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2021 fantasy football rising/fading selections

Start, Sit & Trailblazers

by Seth Woolcock

Remember when we were kids, and grown-ups told us it was OK to be different, that it was good to be unique?

What ever happened to that? Because it seems like you blink, and they’re telling you you’re no different than anyone else who came before or those will come after. We’re expected to just go to school, get a job, have a family and then what? We’re gone.

But what if that’s not all we want from life? What if we don’t want to live this standard, run-of-the-mill algorithm that others pose off as “just the way life goes?”

I knew from an early age that I didn’t just want to do this thing like everyone else. However, I didn’t really have any of the mainstream skills and abilities that they highlight when you’re young. I wasn’t overly athletic, I couldn’t sing well or play instruments, and I lived in a small town with a population of 4,000 in rural Western Pennsylvania.

What I did have, though, was a passion for storytelling. I just never thought my own would be as unbelievable as it came to be. It was the overwhelming, indescribable adversity I experienced in my late teens and early 20s, intertwined with being inspired by the sobering words of Matthew Berry, probably the biggest pioneer in the fantasy sports media industry, that lead me to pen my first-ever “Start, Sit & Seth” column.

On Sept. 6, 2018, during my term as the editor-in-chief of The Penn, my student-run collegiate newspaper, I wrote my first word that began the journey that I now know I was always destined to embark on.

Two-and-a-half years and 46 columns that combine feel-good stories with fantasy football advice later, and I’m more comfortable, and surer of myself and my mission in life than ever.

I’m a 22-year-old entrepreneur, podcaster, higher education and fantasy sports media professional, but – above all – a writer. One who strives to help others with whatever they’re going through. Assisting them in allowing themselves to view their situations in a positive manner and become a better person because of it.

Oh, and to give you the best damn fantasy football advice I can.

When I launched In-Between Media just more than eight months ago, it was with the intent to help others and to change the fantasy sports media landscape for the better. If you came here today, looking for strictly fantasy sports advice – an oasis you can leave life at the door – you might as well head right back out it.

Allow this column, the first edition of season four, to serve as a statement:   We’re not like every other fantasy sports company out there today. We’re different, and we’re all right with that. In fact, we strive to be trailblazers one day being able to say we left our mark on this industry.

But, as most times in life, the best way to become something – in this instance, a trailblazer – is to learn from one.

And to do that, we have to head 1,300+ miles southwest to McKinney, Texas. There we find Kacey Kasem, 37, host of the “Get Real with Kacey Kasem” podcast and writer for The Fantasy Footballers, at home, enjoying the weekend by chilling in front of the fireplace with her wife, Sarah, and their three dogs.

Kacey and her wife, Sarah, taking a shot at the bar they met at on their wedding day, May 4, 2019.

Kacey, who was born and raised in McKinney, grew up both a Dallas Cowboys and Mavericks fans, often attending games with her family at Reunion Arena. After graduating high school, Kacey attended Texas A&M University-Commerce on a track scholarship. After a semester in Commerce, she moved back to McKinney to attend the University of Texas at Dallas, where she earned a degree in child learning and development.

McKinney, like many areas in Texas, is a football town, producing NFL players like Justin Madubuike, 2020 third-round defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, and Super Bowl champion and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ running back Ronald Jones.

“My town is one of those towns that you hear people talk about ‘I can’t wait to graduate and move away,’ but nobody ever does,” Kacey said in a Feb. 10 interview. “Everyone knows everyone, and if you don’t know them, you probably know their cousin.”

Kacey, who’s faced her own adversity in life – like losing her mother at 22 – fell into the fantasy sports industry like a lot of us, first being a fan, just keeping up with the Joneses on fantasy football Twitter.

Her interest in creating content first sparked in 2018 when a friend asked her to test out some new podcasting equipment. Following that interaction, she tweeted about how it’s strange that she’s friends with so many creators in this space but didn’t actually produce any of her own content.

That’s when Ryan Hallem, the founder of Fighting Chance Fantasy, reached out to Kacey offering her a writing position. After thinking about it and talking over it with her wife, she decided to give it a go. Little did she know that those were just the beginning steps in her own remarkable journey.

