2023 Fantasy Football Auction Strategy (Salary Cap): Budgeting Audibles for Every Scenario (Pt. 3)

Things don't always go according to plan.

If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2 of this series, please click the links below. Part 1 includes an overview of my fantasy football auction draft philosophy along with instructions for downloading and setting up the Ultimate Auction Draft Pricing Tool. Part 2 will teach you how to analyze the data from the tool and form an initial draft plan position-by-position.

Part 1: How To Dominate a Fantasy Football Auction Draft – Setting Player Prices
Part 2: How To Dominate a Fantasy Football Auction Draft – Developing a Game Plan
Part 4: How To Dominate a Fantasy Football Auction Draft – In-Draft Strategy & Tips

You’re almost there! You’ve gathered all the data, generated custom dollar values for every player, and synthesized the information into an initial draft plan, with strategies for each position. You’re almost ready to dominate your fantasy football auction draft.

But first, you must complete the final phase of pre-draft preparation: building a comprehensive, flexible draft budget.

Our overall philosophy: stick to your positional budgets, but keep in mind the players and tiers you’d accept within the $ amount you’ve set. You have your playbook, but prepare those audibles to adjust on the fly.

Reminder: all the following screenshots and analyses are based on a 12-team full-PPR league. Your league might be different, so the goal of this series is to teach you how to analyze any set of data and come up with conclusions. Read part 1 to download the spreadsheet and learn how to customize the tool to your league settings.

After breaking down the data by position, my initial plan would be to draft Deshaun Watson or Trevor Lawrence at QB, a high-end running back paired with a cheaper option, an elite receiver with two other mid-tier guys, and Darren Waller at tight end.

A sample starting lineup I like would be something like this:

QB: Deshaun Watson $5

RB: Austin Ekeler $63

RB: Rachaad White $14

WR: Cooper Kupp $58

WR: Amari Cooper $21

Flex: Mike Evans $13

TE: Darren Waller $9

Total: $183

Note that this sample team is for a 12-team PPR league. Your league might be different, but you can still use the same process to generate a sample team that is realistic for your league.


I usually like to spend about $180 on my starting lineup, but I am okay going a bit over if necessary. This is more of a personal preference, but I have found that $180 strikes a good balance between buying the best starting lineup I can afford and leaving myself breathing room if a few targets go for more than expected. As a bonus, I should have a few dollars left over to target my favorite sleepers late in the draft.

Beyond planning to spend the remaining ~$20 on the bench, I don’t like to specifically budget for my bench before the draft. Depending on how my starting lineup shakes out, I could end up with anywhere between $10 and $30 to fill out the bench, which would result in drastically different bench strategies. Also, bench needs are different depending on your starting lineup. I like to make a list of cheap players to target late in the draft and grab as many as possible with the money I have left.

Wolf’s Take: On 16-man rosters (10 starters, 6 bench), I typically only reserve $10 for my bench, at most. I blow it all on starters, as each draft typically becomes a “snake” at some point. While commanding the later stages of the auction is nice, I am 100% “stars and scrubs,” with about $180 reserved for just my WRs and RBs.


Since we already have a sample lineup, building our initial budget for each position is very easy. I can simply add up the cost of each position. As discussed in part 2, I assume a wide receiver will be drafted to start in the flex position, although The Wolf recommends three stallions if possible.

For my construction, our initial budget looks like this:

QB: $5

RB: $77

WR: $92

TE: $9

Total: $183

To make this easier to visualize, check out the Build Teams sheet. Select the positions your league starts in column B, and column C will automatically populate the list of players eligible to start at each position. Be sure to click the “Update Player Dropdowns” button after making changes to column B to refresh the dropdown lists in column C.

This tool allows you to put any combination of players into your starting lineup and track key metrics. I like to focus on the total Real Value of my starting lineup in column E because it is easy to understand. “Real Value” is a player’s true worth based on your league settings. If an average manager in your league spent $183 on their starting lineup without reading this series, their lineup would have an average real value of around $183. Our sample lineup has a real value of almost $209!


While our first budget is a useful starting point, the flexibility we have at each position is unclear. We know we won’t leave the draft with these seven players for these exact prices. Drafts are unpredictable. Plans change.

