Note: This series is designed to take salary cap drafters of any ability and refine their skills to that of a seasoned veteran. The articles will go from basic concepts to the most advanced salary cap draft theories. Each article is designed to build on the previous articles in the series. For best results, read each article before proceeding to the concepts in the next article.
The first two parts of the series focused on things beginners do and ways to exploit those mistakes in your draft rooms. But before you can capitalize on this knowledge, you need to know how to prepare so that when the moment comes, you have the information in front of you to tell you what to do.
One of the bigger principles in salary cap drafting is the relationship between player scarcity and prices during the draft. This isn’t referring to scarcity over a full position group. Rather, it refers to scarcity in tiers. This is one of the biggest drivers of price fluctuation in a salary cap draft. For example, if Travis Kelce, Kyle Pitts, George Kittle, and Darren Waller are already on a roster when Mark Andrews comes up for bidding, his price will likely be artificially high. That happens because there are no more elite options left, so anyone who wanted a top tight end has to go for Andrews. That will push his price well past where it should be. On the other hand, you won’t see that inflation if someone nominates Dawson Knox because he isn’t in the same tier as Andrews. So if you’re going to excel at salary cap drafting, you must master the skill of rostering players before the tiers become scarce. That means having your player rankings broken down into groups of players with similar price points. As the draft unfolds, when the tiers start to run out of players, it is on you to move quickly to roster someone before you are down to the last player in a tier. This can mean nominating someone so you can bid on them or realizing that the player that has just been called out will make a tier scarce when he’s gone. Without tier sheets, you’ll never see this problem developing.
The best way to separate players into tiers is to get a hold of some Average Values, or rankings with salary cap values, instead of rankings with an average draft position. You’ll notice that, at some point, as you go down the price list, there are higher price breaks than at other points. That generally is where you would start with your tiers. Whatever your process may be, it is important to find the natural drop-offs in your rankings to be able to separate players into tiers. For example, a group of running backs that includes Alvin Kamara, Javonte Williams, and Nick Chubb typically ends with James Conner at the bottom of that tier. The next best running back option is David Montgomery. That’s a natural tier between several guys with big upside who are somewhat risky and a volume play like Montgomery. That tier break is important. When you’re drafting and all the running backs above Kamara, Chubb, Conner, and Williams are gone, and the next best player is Montgomery. If you want one of those four running backs, then ideally, you want to act with one or two of those four are still on the board. Otherwise, if Kamara, Chubb, and Conner are gone and you have to have Williams, you will pay more than you would, or should, if there wasn’t scarcity.
So before you get into your salary cap draft, break down your rankings into tiers, and then erase any mention of prices on your tier sheet. You don’t care about what the prices were predicted to be before your draft. That won’t hold up when the draft starts, and it will only paralyze you. When you get into the draft, you only care about whether you are happy with the player you got for that spot on your roster. If you are happy with Chase Edmonds as your RB2 and have allotted $21 for that position, it doesn’t matter if his predicted price was $16. Overpaying by $5 is immaterial if you are happy with the player and it fits your price sheet. Getting too hung up on what you should pay for a player can make you rigid and unable to adapt when things don’t happen like you thought they would.
MAKING A PAR SHEET
A par sheet is one of the best tools to execute your pre-draft plan. In a salary cap draft, you want to shoot exactly par for your draft, meaning you want to spend exactly $200. You never want to end up with extra money, and you can’t go over $200, so you have to hit the number perfectly. The way to do that is to use your par sheet during the draft.
To make a par sheet, you should find your league settings and write down every roster spot on a sheet of paper. Then assign an exact dollar amount to every position on your roster and make those numbers add to your salary cap. For example, in a typical league with a $200 cap, you would write down your 16 positions – 9 starters and 7 bench players – and then what you ideally want to spend on each position. For your kicker and defense, you start by assigning them $1. Then for a few backups (like your RB5 and WR6), you’ll assign $1 as well. Then with the remaining money, you should decide what your strategy will focus on and start weighting and assigning money to the appropriate spots. For example, if you want a top tight end and a top running back, you would start by assigning what you think you can get those players for in the draft. You might start by writing “$70” next to your RB1 and then “$32” next to your tight end slot. Then start giving money to the other spots on your roster. You’ll tweak and move the money until you have exact numbers for every spot. This process tells you what you value as you prepare and shows you how critical every dollar is in a salary cap draft.