Quickly after Kacey began writing, she wrote a series highlighting women in the fantasy football industry. She knew by taking this angle in her writing that she may risk opening up the door to haters, but the reward of including women in fantasy football was well worth the risk.

So, she did what most great innovators have done: put her best foot forward for a collective group of people and not just herself.

“My big thing when I first started when I wanted to participate in the fantasy industry was that I wanted to get more women involved in fantasy football,” she said. “…Sure, you do get these trolls. People that come into your mentions and want to say rude things. ‘Women can’t do this and that.’ But we’re proving that we can. There are plenty of women in this space now who are putting out content that blows out a lot of the men in this industry’s content.”

Years later, after writing for Fighting Chance Fantasy for a few seasons, Kacey applied to be a writer for The Fantasy Footballers, who are trailblazers in their own respect for being one of the very few independently owned fantasy football brands and sites to make it big time.

Kacey poses for a photo with Andy Holloway, Mike Wright and Jason Moore of “The Fantasy Footballers” at the 2018 National Fantasy Football Convention in Fort Worth, Texas.

As time went on after applying, the self-doubt began to settle in for Kacey. But before all hope was lost, The Fantasy Footballers, including Andy Holloway, Mike Wright and Jason Moore, slid into her Twitter direct messages, letting her know that she was one of the three chosen amongst the thousands that applied to be a new writer for them.

“I was at work when I found out [that I was going to be one of the three new writers],” she said. “I didn’t think I could continue to work. I was going to pass out there. It was crazy and a dream for anyone to be associated with a brand like that.”

In addition to writing for The Fantasy Footballers in 2020, she also began hosting the “Get Real with Kacey Kasem” podcast, part of the “Dynasty Addicts Podcast Network.”

The goal for the show remains consistent of wanting to help people out who are just getting into or aren’t in this industry yet by interviewing both small and big names in it to help explain where to start and what resources they need.

“We deal with fake football, but I want to know the real person behind the fake football,” she said.

So far on her podcast she’s “mixed it up” with guests like Matt Harmon and Bob Lung, discussing topics like how to network and reach out to people in this space. She even has an episode with Berry being released in the near future

Kacey poses for a photo with Matthew Berry at the 2017 National Fantasy Football Convention in Dallas.

“It’s been so wonderful to talk to all these people, the big-name guys and gals, the people that are just starting out and the in-betweens,” Kacey said. “The conversations that we had have been so awesome. I feel like every episode I learn so much about all of the people I have on.”

But amongst all the big names she’s brought in and talked to, Kacey never lost sight of her meaning behind her mission.

“I want to make sure I can help as many people as possible,” she said. “I just want people to listen to these stories.”

Today, Kacey also remains true to her personal motto and mindset of “stay rad,” meaning be yourself, stay cool-headed and make others happy.

“Rad has kind of been my thing since I was a kid.” Kacey said “I had a rabbit named Rad, and I was the kid who thought I was cooler than I really was. I had a skateboard. Even though I didn’t know that just because you play ‘Tony Hawk,’ doesn’t make you a skateboarder.”

Kasey zip lining in the Smoky Mountains in October.

But maybe the greatest thing about Kacey and her mindset is that she never lost it or changed for anybody. Whether she’s just at a Deep Ellum, Dallas, pub enjoying live music with a hard cider in hand or writing for one of the premier fantasy football companies, interviewing the biggest names in the industry, she remained the same person – a rad one.

“To be able to do something when I’m 37 that I would have done when I’m 16 is awesome,” she said. “I want to continue to be on this ride…My dreams are not as lofty as some peoples are when it comes to the fantasy football industry, but I want to be someone who puts my mark on the industry, and I think that I’ve grown so much just by being myself. It’s cool to see you can rise up and be a genuine person.”

As In-Between Media braves our second season covering this stark-mad game we call fantasy football, I’ll continue to carry these lessons from the trailblazers who came before us while also remembering to “stay rad” along the way.

