2022 Fantasy Football: What we learned from an expert Salary Cap Draft

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. And my first Salary Cap Draft of 2022 came from a fantasy league that didn’t exist on paper 96 hours ago.

For years a bunch of Yahoo and Rotowire writers (and some occasional side-invitees) have played in the Stopa League and the Evans League, a salary-cap group that featured superflex rosters and jumbo flex assignments.

These leagues have always been about starting a heavy number of players, having a short bench, and forcing difficult decisions on the managers. It’s a style I love, and a style I try to semi-replicate in the private leagues that I run.

Ted Bell, a regular member of this crew, decided to pick up the baton and run this year’s version of the group; somehow he recruited the league and set up a draft time in just a few days. Well played, Teddy.

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I’m pretty sure this is Year 11 for this group; memories are a little hazy, but I think rookie year Russell Wilson was the first player I landed in Year 1. Glad that Wilson is still around, and I’m glad this industry salary cap dance is still around.

Specs: We roster 16 players, and start 12 every week, as such: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 Superflex (Q/R/W/T), 4 standard flex (R/W/T), 1 DST. You have four bench slots, three IR slots. We do not use kickers. Scoring is half-point PPR.

Fellow Yahooligans Andy Behrens, Frank Schwab and Dalton Del Don are in the pool. Rotowire brings Jeff Erickson, Peter Schoenke, Jason Thornbury and Luke Hoover. Teddy Bell and his peeps fill out the other slots. Good people, good competition.

Here’s a look at how some of it went down (and if you're not in the mood for a long read, I'll include a "too long, didn't read" summary at the bottom):

Cooper Kupp, $40, hecky bean

I had some mandatory pre-draft errands to run, and one of them, through no fault of my own, ran long. I arrived at the draft as the first player was being offered on. I just got settled when the gavel came down — through autodraft, I was the proud manager of Cooper Kupp, $40.

“(Expletive) Autodraft!” was my instant reaction. Alas, I was misguided. This wasn’t a bad offer. This isn’t a bad salary. And although I had imagined a Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase as more likely spots for my vanity wide receiver build, Kupp at $40 is just fine.

So my first order of business was merely to settle down, get my bearings. And then I had to consider what a Kupp addition meant for the rest of the top of my roster.

Cooper Kupp #10 of the Los Angeles Rams is a fantasy star
Cooper Kupp was Scott Pianowski's first pick in his salary cap fantasy draft. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

I immediately knew he would likely be my most expensive player. Thus, I’d probably be out on any of the next 7-10 players on the salary structure. I am not going to finish with a roster of $1 players. Because we start 12 players in this league, I desire more balance in my roster composition.

Some of my upcoming nominations would be standard. The best overall players on the board (Taylor, Jefferson, CMC, Ekeler) would be reasonable throws for me, as they didn’t fit my likely roster structure. I also would be open to throwing Allen Robinson later; although I’m on board with a Robinson rebound season, I’d prefer not to have two same-position Rams on the same roster.

Some managers in the room noted that Kupp wasn’t a bad finishing salary, especially for an autodraft, and I agree. This lines up with a salary cap draft fact of life that I’ve observed over the years:

In leagues that are new to the format, the early spending is often ridiculous, like college kids with their first credit card. In leagues that are experienced in the format, often the best time to jump in is on the early nominations; for reasons I can’t put my finger on, offers are often passive with the early few names.

So I sat on my hands for a while. I didn’t land anyone until the 21st player was up for offers . . .

Terry McLaurin, $21, hecky bean

I’ve taken a mild fantasy loss on McLaurin the last two years, no fault of his own. The Washington team hasn’t had good quarterback play. Maybe Carson Wentz is an upgrade there, maybe he isn’t. At least I have no nitpicks on McLaurin’s skills and work ethic. I entered the offers late and was fine with this final resting spot.

Alas, two rounds later, I wound up with another Washington player on the roster . . .

Antonio Gibson, $11, hecky bean

No one reasonably sets up shop and starts attacking a Commanders stack. This was strictly a salary-enforcing offer. The proceedings had stalled at $10, and I thought that was far too low. I didn’t think $11 would stick, but stick it did.