As an example, your par sheet in this scenario might look something like this:
- QB1 - $6
- RB1 - $70
- RB2 – $22
- WR1 – $21
- WR2 – $13
- WR3 – $10
- TE - $32
- K - $1
- DEF - $1
- Bench – $8
- Bench – $6
- Bench – $4
- Bench – $
- Bench – $1
- Bench – $1
- Bench – $1
This is just an example, and there are a lot of different builds you can choose like:
- Focusing on a top tight end
- Getting two top-12 running backs
- Going heavy on wide receivers
- Landing a top quarterback
You can bring several par sheets to your draft. Once you land a couple of players, you’ll know which sheet will be the one you use, and you can throw the others out. As the draft continues, you’ll put the players in the appropriate spots as you roster them and then write a “+” or “-“ out on the right side of your par sheet as you spend. For example, you wanted a top running back, but Jonathan Taylor was too expensive. So instead of Taylor, you landed Austin Ekeler for $60. That means you can write “+10” on your par sheet, and you know you can use that money somewhere else. On the other hand, if you went all out for Taylor and paid $74, you write “-4” on your sheet, and you know you have to make up $4 somewhere. The benefit of the par sheet Is that you can instantly look down your sheet and figure out where to best take that $4 from. You’ll keep a running total of the entire draft relating how you’re doing to par as things progress. This helps you stay on track and keeps you focused on spending all your money but doing it in a way that fills out your team properly. Par sheets are a massive advantage over your competition.
One of the big mistakes many salary cap drafters make is wasting their nominations. This will be more fully explained in Part 4 on Nomination Strategies, but at this point, as you prepare, all you need to do is make a couple of lists for easy reference during the draft.
As salary cap drafts go, you will have to bounce back and forth between nominating players you want or finding players to call out that you don’t want to roster. This is harder than it sounds in the heat of the moment, especially in online draft rooms. You can’t fall into the bad habit of looking down at your draft sheet and calling out the next ranked player on the list after the previous nomination. That does nothing to further your strategy. Instead, make two lists.
List #1 is a list of players you want or are targeting as part of your strategy. List #2 contains players you don’t want or players that don’t further your strategy. What’s important to remember is that these lists are supposed to further your pre-planned draft strategy from your par sheet. Of course, you’d like to have Josh Allen, but if you decide to go cheap at quarterback, he shouldn’t be part of your plans. He belongs on List #2 strictly because he doesn’t fit your strategy, not because you don’t like him as a fantasy quarterback.
So, if you want to go cheap at quarterback, you will have some inexpensive players at quarterback on List #1 (players you like) and some expensive players at quarterback on List #2 (players that don’t fit your cheap quarterback goal). So this year, List 1 would have guys like Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins. Both players are going somewhat cheaply this year. Don’t worry if your nomination of one of these guys doesn’t work. If you call out Kirk Cousins and suddenly find someone saying “$9” on him, then it’s easy. You’re out. That’s why you have a long list that you can go back to again and again when it is your turn to nominate. One of your cheap List 1 quarterbacks should sneak through to you at some point for a good price. You want to have guys from every position on each list so that when it’s your turn to nominate, you can quickly go to your list and pick out the perfect player to keep pushing towards the goals you set out on your par sheet before the draft.
You don’t need to put every player on these lists, so keep it limited to those players who best execute your strategy. Putting Davis Mills on List 1 may technically be correct (he’s a cheap quarterback), but if you don’t care about rostering him, he shouldn’t make your nomination list. However, the deeper this list is, the less freelancing you’ll have to do when you’re in the draft.
Having nomination sheets seems like overkill, but finding the perfect nomination isn’t easy, and it’s a big key to succeeding in your draft. You won’t have time during the draft to find the right player to call out when it’s your turn. The nomination sheets help you with that difficult decision in the heat of the moment.
Preparation for a salary cap draft is different from preparation for a serpentine draft. When you enter the draft, have your tier sheet, par sheet, and nomination lists. Other than your software, you don’t need anything else in front of you. These three lists will make you more prepared than almost any salary cap drafter out there, veterans included. The very nature of these drafts means that you can’t ever nail every detail down, but if you have read the first three parts in this series, you have a firm yet flexible way to succeed without much experience. Head to Part 4 to learn more about the theory behind nominations and how to use them to your benefit.Follow @DrewDavenportFF
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