Over the last decade, we have seen high stakes leagues explode in popularity. Several high stakes leagues have come and gone in that time span, but the Fantasy Football Players Championship and its online sister, the Footballguys Players Championships, are alive and well. While many maintain fantasy football is far too luck-oriented, there are several players that consistently perform at a level above the average participant. We've asked them to give us some insight into how they approach the high stakes leagues. Here David Dodds sits down with high stakes veteran Jules McLean.
Name: Jules McLean
Occupation (when not playing fantasy football): Film Industry
Family life: I have a 3-year-old niece (I'm also her God-mother) and will soon be an Aunt again and of course I'm thrilled! Home life includes a three-legged dog named Chloe and two cats, Emily, who is blind, and Harry. I often use their names in my team names, for example, Harry's Devilcats.
Years playing fantasy football: 19 years
Your biggest score(s) in fantasy football: I've won various national contest league championships worth $5,000 each.
Do you prefer drafting live or online? Why? I love the live draft experience. There is a real sense of community in some of the national contests and I really enjoy that aspect. I've made a lot of friends through fantasy football and it's great to be able to see them in person each year. And it seems every year I make new friends. Last year in Las Vegas at the FFPC I was in the same league as The Wizard. When I started high stakes fantasy football years ago, it was with the now defunct WCOFF. I forget the network that did a special on the contest, it might have been HBO, but The Wizard was featured. In all my subsequent years playing in the WCOFF, my path never crossed his and I had always wanted it to. I remember walking around the FFPC draft room with my friend and Fantasy Freakin' Football partner Garret Mathany before the drafts started and he spotted The Wizard. It was as if we saw Santa Claus! So you can imagine the thrill when I walked over to my league and saw him sitting there. I yelled over to Garret, "The Wizard is in my league!" During the draft Lenny Papano who co-founded the WCOFF came over and sat next to The Wizard. It was great seeing the two of them together, both such great ambassadors to fantasy football. And I have to tell you, The Wizard is a class act all the way and someone I have a ton of respect for. He talked to me before and after the draft, posed for pictures and even gave me a magic rock! Live drafts are my preferences for sure, you never know what is going to happen. Maybe next year I'll recount how a stripper stole my wallet!
Name two players that you expect will be undervalued in most fantasy drafts this year. Explain why you think these sleepers could drastically outperform their ADP.
Kendall Wright - I've been pushing Kendall Wright since late April and will continue to do so. Last year as a rookie he had 64 receptions for 626 yards and 4 TDs. He quickly became Jake Locker's go-to guy and will continue to do so this season. If Kenny Britt can stay healthy and command double coverage, 80 receptions for Wright is not out of the question. He had 104 targets last year, which led the Titans and was 35th most in the NFL. Early drafts saw him going in the 11th-12th round, but lately I've been seeing him go in the 9th, which is still great value in my book.
Tony Romo - He won't lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, but Tony Romo certainly can take your team to a Championship. In 2012 he was the 8th best fantasy QB, yet in 2013 I'm seeing him slip to the 9th round sometimes. He has an emerging superstar in Dez Bryant to throw to, plus both Jason Witten and Miles Austin are back in the fold. He threw for almost 5,000 yards last year, only Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford had more yards. Is he as focused as an elite NFL QB should be? Absolutely not, I'm sure he would rather be on the golf course rather than the practice field, but at least he wasn't trying to qualify for the U.S. Open this year. If your opponents let Romo slip, make them pay by taking him.
Name two players that will not be on your roster at any draft position. Explain why you think these busts could drastically underperform their ADP.
T.Y. Hilton - He might do okay by default, but Indy, under new OC Pep Hamilton, has implemented a full West Coast offense and that is not Hilton's strength. He's a speedster that likes to get downfield as shown in his 17.2 yards per catch last season. Also, I don't think he has great hands or good concentration, too many dropped passes for my liking and I question if he will go over the middle. He's being drafted in the 6th round, which is way too rich for my blood!
Santonio Holmes - With an ADP of the 12th round, owners who take Santonio Holmes are passing up on upside WRs like Roberts Woods, Aaron Dobson, A.J. Jenkins, Rod Streater, Greg Little and Ryan Broyles to name a few. Holmes is coming off a major Lisfranc injury and has been quoted as saying the hardest thing to overcome so far is "learning to how to walk again." It will not surprise me one bit if Holmes doesn't even suit up for a game. I'm not saying any of the above WRs will pan out, but they will have the opportunity to as your 12th round pick, while I highly doubt Holmes will.
Give us a snapshot of how you prep for a fantasy draft once you know your draft position. I will start by mock drafting with myself and usually go 5-7 rounds. I already have a fairly good idea of where players are going, but it is good to see it laid out as a draft grid. I'll change the scenarios and see what ones yield the most points based off my projections. Because we have a draft kit at Fantasy Freakin' Football, I am constantly updating my projections and rankings, by doing this and my mocks, I kind of set my own ADP. I rarely use contest generated ADP, they are nice I suppose to get a general idea, but I've seen players rely way too much on them and get burned by taking a player too early or waiting for their sleeper because the ADP report says he is a 14th rounder, yet someone snagged him in the 12th.
How do you go about evaluating talent that you will add via the waiver wire? I'm visually orientated, so my eyes do much of the work. How did the player look in pre-season games, do I remember how they played in college? Then I'll look for opportunity, is Player X getting playing time because someone got injured? Is he better than the player in front of him, etc. For WRs, I am big on targets, I'll pounce early if a WR sees a spike in targets.
