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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    So You've Got the #1 Pick - Fantasy Wrestling Draft Edition 2021-22

    Iowa Head Coach Tom Brands debating a call at the 2021 NCAA Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    It seems like just yesterday that you agreed to join a league and got that @Wrestlestat invite in your email Inbox. Since then, you have been scrolling through rosters, reading our articles (if you're smart), and compiling your shortlists of "need-to-haves" and "deep-dives."


    Then, comes draft day. You click "Enter Draft," and lo and behold, you come to find that YOU are the number #1 pick. Easy, right?

    In a season-long format, there are many things to consider. Even though Matthew Berry is primarily a Fantasy Football expert, his pre-season manifesto can be a great foundation for fantasy wrestling as well. All the points are there: minimize risk week to week, getting the most or exceeding value for the pick, do the research, and (in my humble opinion, the most important) know the rules/scoring. His 2019 article may have had one of the most important quotes to remember, regardless of Fantasy Sport: "You can't win your league in the first round, but you can lose it."

    So, let's run through the pros and cons of each potential #1 wrestler to start the season at each weight. And keep in mind, regular WrestleStat leagues are REGULAR SEASON ONLY, unless you and your league agree to carry the rosters over to NCAAs (personal scoring at that point). Plan and strategize accordingly.


    Let's get to it. This article is long enough without the witty preface:



    125: Spencer Lee (Iowa)


    Do I really have to type these words? Do you really need someone to recommend taking Spencer FREAKING Lee with the #1 overall pick?! Is this how this article is really going to start?

    Obviously, Spencer Lee. Three Championships sans two ACLs is pretty impressive. Add to the fact that he has gone 30-0 in the last two seasons (regular and post) with an average of 90% bonus rate and 21 of those victories by way of Tech or Pin. He's basically been the closest thing to a "lock" to win by bonus for two straight seasons, and if your league carries over to the postseason…. Fuggedaboudit.

    Really, what else do I have to say?


    However....


    All signs point to this season being "back to normal," with a start date of November 1 and a full slate of duals and tournaments. As of the publishing of this article, it is unknown what the status of Spencer's health is (mainly in the knee regions). Chances are, Spencer would be on a "pitch count" during the regular season, regardless. For Fantasy purposes, in the regular season-only leagues, even the most dominant wrestlers can't score points if they're on the bench. There are plenty of wrestlers who will be wrestling every match for their team and will be

    Add to that the uncertainty of returning wrestlers and newcomers to the lowest weight class.

    The Ivys return and are arguably the #2 and #3 in the weight class. In 2020, Pat Glory (PRIN) looked as good as any wrestler in the country and seemed destined for the NCAA finals. He finished the 2020 regular season 20-0 with a 75% bonus rate (including one win by injury) and was the #2 Fantasy Wrestler at 125 (#16 across all weights). The other Ivy wrestler who is primed for a stellar Fantasy year is Vito Arujau (COR), if he is down to the weight. We haven't seen him on the Folkstyle mat since 2019, but when he was riding, he took 4th at 2019 Nationals and finished with a 54% bonus rate. Add into that the rumor of Suriano (UNAT) and Fix (OKST, though doubtful) dropping down, and there are A LOT of other viable options which will be available week-in and week-out.



    133: Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State)


    He's finished consistently in the Top 10 in Fantasy points at the weight for the past two seasons (#7 in 2020 and #8 in 2021), with a 50% or better bonus rate in each, despite having an Average Draft Position of 36.26 in 2020 Drafts and 20.72 in 2021. That ADP is going to get a lot lower probably this draft season.

    He was tied for 4th in Team Points among all 330 wrestlers and the second-highest scorer on the Penn State squad at 2021 Nationals, as well as coming in as the highest Nittany Lion in Fantasy Points for the 2021 season.

    From being an AA Contender in 2019 (True Freshman season where he placed 8th), to National Champion contender in 2020 (2nd at the Big Ten Championships), to National champion in 2021. He's the front runner until proven otherwise in a very deep and dangerous 133 weight class.


    Although....


    That's the point; the 133 class is dark and full of terrors. Austin DeSanto (IOWA), Sebastian Rivera or Sammy Alvarez (RUT), Stevan Micic (MICH), Lucas Byrd (ILL), and Chris Cannon (NW) in the Big Ten, alone. I'm not saying that they all could beat RBY, but you have to admit that those are some pretty good wrestlers who you would have a lot of confidence in if you had to rely on JUST regular-season results.

