The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

An Interview on Fantasy Sports and Being a Writer

I did an interview at a cool blog called Just Tap the Glass. I don’t really have much interesting stuff to say about myself, but the blog itself is awesome with some good discussions on game theory and social psychology. Check out the interview here and click around the site for some interesting reading.

Tell us a little about yourself, Jonathan. (Where are you from, your background, anything we might find interesting about you etc.).

I’m originally from a small town outside of Philly. I cover the Cowboys, so most people assume I live in Dallas, but I’m actually currently located in NYC. When I’m not watching or analyzing football, I like reading philosophy/theoretical physics.

What separates your fantasy football recommendations from that of other pundits is your background in Math and Statistics and its subsequent application in your work. You provide hard data instead of conjecture masquerading as analysis. Along with a few other disciplines, Statistics is one of the strongest tools available for interpreting the world around us. How were you first introduced to the field of applied mathematics and why did you stick around?

I was in a lot of advanced math courses throughout school. I finished the majority of my college coursework while in high school, and then I majored in Philosophy and Psych Stats in college. I wouldn’t say I “stuck around” as much as math just followed me as a pragmatic tool through which I can better understand the world and make accurate predictions.

When you’re not writing and crunching numbers, what do you enjoy doing?

I read a lot. I try to read non-sports stuff every night. I work hard on the numbers/writing all day, so I really want to get away from it at night. I also like eating out, which my girlfriend and I sadly do literally every day. There are too many great restaurants in NYC to eat at home.

You’re a regular contributor to a number of publications, including The NY Times, and were tapped to run a blog for The Dallas Cowboys. How did you land those gigs? Are you a full-time writer or do you have another occupation? Any advice for aspiring sports or business writers?

I just e-mailed them, to be honest. When you first start, no one is going to come to you. You have to e-mail editors all the time to show them what you can do, so that was a major part of my plan a couple years ago. I’m a writer, but I also do some investing to pay the bills.

Your books on fantasy football strategy were so good, I finished them within 48 hours of purchase. I’d like to think I’m a solid competitor in fantasy basketball and football—-doesn’t mean I’m not eager to learn more. Any new projects on the horizon?What’s next for you?

I will be taking a few months off in early 2014 to do nothing but write books. I plan to do at least two for next year, but maybe even three. A few other projects coming as well, so stay tuned.

By Jonathan Bales

Interview With Sports Analytics Blog

I recently did an interview with SportsAnalyticsBlog.com, which you can check out right here. Here’s a preview:

Are advanced statistics becoming more prevalent in fantasy football? Do you look at any advanced metrics (Total QBR, etc.) when trying to find the best players?

No doubt about it. There are all kinds of advanced metrics out there that help me and others win leagues. I don’t use Total QBR because I think it overvalues “clutch” situations, but I look at other predictors of success in order to uncover value on players who haven’t broken out just yet, but are likely to do so in the future—yards per route, points per opportunity, 40 times, speed scores, average depth of passes, and stuff like that. As long as you can establish that a certain stat predicts future success, then it’s valuable.

By Jonathan Bales

Ask Your Fantasy Football Expert

I recently did an interview with Zach Law, author of There Is No Offseason. We discussed fantasy football, the Cowboys, and my beer of choice (or lack thereof) on game day. You can see the full interview at Zach’s site.

How did you get started in fantasy football writing? I started writing both NFL and fantasy football content in 2009. I’ve always preferred writing on the latter topic, but I got hired by some bigger sites (New York Times, NBC, etc) to publish NFL content. I kind of used that platform to publish and market Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft last year as a way to get back into the space. That book was far more popular than I anticipated, which led me to start writing more fantasy content for RotoWire and some other sites and continue the series this year.

How’d you decide to enter the fantasy football book market with the Fantasy Football for Smart People series? It was primarily a path for me to get back into fantasy football writing. I planned to start delivering content to a few different sites, so I figured I’d just package what I was writing anyway and sell it on my own.

