Fantasy Football 2022: Auction Expert Draft Analysis

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVAugust 17, 2022

Fantasy Football 2022: Auction Expert Draft Analysis

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    The NFL's opening night will be here before you know it, and that means it's the absolute best time of year for fantasy football enthusiasts.

    It's draft season.

    One format that is rapidly gaining popularity is auction or salary-cap leagues. In that format, you aren't beholden to a draft spot. Instead, you have a budget to "spend" on acquiring whatever players you wish. If you want to roster Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp and you're willing to pay the price, you can.

    It's a format that requires a little more prep than snake leagues. That prep can be especially difficult since salary-cap mocks are nearly impossible to come by—while snake draft mocks are ubiquitous.

    While attending the Fantasy Football Expo in Canton, Ohio, this past weekend, I took part in an industry salary-cap draft against some of the sharpest fantasy analysts in the business. They know where the values are in 2022 and the differing ways to build a salary-cap roster.

    And now, I'm going to share some of that knowledge with you.

The King's Classic

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    Photo courtesy of Brian Drake

    The King's Classic is an industry draft consisting of three 14-team divisions that draft both a snake and salary-cap team every August. I have been included in the league every year since its inception in 2017.

    We won't talk about how I've done. Suffice it to say that when you swim with sharks, you're apt to get bit.

    The scoring setup is pretty standard. It's a point-per-reception league with four-point passing touchdowns and a $200 budget. It's worth noting that there are no kickers or team defense, but there are three "flex" starters.

    Here's all you need to know about kickers and defenses in salary-cap leagues. Don't ever pay more than $1 for either. It's not worth it.

    I compete in the George Blanda Division against some of the brightest minds (and best people) in the fantasy industry. They are

    - Marcas Grant (NFL.com)

    - Darren Armani (Fantasy Mojo)

    - Kevin Tompkins (Fantasy Alarm) and Brian Drake (FC Fantasy Sports)

    - Drew Davenport (Footballguys)

    - Gary Davenport (Bleacher Report)

    - Mike Woellert and Chris Allen (4For4.com)

    - Pat Fitzmaurice (Fantasy Pros)

    - Doug Orth (FFToday)

    - Scott Pianowski (Yahoo)

    - Chris Prince (RotoGrinders)

    - Ryan McDowell and Eric Dickens (DLF)

    - Dwain McFarland (Pro Football Focus)

    - Dennis Clausen (RotoBaller)

    - Graham Barfield (Fantasy Points)

    NOTE: With two exceptions (myself and Drew Davenport, who is the two-time defending champion of the salary-cap league), team managers aren't listed with their teams. I don't presume to know more about fantasy football than any of these gentlemen. I consider them all friends and I never criticize other fantasy analysts publicly.

Team No. 1

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    Steve Marcus/Getty Images

    QB: Trey Lance, SF ($12)

    RB: Austin Ekeler, LAC ($41); Damien Harris, NE ($10); Darrell Henderson, LAR ($8); Raheem Mostert, MIA ($5); Gus Edwards, BAL ($5); Tyrion Davis-Price, SF ($4); Isaiah Pacheco, KC ($3); Ty Montgomery, NE ($1)

    WR: Stefon Diggs, BUF ($40); Mike Evans, TB ($32); Tyler Lockett, SEA ($13); George Pickens, PIT ($5); Josh Palmer, LAC ($5)

    TE: Zach Ertz, ARI ($9); Irv Smith Jr., MIN ($2)

    In Lance He Trusts

    The good news with Trey Lance is that the second-year pro has the combination of arm talent and running ability that fantasy managers drool over. The bad news is Lance has reportedly been inaccurate in camp, and the entire 49ers offense has struggled.

    However, this manager apparently has confidence in Lance's ability to get things figured out. Not only did he spend more on Lance than quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Russell Wilson went for, but he only drafted a single quarterback.

    Lance was one of the earlier quarterbacks drafted, and his winning bid shows that waiting can be wise at the position. As the draft progresses and budgets shrink, so do the asking prices for mid-range starters under center.

