Expert Q&A: AFL Fantasy Freak’s philosophy, always chase value, bye plans

Jacob Leopardi, aka the AFL Fantasy Freak, calls himself “a loose Aussie bloke who love to watch the footy with a deep passion for AFL Fantasy” but he’s got a track record of top ranking finishes.

The AFL Fantasy Freak, who promises to help you climb your way up the ranks on his platform, is currently ranked 576th, with his best finish being 190th.

So Honeyball thought we’d line up a chat for our AFL Fantasy coaches on his philosophy.

HB: Let’s start with your overall strategy and the underlying principles behind your decision making?

Jacob Leopardi (right), with Elliot Yeo

JL: When composing my starting squad I really focus on value and selecting guys that I think have upside (even my premiums). The start of the year is about nailing a couple of those key mid-price players (Nick Hind) along with generating cash. The first few weeks I focus on getting in the best rookies to allow the maximum cash generation. Around Round 6-7 I start having a look at my bye structure just so I have an idea of where I’m at as the byes are a great opportunity to pull some rank and therefore I like to be prepared early.

As for my trading strategy, I like to search for value with my moves and follow an upgrade/downgrade approach most weeks. The goal is to get the rookies off the field as quickly as possible. During the byes I like to trade aggressively and take some risks with some more unique options and then coming out of the byes and into the back end of the season is where I start to chase more of those top premium types when I think they are at a good price.

When it comes to my decision making, my thought process is quite simple. I factor in value (upside) along with role. These are the most important factors when making a decision. If a role switch looks to have given a player a 10-20+ point upside and it looks like that role can be maintained, then I usually pull the trigger quite quickly.

HB: Let’s talk about this time of the season, upgrade-downgrade season, what’s the priority for you when it comes to trades?

JL: As I stated in the previous question, the priority for me is getting rookies off the field. Rookie players tend to have quite a volatile scoring ability (even the best rooks) and therefore you can potentially cop scores in the 40s from them. For this reason I prioritise getting these guys off the field opposed to trading mid-price guys such as: Tom Phillips, Lachlan Sholl, Oleg Markov etc… While these guys haven’t been great recently, they all have the potential to go 90+ and you’re not really ever going to get less than 60 from them on a regular basis.

With the byes just around the corner, I tend to look at getting rookies off the field, improving my bye structure and bringing in someone who has upside to their scoring. When trading down it’s important to consider job security as you’ll need these rookies to play for you during the bye rounds. When it comes to trading in general I always prioritise my upgrade and make sure I’m getting the premium player I want at the time. The player you’ll likely be upgrading to is either a potential keeper or someone who you will own for a while so this shouldn’t be compromised by chasing a higher priced rookie player. If I have to go to a $170k rook then I’ll do it and I’ll use my knowledge to decide which guy I think is best.


HB: What do you do when there’s limited downgrade options in the $170k-200k range? Take a punt or settle for someone more reliable in the $250k range?

JL: It all depends on who your upgrade target is. If going to a sub $200k rookie is required to get that upgrade then I take a punt and make a choice based on why that player is coming into the side, who he is coming in for and whether I think he can hold his spot. The higher priced rookies are usually because they’ve already got a few games under their belt and therefore you’ve got that data to help guide whether or not they are worth selecting ie. what their role looks like, how good their job security is etc… These guys tend to be a bit safer so if you can grab one of these types and still get the upgrade target you like, that is the ideal situation.

This time of the season we usually tend to struggle when it comes to finding those quality rooks. For that reason I think it’s okay to get creative with your upgrade/downgrade approach and in some cases it may be viable to downgrade a premium guy. For example, Jack Ziebell was a guy last week I recommended you could probably trade out. With plenty of value guys in defence ie. Jordan Ridley, Caleb Daniel, Nic Newman… Going a Ziebell to one of these types would have netted you $200k+ for little to no difference in points which could then get you a premium upgrade elsewhere. These are the types of moves I start to consider more at this time of the year and going through the bye period.

HB: What type of players are you looking to upgrade to? Fallen premos? In-form players etc?

JL: For the most part it just depends on how much value is there. I never pay full price for my premium players as you always want to be looking to increase your team value forward to progress your side further and further. When paying full price for a guy the only outcomes are for them to maintain their price but inevitably they have a poor game and drop in price. Therefore, with these guys there are often opportunities you can pay significantly less for them.

Fallen premos are certainly a target, guys coming off injury affected scores are usually great buys along with guys who look to have a role switch due to injury opportunity within the side. I’ll usually bring someone in if they look to have a bare minimum of 10 points upside to their current price although when it comes to more mid-price picks I look for 15-20+ points.

