In which we interrogate the co-founders of the new fantasy football platform
If you’re an NFL fan, especially if you get down and nerdy on the fantasy front, then you’ve probably heard rumblings about All-22. Launched on 2-22-2022 for good measure, the team behind the startup claims to have “a completely new way to play fantasy football,” using “Pro Football Focus’s player grading system as part of its scoring system, instead of statistics,” thereby using “these grades to include all 11 offensive and defensive positions, punters and kickers in their game.”
So finally, some damn props for the kicker.
Since football season never really ends, we threw some questions at All-22’s founders—Bobby Acker, Raymond Cotto, and Chris Lombardi—in order to learn what their platform’s all about.
“All-22 draws the line between predicting statistics and spotting talent,” Lombardi said. Cotto added, “Our goal was to give users a more realistic fantasy football experience with a true GM-like feel.”
So, what was the flashbulb moment when this idea came to light? Were one of you simply playing fantasy football and wanting a different experience? Or was it more like a vision in the night?
CL: About a year after we graduated college, the three of us had a barbecue to start setting up a fantasy football league among friends. We began creating rules, with the goal of replicating real football to the best of our ability. The more we debated, the more we realized the insurmountable disconnect between fantasy football and real football.
We first became familiar with PFF and their player grading system in college. We arrived at the idea of using these grades in fantasy football, as a much more accurate reflection of each player’s quality of performance on every play in every game. Through trial and error, we then created an equation that would accurately measure both the quality and impact of each player on every play. We decided to reach out to PFF the night of the BBQ to see if they had ever thought of creating a fantasy game using their grades, simply because we wanted to play it.
This is not a small endeavor. What pushed your team from concept to actually do this crazy thing and build the site?
BA: When we first reached out to PFF, it was in hopes that this game was already available—we just wanted to play it. Their response was that it wasn’t available and wouldn’t be. They said our best bet was to buy their grades and create the game ourselves. We took that suggestion seriously, probably more so than they had anticipated.
The more we developed the idea, the more passionately we pursued its success. We spent countless late nights and weekends developing features lists, wireframes, branding, and marketing plans—we were determined, not only to get this game off the ground, but also to earn PFF’s seal of approval.
What was the biggest setback along the way? Also, what ultimately took six years?
RC: As far as PFF was concerned, we were just three weird guys with a crazy idea. From a reputation standpoint, we understood that PFF needed to be diligent when considering strategic partnerships. In the first two years of pursuing this idea, we were so excited to have PFF’s attention that we overwhelmed them with our ideas for this game. We were then informed that PFF was no longer interested.
Over the next two years, we each grew professionally. In that time, we thought the idea was dead—we missed our chance. Ultimately, we came to the agreement that it was too good of an idea to let it fade away. We refined our approach, reached out to PFF again and scheduled a meeting. After one year of discussion, we had the green light to launch a beta test in 2021 and a full launch in 2022.
Has the NFL changed over that time in a way that made you change up your plans at all?
CL: One really cool thing that we do is we use real NFL player contracts to form our weighted system. What that means is, every year when players get paid, our weights adjust. As the NFL changes and different positions become more valuable to NFL teams, they will become more valuable in our game too.
BA: With COVID, we needed to adjust things like roster size and give our users more flexibility with health designatinations. Our Auto-substitution/Next-Man-Up features made that very easy for our users. People raved about it.
We assume that your team must remain agnostic and not recommend things when it comes to gambling, but hypothetically speaking, how would this fantasy football play out differently for a betting person than another version?
RC: Yes, we are not a gambling site and don’t claim to be. If someone was to place a bet on our game, their entire method would have to change. It’s no longer about predicting statistics like touchdowns and interceptions. Now it’s about spotting actual NFL talent and knowing who the best players truly are and how they fare in a matchup against the guy lining up for the other team. It’s no longer a study of numbers, it’s a study of film.
Finally, can you please put some of this in New England terms for us. Some of our readers only understand articles about the Patriots.
CL: There is a wicked good player named Rob Gronkowski that is known as one of the best tight ends in NFL history. What Patriots fans know and other fans probably don’t is that Gronk is maybe an even better blocker than he is a receiver. In All-22, Gronk’s score would include his blocking skills in addition to his receiving skills and make him even that much more valuable to the team that drafts him.