    Wide Receiver Weak Spot

    Given that this league has PPR scoring, three starters at wide receiver and three flex spots, it was surprising that this team only drafted five receivers as opposed to eight running backs. It means Tyler Lockett is an every-week starter at wideout despite Seattle's issues at quarterback, and that even if all five receivers are in the lineup, a third back or second tight end must be as well.

    Unless Raheem Mostert or Gus Edwards can stay healthy or rookies Tyrion Davis Price and Isaiah Pacheco turn preseason hype into a significant workload, this team could be in trouble.

Team No. 2

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    QB: Joe Burrow, CIN ($12); Matt Ryan, IND ($1)

    RB: Travis Etienne, JAX ($29); J.K. Dobbins, BAL ($18); J.D. McKissic, WAS (5); Ronald Jones, KC ($2); Rex Burkhead, HOU ($1)

    WR: Courtland Sutton, DEN ($29); A.J. Brown, PHI ($29); Jaylen Waddle, MIA ($20); Chris Godwin, TB ($20); Jakoby Meyers, NE ($4); David Bell, CLE ($2); Curtis Samuel, WAS ($1)

    TE: Travis Kelce, KC ($26); Austin Hooper, TEN ($1)

    What Can Brown Do for You?

    I will freely admit that I am not a fan of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown in 2022. Brown has just one top-20 season in PPR points and joined an Eagles team that ranked last in the league in pass attempts last season.

    But Brown's ADP at Fantasy Pros for snake drafts is inside the top-12 among wide receivers, and getting a perceived fantasy WR1 for less than $30 is solid value. In fact, this manager got good value in a few spots at the position, enabling him to build a four-deep depth chart that is pretty impressive.

    The Measured Approach

    There are many different strategies for approaching a salary-cap draft. Some, like "Studs and Scrubs," even have a catchy nickname. But this manager took a measured approach. Not one player on the roster went for $30, but six of his 16 players cost at least $20.

    There's a price for this plan—this team lacks a high-end running back, with the top two players possessing a snake draft ADP outside the top-20 at the position. But Travis Etienne and J.K. Dobbins each have top-15 (if not top-12) upside, and the team is strong at every other position.

Team No. 3

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    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    QB: Derek Carr, LV ($5)

    RB: Dalvin Cook, MIN ($46); Chase Edmonds, MIA ($19); James Robinson, JAX ($10); Khalil Herbert, CHI (9); Alexander Mattison, MIN ($5); D'Ernest Johnson, CLE ($3); Damien Williams, ATL ($2); Samaje Perine, CIN ($1)

    WR: Cooper Kupp, LAR ($45); Keenan Allen, LAC ($31); Robert Woods, TEN ($11), Isaiah McKenzie, BUF ($5); Devin Duvernay, BAL ($1)

    TEN: Cole Kmet, CHI ($5); Robert Tonyan, GB ($1)

    Studs and Scrubs

    Well, since we mentioned "Studs and Scrubs" in the previous entry, we might as well break the strategy down, because this team exemplifies it.

    The upside to this strategy is the ability to base a team on two or three players you could never combine in a traditional snake draft. The odds of landing Dalvin Cook and Cooper Kupp in that format are exceedingly slim.

    However, there's a price to be paid for that foundation. Over 60 percent of this team's total budget was spent on just three players, and only one other player went for more than $10.

    It's a build that can pay off in a big way, but it's risky.

    Break Out the Bracelets

    Say what you will about the validity of "handcuffing" reserve running backs in traditional leagues, but in this format, it's a wide idea. This is a 14-team league with highly experienced managers and free-agent auction bidding (FAAB) in lieu of waivers. Counting on getting an impact player off the wire is like counting on winning at a casino to make your house payment.

    It ain't smart.

    Given that reality, this manager was wise to purchase insurance for his priciest player (Cook) in the form of Alexander Mattison, who has shown the ability to post solid stats in the past when Cook missed time.

