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It is hard to get repetitions in a salary cap draft room to learn and gain valuable experience. However, looking at results from completed drafts and analyzing how and why things happened is a decent substitute for doing the draft. I recently participated in the King’s Classic 14-team salary cap draft in Canton, Ohio. I took away some important lessons from the experience that can help us in salary cap drafts this season.
Before we take a look at what happened, a quick word about the format for the league. We don’t use kickers or team defenses, but we still have to start 10 position players. Even though there are 10 starters required, the benches are short, with only six allotted spots.
Starting lineup requirements:
- 1 Quarterback
- 2 Running Backs
- 3 Wide Receivers
- 1 Tight End
- 3 Flex (non-quarterback)
Each team has a $200 salary cap and must draft 16 players. This is a full PPR league comprised of 14 teams managed by analysts from the industry.
Let’s look at some important trends and lessons from the draft that we can use going forward.
Chasing Wide Receivers
This format puts unique stressors on the drafters in the room. Because teams can start three wide receivers but must also have three flex starters, there is an emphasis on spending deep into the wide receiver tiers. In recent years the trend has moved inexorably and consistently towards managers spending on wide receivers to fill their flex spots. As a result, starting running backs have seen a bit of a value hit compared to their receiver counterparts. For example, J.K. Dobbins, Josh Jacobs, and Elijah Mitchell are currently the RB21, RB22, and RB23 to come off the board in average draft position (hereafter, ADP). Dobbins went for $18 in this draft, while Jacobs and Mitchell both went for $14. Their wide receiver counterparts, Brandin Cooks (WR21 - $25), DK Metcalf (WR22 - $20), and Marquise Brown (WR23 - $18), went for significantly more money.
How to Use this Information
For years, salary cap drafters assaulted the running back position and let wide receivers go too cheaply. That appears to be changing over the last couple of years, leading to a flattening of prices in the wide receiver pool. This draft allows teams to start six wide receivers, so the effect is even more pronounced (format is always king for determining prices!), but we can still be aware that filling out depth (and flex spots) with running backs may be cheaper than ever. Chasing a deep wide receiver corps means we may have to spend more than we think if we want to land WR2-level players. Sustained prices in the upper teens and low $20 range are possible. Plan accordingly.
Value is Easy to Find at Quarterback
Because this league only requires one starting quarterback, I figured there would be value to be had by having patience. This turned out to be even more true in this draft room this year. Eleven of the fourteen managers in this draft spent double digits on their starting signal-caller, and nine spent $12 or more. The trend in salary cap drafts has been to spend as little as possible on the position, but plenty of managers still want to get one of the Top 8-10 guys. This creates an opportunity.
How to Use This Information
Most salary cap draft rooms have managers that want to spend almost nothing on quarterback and managers that want an elite producer. This has created a value pocket that can be exploited. In this particular draft, guys like Derek Carr ($5), Matthew Stafford ($2), Aaron Rodgers ($4), and even Russell Wilson ($10) represented a chance to grab a quarterback that could produce 35+ touchdowns for a fraction of the price of the top guys. This value pocket can be exploited in almost any one-quarterback salary cap league.
The Running Back Price Cliff
As the trend towards backfield committees in the NFL shows no signs of slowing down, fantasy managers are reacting by putting a premium on runners with a larger share of their teams’ backfield pie. This has created a price cliff where the top guys are going over $30-35, but very few are in the $20 range. Instead, guys like Javonte Williams ($35), Leonard Fournette ($33), and D'Andre Swift ($37) are in marked contrast to a myriad of guys like Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($13), Chase Edmonds ($19), and Miles Sanders ($10) who still expect to lead their teams in backfield touches.
How to Use this Information
There is plenty of value in shared backfields around the league. In a typical salary cap draft, we can take advantage of this by attacking the low-end RB1 players like Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, and Swift for reasonable prices in the upper $30-range and then piecing together several running backs that are at the top of the price tier just below the metaphorical cliff. For example, landing Swift for $37, then trying to get an RB2 like David Montgomery ($20) or Cam Akers ($17) is much easier in recent years than it has been historically. We can take this further and go for guys like Rhamondre Stevenson ($15) or Edwards-Helaire. After we land our top back, we can attack the wide receiver position with the money saved by taking the discount on our remaining running backs.
Scarcity v. Cap Dollars
At one point during the draft, I realized that only a few top-level running backs were left on the board. Aaron Jones and Joe Mixon were the two guys that still promised to command a price over $30. Sensing the impending scarcity, I resolved to land the first one nominated if the price was reasonable. That happened to be Jones, and I landed him for $38. I liked that price and assumed Mixon would exceed it because he would be the last guy to be nominated that had his potential role and upside. Instead, when he was put up for bid, Mixon went for only $32.
I forgot the most important part of the equation when contemplating the scarcity in this situation. Scarcity only matters if enough money is left in the room to push the price past where it should be. At this point in the draft, two things had happened that should’ve clued me into Mixon’s bargain price coming. The first is that this room had been largely conservative to this point. Players in the room were savvy drafters and had dealt with this format in previous years. As a result, the managers knew that paying too much for top-end talent would hamper their ability to fill out their lineups with quality players. The other thing was that salary caps were getting tighter than they appeared. Mixon wasn’t nominated until the fifth round. That meant that almost 60 players were already gone, and the majority of them were higher-priced talent. There simply wasn’t enough money to get Mixon’s price up where it should be, and no amount of scarcity would make that happen.
Many salary cap drafters use their early nominations to waste cap dollars from their opponents. That’s not a terrible idea, but it isn’t optimal either. All the other managers in your league will want to call out the big names and get right to the business of bidding on the elite players. This draft room was full of experienced salary cap drafters. They know what they are doing in a fantasy draft room. Yet in the first round, only 1 of 14 nominations wasn’t a player ranked Top 12 at their position. In the first four rounds (54 nominations), only 19 (35%) were not in the Top 12 at their respective positions.
If over 65% of the nominations from a room of strong fantasy minds are elite-level players, why should we be using our nominations on those players? We can count on most rooms going like this, and it will be even more heavily skewed to top players in more casual drafts. So instead of using our first few rounds of nominations on top players, we should be looking for key nominations that tell us where our draft is going. The other managers in the room will take care of calling out the big names.
We Can Be Too Patient
Patience is a virtue in salary cap draft rooms, but it can be a double-edged sword. As noted, this room has plenty of smart, experienced fantasy and salary cap drafters. But the desire to be the one with the most money left in the room can be intoxicating. Several managers saved their money too long and ended up spending it on players that weren’t worth the price.
If a room full of sharks can make this mistake, we all have to be on guard for the possibility. The best way to prevent this from happening is to use two tools. I discussed one of those tools in Part 3 of my Mastering Salary Cap Drafts Series. That tool is what I call the Par Sheet. Head to the link to find out how to make one, but a par sheet is a way to assign specific values to your roster spots so that you don’t stray too far from your plan. It can be uncomfortable committing a lot of cap space to one player early in a draft, but your par sheet can help force you to do it so that you don’t end up with money to spend and nobody to spend it on. The other tool is the Draft Dominator. Using this tool is one of the easiest things you can do to keep your spending on track. It keeps track of whether teams are spending too much or too little as the draft progresses by giving you a Retail number that adjusts on the fly. Both tools are invaluable for walking the fine line between spending too fast and not spending fast enough.
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