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Lessons from a High Stakes Fantasy Player

If you aren’t familiar, entrance fees to the largest-participated High Stakes Fantasy Football leagues are around $1600 per team. The big three are the FFPC, FFWC, and NFFC. I’ve sat in high stakes drafts with some of the best fantasy players in the world including founder of the FFPC, Dave Gerczak when we played in the now defunct World Championship of Fantasy Football (WCOFF). All of these high stakes leagues are PPR scoring format. If you’ve never played in a PPR league, it’s time to take off the training wheels.

I can tell you playing in a “live” high stakes draft in Las Vegas is like no other event you’ve ever experienced. For me, it must be what a Trekkie feels like going to a Star Trek Convention. Where else can you find hundreds of other fantasy degenerates like yourself?  The competition in these leagues is stiff to say the least. It’s nothing like your work league and no one shows up with a magazine that was printed in June. There’s too much money on the line to come in unprepared.

I’ve had some good years and some bad. Here are some of the mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned playing High Stakes. These principles I picked up over the years can used in any league. There’s definitely no magic formula, these are just my personal standards. Make sure you also read how to approach your 2014 fantasy drafts and four costly fantasy football errors and how to avoid them.

Don’t bet the house too early

I’m all about swinging for the fences but I’ve learned not to do it in early rounds. I’ve gotten burned by drafting players coming off one big year with little else to their resume. This guideline helped me avoid Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, and C.J. Spiller last year. I probably won’t own LeVeon Bell, Eddie Lacy, or Gio Bernard in 2014 because of this. I’ve paid the price reaching on players like Nate Burleson or Roy Williams. I don’t want to own Cordarrelle Patterson in 2014. My preference is to go for established players with a couple decent years under their belts at least early on. There’s nothing worse than spending $1600 and busting big on an early round pick. I’m really fond of Shawn Siegele’s Anti-fragility Zero RB and Jonathan Bale’s Barbell drafting strategies.

Some Running Backs get old before your eyes

Larry Johnson was my first round pick following a 1,789-yard rushing season in ’07. He busted that year at age 28. Marshall Faulk started his major decline at age 29, so did Shaun Alexander.  Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are all 29 years old this year. They might be fine or they could be first-round busts.

Draft players you want

Average Draft Position is one of the most important tools you have for determining where players get picked. Occasionally a player you didn’t expect will fall to you. If you didn’t target that player for a reason, don’t take them just because their ADP says you should. On the flip side of this, there are no sleepers in high stakes drafts. Unlike your home league, high stakes players are well aware of the trendy sleepers. If you really like a player with an eighth-round ADP, you may have to reach in the sixth or risk not owning him. If a player produces big, will it really matter that you drafted him two rounds ahead of ADP? It shouldn’t.

You can win with an early round QB or a late round QB

My co-manager, Todd Nichter, and I had a team that was the No. 1 overall points leader through the regular season. That team finished 26th out of around 1,000 teams. We drafted Peyton Manning in the second round. If you have a player that finishes top at his position it shouldn’t matter where you drafted him. I’m not advocating taking a QB in the first or second round because you shouldn’t have to; although this may be the year one should look into leasing a top shelf QB. Shawn Siegele is still the standard of high stakes winning while drafting QBs late.

Understand your league

This one is a given right? Still so many neglect to construct a roster that fits their format or draft according to scoring setting. All the leagues I mentioned above have 10 player starting line ups, the FFWC starts 11. There is no trading permitted and the waiver wire is ALWAYS important. Wide receivers are the best flex options. Hoard as many WRs as you can. Winning the flex is still what it’s all about and will again win championships in 2014.

Go big with your WR3 or flex

This is where I like to gamble. The flex spot is an ideal place for number one receivers on any team who will be targeted heavily. Last year Josh Gordon, Desean Jackson, and Pierre Garcon fit these criteria and were perfect WR3 or Flex options. Don’t be afraid to draft two WRs from the same high scoring team either. We got crushed in a league one year when a savvy owner named Kimra Schleicher drafted Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Both finished in the top 10 that season. Demaryius Thomas/Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffrey were killer combos in 2013. There will probably be a few more in 2014.

 Get to the playoffs

The FFPC has only an 11-week regular season. You don’t have time to figure out your lineup and every week counts. I’ve gone 6-5 before and missed the playoffs by one win. Consistency is key as one bad start could cost you the season. Anything goes when you get to the playoffs so I try to not speculate too much on schedules, etc. I just want to be there. Let the chips fall where they may during the three-week playoffs.

 There are no absolutes in fantasy football. These are just a few things I’ve learned playing and sometimes losing high stakes. If you’re interested in testing your mettle against some of the best fantasy players in the world, I highly recommend it.

I have a team in the Fantasy Football World Championship and will be drafting in Las Vegas on September 6. First Prize in the FFWC is $150,000. Does it have my name on it? I don’t know, but I’m gonna find out.

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