How much of fantasy football is skill? How much is luck? I'd go 70/30 split. And I'm factoring "luck" right from the beginning when your draft position is determined (unless we are talking about an Auction). Pulling names out of a hat or a computer randomizer, that's luck! And in most leagues, your draft position determines your schedule if playing in head-to-head leagues. That's huge! Say you are playing in Week 3 and you put up the second highest score in the league, but you lose because you happen to be playing the one team that put up more points then you. Your team faces any other team in the league and it's a 'W', but because of draft position that determines schedule, you get a 'L'. Then of course there are injuries. Numerous players have the injury-prone tag, so I can't factor them in the luck equation, but there are some freak accidents that happen. Jamaal Charles getting hurt out of bounds? That's bad luck.
What advice would you give a player taking a shot at high stakes for the 1st time? Without giving away all of your secrets, how can a newbie get up to speed quickly in the world of high stakes? Points win championships! You need to find out how many points it took to win league championships and overall titles the previous year. Figure out what your goal is for a weekly average and take your projections and map out some scenarios. I'd also join a low entry fee Satellite league to get a feel for where players are going and the competition level. But most of all, do not wait on guys you like. The competition level is high and chances are your guy is also someone else's guy, don't wait and watch him land on another team.
What is your favorite high stakes format? (Main Event, Draft Experts, Dynasty, Auction, etc). Why do you prefer this format? Draft Experts remains my favorite format because it favors drafters that can go deep. You hear players in re-draft (or DEs) at a certain point say, "Wow, my que is empty, there aren't any good players left." Wrong! When Victor Cruz broke out a few years back, where was he drafted in your league or was he even drafted in your league? I picked Cruz with my 25th round pick in one Draft Experts and rode him all the way to a championship. I love that most Draft Experts go from 26-30 rounds, it affords me to take shots at players I otherwise might not take (I took Cruz that year in re-draft leagues too). Also, I do so many leagues, I love that there are no free agent pick-ups, it saves me a ton of time. Not to mention as a fantasy manager, I don't have to agonize over starting line-ups and watch a player put up a ton of points on my bench, the computer sets your optimized line-up.
To tight end or not to tight end? With the FFPC dual flex (and awarding 1.5 points per reception for tight ends), this position is extremely valuable. Do you generally pay a premium for a top five tight end or do you seek value at RB/WR and look to grab your tight end later? Every season is different. Last year I though the TE talent pool was pretty deep, so I waited. This year there are several question marks, so I will target TEs early. For instance, will Rob Gronkowski be ready for Week 1? How will Tyler Eifert effect Jermaine Gresham's numbers? Will Vernon Davis line up at WR? Chip Kelly loves to utilize his TEs, so who will emerge? I will take my shots early and then look for value later to back them up.
Give us your top five picks in the FFPC Main Event:
- Adrian Peterson
- Doug Martin
- Jamaal Charles
- Arian Foster
- Jimmy Graham
Many of the best players in the FFPC wait on their quarterbacks. But with the NFL moving more and more to a passing league (and guys like Rodgers and Brees putting up ridiculous totals), when will you be looking to grab your quarterback in the Main Event? Late! Last year I drafted Robert Griffin III in the 12th round in so many leagues. He was a game changer until he got hurt. I wouldn't say I will wait until the 12th round, but if players like Romo are falling to the 9th round, well, I'll be doing a little Irish jig at the draft table.
Make a case for why someone should come to Vegas and participate in some high stakes events. Well, besides maybe a chance sighting of The Wizard, there really is nothing like being in a Las Vegas casino conference hall with hundreds of liked minded fantasy players. The FFPC is back at Caesar's Palace this year and I couldn't be more thrilled, it is top notch all the way! You don't have to stay at Caesar's either, you can stay at any hotel of your choice and there are some great high and middle end ones very close. I think live drafts can be a nice family affair; I see lots of owners with the spouses and children. If they aren't into fantasy football, Vegas and even the surrounding area has plenty to keep everyone entertained and happy. I really enjoy the sense of community the FFPC fosters and that starts with the game operators and their hardworking staff. If you are new to the events, don't be shy about introducing yourself as someone new to the event, we all have something in common and it is very easy to meet folks.
What's the biggest mistake you see high stakes players make? Being too focused on their own team. For example, it's the 8th round and you are Team 10. You need a QB, so you select one. But, you didn't look at Teams 11 and 12, who already had their QBs. Chances are very slim they would take another QB so early (unless in a Draft Experts). You could have grabbed the WR, TE or RB you were targeting next, but instead you go QB, exposing your next target to Teams 11 and 12. And sure enough, one of them takes him!
Aside from the obvious payout and competition level, what's the biggest difference between high stakes leagues and regular leagues? I actually don't think the competition level is all that different from many local leagues. For instance, I am still a member of the very first fantasy league I played, The Jizzmaster League. I won that twice before I started playing high stakes football, but I haven't won it since! The level of competition there and in my other local leagues is fierce. Having said that, no trading is one of the biggest differences and is something I like. It eliminates any hint of colusion.
What's the thing you wished you'd learned five years ago? I'm still trying to learn it! But, I'd say clearing my head of all the outside chatter (internet reports, NFL Network, expert advice, etc) and being able to listen to my own voice. I look back at the leagues I have been successful in and the one common thread is I trusted my own instinct.