Loading scores...
High Stakes

Winning in High Stakes Fantasy

by Oliver Gold
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

On August 25th, 2014, I drafted a team in the National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC). It is a high-stakes fantasy football competition with just under 2,300 teams. Most entrants take multiple teams. I took one, started 0-5, and went on to win the $100,000 grand prize.


Here’s how I did it:


The Draft


The NFFC breaks teams into leagues of 12, with participants finishing in the top-two spots of their league qualifying for the championship round. Before the draft, each team ranks its preference of draft position. My top preferences were 11, then 12.  The reasons why were: If I drafted at the top I would select a high-ranked running back whom I didn’t trust, and the NFFC's third-round reversal. In a traditional snake draft, the team with the 11th pick has picks 11 and 14, then 35.  But with a third-round reversal, that 35th pick becomes the 26th pick. The top of the draft would have to be pretty rich to sacrifice that, and in my estimation it was not.


I used Rotoworld’s Draft Guide and customized the players based on my own estimations. With the 11th pick, my strategy was to grab one of my top-five running backs: Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, or Eddie Lacy. If those guys weren’t available -- and I doubted they would be -- the plan was to take a top-six wide receiver: Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, or Brandon Marshall.  On the way back, I was going to take a wide receiver regardless of my top pick. I really liked those top wide receivers and was going to be sure to draft at least one. I ended up with A.J. Green and Jordy Nelson.


I grabbed Rob Gronkowski with my third pick (No. 26). One cannot predict how a draft will go and the ability to adapt on the fly is key. I did not plan on taking a tight end early but as the draft unfolded, I was faced with taking Gronk or one of the following running backs: Arian Foster, Andre Ellington, Shane Vereen, Zac Stacy, and C.J. Spiller (in the order they came off the board). Although I liked some of them, I felt tight end was very thin and without one of the top three (Jimmy Graham, Gronk, and Julius Thomas) it was a shot in the dark. And there were still values to be had at running back in rounds four and later.


The late rounds of the draft ended up paying off most and making the greatest impact on my season. A few highlights: 9th Round Tony Romo, 11th Round Mark Ingram, 12th Round Ben Roethlisberger, 13th Round Jonathan Stewart, and for my best pick in the 15th Round I took Odell Beckham.  Beckham was on my radar mostly because I am a Giants fan. (Sometimes those hometown picks pay off!)


The Regular Season


After scoring 19 points in each of the first two weeks, Mark Ingram went down. With Gronk off to a slow start and injuries to Joique Bell (my fourth-round pick), Ingram, and A.J. Green, the season was looking bleak. Over the first five weeks of the season, I averaged only 126.5 points per game and dropped to 0-5.


After going 0-5, there was plenty of soul searching going on, believe me. But I had confidence that I drafted a good team and my players would turn things around. I played the waiver wire, but for the most part I stayed the course, and it paid off.


When Montee Ball injured his groin in Week 5, I picked up Ronnie Hillman and started him in Ingram’s place. He was a great stand-in until he too was knocked out with an injury in Week 9. Gronk picked it up in Week 5 and never looked back. But the biggest difference-maker, Odell Beckham, began playing in Week 5 with a 14-point performance. Victor Cruz was knocked out for the season in Week 6, when Beckham only had five points. But after Week 6 he was a top wide receiver the rest of the way.


Over the final eight weeks of the regular season my average weekly score went up a whopping 30 points. I finished in second place in my 12-team league, missing first by one win and 1.55 points. By taking the second spot I won $700, but most importantly I qualified for the championship round.


The Playoffs


Teams take their scoring average from the first 15 weeks into the playoffs. I entered ranked 357th out of 426 teams. Scoring from the three playoff weeks is then added to that average, to calculate each team’s total points.


I scored 224 points (ninth best) in Week 14, 178 points (13th best) in Week 15, and 179 points (16th best) in Week 16. Beckham averaged 36 points per week, Romo averaged 32 and Nelson averaged 24, making it possible to overcome A.J. Green’s Week 16 early-game exit with 0 points.


My average point total over the three playoff weeks rose another 38 points to 194 points.


I finished in first place, winning the $100,000 grand prize. I beat out the second-place team by 7.19 points. Like many successful fantasy teams this year, the runner-up also had Odell Beckham.


My Takeaways


Fantasy football is not like baseball or other sports where your players have several games per week. You have one game a week. And once that game has happened, you are stuck looking at that score for a week, good or bad. That gives owners plenty of time to overreact. Odell Beckham did not step on the field until Week 5. I could have dropped him for a flyer on the waiver wire. I could have given up on Ingram, after he missed three weeks before his bye and then had a five-point game on his return.


Remember how many Eddie Lacy owners panicked after the first four weeks? Staying the course is not always the right move, but overreaction, panicking, and selling low are never part of a winning strategy.


Choosing an MVP is tough, because I had weeks where lots of guys stepped up. If you do not have that, you do not win.  In Week 9, Romo had a bye. I started Big Ben. With six touchdowns and 350 yards passing, he was my highest scoring player. So many guys play a role in getting a win like this. But, Odell Beckham deserves my MVP honors for several reasons, not the least of which is that he was my 15th-round pick and ended up playing like a first-rounder.  Without his play down the stretch and through the playoffs it’s very unlikely I would have won.


Next year will be different, every year is. I like to think each year I play fantasy football, I find a few things that I can apply to future seasons. This year’s draft was very atypical for me. I usually feel like taking running backs early is the safest bet. I always try to find as close to a sure thing as I can in the early rounds. This year I felt that meant going with wide receivers early. It worked. So next year, I’ll continue drafting players early whom I think are sure things, regardless of position.


Guides and experts are very helpful. I would go so far as to say without them, you are really at a disadvantage. But, treating them as gospel is a sure way to end up in the middle of the pack. If you want to win it all, you have to customize those rankings. Make them your own, based on an informed opinion.

Study hard. And good luck next year. I’ll see you on the leader boards.

Oliver Gold
Oliver Gold is a high stakes fantasy football player. You can find him on Twitter @OliverGNYC.