Team No. 4

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    QB: Lamar Jackson, BAL ($19)

    RB: Javonte Williams, DEN ($35); Miles Sanders, PHI ($10); Isaiah Spiller, LAC ($10); Michael Carter, NYJ ($8); Jerick McKinnon, KC ($1)

    WR: Mike Williams, LAC ($24) DK Metcalf, SEA ($20); Rashod Bateman, BAL ($17); Amari Cooper, CLE ($14); Jahan Dotson, WAS ($7); Rondale Moore, ARI ($6); DeVante Parker, MIA ($6); Cedrick Wilson, MIA ($1)

    TE: Mark Andrews, BAL ($21); Gerald Everett, LAC ($1)

    The Make-or-Break Man

    This team has a lot going for it. The wide receivers may lack a true "Alpha" guy, but it's a deep group, and Mike Williams and DK Metcalf have the potential to crack the top 14. Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson are top-five options, and stacking them could mean some big weeks.

    But this team's success will likely depend on Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams.

    If, as his proponents suggest, Williams gets a larger share of the backfield work and has a top-10 season, then this is going to be a hard team to beat on a weekly basis. But if Williams winds up with a similar split with Melvin Gordon as last year's true committee, then the running back spot could be a problem.

    The Metcalf Mystery

    This manager appears drawn to polarizing players—in addition to drafting Williams, they also scooped up Metcalf.

    Metcalf's talent isn't in question. He's one of the most physically gifted wide receivers in the game. If he can match last year's WR15 finish in PPR points, he'll be an excellent value at $20.

    But with Metcalf set to catch passes from either Drew Lock or Geno Smith instead of Russell Wilson in 2022, there's quite a bit of skepticism that Metcalf will be able to duplicate his past successes. If Metcalf lands closer to WR3 territory, that price would be on the high side.

    That's the thing with salary-cap drafts—if a player is priced at what looks like a bargain, there's probably a reason.

Gary's Team

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    Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    QB: Patrick Mahomes, KC ($18); Tua Tagovailoa, MIA ($2)

    RB: Leonard Fournette, TB ($33); Ezekiel Elliott, DAL ($27); Tony Pollard, DAL ($13); Jamaal Williams, DET ($5); Marlon Mack, HOU ($3)

    WR: Deebo Samuel, SF ($35); Allen Lazard, GB ($13); Christian Kirk, JAX ($11); Robbie Anderson, CAR ($7); Julio Jones, TB ($6); Jameson Williams, DET ($3); Kenny Golladay, NYG ($1)

    TE: Darren Waller, LV ($16); Noah Fant, SEA ($6)

    Have a Plan

    Is my team the best in the league? Not close. But I feel OK about its ability to compete—better than I have the past few seasons.

    That's because I had a plan and stuck to it—at least for the most part.

    Salary-cap leagues aren't just about identifying what players you want to target. You also need to know how much you're willing to pay for those players. I had a set price in mind for every lineup slot. A number I was willing to spend on my QB1, RB2, WR3 and so on. If I did stray from those values, it was only by a few dollars—and I tracked that so I knew how much I had extra or needed to make up.

    If you're new to salary-cap drafts, doing this can help keep you from wandering off track or spending your entire bankroll too early.

    Kenny Golladay Needs a Hug

    In every salary-cap draft, there's a first "no bid," a player who is nominated at a certain amount and then bid on by exactly zero people.

    Giants wideout Kenny Golladay wasn't the first "no bid" in this draft—but he was the first player who went for a single dollar. And as badly as it pains me to say it, I actually feel pretty good about the value there.

    Yes, Golladay's 2021 season was a mess. Yes, he had an ugly drop in New York's exhibition opener. But he's a starter who posted two 1,000-yard seasons with the Detroit Lions who was targeted three times in limited action in that preseason opener.

    If he even becomes a viable flex play, he's a steal for a single buck.