Even with the negative flow to Gibson’s fantasy profile this summer — he’s a little dinged up, J.D. McKissic returned, Brian Robinson might have a role quickly, perhaps tied to some short-yardage work — I’m confident Gibson can easily justify the $11 offer, and likely turn a modest profit.

Gibson was actually the fourth player on my roster because I had a quick pit stop seven nominations earlier . . .

Denver D/ST, $1, hecky bean

Because this league has only 12 managers and a modest four bench spots, I expect defensive streaming to be a thing. It’s not practical to carry two defenses in the first half of the year in most formats anyway, and the wire should have strong options at most times. Some managers will opt to ignore defense at the draft and focus on an upside player elsewhere, content to grab a D/ST shortly before Week 1. That’s perfectly reasonable. What I chose to do here is focus on someone with a good early schedule; I’ll get plus matchups to start, then play the streaming game shortly after.

Denver opens at Seattle (hiya, Drew Lock or Geno Smith) and then hosts Houston (one of the weakest rosters in the league). Two plus matchups. I’ll take that for the minimum investment.

The rest of my landed players fit one theme or another; let’s quickly run through them:

Davante Adams, $30 — value mining

Adams fetched $30 shortly after Stefon Diggs went for $34 (reasonable) and Michael Pittman Jr. landed $28 (we all like Pittman, but that’s an obvious steam salary). I don’t know if I would have chased Adams any higher, but I was content to land him at this number. I thought it might be affordable to link him with Derek Carr; alas, that did not come together.

Breece Hall, $21 — value mining, hoping for a pseudo bell cow

Andy Behrens and I duked it out over Aaron Jones, one of my favorite 1A running backs this year. It ping-ponged into the 30s, but I said uncle when Behrens wrote the $32 ticket. And then when I landed Adams shortly afterward, I had picked a lane — I would have a strong wideout room, but would have to look at secondary running back possibilities.

Hall strikes me as the Rookie of the Year favorite. Michael Carter is a good player but shouldn’t get in Hall’s way, and the Jets have dumped resources into their offensive line. Hall is capable of playing in all situations, too. This is a salary I can live with.

Chase Edmonds, $11 — plausible upside

Tua Tagovailoa, $11 — plausible upside

Miami’s backfield depth chart is a fun read, a list of players who all seem to be natural fits as a No. 2 or No. 3 back, but no one who screams out “lead singer.” Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed. That established, Edmonds is at the top of the depth chart and was paid the most of the group, so if anyone takes this job and locks it up, it’s likely to be him. Edmonds is also likely to see positive touchdown regression after scoring just twice last year.

Miami Dolphins running back Chase Edmonds (2)
Chase Edmonds likely has more upside than any other back in Miami. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Seconds after I landed Edmonds, I had Tagovailoa as well. Lovely. First a Washington stack, then a Miami stack. Let’s party like it’s 1982.

I was hoping I could find some solid-but-unsexy quarterbacks to sit in the QB1 seat, guys like Kirk Cousins or Derek Carr. Alas, Cousins fetched $26 (just three bucks fewer than Lamar Jackson) and Carr went up to $25. I would have duplicated those tickets for Russell Wilson, but he took $30 off the board. I wasn’t going to force the issue; on the fly, I decided to be more frugal at quarterback, and I could allocate the savings to having a dynamic wide receiver room.

I am not sure Tagovailoa is a plus player, but with Jaylen Waddle into Year 2 and Tyreek Hill joining the team, we’re going to find out. I can throw the dice at $11.

Dawson Knox, $5; Dallas Goedert, $4 — doubling up on a budget

I didn’t have the bankroll to get a vanity tight end, but I was willing to get two in this format, as tight ends often get hurt and you might use one of them as a final flex in a common week. Knox was mostly touchdown deodorant in his breakout 2021, but he showed the ability to win at all three levels, and he’s tied to the best offense on paper in the game. I was stunned that Goedert, a top-10 tight end on anyone’s board, stopped at four bucks at a time when several of my opponents still needed a tight end and still had cash. So it goes. We’re a long way from opening day, but if the season started tomorrow, Brevin Jordan, David Njoku and Albert O would be starting for teams.

I’m not hard-headed about following a pre-determined path. Sometimes you go where the salary cap draft takes you.