    In the past two seasons, Micky Phillippi (PITT) has scored more Fantasy Points than RBY. Last season in the Big Ten alone, Lucas Byrd and Austin DeSanto were better Fantasy options. With a full season in 2020, and Penn State not having scheduled a bracket tournament in the regular season, it may come to solely an opportunity for quantity of matches.

    Also, just like how Happy learned to putt, Daton learned to pin. Daton was a dangerous man this past season, becoming the #1 Fantasy Wrestler in only five matches mainly because of the specifically tailored Cowboy Challenge and that four of his five matches were won by pin (that one win that wasn't a pin, was a win by Tech).

    One pick that may fall in the rounds but is a perfect Fantasy play for the weight is Michael McGee (ASU). Last season he had the highest bonus rate of his career (53%) and won four of his 6 regular season matches by major… and with an aggregate score of those six total wins at 70-19 (dude can put up POINTS).



    141: Nick Lee (Penn State)


    Will he come back or was the 2021 title his Folkstyle swan song? Will he be going 141 again or bumping up to 149? Can dogs really not look up?

    The answer is yes, Nick Lee will return to defend his National Title at the weight. And yes, dogs can look up… Big Al.

    There was a time, in the early part of the 2020 season, where a good argument could have been made for Nick Lee to win The Hodge. He recorded three pins and seven techs in the regular season on his way to taking 2nd in the Big Ten Championships and setting up the inevitable rubber match in the 2020 National Championship Finals. In Fact, using the last rankings of the regular season, Lee had beaten four of the top 10 wrestlers in the weight, three of them by bonus. 2020 marked Lee's all-time highest career bonus rate in a season at 76%, whereas in 2021, 2019, and 2018 he was closer to the average of about 65%.



    In Spite of That….


    Penn State does not have an actual bracketed tournament on its schedule for the regular season. Usually, they would have the Black Knight Invite, or Keystone CLassic, along with the Southern Scuffle… but not this year. The only tournament is the Journeyman Collegiate Duals (which will be FIRE), but it only accounts for 4 matches this season compared to a possible 10 in year's past. Going conservative, that's a potential 18 Fantasy Points unavailable (maybe 22+ going by average bonus rate).

    In contrast, Jaydin Eierman and the Iowa Hawkeyes will not only compete in the same Journeyman Collegiate Duals, but also in Midlands, and have a constant dual per week in the home stretch of the competition schedule.

    Add into that, Kizahn Clarke (the 2020 #1 Fantasy Wrestler) and Andrew Alirez (UNCO) are moving down, Real Woods (STAN) and Clay Carlson (2021 #1 Fantasy Wrestler at 141) return, and all have more Fantasy match opportunities than Nick Lee.


    149: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell)


    Moving up a weight from where he has seen 66 wins, two titles, and only one loss, Yianni D comes in as the man to beat without ever wrestling at the weight. He returns from making his first World Team to attempt to be a four-time NCAA Champ and be etched into the folklore of Folkstyle.

    In his two championship seasons (2018 and 2019), he averaged a bonus rate of 64% and at least 50% of the wins against D1 competition in each of those seasons was by Tech of Pin. In fact, in 2019, eight of his first 10 matches were won by bonus (and one win via MFF, which technically counts for bonus on the team scores).

    No matter the weight, Yianni is almost penciled into the 2022 National Finals.


    On The Other Hand….


    We haven't seen him on the Folkstyle scene in 2 years. While that's more of a joke than concern, there is something to be said of coming back to the NCAA grind of a full regular season. However, in May 2021, Yianni had an interview where he indicated that maybe he doesn't keep the usual high match load and will only wrestle in certain duals, a tournament or two, and hit the Freestyle scene during the year. All I hear is, "I won't be on the mat to score Fantasy Points." He also mentioned that he really doesn't know (at that time at least) what weight he will be going (I'd link the video, but the company has a history of suing, so…).