Team No. 6

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    QB: Aaron Rodgers, GB ($4)

    RB: Christian McCaffrey, CAR ($52); Alvin Kamara, NO ($30); Josh Jacobs, LV ($14); Kenneth Gainwell, PHI ($7); Pierre Strong, NE ($1)

    WR: Davante Adams, LV ($42); Terry McLaurin, WAS ($23); Tyler Boyd, CIN ($12); Marquez Valdes-Scantling, KC ($6); Christian Watson, GB ($2); Amari Rodgers, GB ($1); Byron Pringle, CHI ($1); Tutu Atwell, LAR ($1); Quez Watkins, PHI ($1)

    TE: Hunter Henry, NE ($3)

    Go Big or Go Home

    This manager took the "Studs and Scrubs" approach next-level. Not only did they spend just over 40 percent of their budget on their top two running backs, but they're arguably the two biggest risk-reward plays in all of fantasy.

    Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers has played in 10 games over the past two seasons combined. Alvin Kamara of the Saints could be looking at a potential suspension following an offseason arrest in which he was charged with battery resulting in substantial bodily harm. If this team loses those backs, it's sunk.

    But there's nothing to suggest McCaffrey isn't 100 percent heading into the season, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reported recently that it's looking more likely that any discipline for Kamara won't come this season.

    The two are the top running backs from 2019 and 2020. If they can sniff those lofty heights again, then this is the most formidable backfield grouping in the league. Kamara, in particular, is a bargain—were a suspension not hanging over him, his asking price would have sailed past $40.

    Relax and Save

    Given that this team also spent $43 on Raiders wideout Davante Adams, finding a deal at quarterback and/or tight end was a must. It got one (and then some) under center.

    Last season, Aaron Rodgers was a top-10 fantasy option in most scoring systems. The year before that, he finished inside the top-five. Losing Adams is a blow for Rodgers and the Packers, but getting the two-time reigning MVP for a dollar less than Derek Carr is an example of the value that can be had at quarterback in this format if you wait until most of the league has already secured a starter.

Team No. 7

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    Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

    QB: Josh Allen, BUF ($23)

    RB: Joe Mixon, CIN ($32); Breece Hall, NYJ ($26); James Conner, ARI ($24); Nyheim Hines, IND ($12); Mark Ingram, NO ($3); Sony Michel, MIA ($3); Zamir White, LV ($2)

    WR: Jerry Jeudy, DEN ($21); Brandon Aiyuk, SF ($16); Drake London, ATL ($15); Chris Olave, NO ($9); Mecole Hardman, KC ($4); Corey Davis, NYJ ($1); Kyle Phillips, TEN ($1)

    TE: T.J. Hockenson, DET ($8)

    Rocking it Old-School

    In this age of pass-heavy offenses and three- and four-wide sets, wide receivers are more valuable than ever, especially in a format like this that features three weekly starters, a point per reception and three flex spots.

    With that in mind, it's interesting to see a build like this in which just over half of the $200 budget was spent on running backs. This isn't to say that this team doesn't feature an impressive trio of backs. It also isn't to say that a build focusing on running backs can't have success. There's more than one way to build a winner.

    But in doing so and grabbing the most expensive quarterback in the draft, this team took a hit at wide receiver. The WR1 (Jerry Jeudy) has a snake draft ADP of WR25. Brandon Aiyuk and Drake London are barely coming off the board inside the top 40.

    Unless one of those youngsters outplays his asking price by quite a bit, this receiving corps will run in the red relative to its opponents more weeks than not.

    Youth Is Served

    This manager also seems to believe that the future is now—five of the 16 roster spots were given to rookies.

    As with going RB-heavy, it isn't necessarily a good or bad thing. Still, it presents an opportunity to make a point.

    If you do roster several rookies, you need to be prepared for a slow start. Even studs like Nick Chubb of the Browns and Jonathan Taylor of the Colts had bumpy starts to their careers. It often takes a little while for youngsters to become acclimated to the NFL.

    A measure of patience is advisable.