Jared Goff, $8; Ryan Tannehill, $7 — affordable depth

I view three quarterbacks as near-mandatory in a Superflex room, and given that Tagovailoa can’t be seen as a sure thing, I wanted two more no-doubt starters whom I could at least feel semi-comfortable with.

Goff is the more proactive pick of the two; given how much we respect the Detroit skill talent, Goff becomes an acceptable QB2 in this type of format. Tannehill might be harder to trust with A.J. Brown gone, though Tannehill does have sneaky rushing chops and QB7 and QB12 finishes on his last two ledgers. If he can simply be a top-20ish quarterback for me, he fits the slot.

Cordarrelle Patterson, $2 — sometimes the music stops

I did not like how Patterson looked late last year when he became a dedicated running back. I think it’s possible Tyler Allgeier — who landed $3 in this room — becomes the Falcons starting RB. But it won’t take much for Patterson to justify my final $2 tag, even as I was surprised to see it stick. And even if Patterson fails as a running back, Atlanta’s skimpy wide receiver room might call him back and push him into fantasy relevance that way.

Because I didn’t dump a bunch of cash into the quarterback or running back spots, I was able to assemble a deep receiver room. I had three more names to land, all of them solid additions:

Adam Thielen, $9 — the boring value jam

The Ibanez All-Stars theme is more of a baseball idea, as Fantasy Football becomes more of a young man's game with every passing season. That said, Thielen is a dynamic and reliable scorer in tight spaces, leading to 24 touchdowns over the lasts two years. Even if Jefferson spreads his wings wider in his third season, I still like Thielen to maintain a healthy share, especially on a team with an especially narrow distribution tree.

Allen Lazard, $9 — featured target by default?

Sometimes it feels like Aaron Rodgers has a dot of trust, not a circle of trust. It’s not easy to swap cell phone digits with this man. But Rodgers has made it clear through the years that he values Lazard, and by default Lazard is currently the No. 1 wideout on the Green Bay chart. For Lazard to lead the wideouts in targets, he merely has to beat out two rookies (one of whom, Christian Watson, is currently on PUP) and grizzled veterans like Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb. Lazard is unlikely to ever become a star, but Rodgers has a chance to drag him into weekly fantasy relevance.

Chase Claypool, $5 — hope for touchdown regression

Claypool spiked nine times as a rookie; just two times in his second season. Part of that falls on Ben Roethlisberger, in his Weekend at Bernie’s season, but some of the blame surely lands with Claypool, too. But at this landing salary, I have plenty of room for profit.

Claypool was my final player, and as we led up to his name, I was prepared to quickly type in “$5” for any player I found appealing. This is critical in the endgame. Often two or more managers will have similar maximum bids or overbids available, and it’s the most decisive manager who gets what they want. I quickly pushed my final $5 offer on the preferred DeVonta Smith a round before Claypool, but a different manager had additional funds and the final ticket was $8.

I like to say that the three keys to live poker are patience, alertness, position. That credo also extends to this silly little football game. And alertness, especially, is what you want in the endgame.

Final Roster

QB: Tagovailoa, Goff, Tannehill

RB: Gibson, Hall, Edmonds, Patterson

WR: Kupp, Adams, McLaurin, Thielen, Lazard, Claypool

TE: Goedert, Knox

DST: Denver Broncos

Too Long, Didn't Read

• Experienced Salary-Cap rooms are often passive with early offers; newer leagues often start with aggressive offers. In industry leagues, the best time to shop is often in the early throws.

• Try to vary your nomination structure, so you're not easy to read. Often a nomination is tied to someone you don't want or don't need, but mix it up and also pitch a few players you are interested in rostering.

• There are dozens of things more important than bye weeks, but when in doubt, a later bye week is better than an earlier bye week.

• Just like poker, three keys to success: patience, alertness, position (or more broadly, leverage).

• I'm more likely to analyze September strength of schedule than December strength of schedule. The NFL is a snow-globe league. I prefer to play Fantasy Football with a microscope, not a telescope.

• In the endgame, be cognizant of everyone's maximum bid and be prepared to jump to keep numbers quickly when the nominated player is someone you want.

If you want to examine the league rosters and draft results, click here.

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