Do the Cowboys have the personnel to make the change from a 3-4 defense to 4-3? Do you have any numbers of the history of teams making that shift? Yeah, I’m not a huge believer in finding certain personnel for a specific scheme; I think coaches should adapt their schemes to their players. The Cowboys have the players to be a formidable defense, so that’s what matters most. If you have a really talented guy who “doesn’t fit” in a particular scheme, maybe it’s the coordinator’s narrow-minded thinking that is the real lack of a fit. [Zach note: It's not like teams run 3-4 or 4-3 schemes exclusively anymore.]

Does it make any difference to you that the Cowboys’ draft board was pieced together by enterprising people taking stills from shots of the draft room? No, I think it’s interesting, but I don’t think it really matters all that much. It showed that, outside of passing on Sharrif Floyd, the Cowboys got good value based on their board.

Oh yeah, have you been to the new Cowboys Stadium? If you have, what’s that experience like? I have. It’s an amazing experience—very surreal the first few times you’re there. I’d definitely recommend it to any Cowboys fan.

Is football your full-time gig or do you have a day job? I do a little investing, but yes, writing is basically my full-time job.

Does your wife/girlfriend/sig other have any issues with your football obsession? Sometimes. She isn’t really into it, but she doesn’t really get on my case about it either. She knows that Thursdays, Sundays, and Mondays during fall and winter are my time.

Football or sex: which do you think of more? During the day, football. But at night, football.

By Jonathan Bales

Talking Daily Fantasy Sports Strategy

I recently did a little interview with GoProFantasySports.com regarding my new book How to Cash in on the Future of the Game and my background in fantasy sports. The full interview is here.

What’s the most common mistake you see new players make when setting their daily fantasy football lineups?

JB: The biggest mistake in terms of the actual lineup creation process would be choosing players independently of one another. If you’re in a tournament, it’s almost a necessity to stack (pairing a quarterback with his receiver, for example) because it creates a dependent relationship that increases your team’s upside. On the flip side, you shouldn’t consistently stack in heads-up leagues because you want to minimize volatility.

Care to share where you go for the statistics that you use to set your lineups?

JB: I use Vegas lines and props, FantasyProsRotoWirerotoVizAdvanced NFL StatsPro Football ReferencePro Football FocusFootball Outsiders, and numberFire.

You’re a winning player, so you must be a gambler, what’s the craziest bet you’ve ever made?

JB: Not really a crazy bet, but when I was a freshman in college, I had two MLB parlays running at one point. I had one game in each remaining that I needed to win a pretty large amount of money for me at the time (well into five figures). The games were close and both in the bottom of the 9th, and I remember sitting at my computer in my dorm watching the games update on MLB.com. One of them was the Braves game. I needed them to win, and they were down one with Jeff Francoeur at the plate with the bases loaded and one out. He ended up grounding into a double-play to lose the game, and within about 20 seconds I lost the other parlay as well in a similar heartbreaking fashion. So I went from thinking I was going to win a salary in a single night to actually losing $50. Losing $50 should have meant nothing, but it hurt pretty bad for a while.

What is the key to dealing with losing streaks?

JB: The key is really in your perception of your bankroll. When you put money into a daily fantasy sports site, think of it as gone. Now ideally you don’t want to lose your money, but if you start to think of how much you’re “winning” or “losing,” it can affect your decisions. You win and lose money all of the time playing daily fantasy sports, so you almost have to forget that the money is real. If you think of it is a sort of currency through which you can play fantasy sports, you won’t be chasing losses. People don’t realize that at almost every point, even the best fantasy owners are below a previous peak in bankroll. It’s not like you can always win and your bankroll never decreases; it drops all of the time. If you’re a long-term winner, just trust the process; the “luck” will even out if you can stay in the game.

By Jonathan Bales

Safety Plan: Interview with Oklahoma State Safety Markelle Martin

Jonathan Bales

My last scouting report at the NY Times was on Oklahoma safety Markelle Martin.  Shortly following the post, Markelle’s team contacted me to do an interview, and I of course accepted.  Many of the old-time DCT’ers know I used to do more pre-draft interviews, and I can tell you Markelle has been (by far) the most well-spoken of the bunch.

From speaking with Markelle, I can tell he’s a Jason Garrett type of guy.  He’s incredibly hard-working, intelligent, and loves to play football.  Don’t be surprised if Markelle is on the Cowboys’ radar later this month.

