Best Fantasy Football Picks From the World’s Winningest Players
A-list fantasy handicappers give advice on how to win your league this year.
This is a story about fantasy football players.
No, not stats-spewing NFLers like Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who will likely get top-billing in most 2017 fantasy drafts.
This story is about actual human beings—men who research, handicap, draft, strategize, play, and most importantly, win boatloads of money in the game of fantasy football.
We can already hear you harrumphing. “Why should I care about fantasy football?” Let Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (or FSTA), fill you in. “In the U.S. and Canada [alone], the total universe of [fantasy sports] players is now 61 million,” he says, citing the latest numbers from a report the FSTA commissions annually on fantasy sports data. Of that total, 42.7 million are fantasy footballers, making it, without question, the largest vertical in the fantasy world. And taking into account the total economic impact of that horde of stats-obsessed head-coach wannabes, Charchian says that if someone were to put a price-tag on fantasy football, it’d be worth $7 billion. That’s twice President Trump’s estimated net worth.
So it’s safe to say that fantasy football matters in a big, big way. If the business is worth billions, there must be players within that universe that have found a way to dig into that share of greenbacks.
But RealClearLife didn’t want to write the same, tired story citing anonymous sources. We wanted to answer these questions: Who are fantasy footballs true high-roller heavyweights? What kind of money have they made over their careers? What types of leagues do they play in? And most important, at least for your sake, what sort of advice might they have to impart?
We’ve come up with a who’s who of the elite players in the fantasy football world and created a dossier below of each guy, which includes all of those key data points—as well as a menagerie of draft analysis and sleeper picks you can use on draft day. (Note: The images below correspond to one of our panel’s top sleeper picks.)
Hometown: Murphysboro, Illinois
Day Job: Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) Professional (Formerly a pro poker player)
Career Winnings: $2 million
Best Year: 2016
Top Sleeper Picks of ’17: Jimmy Graham (TE – Seattle Seahawks), Jameis Winston (QB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Kenny Britt (WR – Cleveland Browns), Jack Doyle (TE – Indianapolis Colts), Dalvin Cook (RB – Minnesota Vikings)
Words of Wisdom Going Into This Year’s Draft: “Trust your research, stick to your plan, don’t be a hero.”
Top High-End Fantasy Leagues: “Any weekly high stakes DFS league,” says Crain via email. “It’s the best of the best playing against each other. It’s great to be able to test yourself against the best in the world.” (He should know; he’s hauled in $1.2 million in winnings alone from 1st-, 3rd-, and 4th-place finishes in DraftKings‘ NFL Millionaire Maker competition.)
Hometown: Born and raised in Long Island, New York; lives in Singapore
Day Job: In-house corporate lawyer
Nickname: Holland’s franchise, which he co-runs with fellow fantasy powerhouse Alex Blake, is called “Kimura.”
Career Winnings: $70,000–$90,000
Best Year: 2015, which he says he can thank Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed for. (“I finished second in the Footballguys Players Championship, with several teams in top 100, and also won money in the Fantasy Championship,” notes Holland via email.)
Top Sleeper Picks of ’17: Darren Sproles (RB – Philadelphia Eagles), Mike Wallace (WR – Baltimore Ravens), Vernon Davis (TE – Washington Redskins)
Words of Wisdom Going Into This Year’s Draft: “Read your league rules,” says Holland’s partner Blake.
Top High-End Fantasy Leagues: Fantasy Football Players Championship (FFPC); Fantasy Championship; Fantasy Football World Championship (FFWC); “Some day, I want to do [the] KFFSC [the Kentucky Fantasy Football State Championship],” Holland tells us.
Hometown: Long Island, New York
Day Job: Works in building division at real estate developer
Nickname: “Glenneration X”
Career Winnings: “Up and around seven figures.”
Best Year: 2016 (Some of the main reasons? Lowy won a single league that raked in $150,000 in winnings and took home his second straight FFPC High Society crown, which has a $10,000 buy-in and $50,000 payout.)
Top Sleeper Picks of ’17: This season, Lowy explains that he’s buying into backup running backs he feels could have breakout success if their starters go down (e.g., Ezekiel Elliott). For that reason, his sleeper picks include Jonathan Williams (RB – Buffalo Bills) and Joe Williams (RB – San Francisco 49ers)
Words of Wisdom Going Into This Year’s Draft: “Be prepared,” Lowy says. “Study and keep track of what’s going on in the preseason. Don’t judge [players] solely on preseason stats, but check out how people are being used; how they look; if they’re dynamic or just guys that are good only if they get an opportunity.” If you’re playing in a home league, Lowy says, know that if you do the prep work, you’ll likely have the upper hand on some people who are just coming in cold. But to play at the high-stakes level? “You have to be fully engrossed to succeed,” he says.
Top High-End Fantasy Leagues: National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC); FFPC; FFWC (The reason Lowy throws his weight behind those three leagues? “They have a live draft component,” he says. In other words, there’s an experiential entertainment angle that doesn’t exist among other leagues out there. You actually go to places to New York City and Las Vegas to draft your players. “I don’t do this just for the money,” he says. “I do it mostly because I enjoy it so much.”)