    The bigger issue is… what weight will he go? Only Yianni and a select few know (not me, they don't tell me anything. I don't even know the WiFi password at InterMat HQ). But not knowing what weight a wrestler is going can have a ripple effect on the rest of your lineup. Assume he's going 149 and he actually goes 141? Now you have a hole at 149 or vice versa. Just for peace of mind alone, you might want to go with Sammy Sasso (OHST), who finished as the #4 Fantasy Wrestler at 149 this season and had 20 team points at NCAAs.

    On another note, what if we look at the postseason only (for those of you with carry-over rosters to NCAAs)? In his 2018 championship, he scored 22 team points (his finalist opponent Bryce Meredith scored 18). In his 2019 championship, Yianni scored 20 team points (the minimum for a champion), while his finalist opponent Joey McKenna scored 19.5 team points. Championships are one thing, but when the point difference is slightly minimal between the 1st round and say, the 3rd round, that huge. Just sayin'.


    157: David Carr (Iowa State)


    Despite Iowa State having a few non-D1 matches on their schedule (five to be exact for Mr. Carr), he was still able to grab the #5 Fantasy Spot at 157 as five of his seven D1 matches were won by bonus (71%, in case you were wondering).

    Career-wise, he's only lost two matches in his career, one being to Peyton Mocco (MIZZ) in his True Freshman (Redshirt) season and the other to eventual CKLV champion Ryan Deakin (NW) in the semi-finals.

    Looking at the schedule, there will be some challenges in Kaleb Young (IOWA) and Kendall Coleman (PUR) before the new year, but after that, in the regular season, it looks to be smooth sailing (on paper, anyway). He ends the season with 11 dual matches scheduled against D1 competition in 7 weeks, with the Last Chance Open as the last competition of the Cyclone Season (2/20/2021)


    Conversely….

    I'll be honest, it's hard to come up with reasons why Carr might not be worth the #1 overall pick, but possibly the two biggest points that will loom in the back of your head on draft day are that Ryan Deakin (NW) has beaten Carr before and Austin O'Connor (UNC) is moving up after winning a title at 149 in an undefeated season while boasting a regular-season bonus rate of 83%. Deakin was the #4 Fantasy Wrestler in 2020 (only had 3 regular season matches in 2021 that totaled 12 Fantasy points).

    From a regular season-only standpoint, 157 might be the equivalent of the Fantasy Football Defense or Kicker spot. The depth of serviceable and All-American threat contenders goes at least 15 deep on InterMat's rankings (the only D1 rankings that matter). This could be a weight that you skip to the later rounds and focus on other holes in your lineup now and worry about the add/drop at 157 for later on in the week.


    165: Shane Griffith (Stanford)

    Saint Shane of Stanford, the Savior of the Sport, was rumored for a short time to be moving up a weight. That has since been squashed and Griffith returns to defend his title at 165.

    In the 2020 season as a redshirt freshman, Griffith went 28-0 (inclusive of the 2 wins at the Pac-12 Championships) and a 61% bonus rate. In fact, in 2020, he was the #1 Fantasy Wrestler at 165 and the #13 overall wrestler in Fantasy Points. Over those past two seasons, his win percentage is 97% over the past two seasons (30-1), with the lone loss being against Anthony Valencia (ASU) in the Pac-12 Championships.

    With a normal training regime, a seasoned and veteran coach in Rob Koll, and regular competition schedule, Griffith has all the potential to recreate his 2020 season stats.


    Then Again….


    As the schedule shows, there are only 9 duals in 16 weeks, as compared to Penn State (14 duals, not counting the Journeyman Collegiate Duals), Arizona State (12), Iowa (12), etc etc. They do have three tournaments (CKLV, Reno TOC, and the Southern Scuffle), but will the starters go to all three?

    Before leaving Cornell with his new $2.5 million contract for the sunny San Fran Bay, he had noted that potentially he would be cutting down on the wear and tear that comes with the typical season-long quantity of matches (See 149 Yianni Diakomihalis). I can't imagine a couple of months and 3,000 miles have really changed that thought.

    Add into that the depth of Fantasy 165 lbers in veterans Alex Marinelli (#7 in 2020), Travis Wittlake (#4 in 2020), Zach Hartman (#3 in 2020), and Griffith's Pac-12 neighbors Anthony Valencia (#8 in 2021) and Evan Wick (#2 in 2020 while in the Big Ten). Don't forget about the newcomers Keegan O'Toole (#3 Fantasy Wrestler at 165 in 2021), Carson Kharchla (#20 in 2020 as a redshirt), and Andrew Sparks (#14 in 2021 while only having a 21% bonus rate). For the regular season only, there are a lot of other choices that you can snag in the other rounds that may finish higher than Griffith.