Team No. 8

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    QB: Tom Brady, TB ($11)

    RB: D'Andre Swift, DET ($37); AJ Dillon, GB ($18); Melvin Gordon, DEN ($11); D'Onta Foreman, CAR ($4); Kenyan Drake, LV ($1); Zack Moss, GB ($1)

    WR: Justin Jefferson, MIN ($46); Allen Robinson, LAR ($25); Russell Gage, GB ($12); Romeo Doubs, GB ($6); Parris Campbell, IND ($2); Marvin Jones, JAX ($2); Velus Jones, CHI ($1)

    TE: Kyle Pitts, ATL ($21); Brevin Jordan, HOU ($1)

    Moving On Up

    This team has the honor of spending the most money of any team in the league on a single wideout. And it's hard to find fault with dropping $46 on Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings

    Jefferson has never had fewer than 125 targets or 88 catches in a season. He's also never been under 1,400 yards in a single campaign. Last year, Jefferson hauled in 108 passes for 1,616 yards and 10 scores on the way to finishing fourth in PPR points at the position.

    Cooper Kupp will all but certainly regress statistically in 2022. Deebo Samuel may be hard-pressed to repeat last year's rushing success. Ja'Marr Chase has to contend with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd for targets. Davante Adams is on a new team.

    An argument can be made that Jefferson has the clearest path to leading the position in fantasy points this year.

    Dillon Is a Deal

    AJ Dillon of the Packers had a nice little coming-out party last year. He led Green Bay in rushing, topped 1,100 total yards, found the end zone seven times and finished inside the top 25 at his position in PPR points.

    However, in part because of the presence of Aaron Jones, Dillon's asking price in this draft was less than $20—ultimately a dollar less than Chase Edmonds of the Dolphins.

    Dillon's 2021 numbers are closer to his floor than his ceiling in the season to come. Getting him at excellent value also allowed this team to spend up at tight end and grab Kyle Pitts.

The Champ

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    Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

    QB: Justin Fields, CHI ($6); Matthew Stafford, LAR ($2)

    RB: Aaron Jones, GB ($38); Elijah Mitchell, SF ($14); Kareem Hunt, KC ($14); Cordarrelle Patterson, ATL ($12)

    WR: D.J. Moore, CAR ($32); Brandin Cooks, HOU ($25); Hunter Renfrow, LV ($16); DeAndre Hopkins, ARI ($13); K.J. Osborn, MIN ($7); Jarvis Landry, NO ($6); Jamison Crowder, BUF ($3); Van Jefferson, LAR ($1)

    TE: David Njoku, CLE ($4); Mike Gesicki, MIA ($1)

    The Team to Beat

    It's not hard to see why Drew Davenport (no relation—that we know of) is the two-time defending champion of this league. A quick look at his team shows a manager who knows what he's doing. Someone who comes to the draft with a plan and contingencies if the draft knocks that plan off its axis.

    Davenport only has four running backs rostered, but all four are weekly starters in a 14-team league. He has four legitimate starters at wide receiver before taking DeAndre Hopkins into account. Once Hopkins is back from his six-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, this group of receivers is the deepest stable in the league.

    Davenport is patient. He doesn't get antsy if he doesn't win a bid early and doesn't stray from his budget. He waits for the right price for the right player, and then he pounces.

    There isn't a better analyst in the industry at this format. Just don't tell him I said so.

    Steal(s) of the Draft

    At the risk of patting him on the back so much I hurt my shoulder, Davenport also landed maybe the two biggest bargains of this entire draft.

    Last year, San Francisco's Elijah Mitchell racked up 1,100 total yards and finished as a high-end RB2 in terms of PPR points per game. Landing that kind of upside for less than $15 is fantastic value.

    Then, Davenport committed another heist in landing Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford for all of two bucks. Yes, Stafford is having elbow issues, but there has been no indication that he's in danger of missing Week 1, and he was a solid weekly starter last season.

    The money that wasn't spent on Stafford helped build that daunting group of backs and receivers.