How is your draft prep going? What kinds of things are you doing?

It is going well.  Since I injured my knee just after beginning my draft prep, I have been doing a lot of weight lifting.  My weight lifting is basically the same as it was in-season, but with more emphasis on flexibility.

On the field, I’m back into position drills and really working on my technique.  I’m working to make sure I have no false steps and that my mechanics are great.  I’m doing a lot of ball drills and working a ton on eye control.  I typically spend about 90 minutes on the field each day, then another 30 minutes or so watching film.

What sort of film are you watching?

I’m reviewing my Oklahoma State film to see what I did well and what I can improve upon.  I want to make sure I don’t make the same mistake twice.

Have you gotten a lot stronger with so much time in the weight room?

My strength is about the same as prior, but my endurance is much better.  I think that is important so I don’t tire out during games, and my muscular endurance is the best it has ever been.

How disappointing was it to not participate in the Combine?

I was pretty disappointed.  I knew for a while I wouldn’t be able to participate, but once the time came I got a little antsy and wanted to get out there.  I really wanted to compete against the best players in the country.  I participated in interviews and helped our free safety with his on-field drills and technique.

What were your Combine interviews like? Did they ask you anything really weird?

No, nothing too strange.  Almost all of it was scheme-related.  They asked me about different plays and had me run through some of the things we did at Oklahoma State.  A few teams asked me if I prefer playing free or strong.

What did you tell them?

I like both.  I think I am versatile and can play any position.  I played the nickel spot in college too.

What are your biggest strengths as a player?

I love the game.  I have a desire to get better and I think it shows in how I prepare for games.  I’m always staying a half hour or hour after practice to study extra film.  I really want to improve and I work hard to do it.

Do you pattern your game after any current or former NFL players?

Yeah, I really like the old Miami safeties.  I try to make my game like a combination of Sean Taylor and Ed Reed.  I want to be able to hit like Sean, but fly around in the secondary like Ed.  I think it is important to be versatile enough to do both of those as a safety.

Do you check scouting reports and mock drafts a lot?

I try my best to block it out, but it is difficult.  Of course I look at things people are saying about me.  I like to read the positive things and feel good about that.  I use the critical stuff as motivation.

What would you be doing if you weren’t playing football?

I think I’d be a motivational speaker of some kind.  I love to speak to kids, and I want to show them they can do anything.  I think I would definitely be involved with football in some way.  I’d probably be a coach and a speaker.

Any idea where you’ll watch the draft?

I’m not sure, but probably just at home with my family.

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By Jonathan Bales

Interview with Lehigh OT Will Rackley

Jonathan Bales

Yesterday, I published my scouting report on Lehigh offensive tackle William Rackley, a player the Cowboys seem to be targeting and one who would fit quite well in Dallas.  Last night, I was able to get in contact with Rackley and ask him a few questions about the upcoming draft. . .

Q:  How is your draft prep going?  What have you been doing?

A: Since my Pro Day, I have been doing a lot of private workouts.  Once those are over, I have some visits.  I have also been working out like a maniac to keep in shape.

Q:  Dallas showed interest in you at the Combine.  have you had any farther contact with them?

A: Yes, I actually have a visit scheduled with them on April 5.

Q:  How was that interview with Dallas at the Combine?  Did they (or any other teams) ask you any off-the-wall questions?

A: Luckily, I don’t have anything bad in my background that might make them put me on the spot.  I was happy to not really get any crazy questions like that.

All of the teams had me watch film, draw up plays and stuff like that.  All football-related.  Some of them teach you their plays and then test you on them.  They want to see how much you can remember.

Q:  Were you content with your overall Combine performance?

A: I thought my position drills went really well, but I didn’t run as well as I wanted.  I wasn’t really nervous or anything, but I just didn’t do my best in some of the tests.  I was really looking forward to the position drills though and I think teams were impressed with my work there.

Q:  You’re originally from Georgia.  What made you decide to attend Lehigh?

A: Well, I wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school.  I was mainly recruited by Patriot League schools like Lehigh.  Going pro was always a dream of mine, but when I came out of high school, I was really just focused on becoming the best college player possible.