    174: Carter Starocci (Penn State)


    The first of two freshmen on this list who have the rare opportunity to potentially be a 5X National Champion.

    Starocci made a splash in 2020 with his performance at the Southern Scuffle scoring 25 Fantasy Points while wearing Mark Hall's singlets. He finished as the #8 Fantasy Wrestler at 174 in 2020. He made such an impression in that Redshirt season, that I (Mr. FantasyD1Wrestling) selected him with my 1st round pick in the #MatScouts Dynasty League and helped secure the 'ship.

    He started off slow last season, losing a close one to Donnell Washington (IND), and then had several close matches (understandably) to Logan Massa and Kaleb Romero (OHST). But this season, I expect statistics more comparable to those of his 2019 season.


    And Yet….


    Two new roommates from the ACC move to the 174 neighborhood this season in former National Champ Mekhi Lewis (VT) and Hayden Hidlay (NCST), who finished the last two seasons (at 57) with a bonus rate over 72%.

    That adds to an already formidable group of Michael Kemerer, who finished one slot behind Starocci (as the #18 Fantasy Wrestler) despite Carter having three more matches than Kemerer and Michael Labriola, who finished as the #8 Fantasy Wrestler at 174. Oh, and add in also recipient of the MatScouts most improved wrestler Ethan Smith (also moving on up), who finished 5th at NCAAs last season. Oh, and Carter will be facing these three in 10 days during the season. FUN!

    184: Aaron Brooks (Penn State)

    In 2020 as a "True Freshman" starter for the Nittany Lions, he wrestled 13 matches against D1 competition and ended up being the #3 seed at the NCAAs that never happened. More importantly (for this article), with less than half the matches wrestled than most of the wrestlers in the top 20, Aaron Brooks finished as the #21 Fantasy Wrestler. In fact, no wrestler in the Top-20 at 184 had less than 18 matches wrestled.

    Last season, while Penn State as a whole seemed to start out of the gate a little sluggish, Brooks was the only one who seemed to pick up where the 2020 season left off with winning four of his five regular-season matches by bonus and finished as the #12 Fantasy Wrestler at 174 (had he beaten Jaden Bullock of Michigan by Major, he would have been #10 at 174).

    Much like RBY at 133, he's the top dog at 184 until proven otherwise.


    But….


    San Marino's favorite Mat Rat returns to Michigan in his final year of eligibility to try and cap off one hell of a 9 months and get over the hump of reaching the NCAA Finals. Myles Amine has finished 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd in his four trips to the National Tournament. If you're looking for consistency in winning, Myles Amine is it.

    The weight is stacked with formidable Fantasy wrestlers from Trent Hidlay (#13 Fantasy Wrestler at 184 in 2020), Louie DePrez (#6 Fantasy Wrestler in 2020), and Hunter Bolen (#5 Fantasy Wrestler in 2020).

    Old vets in Dakota Geer (#2 Fantasy Wrestler at 184 in 2021) and the always spontaneous Taylor Venz (who has a win over Aaron Brooks in his career), mixed in with the New Kids on the Mat of Parker Keckeisen (#6 Fantasy Wrestler in 2021) and John Poznanski (finished 4th at NCAAs as a True Freshman) make this weight very very interesting come Draft Day.


    197: AJ Ferrari (Oklahoma State)

    The second possible 5-time National Champion to grace this list.

    He finished the 2020 season as the number 2 Fantasy Wrestler at 197, (only being upstaged by THE Fantasy Wrestler of the year, Tanner Sloan), and the 10th Fantasy Wrestler across all weights. Did you know he can also deadlift 665 lbs? For those interested, here's a list of animals around 600 lbs that Aj Ferrari could deadlift.

    Despite a lack of ranked opponents during the regular season, Ferrari more than proved himself on his way to the 197 Title by beating the InterMat Ranked #16 Woodley (OU), #5 ranked Tanner Sloan (SDSU), and #6 ranked Stephen Buchanan (WYO) for the BigXII crown, then beating Sloan again, Jacob Warner (IOWA), Myles Amine (MICH), and Nino Bonaccorsi (PITT) at NCAAS. I'd say he just about proved himself to all the doubters.