Team No. 10

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    Icon Sportswire

    QB: Kyler Murray, ARI ($14); Jared Goff, DET ($1)

    RB: Jonathan Taylor, IND ($52); Rhamondre Stevenson, NE ($15); Haasan Haskins, TEN ($2); Eno Benjamin, ARI ($2), Tyler Badie, BAL ($1)

    WR: Tyreek Hill, MIA ($32); Diontae Johnson, PIT ($21); Gabriel Davis, BUF ($20); Michael Thomas, NO ($19); Skyy Moore, KC ($10); A.J. Green, ARI ($1)

    TE: Dawson Knox, BUF ($8); Tyler Higbee, LAR ($1); Taysom Hill, NO ($1)

    Hero RB

    In snake drafts, "Hero RB" is a draft strategy that involves using a first or second-round pick on a bellcow running back and then fading the position for a long while. This manager brought that strategy into the salary-cap sphere.

    At $52, Jonathan Taylor of the Colts tied for the highest winning bid of any player in the draft. But after rostering him, it was a while before this manager added a second starter at the position. In the meantime, they spent just over half their overall budget on building up a stable of wideouts.

    It's an impressive group of pass-catchers, especially if Michael Thomas rebounds and rookie Skyy Moore is a quick study. But Taylor is going to have to repeat last year's massive numbers and carry a shaky cadre of backs.

    Hype Darlings

    As it happened, this team also wound up with two of the most buzz-generating players of the summer—Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis and Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson. And that offers a chance to mention players who hit draft day with a lot of hype.

    This isn't meant as a criticism of the prices paid for Davis or Stevenson—$20 isn't exorbitant for a WR3, and $15 is good value for an RB2.

    The problem is that with Damien Harris still in New England, we don't know that Stevenson will lead Patriots backs in touches, but he went for more than Elijah Mitchell, the same amount as Devin Singletary and only a few dollars less than Josh Jacobs. Davis went for more than Michael Thomas and Elijah Moore.

    Popular players tend to start bidding fights that drive prices toward the ceiling of that player's value.

Team No. 11

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    Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

    QB: Justin Herbert, LAC ($18); Trevor Lawrence, JAX ($2)

    RB: Najee Harris, PIT ($40); Devin Singletary, BUF ($15); Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC ($13); Kenneth Walker III, SEA ($9); Brian Robinson, WAS ($4)

    WR: Michael Pittman, IND ($32); Darnell Mooney, CHI ($20); JuJu Smith-Schuster, KC ($20); Jalen Tolbert, DAL ($6); Will Fuller, FA ($3); Alec Pierce, IND ($3), Zay Jones, JAX ($2)

    TE: Pat Freiermuth, PIT ($10); Hayden Hurst, CIN ($3)

    Bargain Backs

    When you have a $40 RB1 and three wide receivers with price tags of $20 or more, you're going to need to cut spending somewhere else. This manager looked to do so with the RB2 spot.

    There's no guarantee that Devin Singletary of the Bills or Clyde Edwards-Helaire will get the touches necessary to crack the top 20 in PPR points. But Singletary saw a featured back's workload and posted top-12 numbers down the stretch last year, and Edwards-Helaire remains the lead back—at least for now—in a potent Chiefs offense.

    At the very least, one of the two will likely serve as a so-so second starter. The other should be a serviceable flex play, and neither cost more than $15 in the draft.

    A Nominating Tip

    The first "no bid" overall in the draft came courtesy of this team. The manager nominated Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth at $10, and…crickets.

    Now, this is hardly the end of the world. The reality is that this "gaffe" probably only cost the manager two or three dollars. Had they nominated Freiermuth at five dollars, he most likely would have been bid up to seven or eight.

    But two or three dollars is still two or three dollars that could have been spent on other players. If you think a player will go for eight dollars, nominate them at three or four. Don't outbid yourself with an overly aggressive nomination.

