Every summer sunrise brings us closer to the 2022 NFL season and my fifth regular season creating fantasy sports content.
Since writing those introductory words – sharing my story for the first time in print – life has unfolded in ways I could have never anticipated.
I’ve covered chronicles of total strangers and others I deem my heroes. Readers who have followed along have been to just about everywhere in my columns. If my pen hasn’t set the scene there yet, it’s on the list.
While I can’t measure the impact of my columns, I know one thing is for sure: just writing them has changed my life. I worked to now make a modest living doing what I love, and I’ve made unforgettable memories along the way.
Yet, as the days pass and I get closer to being able to provide for others who helped get In-Between Media to where it is, the road has gotten tougher. Now, Returns on Investment (ROIs), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and challenging business decisions have to be delicately balanced with our mission.
It’s my goal at this moment to help readers – and myself – come to terms with the reality of facing a higher degree of difficulty the closer you move toward your goals. And to do that, I caught up with someone who has accomplished their goals right before my very eyes.
Evan Delong is a 26-year-old watershed specialist currently residing in Sigel, Pa. Evan – like myself – grew up in the uniquely wooden town of Kane, Pa., tucked into the northeastern corner of the Allegheny National Forest.
He’s also one of the original members of my home fantasy football league, “Kane’s Extradentary Gentlemen (KEG).”
Roughly 19 years ago, Evan joined the local Junior Olympic (J.O.) wrestling program, following in a family’s legacy that included All-American collegiate and decorated varsity wrestlers.
He spent his early wrestling career traveling to tournaments in Western Pennsylvania with the likes of us, who could hardly tie our shoes at the time. However, it wasn’t long before we all realized that Evan was a bit different than most of us, whose favorite part of practice back then was the dodgeball game after it.
To excel at the sport, Evan’s parents drove him nearly two-and-a-half hours every Sunday to practice with tougher competition at the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club (NLWC). This was in addition to taking part in other various camps and clubs year-round.
By his teenage years, Evan was wrestling every weekday with the school team and then traveling to link up with some of the other elite talents in the state.
“It’s a really fun goal to have, trying to be the best at such a high level of something,” Evan said in a May 26 interview. “It’s really fulfilling… and all about the comradery with your teammates. You’re all grinding, trying to reach your goals together. That gives you a lot of drive.”
Evan went on to have a 41-3 record as a high school sophomore, placing seventh in the Pennsylvania State Wrestling AA Championships. By his junior year, Evan advanced to the state finals – a match he would ultimately lose 5-3 to future Penn State wrestler Cody Law.
While most of us would be content placing second in the nation’s No. 1 wrestling state, Evan was just getting started and back in the gym shortly after.
Evan returned his senior varsity season and ran it wire to wire – finishing with an astounding 36-0 record and a state championship title at 170 pounds.
“I was more relieved than anything to say that all my hard work finally paid off,” he said. “I remember growing up and watching others win states and seeing how thrilled they were. But I never felt that really. It was more just relief.”
Championship medal in hand, Evan was recruited by Clarion University of Pennsylvania (CU) Wrestling head coach and former national champion Troy Letters.
Not even a month into his freshman semester, Evan learned that Letters was stepping down as head coach and that his top two sparring partners were transferring. Instead of entering the portal himself to see what offers could be available for a freshman hot off a state title, Evan instead decided to stick it out at CU and help rebuild the program.
“I’m very happy I stuck it out and tried to help get the program back on their toes,” Evan said. “It tested me, trying to get better with what I had.”
Evan would go on to assist Clarion, a small state school in Western Pennsylvania, to crack the Division I top-20 rankings multiple times as he worked his way to an 84-60 college record.
From the Mat to the Octagon
In 2019, Evan attended graduate school at Shippensburg University after his senior season. There he obtained his master’s degree in Geoenvironmental Studies (Hydrology), while also assisting the wrestling team.
Always keeping himself busy and filling time during the pandemic, Evan linked up with a friend to fight with mixed martial arts (MMA) gloves, trying to figure out what did and didn’t work. In February of 2021, Evan began seriously training an hour and a half away from home at the Mat Factory.
About six months later – after not competing for more than two years – Evan stepped into the cage for the first time at the Flood City Fight Night. Evan once again showed what hard work could do, despite it being a new sport, as he defeated Tenarious Dooley in a unanimous decision. In February, Evan advanced to 2-0 in his MMA career, defeating Kenyon Moore via split decision in Brawl in the Burgh 10.