    Through the regular season and postseason, he had the third-best percentage of Takedowns For and Against, 58 to 2, respectively. Only Gable Steveson (62-1) and David Carr (60-1) had (slightly) better percentages.

    Despite the theatrics, the social media blasts, and the lack of shirts worn, you can't deny the guy can scrap. And isn't that really the point?


    Nevertheless….


    Myles Amine may have dropped down, but Pat Brucki takes over the 197 slot for Michigan, which (from a Fantasy production standpoint) is an improvement for bonus percentage (46% in 2020 for Brucki as compared to 27% by Amine in 2019 in both their last, pre-covid, full seasons).

    Someone else who enters the chat at 197? Ben Darmstadt. A lot of people forget just how good a lot of these Ivy wrestlers are just because they are one season removed from competition. In 2020, he had 13 Pins and two Techs helping him finish as the #4 Fantasy Wrestler at 197 (granted, he wrestled about half his matches at 184 before moving back up to 197). He had two losses by pin and one loss by injury, which also counted for -18 Fpts on his scoresheet. I don't often like to play the "what if" game, but if he lost those three matches by Decision instead? He would have finished as the #2 Fantasy Wrestler at 197 that year. Had those matches not even been wrestled? He would have been tied for 1st. He may be a later-round steal for your draft.

    Nine of the Top 10 Fantasy wrestlers from last season return, with Luke Surber (Ferrari's teammate as #10). Even though Ferrari finished #2 at 197 in Fantasy Points, he had the https://intermatwrestle.com/articles/24615second lowest Points Per Match (PPM) statistic out of the Top 10 (beating only teammate Luke Surber). So while the number of matches won matters, Fantasy Wrestling is All About That Bonus, 'bout That Bonus (no Treble).


    285: Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

    Has anyone else had the kind of 2021 like Gable Steveson? NCAA Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist, WWE cameo pop-ins?

    Last year in 2021 was one of the most dominant in all of the NCAA outside of Spencer Lee (though the argument can be made that Steveson had a more demanding regular-season schedule). He's only lost two matches in his career (his true freshman season 2019 to Anthony Cassar) and has steadily increased his bonus rate year after year.

    He's separated himself into the top tier by himself at the heaviest of weights in the sport, and has earned the "next topic" (maybe more so than Spencer too).

    Add to that, the InterMatScout CEO Brain heard from good sources that Steveson will be coming back (First Word on 8/23/2021) and what do you know… that's what happened!

    So with the biggest student-athlete (weight class and wallet), returning with hundreds of thousands to millions of potential "new wrestling" fans, the best marketing plan for Gable would be for him to turn completely heel. That means more face-mushes, shoves, and more DeSanto-Esque antics to entertain the masses and build up that reputation.


    That Said….


    Only Gable Steveson and his daily journal know what his next move is (*disclaimer, I do not actually know if he has a journal). He's earned a huge payday from the gold medal, and an even bigger one recently with a lot more zeroes in his bank account when he signed with the WWE.

    Though it's not injury-induced like Spencer Lee, Steveson could be on a "pitch count" due solely for opportunity costs. One bad scramble, one awkward step, one slight tweak, and who knows, maybe the WWE requests he limit his time on the mat. I'm just Recklessly Speculating here. The Opposite may be true, too. Only show up for the big matches (Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan), which have a greater chance of potentially being only decisions, which don't help you the Fantasy Manager. Notice I said, greater chance… I know his bonus record.

    Now from a Fantasy perspective, Heavyweight is one of the most deep (and entertaining) weights we have. Mason Parris (MICH) could be a second-round pick this year who scored 22.5 Team Points (which was tied for 4th highest at 2021 NCAAs). Cohlton Schultz (ASU) scored 17.5,Team Points, Anthony Cassioppi (IOWA) scored 16.5, Matt Stencel had a "down year" after having two prior seasons with a bonus rate average of 57.5%, and they could all fall to the 3rd or later rounds. Extreme value potential is everywhere.

    So, you've read the article, you've had time to think about it. Who is it going to be? Which wrestler gets the honor of calling you "coach" first this season? The clock is ticking… tock, tick, tock...

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