Team No. 12

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    QB: Jalen Hurts, PHI ($16); Deshaun Watson, CLE ($1)

    RB: Saquon Barkley, NYG ($39); Derrick Henry, TEN ($38); James Cook, BUF ($13); Darrel Williams, ARI ($2); Trey Sermon, SF ($2), Chris Evans, CIN ($1)

    WR: Tee Higgins, CIN ($36); Kadarius Toney, NYG ($15); Treylon Burks, TEN ($9); Garrett Wilson, NYJ ($8); Kendrick Bourne, NE ($2); Sammy Watkins, GB ($1)

    TE: Dallas Goedert, PHI ($13); Albert Okwuegbunam, DEN ($4)

    Rolling the Dice

    This is another manager who wound up building something of a "Studs and Scrubs" roster. There's quite a bit of upside, but also just as much risk.

    The running back position is anchored by Saquon Barkley of the Giants and Derrick Henry of the Titans, who both have top-five seasons on their NFL resumes. But Barkley is coming off a down year, while Henry missed over half of the 2021 season with an injured foot.

    The wideouts are anchored by Tee Higgins, whose upside is capped by the presence of Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd in Cincinnati. Behind him, it's a mixture of unproven youngsters and uninspiring veterans.

    In an uber-competitive league like this, steals are few and far between. But in any salary-cap draft, if you commit 55-plus percent of your cap to a few big names, there are going to be holes elsewhere.

    It's not a strategy for the risk-averse.

    Candidates to Step Up

    If this team is going to stay in the playoff hunt, some of those receivers behind Higgins are going to have to be viable weekly starts. It's not going to be Sammy Watkins, and Kendrick Bourne is a low-ceiling option in a run-heavy offense.

    That leaves the youngsters. Kadarius Toney has shown flashes in the NFL but could be hindered by subpar quarterback play in New York. Ditto for rookie Garrett Wilson of the Jets, especially while Zach Wilson is out. That leaves Treylon Burks, who was brought into a low-volume passing attack in Tennessee to help offset the loss of A.J. Brown.

    Burks at least has the best quarterback of the lot in Ryan Tannehill, but even then, top-30 numbers could be a tall ask in 2022.

Team No. 13

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    Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    QB: Russell Wilson, DEN ($10); Kirk Cousins, MIN ($2)

    RB: Nick Chubb, CLE ($28); David Montgomery, CHI ($20); Antonio Gibson, WAS ($16); Tyler Allgeier, ATL ($12); Rashaad Penny, SEA ($11)

    WR: Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET ($21); Adam Thielen, MIN ($14); DeVonta Smith, PHI ($13); Chase Claypool, PIT ($12); Nico Collins, HOU ($10); K.J. Hamler, DEN ($7); D.J. Chark, DET ($6)

    TE: Dalton Schultz, DAL ($13); Evan Engram, JAX ($5)

    Balance on a Budget

    Where some managers spent a big percentage of their cap on just a few players, this manager went a different route, spreading the wealth around. No player on their team went for $30, and just three went for $20 or more.

    It leaves a roster that's long on depth. There may not be a top-10 running back on the team, but there are three who have posted that kind of season before and a fourth (Rashaad Penny) led all running backs in PPR points down the stretch in 2021.

    The wide receivers may lack star power, but there are at least four pass-catchers with a good chance of emerging as a decent weekly starter. Add in a quarterback in Russell Wilson with top-five upside, and this roster has the look of a contender.

    The balanced approach may not land you the stud player fantasy managers covet. But it also won't leave you with holes all over the place.

    Some Dap for Dalton

    There are three courses of action for fantasy managers this year when it comes to tight ends: Pay retail for one of the elite options, grab a Tier 2 player at the position with a lower price tag and lower ceiling or punt until late and hope to hit on a low-end guy.

    Dalton Schultz of the Dallas Cowboys is the poster dude for taking door No. 2.

    Last year, Schultz posted 78 catches on 104 targets for 808 yards and eight scores, landing him third at the position in PPR points. Given the losses and injuries the Cowboys have suffered in the passing game, another top-five campaign isn't an unreasonable expectation.

    Acquiring him for the same price as Dallas Goedert of the Eagles was a nice get.