Q:  Well you obviously made a good decision.  Those hills at Lehigh will kill you though.

A: (Laughs) Yeah, those hills get old really fast.

Q:  Have teams talked to you about moving to guard?  Would you prefer to stay at offensive tackle?

A: Some teams have brought it up.  Some want me to move to guard, some to center, and some think I can stay at tackle.  I don’t care where I play.

Q:  Do you have any experience at guard or center?

A: Yeah, I played guard my freshman year at Lehigh, and I also played center in practice.

Q:  How difficult is it to not constantly check mock drafts or watch television to see where analysts think you’ll get drafted?

A: I try not to worry too much about that stuff.  It can be hard, but I honestly don’t really pay much attention to it.  I know those things can change so frequently, so no sense worrying about it.

Q:  Know where you’ll watch the draft?

A: Just from home.  I just want to get selected as early as possible.

Q:  Last question.  Do you pattern your game after any current or former players?

A: No, I don’t really try to emulate anyone else’s game.  I do watch other players to see their technique and how they succeed.  I watch Jake Long a lot, for example.  But I don’t think I really try to pattern my game after anyone else.  I just do my own thing.  I didn’t really have any specific favorite players growing up or anything like that.

By Jonathan Bales

DCT’s Exclusive Interview with Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan

While the Cowboys are pretty set at receiver in 2011, they could surely benefit from acquiring a talented slot receiver for the future.  Roy Williams, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant are all suited to play outside, and when defenses take away Jason Witten over the middle, the ‘Boys are frequently left without a reliable Wes Welker-esque target on 3rd and short to medium.

With so much money tied up in the receivers already, however, the Cowboys won’t place a high priority on securing another playmaker at the position during the draft.  That makes Troy’s Jerrell Jernigan, whose recent 4.32 40-yard dash at his Pro Day figures to vault him into the second or third-round, a somewhat unlikely prospect for Dallas.

Crazy things can happen come draft day, however, and if for some reason Jernigan would slide, his quickness over the middle and ability to convert third-downs could make him an option for the ‘Boys.  If the team places an emphasis on securing a top-notch return man, Jernigan’s value could soar for Dallas.

DCT correspondent Justin Shoemaker recently spoke with Jerrel about his draft prep and NFL idols, among other things.

Q: How is your draft prep going?  What have you been doing since the Combine?

A: It’s going well.  I recently took a brief break for spring break, and it was much-needed.  I have been training and doing some private workouts, including with Atlanta.  I also have a workout scheduled with Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, and New England.

I also just signed a deal with Adidas, so I’ve had photo shoots and other things like that.  It’s very hectic, but I’m enjoying it.

Q:  What sort of things did you do for Atlanta?

A: They had me catch balls from the Jugs machine and do some other punt return drills.

Q:  Were you satisfied with your Combine performance? Is it a relief now that it’s all over?

A: I was happy with my broad jump and vertical.  I also didn’t drop any balls in the receiver drills and I ran the deep routes well.  I got a lot of compliments on the deep catches, which is important for me.

Q:  Were you able to sleep the night before your on-field tests?  How nerve-racking was the experience?

A: I was nervous, but I had a lot of former teammates call to relax me.  The entire Combine was very business-like.  They break up your schedule and try to throw you off from your normal workouts.  One day he had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to go weigh in.

Q:  What were your Combine interviews like? What was the strangest question you were asked?

A: I’ve heard of a lot of strange questions, but for me they were pretty basic.  I thought I prepared well and did a nice job with the interviews.  Nothing was too crazy or off the wall.

Q:  Were you happy with your 4.32 40-yard dash at your Pro Day?

A: Yes, I was very happy and excited about that.  I thought it represented my true speed.

Q:  Do you know where you’ll be watching the draft?

A: In my hometown–probably at my Grandma’s house.

Q:  How would you feel about being a Cowboy?  Have they contacted you at all?

A: I would love to be a Cowboy since they have a great Troy player already in DeMarcus Ware.

Q:  Do you have a good relationship with DeMarcus?

A: Yes, sir.  DeMarcus has visited Troy several times and we’ve talked a lot and become friends.

Q:  Which NFL team did you root for while growing up in Alabama?

