Salary cap drafts are slowly becoming more common in fantasy football leagues each season. While they may never supplant the traditional snake draft, the salary format adds an additional layer of strategy for fantasy football players. With a set salary cap, you can pick and choose how much you want to spend on your favorite player. Simultaneously, you will have to be strategic in budgeting the rest of your spending money to fill out a balanced roster.
Whether you’re an experienced salary cap manager or are looking to play for the first time, our salary cap fantasy football guide will provide some tips as you build your draft strategy.
For this guide, we’re working under the assumption that the salary cap has been set at $200. This salary cap league draft consists of a 12-team league, with the starting lineup consisting of: 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 FLEX, 1 Kicker, and 1 D/ST. The remainder of the roster consists of six bench players.
First round pick
I don’t recall any fantasy manager winning the championship without a stud running back or wide receiver on their roster, and this especially rings true in salary cap draft formats. If given a choice between the two I’m putting my money on a stud running back who is sure to get a bulk of the carries and scoring opportunities at the goal line. If your highest-paid pick is spent on an elite running back then that’s a justified strategy. Even better if you can budget a bit lower and snag two reliable running backs as starters.
An ideal pick in this scenario would be Najee Harris, who has an AAV of $42. If you budget right and the draft situation favors you, then you could potentially get an Aaron Jones or Nick Chubb whose AAV is close to $36. Snagging two legitimate running backs as your starters for a combined price under $100 might require some crafty moves, but doing so would be a huge win.
When to draft a QB?
In drafting a quarterback the name of the game is to go with value in this draft pick. You could very well get swayed by the name of a top-tier quarterback and pay a hefty price to have him on your roster, but does the dollar amount justify the fantasy production? Typically, second and third-tier quarterbacks finish not too far behind those elite names in fantasy scoring, which could save you some dollars in your budget.
For example, Tom Brady had a higher scoring output last season than Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts, who bring a higher AAV (average auction value) because of their running ability. But you can get a much more productive option at a lower price when you’re not overpaying for the quarterback position. I like going for a second or third-tier option (think Brady or Dak Prescott) with one of your middle picks once you’ve successfully driven up the bidding price for a Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, forcing your opponents to spend bigger and earlier.
When to draft a TE?
Some may reduce their tight end selection to a $1 player and go with the “boom or bust” strategy for the season. I argue that’s not the most sound strategy and I’d rather go with value over leaving fantasy points on the board. I don’t like overpaying for the likes of Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews, so I would not recommend picking either the first or second tight end on the board.
I’m comfortable saving my budget for perhaps the third, fourth, maybe even fifth tight end option available. George Kittle or Darren Waller are ideal options here with an AAV close to $16. You’re much better off saving your budget and one of your later picks on these tight ends that provide just as much value without draining your budget dry.
Bill Belichick’s fondness for the running back-by-committee approach has been to the chagrin of many fantasy managers over the years, but that’s not stopping us in salary cap drafts. I like Damien Harris as a go-to target for your flex position, and he has a respectable AAV of $22. He was a top-10 standard league scorer and a top-18 PPR player in fantasy a season ago. Quarterback Mac Jones has also reportedly struggled through camp as the Patriots opt for a new offensive scheme. If true, expect New England to lean heavily into the run game this season.
Over on the West Coast, it’s an arms race in the AFC West, and the Las Vegas Raiders made their splash in trading for Davante Adams. That offense has the potential to be scary, but I’m not looking to spend heavily for Adams or even Darren Waller. No, I like my value in picking up Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow was a top-10 fantasy receiver in PPR scoring in 2021 and finished top-15 in standard scoring. McDaniels has a knack for getting the most out of his slot receivers from his days in New England with Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. With an AAV of $8, drafting Renfrow could arguably be the steal of your salary cap league draft.
Players to fade
Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts should command top dollar based on their ability on the ground as well as the improved weapons around Hurts, but I’m wary given that they are more susceptible to injury. I want to draft for value at quarterback and with that comes the assurance that they will be available on a weekly basis. I’d stray away from writing a blank check for these two and instead drive up the price for your opponents.
I understand why Christian McCaffrey once again is mocked near the top of fantasy drafts given that when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best running backs in the league. But his $58 AAV is too steep given his recent injury history. Paying anything near his AAV only for him to once again see extended time on the sidelines would be a big blunder for fantasy owners.
The name of the game is to assess the value of your ideal draft targets and most importantly to stick to your budget. You want to drive up the price of players to drain your opponent’s draft budgets dry, but don’t forget they’re going to deploy the same tactic against you.
If you see one of your targets in the queue, try and get your guy but don’t overpay and run your budget empty early into your draft. Stick to your philosophy of what you believe to be the fair market value for a given player and you’ll walk out of your auction draft with a balanced roster on your hands.