The main risk we need to plan for is Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler selling for significantly above their AAV, which does happen in some leagues. If our chosen QB, TE, or WRs sell for significantly more than their AAV, we can easily replace them with a player of similar value. However, at running back, we see a significant drop-off in real value after McCaffrey and Ekeler. Due to the lack of alternatives, our budget needs to change if the top backs sell significantly above their AAV.

We need to test how flexible our budget is in other areas to determine the maximum amount we can spend on the running back position. McCaffrey and Ekeler will be nominated early in the draft, so our decisions at running back will affect the entire draft.

Wolf’s Take: Still hold true to your original budgeting philosophy. If you went in planning to spend on RBs (like you should), don’t suddenly switch up because prices are higher than expected. Adjust accordingly, by mapping out audibles ahead of time, to help you adjust in real-time like the below examples.

For simplicity, I will assume that we are going to keep the same quarterback, tight end, and $180 starting lineup budget in each alternate scenario. Trevor Lawrence is an alternate at QB, and Kyle Pitts is a backup option for our TE.

Given these assumptions, we have $169 to allocate between running back and wide receiver. We normally would plan to spend $77 on the combination of Austin Ekeler and Rachaad White, But because we are planning for a scenario where our running back targets sell for more than expected, I assume McCaffrey will go for $10 above his AAV, and White will go $5 above his AAV. We now have to spend $92 to get both.


First, we will allocate an extra $15 to running back to keep the now more expensive players, bringing the running back budget to $92. To offset this, we have to decrease the wide receiver budget from $92 to $77. If $77 is the minimum you are willing to spend on your three receivers, your max running back budget is $92. If not, you can experiment by plugging in players with different values until you find your breaking point.

For $77, I can get CeeDee Lamb, Chris Godwin, and Michael Thomas. This team is okay, but only slightly better than average, so let’s keep going.


We want to determine our maximum running back budget, so let’s now assume each top-5 back only sells for $4 above their AAV. That saves $7 from scenario 1, allowing us to increase the receiver budget to $84.

Should we still spend big at RB? Let’s see what we can do with an $84 receiver budget. For $84, I can get Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, and Michael Thomas. This still gives me an elite receiver and decent depth options, so I feel more comfortable than in scenario 1.


Given the original assumptions of a $10 price increase for Ekeler and a $5 price increase for White, if we want to increase the receiver budget from scenario 1, we must downgrade at running back. Bijan Robinson stands out as a good value replacement for McCaffrey given the data, and Bijan’s cheaper cost relative to McCaffrey gives us $108 left to beef up the wide receiver position.

For $108, I can get Cooper KuppAmari Cooper, and Keenan Allen while still coming in under budgetScenario 3 looks better than scenario 1, so if Ekeler and McCaffrey are too expensive, I can pivot to something like this.


Setting Maximum Running Back Budget

As you can see in all three audibles, we stuck to our guns from our initial game plan and remained RB-heavy in expenditure.

Still, like the best NFL teams, we found productive ways to audible, and take what our “opponents” were giving us and use it to our advantage.

Another benefit of audibling: you might discover tweaks to the initial game plan and budget. For example, I prefer scenario 3 over scenario 1, so I know my maximum RB budget is less than $92.

Scenario 2 still looks appealing even though I had to pay $85 for both backs. I could test more scenarios, but $84 to spend at WR feels very close to my minimum number, so I will set my maximum running back budget at $85.


My budget is now much more actionable. If I win McCaffrey for $65 in the real draft, I know I don’t want to spend more than $20 on my second back to stay within the $85 limit. I can comfortably avoid overspending on my second running back now that I have a specific number in mind.

I encourage you to formulate your draft strategy, identify the threats, and use the tool to build contingency plans. Every draft strategy is different and comes with unique risks, and the tool can help create audibles and backup plans for any scenario. With proper planning, nothing will stop you from dominating your draft!

Congratulations, you are now a master of auction pre-draft preparation! You went from inputting some basic ADP data and league settings in part 1 to learning how to plan for threats and develop flexible budgeting strategies. You should be proud. Stay alert for part 4, the final part of the series, where I reveal my best in-draft tips.

Our Auction Series is all you need to dominate your 2023 Fantasy Football Auctions. Don’t miss a single part:


  • I am currently working as an accountant and have been obsessed with fantasy football for over 10 years. My specialties are auction draft strategy and discovering unique team management strategies to maximize winning odds. Thanks for reading!


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