A: Atlanta was the closest, so I grew up a Falcons fan.

Q: Who were some of your favorite NFL players as a kid?

A: Michael Vick, L.T., Randy Moss, and Peyton Manning.   Michael Vick was always number one, though, because of what he brings to football.  I’m still a Michael Vick fan now, even with him in Philly.

Q:  In addition to Troy, who else recruited you out of high school?

A: Well, my top two choices were Troy and Auburn.

Q:  What made you choose the smaller school?

A: Auburn was really high on me from the beginning, but they backed off just a little at the last minute.  Troy was really interested the entire time, and it just felt right, so I chose Troy.  I’m happy with that decision.

Q:  What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t playing football?  What was your major?

A: I majored in Criminal Justice. If I wasn’t playing football, I think I would be in a juvenile detention center working with kids, most likely.

Q:  Do you pay attention to the hundreds of mock drafts on the internet or draft analysis on ESPN or the NFL Network?

A: I try to not pay too much attention because it can drive you crazy, but it’s always on.  Even if I turn off the TV and go online, I can’t get away from people talking to me about the draft on Facebook and Twitter.

In most mock drafts, I see myself in the middle or late part of the second-round.  I’d be happy with that, but you never know.

By Jonathan Bales

The Blonde Side Interviews (Martellus Bennett, Kevin Smith) and ‘Behind the Scenes’ Footage

Check out the videos below of Amber Leigh’s interviews with Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett and former Dallas cornerback Kevin Smith, along with some “behind the scenes” footage of one of Amber Leigh’s photo shoots for “The Blonde Side 2011 Calendar.”

You can buy Amber Leigh’s calendar at www.TheBlondeSideStore.com.  Don’t forget the person who purchases the most by the end of 2010 wins a date with Amber Leigh.

By Jonathan Bales

Official Jerry Rice Conference Call: “I would look at Michael Irvin’s stats and keep up with him”

We just participated in a conference call with Jerry Rice.  He had something interesting things to say about Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and playing against the Dallas Cowboys.

A few quotes from Jerry:

  • “I always thought Jim Brown was the greatest running back and football player ever.”
  • “When I hear people say, ‘Jerry, you are the greatest player to ever play the game,’ it scares me.  I never looked at it that way.”
  • “I’m honored to be going into the Hall with Emmitt Smith.”
  • (regarding possible 18-game season) “I was happy to play 16 games.  I felt good.  I was always healthy because I worked so hard in the offseason to get myself ready for the long-haul.”
  • “I used to watch Michael Irvin.  If he had a great game, I would look at his stats and keep up with him.  I think it is great for the NFL to have rivalries like that.”
  • “When the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers met, it was like Boston and the Lakers.  I have a lot of respect for Emmitt and the Dallas Cowboys.”

By Jonathan Bales

Jerry Rice: “Jim Brown was the best running back of all-time.”

By Jonathan Bales

Fellow Dallas Cowboys Times correspondents Dave Kraft and Lorei Reinhard participated in a conference call with me today with the greatest wide receiver of all-time, Jerry Rice.  Rice is getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year alongside our very own Emmitt Smith.

Rice had some interesting things to say, including, “I wouldn’t consider myself the greatest wide receiver ever, but I would have to say Jim Brown is the best running back (and football player) of all-time.”  Of course many Cowboys fans would give that label to Emmitt Smith, but you can’t really knock the selection of Brown.

Rice did go on to mention the greatness of Smith and how much he enjoyed competing against Smith and the Cowboys.  When I asked Rice about his relationship with the Cowboys and other rivals, he said he would keep a close eye on what his competitors were up to.

“I used to look at Michael Irvin’s stats each week and try to keep up with him.”  True competitors fuel one another and make each other better, which certainly appeared to be the case for Rice and Irvin.

Rice also seemed indifferent to the possibility of an 18-game schedule.  He claimed “I always put in the necessary work in the offseason, so I always felt good by the end of the season.”

Of course, a longer season would mean a greater possibility of someone breaking his records, but Rice said if there’s one thing for which he wants to be known, it’s that “I didn’t play the game for the records. . .I played the game to win.”

I will post the entire conference call later today.  You can listen to our conference call with Emmitt Smith here.