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Day Job: Trial defense attorney
Nickname: “HankAram” (near-rhymes with “Hank Aaron”)
Career Winnings: ~$100,000; won the World Championship of Fantasy Football (WCOFF) and came in 5th and 7th in two years of FFPC’s Main Event (Megerian plays with two other teammates)
Best Year: 2008
Top Sleeper Picks of ’17: Megerian takes a different tack when answering this because when we talked to him, he had yet to be involved in a single live draft. So he nails down his two main points of strategy: “The first thing we do is we look to see offensive coordinators who have changed [teams], and who we believe is going to be a pass-happy offense, especially in PPR leagues.” Says Megerian, a good example was when Dirk Koetter landed with the Atlanta Falcons. “That year, we went all-in on a Falcons team, where we had Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez, all drafted in the first seven rounds of the same team.” (That was their respectable 5th-place bid.) “The second thing we look for is where targets have disappeared, and who’s going to replace them.” By means of explanation, Megerian cites the lowly New York Jets, who have pretty much lost all of their top wide receiver options already this season—Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and most recently, Quincy Enunwa. “If there is a team where a sleeper is going to come out in, it’s this one,” says Megerian. Who will it be? He’s banking on rookie tight end Jordan Leggett.
Words of Wisdom Going Into This Year’s Draft: “Quarterbacks are worthless,” says Megerian, bluntly. And his other pearl of wisdom: “In the high stakes context, handcuffs are for losers.” What does he mean by “handcuffs”? “When you’re trying to beat out 7,000 people or 1,500 people and win $250,000 prize, you can’t do that with [both Cowboys running backs] Darren McFadden and Ezekiel Elliott, because now you’re wasting two picks for one position,” he explains. “The way you’re going to win it by having Ezekiel Elliott and [Steelers backup running back] D’Angelo Williams, and you hope that [starter] Le’Veon Bell breaks his leg.” (Obviously, we talked to Megerian before the news on Elliott broke. But you get the point.)
Top High-End Fantasy Leagues: FFPC’s Main Event, which has a jackpot of $250,000; the private “Tampa Poker League,” which Megerian says is a high-stakes fantasy football league for “degenerate poker players and professional gamblers” (buy-in is a reasonable $2,500, but each week includes $1,000 side-bets with every team in the league). What might one walk away with in the TPL? One lucky guy walked away with $84,000.
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Day Job: Real estate insurance broker
Nickname: “The Tight End Whore”
By means of explanation for his nickname, Range tells RealClearLife that in the high-end leagues he plays in at FFPC, 1.5 points per catch are awarded to tight ends (leagues like ESPN and Yahoo are Points Per Reception or PPR leagues that award a single point per reception). “It’s sort of a mathematical bonus. Because there are so many wide receivers, I’m always going to be able to find [better] value in [that] position, than I am … with the tight end position as I go later into the draft. So I’m always looking to get the tight end, because it gives you flexibility.” See New England Patriots star and fantasy stud Rob Gronkowski, who is a perennial injury threat, but can murder the opposition with a well-placed, late-week game.
Career Winnings: $50,000 (Range tells us that he plays with a partner.)
Best Year: 2016
Top Sleeper Pick(s) of ’17: Tyrell Williams (WR – Los Angeles Chargers); Kareem Hunt (RB – Kansas City Chiefs); Tevin Coleman (RB – Atlanta Falcons); Marlon Mack (RB – Indianapolis Colts)
Words of Wisdom Going Into This Year’s Draft: “Make sure you’re maximizing your points in each pick in the first six or seven rounds,” advises Range. “Don’t get into the idea that I must have a certain position; don’t be afraid to not have a running back in the first six rounds; [and] don’t be afraid to not have a wide receiver in the first six rounds, if it means that in exchange for that, you’re getting max points.”
Top High-End Leagues: FFPC’s $3,000 buy-in league with a $20,000 pot (The Varsity League); $5,000 buy-in league with a $25,000 pot (The Big Payback); $10,000 buy-in league with a $50,000 pot (The High Society)
Hometown: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Day Job: Part-Owner of Electronic Discovery Company; Owner of fantasy football site Scout Fantasy (formerly FFToolbox), which is now owned by CBS Interactive.*
Nickname: His fantasy team used to be called “Hawk and Roll” (he’s a Seattle Seahawks fan, obviously).
Career Winnings: “Well over six figures.”
Best Year: 2007-08 (tournament finish–wise); 2010-11 (moneymaking-wise)
Top Sleeper Picks of ’17: Doug Martin (RB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Jamison Crowder (WR – Washington Redskins)
Words of Wisdom Going Into This Year’s Draft: “Be very careful of where you get your information and rankings from,” says Ritchie. “[There are] lots and lots of impostors and fake experts in the industry.” He follows that up by saying, any old site on the web can give you rankings and projections, but those likely won’t fit the league you’re in, or how it scores.
Top High-End Fantasy Leagues: Fantasy Football World Championships (obviously for when he was still a paying customer); “That’s where all the best players in the world play,” he says. Long before he ran his own website, he was the No. 1 ranked player in the league. Its baller draft takes place at the Palms in Las Vegas.
*Since he runs Scout Fantasy, Ritchie tells RealClearLife that he’s no longer allowed to play in pay leagues or contests, because laws and regulations prevent him from doing so. That makes sense because he has access to player drafting data on his own site, which could give him an unfair advantage on another one.
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