“I always feel like no matter what your goal is, even if you reach it, you’re always going to have something else to reach for,” Evan said. “It’s almost never-ending, no matter what you do. It’s just my way of expressing what I’m passionate about.”
Despite his undefeated record in MMA, Evan is currently on a hiatus from wrestling, allowing himself to focus on his upcoming wedding, buying a house with his fiancé, Kait, and his other hobbies like hunting and fishing.
While his fighting career is momentarily on pause, Evan recognizes the higher degree of difficulty he’s faced the closer he got to his goals, whether in wrestling, fighting or life.
“I think you have to ride on the momentum, on what you’ve already done and how far you’ve come,” he said. “If you look back on day one and your progress, it gives you a reminder, but it also helps you keep going.”
The Closer You Get: A Conclusion
Evan’s someone who reached his goals – whether it was a varsity state championship, a decorated college career or transitioning to MMA. Yet, he never became complacent and kept it moving toward his next venture.
And maybe that’s the key to it all. The mountain is only going to get steeper as we approach the top. But we must rely on our momentum from past experiences, only to be prepared to see the next mountain in the distance once we reach the peak.
Life is a game of creating upward momentum to propel you forward. Despite what they tell you when you’re young, it never really gets any easier. We just get better at enjoying the moments in-between the peaks and valleys.
Fantasy football is also a game of creating momentum to achieve your goal of a championship. And it begins long before the season does. To help give you a push in the right direction, I analyze my latest redraft risers and fades below, based on recent research, news out of OTAs and flux in Average Draft Position (ADP).
Alright, and here we go.
The following rising/fading selections are based on stats, trends and film research, reflecting value in 2022 Points Per Reception (PPR) Redraft Leagues.
Quarterback I’m Rising On:
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay): Hot off his win of “The Match,” Aaron Rodgers is at mandatory minicamps. He and Matt LaFleur seemed determined to kill the narrative that they can’t produce at a high level without Davante Adams.
One of the main reasons I’m rising on Rodgers, other than his restored optimistic mindset, is his current ADP. He’s going as the QB13, according to Underdog Fantasy, and QB12 on National Fantasy Championships (NFC). It’s almost as though fantasy managers have forgotten that Rodgers finished as the overall QB1 as a rookie and sophomore and then consecutively as the QB2 in 2011 and 2012.
Since Adams arrived in 2014, Rodgers has scored .2 fantasy points less per game when he hasn’t been on the field. While his attempts are lower without Adams, his efficiency increases, upping his completion percentage by 2.1 percent and his touchdown rate by one percent.
Opening up with back-to-back division games this to start the season (Minnesota and Chicago), I’m all over Rodgers at his low-end QB1 price tag.
Quarterback I’m Fading:
Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City): It feels strange to write that I’m fading perhaps the most talented quarterback in the league. But keep in mind this is at his current ADP versus his possible outcomes.
Patrick Mahomes is currently the QB2 off the board in both Underdog and NFC, going around the round three/four turn. This comes despite finishing outside the top three at the position the past three seasons. And unlike Rodgers, Mahomes’ completion percentage and touchdown rate decreases by 2.8 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, without Tyreek Hill.
Aside from Travis Kelce, the surest skill player for the Chiefs is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who averages 7.1 TDs per 17 games and has missed 22 percent of his possible career games. I’m unsure what receiving production Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Ronald Jones will bring out of the backfield, and it’s hard to buy into a receiver collection of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, rookie Skyy Moore and the underwhelming Mecole Hardman.
Take the skill player at the turn, and avoid Mahomes at ADP.
Running Back I’m Rising On:
Breece Hall (New York Jets): I avoided buying into the Breece Hall hype for as long as I could, but there is no more denying the upside the Iowa State University product has in year No. 1.
In recent years, Rookie RBs have seen great value, with at least one rookie finishing as a PPR RB1 in nine of the last 10 seasons. 2019 was the only year where one did not with Miles Sanders pacing as the RB15.
Given Hall’s 3,000-plus rushing yards and 46 total TDs scored in the past two seasons, I don’t see this being another outlier season like 2019. In addition to leading college football in rushing in 2021 and ranking eighth in 2022, Hall excelled at the NFL Combine. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and posted a 94+ percentile in both speed and burst scores.
