The Impact of League Settings on Auction / Salary Cap Values (Fantasy Football)
Too often, fantasy managers are presented with a very generic list of player salaries attached to the site’s rankings. It is safe to assume that those salaries are shown using the site’s default roster and scoring settings. Casual fantasy managers will utilize those posted values as their guideline, regardless of the league setup for their league. But you’re not a casual manager and you need to recognize the dramatic impact that your league’s settings will have on player salaries during your auction/salary cap draft.
Understanding the Baseline of Total Available Auction Funds
At the core of any auction/salary cap draft are the auction funds available to you as a manager to spend on acquiring the services of your chosen players. Throughout this article, I will be referencing the most common salary cap setting of a $200 cap for each manager.
First and foremost, league size will have an impact on player salaries. With each manager having $200 to spend, a 10-team league will have $2,000 to spend on their players, while a 16-team league would have $3,200. The most common league is a 12-team league, which has a total of $2,400.
The Top 100 Players Don’t Change
The first thought that enters most people’s heads when thinking of a larger league is that you’re drafting more players, so those additional funds would be used to acquire more players. That is only partially correct. While more players will be drafted overall, most of those players are end-of-roster players and are only valued at $1-$2. What doesn’t change is the number of “studs” and “starter-worthy” players in the top 100.
Regardless of league settings, the top 100 players overall are where we expect “starter-worthy” performers. After the top 100 (think round 9ish of a snake draft), we get into the territory of handcuffs, back-ups, and flyers who may not be worthy of starting on a weekly basis. That means that the top 100 players will account for +/-90% of the league’s salaries (approximately $2,200 out of $2,400 total funds). In a 16-team league, those top 100 players don’t change, but now there is +/-$2,800 to be spent on those same 100 players. With more teams, there will be more people vying for the top players, leading to bidding wars and sky-high salaries for the elite players.
Additionally, the “mid-tier” players will also see a salary bump, as managers who missed out on the elite players will have the funds to acquire 2-3 second-tier players compared to one stud. At the end of the draft, no one is paying more than $1-$2 for late-round dart throws, whether that is 24 players or 48 players, they just simply are not worth rostering for more than the minimum salary.
Most Auction Funds are Spent on Starters
Next, roster size comes into play, which will impact the salary for each player based on the total number of starters. In a 12-team league using the “Ballers Prefered”* set-up of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 Flex, and 5 Bench players, each manager will need a total of 7 “skill position” (QB, RB, WR, TE) starters, which totals 84 players league-wide. While every manager will have a different budget method, on average, managers will spend around 85% ($170) of their budget on their starters and the remaining 15% ($30) on their bench players.
*For this topic, the inclusion of DST and/or PK is irrelevant as most managers will only roster one of each and will only spend $1 on each. Neither league size, roster size, nor scoring will have a dramatic impact on these two positions.
In the above scenario, managers will pay higher salaries to the elite players because they need those difference makers at key positions. With only 84 required starters, there will be plenty of upside-flyer players available later in the draft, so you’ll see approximately $2,050 spent on 84 players or an average of $24/each.
But what happens if we change that roster setting to require 3 WRs and a second flex spot, like in the case of a Superflex league? Now that same 12-team league is required to start two additional players, bringing the total to 108 starters. Again, assuming that managers will be spending $170 of their $200 on their starters, overall salaries will decrease slightly, to a per player average of $19, as managers attempt to spread the same amount of funds across more players.
What About Specific Positions?
Here’s another often-overlooked fact: With a finite amount of auction funds available, changes to starting requirements, roster settings, and scoring will impact each position differently. In a standard format 12-team league using the “Ballers Preferred” setup mentioned above, there will be 144 players drafted, excluding DST and PK. Breaking down those 144 players, here are a few assumptions:
18 QBs drafted = $200 total spend
55 RBs drafted = $1,100 total spend
55 WRs drafted = $950 total spend
16 TEs drafted = $125 total spend
In a traditional 1QB league, you might only see a few teams acquire a second QB, resulting in only 15-18 QBs being drafted overall. In these leagues, QB spending at the top can be high, with a few managers chasing the studs. After the top 5-6 QBs, salaries will plummet fast. It’s not uncommon for the 10th ranked QB to only command a $2-$3 salary. TEs are similar to QBs with only a few managers spending up on the studs as salaries drop quickly after the top 5-6TEs. Again, only a few managers will roster a second TE. In this format, RBs and WRs will command the most funds overall, as more are drafted (4-5 RBs, 4-5 WRs).
Going back to the second example above, adding a 3rd required WR and a Superflex position will dramatically shift the roster numbers and spending. In this setup, every manager will roster at least two QBs, with a league average of three per team. Where only 15-18 QBs were rostered in the 1QB league, Superflex leagues will often see 35-38 QBs rostered, depending on the number of rookies and open training camp battles.
The addition of a third WR will also drive up the overall demand for WRs which will, in turn, drive up overall spending on WRs. At this point, most leagues will add 1-2 additional bench spots to accommodate the increased starting requirements, driving even more dilution of spending. These changes will generally come at the expense of the RBs ranked in the 20-40 range, as funds are shifted away from those RBs to be spent at QB and WR. In this format, with two additional bench spots, there are now 192 players being drafted in roughly the following breakdown:
35 QBs drafted = $450 total spend
55 RBs drafted = $825 total spend
70 WRs drafted = $1,000 total spend
18 TEs drafted = $125 total spend
Scoring Matters Too
Lastly is the impact of scoring on league spending, which is pretty straightforward. In 0.5 PPR, spending will look pretty balanced between RBs and WRs, favoring the RBs. In a full PPR scoring league, more WRs and a few TEs will see increased fantasy relevance, driving their pricing up, most often at the expense of the RBs. In a league with TE premium scoring (an additional .5 points per reception for TEs), you will see a bump in salaries for the mid-tier TEs as they become more viable scorers.
The overall takeaway is that spending on elite talents will always be a part of any auction, as will those end-of-roster players only commanding $1-$3 each. Where the biggest changes are is in the “middle round” players. Compared to a snake draft, it’s players in rounds 3-9 that will see their salaries move the most based on your league settings. If you play in multiple leagues with different settings, this is an important aspect to keep in mind as your build your budgets.