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2022 Salary Cap Startup Strategy: Build through the Draft

Startup auctions for salary cap leagues can be daunting. Matt Plumb walks you through some strategy to come out on top.

“Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players; your goal should be to buy wins. In order to buy wins, you need to buy runs (fantasy points).” – Moneyball (with a wording tweak)

There are many things to consider when it comes to startup auctions in salary cap leagues. Chances are there will be many GMs who overpay for top talent, which ends up hamstringing their team in future years. The most important thing to keep in mind regarding your team is cap flexibility. Jay Stein has been writing a series on Dynasty Nerds, The Intelligent Fantasy Football Investor, about using the P/E ratio to determine which players to sign. P/E ratio is even more applicable in salary cap leagues. (Please refer to his series to better understand this concept and its application). Based on this idea, nothing is more valuable than hitting on a rookie draft pick.

Build Through the Draft

Most salary cap leagues use a decreasing dollar value for their rookie draft picks. The first couple of picks in the first round are the most expensive, and they decrease in value as the draft continues. Draft picks provide the highest P/E potential of any option in salary cap leagues. For example, I spent two seasons rebuilding my squad in a 14-team 53-man roster IDP/Superflex league. The years I acquired picks were 2020 and 2021. Here are my 2022 starting offensive players:

Having Jonathan Taylor, Javonte Williams, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase on four-year rookie deals at controlled costs is critical to my team’s success as a contender for the next few seasons.

How to Rebuild Through the Draft Going into a Startup

Most leagues do not have a rookie draft in the inaugural season. This means all rookies that year are involved in the auction, along with veterans. To set your team up for future success, the key may be going into the auction with the expectation that you aren’t competing in the inaugural season. This is tough for all competitive owners. The key to long-term success is rostering players with high P/E ratios. I have outlined the steps below to build a long-term championship roster.

Step 1: Stay Away from Top Talent Bidding Wars for RB and WR

When building through the draft, don’t get into bidding wars for top talent. Odds are Justin Jefferson is going to command significant contract value. The P/E ratio will be heavily diluted for players like Jefferson due to their contract value. These contracts will also heavily influence your roster decisions going into future years as these players are usually signed to max-year contracts that take a large portion of your cap space.

Step 2: Sign High Upside RBs/WRs

The key to your inaugural auction is taking advantage of the spending craze for top talent and signing under-the-radar, high-upside players. This includes WR3/4s and RB3s. These players tend to be overlooked during the early stages of the auction. Determine which players you like and nominate them early, as most GMs will ignore these lower ADP players in the beginning. These signings will be crucial later on.

Step 3: Pay up for QB in Superflex Leagues and Tight End for 1QB Leagues

These positions are ones that you would like to not take the chance with draft picks to fill. The scarcity of top tight ends and the disparity between the top three quarterbacks versus the rest is MASSIVE. Based on PPR scoring data from, the top three quarterbacks from 2017 to 2021 scored an average of 363.69 points per season, while the top three tight ends in the same period scored an average of 249.03. Comparatively, the top 4-12 quarterbacks and TE produced an average of 303.27 and 162.86 points. The top three produced over 60 points more than the next eight quarterbacks. The top three tight ends averaged more than 86 points than the next eight tight ends. These are significant numbers in two positions with longevity and less turnover than running backs.

Step 4: Assess Team’s Ability in First Four Weeks

Unless your team is a top 2-3 team in the league at Week 4, let your leaguemates know you are rebuilding for the future. Any players you don’t think are cornerstones for your team should be added to the trade block this week. Don’t sell to sell, though. Starting your sell-off this early allows you to be picky with trade offers and not sell low.

Step 5: Sell expiring players to Contenders for picks

Any player on the final year of a deal that won’t receive an extension must be on the trade block as the trade deadline nears. Accumulate as much future capital as you can. Even fifth-round picks are valuable, as you can always use them as throw-ins later to push a deal over the edge or to move up in future drafts. Letting one-year deal players expire for nothing is not good business. Even if they won’t fetch a first or second-round pick, they aren’t helping you now. Sell them all!

Step 6: Take on Underwater Players (With Discretion)

No, not literally players underwater. Underwater players are players whose contract value/Average Annual Value (AAV) is higher than their fantasy production value. At the trade deadline, teams may ask you to take cap back to facilitate a deal. Always accept one-year contracts back to get a deal involving future assets done. Maintain as much cap space as possible going into future years to give your team the most leverage.

Step 7: Live in the Dynasty Nerds Film Room

Knowledge is key when rebuilding through the draft. The Dynasty Film Room (offered through the Nerd Herd subscription) gives you game film data on all eligible rookies. Identifying top talent and talent that fills holes in your roster will help you become a contender faster. 2022 is the perfect year to build through the draft as the 2023 class offers immense upside.
There are many ways to build a contending roster in salary cap leagues.

Building through the draft is an effective way to acquire talent at low contract values. It gives you the young talent potential at a low cap value to maximize the draft pick’s P/E ratio and continue to contend year after year.

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