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 Mike Santos.
Name: Mike Santos
Occupation (when not playing fantasy football): Dairyfarmer
Family life: Married
Years playing fantasy football: 17
Your biggest score(s) in fantasy football: FFPC Big Payback $25,000 1st place. FFPC back to back years Varsity League $20,000 1st place finishes.
Do you prefer drafting live or online? Why? Overall I enjoy both for different reasons but if I had to choose I prefer Live because of the comradery with other players and that rush you get when walking into a draft room and seeing the large draft board for each league.
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. Ben Tate could be a huge lottery ticket waiting to happen. You can grab him after 40 or so RBs have been taken and all he needs is a Foster injury which could very well happen. We have seen in the past any Houston RB can succeed in this system and Tate has the 2nd round draft pedigree behind him so he has talent. If you are into taking lottery type ticket players Tate is a fine example of this. Just know he needs a injury but if he gets one look out. My second player I like who could outperform ADP is Kenny Britt. You can land him in the 8th or 9th round right now and he is a great WR4 type option. We all know about his troubles but he does have talent and if he can keep his head on straight he could be a nice value pick where is being taken.
Name two players that will not be on your roster at any draft position. Explain why you think these busts could drastically under perform their ADP. Maurice Jones-Drew and Frank Gore. I'm really concerned with MJD's latest Lisfranc injury which is a nasty injury for any player especially a RB. MJD also carries a ton of mileage and plays for a very bad team so for those reasons I am shying away. Gore is a player I really respect but I fear the end if nearing for this workhorse who has taken a ton of pounding over the years. I'm banking on history repeating itself, meaning when RB's near that age of 30 after lots of work they tend to fall off a cliff fast. I wont be taking chances on these two aging RB's who have injury history and a 3rd to 4th round price tag.
Give us a snapshot of how you prep for a fantasy draft once you know your draft position? I try to get a good sense of how the picks before me might go. I try to do as many drafts in off-season before Vegas to get a good sense of how the draft board will fall. By August and September leading up to the big drafts in Vegas you have a great sense of where players and tiers are going. I always try to stay flexible and have fall back plans if the guys you are targeting go because it will happen and you have to be ready for it.
How do you go about evaluating talent that you will add via the waiver wire? I really concentrate on opportunity and talent. What I mean by that is I look at snaps played for that player that particular week and what kind of pedigree this player had coming out of college. Is he a talented player or just an average player. In fantasy football you have to have opportunity and if the player has a good skill set you are looking at a nice fantasy option. Also try to get a sense of how this player might be used in the offense.
How much of fantasy football is skill? How much is luck? I firmly believe that fantasy football is a lot of more skill than luck but luck will always play a role. It's like poker, its no coincidence you see the same players performing well and battling for playoff spots every year. I've played long enough to see the same players winning money year in and year out. In fantasy football you have to be skillful to put yourself in a opportunity to become lucky. If you draft bad players there is no amount of luck that can will you to win. 75% skill and 25% 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? In a nutshell put your homework in watch camp and preseason games. Get to know which players are standing out and who could emerge. At the draft table keep in simple, have a cheat sheet and bye weeks and really pay attention to the draft board. A lot of people underestimate that and I feel its very important to get a feel for how the draft is flowing and when you need to take a certain position or if you can hold off another round. Try to come out of the first 4-5 rounds with 2-3 rbs and 2-3 wrs. I tend to shy away from TE's and QB's early but that's just a personal preference, many people have been successful taking TE's early and even the stud QB if he really performs and you hit on players later in draft. Take value when it presents itself even if you think you are set at a position, by doing this you build great depth and don't allow competitors to reap the reward of that player falling. And most of all have fun with it, if your having a good time you will make better picks.
What is your favorite high stakes format? (Main Event, Draft Experts, Dynasty, Auction, etc). Why do you prefer this format? I really enjoy the Main Events because it was the first High Stakes league I ever entered so the thrill of seeing all the draft boards and players is awesome. It will always be the original format to me. There is also a huge grand prize for the overall Main Event winner so that is always fun to chase that. As far as the high $ leagues I really enjoy Big Back and Off The Grid leagues. They are Victory points league which is a cool concept and these leagues run a longer regular reason which I enjoy. Off The Grid you can win weekly skins which is a lot of fun because every week you are playing for cash. The cash comes from rounds 1 and 2 which are bidded on with real money to start the draft and free agents which are also bidded on with real money as well. Its a really fun league. I really enjoy Draft Experts as well because you get the thrill of drafting but no in season management with free agents or starting lineups.
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 5 tight end or do you seek value at RB/WR and look to grab your tight end later? I typically wait on TE as I prefer to load up on RB and WR depth. I like to build my team around RB and WR's and feel that I can land a few solid TE's later in the draft with upside who may outperform their ADP. However you must always have a good sense for the draft board and not fall way behind on a run of TE's. But overall I wait for TE's and I like to find this years up and coming TE before his value shoots up.
Give us your top six picks in the FFPC Main Event: This are rankings assuming 100% health for all:
- Adrian Peterson
- Arian Foster
- Doug Martin
- Jamaal Charles
- C.J. Spiller
- Calvin Johnson / 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? Traditionally I have always wait to take my QB and in a lot of cases I am usually the last or second to last player to select a QB. There are so many quality QB's out there that is makes it easy to wait because you will still be able to grab a quality QB as the 11th or 12th QB off the board. There does however become a time when everyone is waiting and a stud QB falls to where he represents great value, I would not be afraid to pull the trigger then. Its becoming increasingly popular to wait on QB's the last few years but what is beginning to happen is its starting to make the stud QB's become value again if they last too long. Don't be locked into a certain mode be flexible. If you wait for QB's make sure to grab two fairly close to hedge your bet. Don't put a certain round on when you take a QB just follow the board, it will tell you when you need consider one.
Make a case for why someone should come to Vegas and participate in some high stakes events. Honestly if you enjoy football its the ultimate trip. Imagine your local leagues and how much fun you have with those, well now imagine that in Vegas with hundreds and thousands of fans just like you in a ballroom with draft boards everywhere and drafts happening. I have made a ton of life long friends in this industry and that alone is worth the trip. Oh did I mention its Vegas?
What's the biggest mistake you see high stakes players make? Panicking and chasing a run of a certain position. Stay true to your board for BPA in the early rounds. Also drafting a QB in the 1st or 2nd round is also a huge mistake IMO. Also in the early rounds do not worry about bye weeks, sure if its close between two players use it as a tie breaker if you want but overall I don't worry about bye weeks especially early on. Take the superior player always. Another small mistake new players make in my opinion is bringing 50 different cheat sheets and papers to the table, this can become overwhelming for a new player. Bring one cheat sheet you trust or a computer program like FBG's to help run your draft. Less is more for me when I am drafting. And last but not least don't make a pick just because the consensus says so, make a pick because your gut says so.
Aside from the obvious payout and competition level, what's the biggest difference between high stakes leagues and regular leagues? There are no such things as sleepers in high stakes fantasy football. Everyone is knowledgeable and up to date on info so if you like a player don't be afraid to take him a round early to get him. Anyone can win in high stakes fantasy football if you put in the time and work you can compete with the big dogs.
What's the thing you wished you'd learned five years ago? To enjoy every draft and have fun with it. Its ok to take it serious but make sure you are having fun most of all.