Team No. 14

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    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    QB: Dak Prescott, DAL ($12)

    RB: Cam Akers, LAR ($17); Dameon Pierce, HOU ($9); Rachaad White, TB ($7); Jaylen Warren, PIT ($1); Jordan Mason, SF ($1)

    WR: Ja'Marr Chase, CIN ($45); CeeDee Lamb, DAL ($36); Elijah Moore, NYJ ($18); Marquise Brown, ARI ($18); Michael Gallup, DAL ($8); Wan'Dale Robinson, NYG ($6); Tyquan Thornton, NE ($1); Donovan Peoples-Jones, CLE ($1); Randall Cobb, GB ($1)

    TE: George Kittle, SF ($15)

    Running Backs are for Losers

    Just as there's a strategy called "Hero RB," there is one known as "Zero RB" where fantasy managers punt the position in favor of loading up am impressive stable of wide receivers.

    This team did that and then some. They didn't pay more than $17 for any back and spent just 17.5 percent of their total budget on the position. The back they paid $17 for (Cam Akers) could be a steal if he seizes lead-back duties for the Rams.

    As you'd expect, this team is loaded at wideout, anchored by two potential top-five options in Ja'Marr Chase and CeeDee Lamb. Elijah Moore and Marquise Brown could crack the top 25 if things break the right way. This team should have an edge just about every week at wideout.

    But if Akers doesn't pan out or one of the rookies rostered behind him doesn't step up, that edge could evaporate. Like any strategy, "Zero RB" can work, but it's not for the faint of heart.

    About Those Rookie Backs

    You can never say never in fantasy football, but of the four first-year backs this team rostered, there are only two with any realistic non-injury path to playing time.

    The best bet of the lot is Dameon Pierce of the Texans, a punishing downhill runner who has impressed in camp. The lead role with the Texans is there for the taking, but Pierce has never been a workhorse—his career-best in carries at Florida was 107.

    Then there's Rachaad White of the Buccaneers, a third-round pick out of Arizona State. Leonard Fournette is entrenched as the top back in Tampa, but White may be able to carve out a passing-down role that could matter in a PPR format like this one.

Salary-Cap Draft Tips

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    I asked Drew Davenport to offer up his three best tips for having success in a salary-cap draft, and he graciously agreed to provide them.

    Salary-cap leagues can be intimidating to try even for the most experienced fantasy football managers. The learning curve can be somewhat steep, and getting practice is difficult because mock salary-cap drafts are somewhat worthless. But there are a few things that can improve your skillset without a lot of experience in the draft room.

    Tip No. 1: Wait and Watch

    Every salary-cap draft is different, and that’s the only thing you can count on. Even in leagues where you've had several years of drafting together, things will change year over year. The best way to get past the uncertainty at the beginning of the draft is to sit back and let things happen for a while before you get too involved. Watching elite players fly off the board can be disconcerting, so jump in for a player if you have to, but otherwise, it's smart to watch things develop so you get dialed in with the temperature of the room before too much of your cap is committed.

    Tip No. 2: Be Precise

    It's tempting to assign percentages to your position groups as a guide for your spending. But it takes a strong, veteran salary-cap drafter to use percentages without making the mistake of spending too much or too little on players as the draft goes. Instead, come up with a specific amount you want to pay for every position on your roster before you get into the draft. You don't have to stick to it exactly, but it provides guide rails that will keep your draft from getting too far off track.

    Tip No. 3: Adjust Your Builds for League Size

    Superflex leagues or tight end premium leagues are becoming more common, and obviously, you need to adjust for those types of settings. However, the biggest factor when deciding how you want to build your roster should be the league size. In shallower leagues (think 12 or fewer teams), you want to draft more top-heavy teams and set aside a bigger portion of your cap space to your starting lineup. As the leagues and benches get bigger, your spending should skew to a flatter build. More money should be spent down the roster to counteract the lack of a viable waiver wire and the need for players that can get you 8-10 points per game when bye weeks and injuries hit. Think of it like a sliding scale and adjust your cap allocation according to league size.

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