The Rule of One: How to Avoid Derailing Your Salary Cap Drafts

Jun 16, 2022
The Rule of One: How to Avoid Derailing Your Salary Cap Drafts

Salary cap fantasy drafts are filled with unpredictability. In snake drafts, you might see a player go half a round before or after their consensus ADP, but in salary cap drafts, player value is driven by both ADP and the psychology of drafters. Even advanced players can derail their draft if they find themselves overpaying for a player they are fixated on or desperately trying to fill a roster hole after most of the top talent has been drafted.


Other Salary Cap Articles: Studs and Scrubs | Striking at Value in Auction Drafts | How to Approach 2022 Salary Cap Drafts (Tips & Tricks)


Over time, I’ve caught on to what I call the Rule of One, which simply states that it only takes one manager with the same idea to hinder your draft. In a snake draft, if the player you’re targeting gets taken one pick before yours, it’s easy to pivot to the next best option. In a salary cap draft, popular player prices can spiral out of control and you’re stuck either overpaying for them or drafting less appealing talent. All it takes is one player from your league to target the same guy for things to go haywire for one or both of you.

There are three types of situations in the draft that can see the Rule of One unfold: perceived upside, tier breakers, and positional runs. We can break down why each of these three occurs and how you can best avoid them so that your draft can continue going as planned.

Perceived Upside

When a player is seen as having a better chance of becoming a league-winner than those drafted around him, they have a high perceived upside. This may drive your league mates to hone in on him as a sleeper pick, and they’ll be looking to leave draft night with him on their rosters. Drafters then become fixated on this player once he’s nominated, largely because better options have already been taken and the remaining options are unappealing. Since multiple managers have the same plan, they will bid until the player’s price is well above what is recommended, and one manager ends up overpaying for the player while the others scramble to find a way to fill that hole on their roster.

Last year, CeeDee Lamb was the 21st wide receiver nominated in one of my drafts and was seen as a popular high-upside pick, with many speculating that he could end the season as a top-10 or even top-5 receiver. Managers that had targeted Lamb kept bidding him up until his draft price made him the 10th most valuable wide receiver taken, which was notably higher than his finish as the WR17 in points per game. The kicker is that the next two wide receivers nominated were Diontae Johnson and Cooper Kupp, who were legitimate league winners with a combined draft price of just over half of Lamb’s. In this case, managers ignored too many of the first 20 receivers in hopes of getting Lamb, and then let desperation drive their bids towards overpaying.

This season, you may like the appeal of Saquon Barkley at his high-end RB2 draft price, seeing visions that he returns to rookie or sophomore year performance. You may budget $40 for him on draft night since you like him so much. But if you wait for the first dozen running backs to get drafted while expecting to fill a spot with Barkley, once he’s on the board you’ll probably see him as the last great option. His ADP peers (Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb) may be appealing, but don’t offer quite the same league-winning upside. But if another league member is also looking for Barkley, you can quickly see his price rise to $45 or $50 out of desperation, and all of a sudden you need to pay an uncomfortable price or draft another player that you’re not excited about.

So how do we avoid overpaying for players that we’re targeting? By nominating them early. The more great players still available on the draft board, the more willing other managers will be to stop bidding as the price climbs. This also gives you stronger alternatives if the player gets bid beyond your budget. If you nominate Barkley while Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook are still available, you’ll have a much easier time pivoting from your plan if you need to.

Tier Breakers

It’s hard to give definitive rankings to players with strong confidence, but it’s much easier to break them into tiers. Early 4for4 rankings have Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, D’Andre Swift, and Dalvin Cook separated by just five projected points for the whole season, which makes it a tough call on draft night on which one to take. However, we can pretty comfortably say that their outlook is a bit better than James Conner and David Montgomery, who they project to outscore by about one point per game. So we may put the first four options into one tier, and then the second group in a tier below them, to help us guide our drafts.

I’ve written about leveraging tiers in salary cap drafts before, and many people will instinctively use them in their draft planning. If they budget $50 for one of their running back spots, they’re naturally targeting a certain group, or tier, of players that they expect to land in that range. And they’ll need to adapt if they miss out on all of them, and the next running back is worth $42.

What we almost always see in salary cap drafts is that the last player nominated in a tier will go for as much as, if not more than, the first. Managers will shy away from high bids on players at the top of their tier, telling themselves that they’ll target the next available player. But once it comes to the last player in the tier, it’s their last chance, and you’ll see their price rise accordingly. You may not have wanted to break $50 for a running back, but once Swift is the only one left and the next best options are Conner or Montgomery, you may be tempted to stretch your budget up to $53 or $55 to avoid stepping down.

There’s a common theme between tier breakers and perceived upside, which is that drafters see the player on the board as notably better than any other remaining choices. And the solution remains similar: act early. For high-end picks, it’s better to settle for an okay deal rather than try to wait for a great deal that never comes. When the tier you’re targeting starts to get nominated in the draft, it’s best to grab the first one that’s going for a fair price. This is especially true if there are only two players left in the tier because you know that the next one will probably see inflated bids.

Positional Runs

Positional runs are a cousin of tier breakers in that drafters panic to grab a certain type of player before the talent runs out. The primary difference is that it can impact multiple players all drafted near each other, not just one high-upside or tier-breaking pick. This is the hardest scenario to predict before the draft and is completely league-dependent, but is based on people scrambling to fill a position on their roster.

Over time, fantasy drafters have caught on to the value of QBs that can score points on the ground. Whether they have designed runs like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, or just have the mobility to scramble and become a dual-threat like Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson, these quarterbacks have vaulted in draft rankings in recent years.

In one of my superflex drafts last season, four quarterbacks got nominated in quick succession, and Kyler Murray was the last one remaining that offered this rushing ability. Drafters didn’t want to pass on Murray’s upside for Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Joe Burrow, so Murray’s price rose until he became the most valuable quarterback drafted! While Murray was a popular preseason pick, his fantasy value was nowhere near Mahomes’ or Allen’s, and yet he went for more than both of them.

This is the most glaring example of derailing a draft. Instead of overly fixating on getting a mobile quarterback, this drafter could have pivoted to a cheap quarterback and allocated that money towards stronger players at other positions, and there was plenty of talent still available.

To avoid hindering your draft by biting on a positional run, you need to identify what parts of your ideal roster construction you’re most committed to. Whether that be landing a mobile QB, grabbing two high-end WRs, pounding RBs, or any other tactic, it’s important to understand what parts of your roster strategy are most vital in your mind. Once you know that, the key is to solidify it as soon as possible by nominating and drafting players that fit your mold. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that draft pressures cause something to go wrong.

Conclusion

Salary cap drafts are one-half strategy and one-half adaptability. Come into your draft with a clear plan, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it, and know the early warning signs of when somebody’s draft plan is about to screw things up for you.

All it takes is one person targeting the same high-upside sleeper, one extra league mate budgeting for the same tier, or one more manager wanting to lock in their ideal roster construction, to spiral everybody’s plans. The more flexible and agile you can be, the better your drafts will end up.

Bottom Line

  • The unpredictability of salary cap drafts means you’ll need to be willing to deviate from your plan if the draft starts working against it.
  • You will probably not be the only person in your league with a certain plan, and all it takes is one other manager to derail things for multiple people.
  • If you are set on drafting a certain player, nominate them early. The longer you wait, the more things can blow up in your face.
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