Imagine you’ve just spent years playing football at a small university, and now you’re sitting at home on draft day knowing you’re eligible but not expecting your name to be called. Then the phone rings, and you’re listening to an NFL head coach tell you you’re joining their roster … in Hawaii.
That’s about what it felt like when I got invited to participate in GMC’s annual fantasy football league. And of course there’s no pro team in Hawaii. But that’s what’s on the line — win the league, go to the land of pig pit roasts and hula skirts.
The big catch is that I would be drafting against 11 fantasy football ‘experts’ and other online writers in Denver.
When I got the invite I was a little nervous. I’ve done plenty of fantasy leagues but nothing like this. My biggest claim to fantasy fame comes from going undefeated in a fantasy basketball league where half the owners gave up a few weeks into the season.
However, I decided to use those basic fantasy experiences to my advantage and realized this experience would give me the opportunity to see firsthand what it’s like to draft with fantasy “experts” and see what strategies would play out when the time came.
It should also be noted that I was the youngest competitor in the league, so in a very real sense, I really was the rookie.
DAY 1 – Denver is awesome
Upon arrival in Denver, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I didn’t know if we would jump right in and immediately start talking about rules for the league and strategies for the season. As it turns out, fantasy was rarely mentioned on the first night. So many of these writers have four or more drafts scheduled for the season. So, obviously, resumes and past experiences — many of which included extensive fantasy success — were talked about when meeting one another, but aside from that small exchange there wasn’t too much strategy talk going on.
GMC treated us to a Denver experience by taking us to a Colorado Rockies game, and it became less about fantasy football for the night and more about enjoying the city with new friends. Before too long, it seemed like this “expert league” would become completely similar to playing in a league with friends, only these friends knew A LOT more about fantasy.
The league draft was scheduled for Wednesday evening, so we got the chance to choose our own Colorado adventure during the morning hours. As we embarked on the adventures, there still wasn’t much strategy talk going on, and I was beginning to think we wouldn’t talk about it at all. Joe Redemann, of NumberFire.com, even said at one point, “I want to talk strategy with you guys, because we’ve become friends, but I don’t know if I should, because we have to compete against each other.”
Early in the afternoon it changed, though. Phone alerts started going off and we each started reading tweets that Kelvin Benjamin of the Carolina Panthers had gone down in practice with what appeared to be a torn ACL. This was huge. Benjamin was the Panthers top wide receiver in 2014, so this would not only impact his draft stock but that of his real life teammates as well.
Questions started flying and strategies began to change. “What does this do to Cam Newton?” “How far does Cam fall in the draft?”
I went to my room and did some last minute research on my player list. I had a list of players I wanted but only a few that I was glued to. Before the draft, both Benjamin and Newton were players that I would grab if they fell to me, but neither were players I was gunning for.
On the clock
After a tour of Mile High Stadium — I know, rough life — it was time for the draft … and things began to get intense.
We still talked and joked around some, but it was noticeably less audible after the laptops came out. It was like a switch had been flipped, because what little chatter there was became solely about football. Numbers and stats were being thrown out before and after many of the picks.
“His stock is too high!” was heard more than a few times. It wasn’t all combative talk, though, as the most common phrase seemed to be “I love that pick!”. I’ll be the first to admit that it feels really good to have someone with a fantasy football job title tell you they love your pick.
It was interesting to finally see how each person took on the draft. I heard more than one person say how important the middle rounds of the draft were, a place where you could win or lose your league. In a year when it seemed quarterbacks would stay on the board until round 3, Andrew Luck was drafted in the first round.
Some loaded up on running backs while others piled on the wideouts. Liz Loza of Yahoo Fantasy is always telling listeners to ignore the defense and kicker “rush” after it starts and holdout until the final rounds, and even when the defenses started coming off the board, she held true saying, “I have to practice what I preach.”
In case you were wondering, Cam Newton fell all the way to the 10th round as a result of Kelvin Benjamin’s ACL tear. To many leagues, Cam Newton is still Cam Newton, regardless of losing one of his top receivers.
WHAT I LEARNED
Here a few of my biggest takeaways from the draft.
1. It’s crucial to know the players that are projected to go in the middle rounds.
The middle of a draft really can make or break you. Everyone knows the top of the league players that go early, so spend time studying up on players for rounds 5-10.
2. While it’s important to have a strategy, understand that no matter which approach you take, none is perfect or foolproof.
- There are obviously strategies that could guarantee you losses. Like, you know, drafting a kicker in the first or second round. But no strategy, no matter how good it seems, is a complete guarantee to win your league. As with all sports, things can happen that cripple any strategy. So find a strategy you like, and try to stick with it. But don’t boast that you’ll be unbeatable.
3. Don’t take things too seriously.
- Fantasy football is still fun. Don’t glue yourself to players and explode when they get “sniped” from you. Even in a league with experts and a trip to Hawaii on the line for the winner (Yes, that is what I said) there were still “good pick” and “great pick” compliments being dropped left and right. We became friends through the process.
I know what you’re probably thinking now — “Who did he come out with?!” “What does his team look like?!”
Regardless of if you were screaming those thoughts or not, or even if you were thinking them at all, using the 11th pick in a snake draft, here is my complete roster. Reserve your judgments, as Yahoo’s draft analysis already gave me a C+ draft grade. But hey, Cs get degrees, right?
Round – Pick – Player – Position
- (11) Julio Jones, WR
- (14) Jeremy Hill, RB
- (35) Melvin Gordon, RB
- (38) Peyton Manning, QB
- (59) Martavis Bryant, WR
- (62) Sammy Watkins, WR
- (83) Steve Smith Sr., WR
- (86) Houston, DEF
- (107) Teddy Bridgewater, QB
- (110) Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE
- (131) Reggie Bush, RB
- (134) Owen Daniels, TE
- (155) Kevin White, WR
- (158) David Johnson, RB
- (179) Matt Bryant, K
- (182) Carolina, DEF
Finally, I want to give a huge thank you to GMC for putting on the league/draft and inviting me to Denver for an unforgettable experience all the way around. It is truly unbelievable to be a part of this competition and meet the many people I did.
To my fellow competitors, in the words of famous philosopher Richard Sherman, “It’ll be a fun game for us, I can guarantee you that.”