Note: This series is designed to take salary cap drafters of any ability and refine their skills to those of a seasoned veteran. The articles will go from simple 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.
If you haven't yet, it's a good idea to go back and read the first six parts of this series before you dive into the final part on Inflection Points.
If you've made it this far, you've read about all the different parts of a salary cap draft – how to prepare, nominate and bid, and read your league. What all of it is leading to is an ability to isolate certain points in the draft when your skills allow you to capitalize on opportunities you see happening in real-time. Those moments are called inflection points. While technically a math term, in common parlance, an inflection point is a time of change in a particular situation or, more succinctly, a turning point.
Have you ever been in a salary cap draft where a high-caliber player is up for bid and the price stops way too low? Despite the fact that people have money, they are starting to be more selective with who they bid on and how much they want to spend. So a guy like Chris Olave comes up four rounds into the draft, and money is starting to get tight. Someone wins Olave for $14, and everyone collectively shakes their head or remarks, “Great deal!” But if it was a great deal, then why didn't someone bid? This should clue you in that something is happening. Despite Olave having a price that should be at least $10 higher, nobody chose to bid. Often, this means that there isn't enough money left in the room, and people aren't feeling the pinch at wide receiver. This is when you have to recognize and strike. Spotting this inflection point - and others like it - is how you become an elite salary cap drafter.
Inflection points occur multiple times in each draft, and the resulting conditions can last different lengths of time. Paying attention to when they hit will give you opportunities during the course of the draft. If you aren't watching for these changes, you will miss them and lose valuable moments to improve your team. Keep in mind that you may not always be in a position to capitalize on these inflection points, but if you are watching for them, you are more likely to be ready to take advantage. If you are constantly behind when those shifts occur, then you will not be successful.
Not all inflection points fit neatly into these boxes, but in general, here are the six major inflection points you're likely to see in every salary cap draft.
#1 - Settling In
This one is easy to spot. When the draft begins, there will be a period right at the beginning when people are still getting settled in. They will be thinking big picture about the draft, organizing their papers or computer program in front of them, and getting ready to do battle. Often a big-name player will be called out right away, and this heightens the effect of this phenomenon. Quickly there will be a large portion of someone's cap in play, and because it is so early, people won't want to spend a big percentage of their money immediately. With the whole player pool spread out before them, and their full $200 left, there will be a subconscious mental barrier to spending top dollars on the first couple of players nominated.
What You Can Do – Getting a deal on a top-tier player looks different than getting a deal on a lower-tier player. Often a couple of dollars, or maybe up to $5, is all you can expect in a deal for the elite players. The best way to get one of those deals is while people are settling in. This inflection point is often extremely short, so it's important to recognize it immediately and jump on it (sometimes it can last as little as one player). Don't forget that this can also recur during a draft if there is an extended break at some point. Just before going on a long break or just after a food break where you have been paused for a while, can replicate the behavior you saw from other managers at the beginning of the draft.
#2 - Fast Spending, Top Talent
There are always going to be varying degrees of experience in any salary cap draft room, and that will affect this particular point. Veterans don't get as excited to throw out the big names and start piling up talent. But it will still happen, and this point will feature a fairly long run of elite nominations before drafters begin to branch out to different types and levels of players. The end of the run is when everyone takes a breath and starts to nominate their kicker, the first defense, or the first low-ranked tight end. There will still be talent on the board, but people will start to focus on their individual plans at this point.
What You Can Do – Sometimes, it is advantageous for you to slow this run down by throwing a curveball out there. Nominating Brandin Cooks after watching Tyreek Hill and Saquon Barkley get rostered can often wake people up to the fact that you don't have to nominate all the best guys first. But often, you won't be able to stop it. Instead, now is the time for you to start to define your own draft, as discussed in Part 4. At this point, you'll be seeing the market getting set for the top guys, and you'll know if you're going to be competing for them or not. If the spending is wild, then you should force yourself to relax and wait. The draft will come back to you for deals later when the money is thinning out. But if people are timid and prices are lower than you thought, you must act fast. It is far more common to see wild spending than caution, but you should be looking for both.
This inflection point is one of the most important ones of the entire draft. It is where you decide on a strategy and watch everything flow from the decisions made during that crazy first run of players. The purse strings are loose, the talent is elite, and the bidding is usually wild, but you must control the moment to set up the rest of your draft.
#3 - Scarcity Creeps In
At this juncture, there are plenty of players left, but there are two major things that have changed: There is a substantial amount of money subtracted from the room, and tiers begin to show scarcity. Managers have secured several players, and plenty of top talent has already been rostered. This is not to be confused with a lack of total available players. Rather, this is where the boomerang effect will start to become more prominent as tiers begin to dry up. This might be one of the longest stages in the draft. Some teams have already taken themselves out of the running for big players, but others have quietly spent almost no money. As a result, prices will become the least predictable than they will be for the rest of the draft. There will be big spikes as drafters panic and try to secure the final guys in their respective tiers, or there will be huge discounts like the example with Chris Olave in the open to this article.
What You Can Do – First, don't be one of the ones panicking. Because you have read this series, you now know that you cannot allow positional runs to dry things up before you secure the players you need. So when you see the draft move to this point, speed is of the essence. You may feel as though you are spending more on a player than you wanted, but the alternative is to pay a lot more for someone later because they're the last good player remaining. The worst-case scenario is that you get bid up on one of the remaining players because of scarcity, so you stop and think, “I'll get one of the couple of others that are left.” Someone else is likely thinking the same thing. If you don't buy that player now, it will not only get worse for you in a minute, it will get much worse. The random spikes in pricing will be challenging, but that is what you have prepared for.
It is hard to judge what to do in this difficult stage of the draft, but pulling the trigger at the right time and finding that balance is what turns a decent drafter into an excellent one. Hopefully, at this point, your plan is already in place (you defined that during #2 above), and you can begin to shift your focus from a meta-picture of the draft to a more specific focus on people's rosters and the reasons behind their bidding.
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