No Jets running back saw more than 150 carries a season ago. But in 2020, what remained of Frank Gore took 187 carries in his final season. And Le’Veon Bell took 245 carries practically nowhere in 2019 after receiving a massive payday from the Jets.
Despite ranking in the top half of the NFL in Yards Per Carry (YPC), the Jets ranked dead last in total rushing attempts last year. Hall should be able to change that, and at the affordable price of RB19 on Underdog and RN17 on NFC, I’m comfortable taking the shot in the late fourth or early fourth round.
Running Back I’m Fading:
Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys): The comfortability I feel taking Hall at RB17-19 is something I do not feel with Dallas’ Tony Pollard at RB29 on Underdog and RB32 on NFC.
Pollard was spotted taking the slot reps for the Cowboys in an Organized Team Activity (OTA), and the hype has only increased. Yet, I remind those fallen trapped to recency bias that Pollard’s slot action came on a day when receivers Michael Gallup, James Washington and Jalen Tolbert were all rehabbing injuries.
Despite being effective when called upon last season, Pollard still hit double-digit fantasy points in six of his 15 games played. That means he was usable for fantasy in just about 40 percent of games last season. Instead of having stand-alone value, Pollard remains a player that is just an injury away from having serious fantasy upside.
The only issue is that injury must come to Ezekiel Elliott, who has missed only one game to injury throughout his six-year career. You’re better off targeting a player like Kenneth Walker, Cordarrelle Patterson or Kareem Hunt, who all have at least some stand-alone value, in that RB3 range.
Wide Receiver I’m Rising On:
Christian Watson (Green Bay): Rookie receivers are one of the few redraft assets that can truly take a fantasy football roster to the next level if they hit. Just ask managers of Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson in 2020. While both Chase and Jefferson are elite talents, they also stepped into promising opportunities (Stefon Diggs vacating 94 targets and A.J. Green vacating 104 targets with Chase’s college QB).
Christian Watson – drafted at pick No. 34 by the Packers – enters a Green Bay offense helmed by back-to-back NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and offers 241 vacated targets with the departures of Davante Adams, Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.
Competition for targets at the position entails Allen Lazard (not present at the start of mandatory minicamp), Randall Cobb, fellow rookie Romeo Doubs and second-year receiver Amari Rodgers. The thing is that none of these receivers profile as a true No. 1 or “X” receiver like Watson does. Lazard has controlled the “Z” flanker role the past two seasons. Doubs is a slower and undersized receiver, while Cobb and Rodgers are slot specialists.
Watson measures 6’ 4 and 208 pounds and ran a 4.36 – impressive for a player of his size. He also placed in the 95th percentile above in his speed, burst and catch radius score. What he lacks coming into the league is elite college production, maxing out at 43 receptions and 801 receiving yards. He also doesn’t have a history of facing top-level competition, coming from North Dakota State University (NDSU).
Given the opportunity, metrics and size, I’m willing to risk that lack of college production at the current ADP of WR52 on Underdog and WR55 on NFC for the generous upside.
Wide Receiver I’m Fading:
Allen Robinson (Los Angeles Rams): There is a lot of upside with Allen Robinson now in Los Angeles, playing with the best quarterback he ever had in Matthew Stafford. But for every plus, there is a risky downside.
Robinson currently should be the No. 2 receiver for Sean McVay’s offense. But Van Jefferson emerged last season as a threat, hauling in 50 receptions for 802 yards and six TDs, finishing as the PPR WR36. Second-year receiver Tutu Atwell has also been shouted out by both Stafford and Cooper Kupp for impressing in OTAs.
And don’t rule out that Super Bowl hero Odell Beckham Jr. (OBJ) is still unsigned. If he does re-sign with the Rams, he could return in November, just as the fantasy playoffs are heating up. Drafting a receiver who could take a late-season hit in target share is something I’m never interested in doing.
Then there’s also the matter to consider that Robinson completely mailed it in last season, never eclipsing 11 PPR points in a game and totaling career lows for a healthy season in receptions (38), yards (410) and TDs (one). Does that really excuse that type of output even if he was upset with the Bears’ front office and coaching staff?
With the ADP of WR23 on Underdog Fantasy and WR24 on NFC, I would much rather target any of the safer options near him or down the board, like the Broncos’ receivers (Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy), or Brandin Cooks.
If you have a feel-good story that you would like to share for an opportunity to be featured in an upcoming edition of “Start, Sit & Seth,” please reach out.
And for more fantasy football and uplifting content, you can find me on Twitter @Between_SethFF.