HB: Do you prioritise mids over upgrading defence/forward?

JL: It just depends on where the value is. The midfield is obviously where the big points are scored and so you do want to get those big premiums into your side at some point e.g. Jackson Macrae, Clayton Oliver and Zac Merrett but on the flip side you can always find plenty of value through the midfield with guys priced at $600k who are capable of scoring 100. This year the forward line has been a relatively dead zone up until the change in role to Josh Kelly, along with Aaron Hall. For this reason I’ve prioritised my upgrades elsewhere and mainly focussed on the midfield and defence. Defence this year looks to have higher scoring players than in the forward line and there always seems to be great value options down back. In general I don’t tend to prioritise a particular zone and tend to focus on where I think the players with the most upside are and trade accordingly.

HB: With byes around the corner, do you have a plan for that? When does that planning start?

JL: When it comes to the bye rounds I tend to take them very seriously as in previous years this is where I’ve been able to climb the most rank. Preparation is key and if you nail it through this period you can come out the other end with a far superior side which can set you up nicely going into the back end of the year. As I mentioned earlier I tend to first look at my bye structure at about round 6-7.

Depending on how much I need to change my squad will dictate when I need to start trading to get my structure right but as a rough guide it’s usually round 8 onwards. I like to prepare early and make sure my structure is set as if you leave it to the last minute you can get injuries which may prevent you from achieving an ideal position going into that first bye round. As for what that ideal structure looks like along with my trading strategy throughout the byes, I won’t cover that as I’ve written a full article on that here.

HB: What guides your decision-making with trades?

JL: Value. Role is super important and the most common switch to look for is when a player goes into the midfield rotation. This is where the points are so if a player gains this role they usually have enough upside to warrant jumping on board. At the start of the year I like to stay relatively conservative to stay with the pack but as we get more into the season I tend to take more risks and go with some guys outside of the box. I always look for upside in my trade targets but as we get more into the year and making ground becomes important, risks need to be taken to distinguish your side from others. Therefore I’ll consider players who have a nice draw along with low ownership a lot more closely. For the most part I just back my own judgement in. If I like what I see, whether that be a player's price, their current role etc… I back them in and hope the risk pays off.

HB: Best starting player this season?

JL: Either Nick Hind or Darcy Parish. A last five-game average of 129.6 along with an increase in price of almost $200k makes it hard to go past Parish as my best starting selection.

HB: Best trade you’ve made this season and why?

JL: I haven’t actually made a lot of super trades this year so far but my best to date would have to be jumping on Aaron Hall in Round 8. I made him VC and loop holed him on debut for 266 points. Since bringing him in he’s averaged 119 and made close to $150k in 3 weeks.

HB: Worst trade this season and why?

JL: Would have to be bringing in Riley O’Brien. Flynn being dropped meant that I had to chase a ruck that week. I had Caleb Daniel who had copped the one-week suspension and therefore used him as my vessel to get a “premium” ruck option. I couldn’t afford Gawn and so I went to what I thought was the next best option in O’Brien. His first two weeks of owning him were what I expected with scores of 91 and 108 but since then it’s been a very steep downward spiral where he now has a three-game average of 65 and is bleeding cash on a weekly basis.


HB: How do you pick a VC/C each week and do you have a VC threshold?

JL: In previous years I’d tend to keep my captain relatively consistent throughout the season, whether than be Brodie Grundy or Tom Mitchell as doing this enables you to secure a 120 average captain throughout the season.

This year with the rolling lockout and the double chance, essentially it’s made things a little more interesting. I tend to take a risk with my VC and go with a guy who has a nice match up who could potentially go big but will be unique or left field. Highlighted by Aaron Hall against Collingwood in Round 8, these are the types of things I look for.

When it comes to my captain I usually just stick with Macrae on a weekly basis unless someone else has a match up which is hard to ignore. Anything over 120 I’ll take as a VC score but some weeks if finding a captain looks tough I’ll take 115 just to be safe.

HB: Final piece of wisdom?

JL: At this stage of the season you should be focussing on getting rookies off the field along with making sure you are set going into the bye rounds. If you’re progressing on these two things on a weekly basis you’re heading in the right direction. Focus on bringing in value players and back yourself in.

Too many times in the past I’ve been heavily influenced by what others have had to say and therefore avoided taking a risk that could have potentially allowed me to climb hundreds if not thousands of spots if I had backed my own judgement in.

When trading make sure you have a plan for the near future. You should have a long-term mindset as the season is long and there are plenty of opportunities for you to catch up. Don’t get sucked into scores, back in the role when you see it, chase value and stay strong to yourself.

HB: Thanks for your time, Jacob, good luck this season!

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