-name players you don’t want at such positions can help you in a couple of ways:

  1. You get a league mate to burn some money early at a position he could have addressed for cheaper later.
  2. You start to see what the market will look like at that position.

In both cases, this is especially effective at QB. That’s because QBs are more “elite” targets in auction drafts than are TEs.

Follow Starting RBs with Their Perceived Handcuffs

Stop guessing at who’s the real backup RB. It might just be the biggest mistake in all of fantasy football.

“Perceived” is key here. 

There will always remain some backfield situations in which a predictable heir assumes nearly all the workload an injured starter leaves behind.

But those situations are dwindling. And fantasy owners have not historically done a great job predicting who an actual handcuff player will be.

When to nominate a handcuff RB

You see fantasy owners looking to secure handcuffs for their top RBs every year. So if an early-round RB comes off the board in your auction, consider posting his perceived handcuff soon after that.

This tactic has multiple potential positive outcomes for you:

  1. You create a low-level bidding war for the insurance plan.
  2. In later rounds, you nominate an upside handcuff type from that same team – and add him to your roster on the cheap.

The latter option is the worst case here … which is still pretty good. 

Placing a small bet that the third- or fourth-string RB becomes the starter

In that scenario, you suddenly get a high-upside asset on your roster should that team’s starting RB go down. And since you didn’t have the starter in the first place, there’s only gain for you.

And because you have next-to-nothing invested in that team’s backfield, you can more easily cut this guy for a waiver pickup whenever you want.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Which is better, snake draft or salary cap?

Since 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!

Other rankings are stale  before the 2nd round.

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