To see more of Kacey’s work, find her on The Fantasy Footballers and subscribe to the “Get Real with Kasey Kasem” podcast.

Now, let’s get to it.

The following rising/fading selections are based on stats, trends and film research, reflecting value in Points Per Reception (PPR) Redraft Leagues. In the vain of trailblazers, this column’s selections will focus solely on trailblazing players – ones who have or could redefine their positions.

Trailblazing Quarterback I’m Rising On:

Taysom Hill (New Orleans):  It was clear that when Taysom Hill took over the starting quarterback role for the New Orleans Saints in Week 11 last season that he would hold quality value in fantasy leagues. But most thought it would be only for the tight end eligibility he held on some providers like ESPN.

Taysom Hill was the QB12 in fantasy points per game (minimum four games played).

During his four-game starting stretch, Hill averaged 210 passing yards, 52 rushing yards and both a rushing and passing touchdown per game. Adding in his turnovers, with standard scoring, that’s good for 21.1 fantasy points per game. That’s the QB12 on a points per game this season (minimum four games played). Not bad for a quarterback who was used as a utility player most of the season.

And, yes, I hear the comparisons to Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick, that defenses are going to figure him out. Sure, that’s true to some degree. But were defenses able to totally shut down other trailblazing quarterbacks of the past like Michael Vick, Cam Newton and Steve Young?

My confidence remains high with Hill if he is, in fact, the starter this season, as long as things remain kosher in New Orleans with head coach Sean Payton, all-pro running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas.

If Jameis Winston exits the equation, I am comfortable spending an early double-digit round pick on Hill in redrafts this fall.

Other Consideration:  If the Eagles are ultimately able to trade Carson Wentz for picks, I’m in on Jalen Hurts at a reasonable Average Draft Position (ADP), assuming they use the picks to rebuild their offensive line and receiving core. The rushing upside Hurts possesses and the fresh start with new head coach Nick Sirianni are enough for me to spend a pick of similar caliber in order to draft Hill.

Trailblazing Quarterback I’m Fading:

Tua Tagovailoa (Miami):  Deshaun Watson rumors aside, I’m beginning to fade Tua Tagovailoa, who had one of the most prolific college championship performances ever in 2018.

While I do want to be patient with Tagovailoa, it’s tough to be when you see both fellow 2020 rookies Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow averaged 22.9 and 17.9 fantasy points per game, respectively, compared to Tagovailoa’s 14.1. Even Ryan Fitzpatrick averaged 19.9 fantasy points per game in his seven starts.

The good news is that it looks that if Tagovailoa remains in Miami, either his offensive line or wide receiver position will be improved with the third-overall pick in the draft. But I’m still not looking to spend up in my redrafts to fight off a “Tua truther” for an unproven passer on a team that wants to win by running the ball and playing great defense.

Trailblazing Running Back I’m Rising On:

Antonio Gibson (Washington):  Antonio Gibson’s stellar rookie season was cut short due to a toe injury he suffered in Week 13 against Pittsburgh. Despite playing only 13 full games, Gibson still finished as the PPR RB13.

Antonio Gibson had the most rushing yards by any Washington Football Team running back since 2012.

Gibson was looked at as a quick hybrid back coming into his rookie season after garnering only 33 rushing attempts during his two years at Memphis. But he carried the ball 170 times his rookie season for an impressive 795 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

With the unknown still at quarterback for Washington and another hybrid back J.D. McKissic returning in 2021, I don’t think this will be the year we see Gibson live up to the Christian McCaffrey comparison head coach Ron Rivera gave when they drafted him.

But with that being said, I would be very happy to walk away with Gibson as my RB2 somewhere in the back-half of the third round of redrafts.

Other Consideration:  If it weren’t for the QB controversy still raging in Philadelphia, Miles Sanders, who was a bust candidate for me last season, would have been my No. 1 trailblazing running back I’m rising on. The former Nittany Lion didn’t take the year two league many were expecting in 2020, even regressing by almost 300 yards in the passing game.

But if a regrouped offensive line can join new head coach Sirianni, who produced the PPR RB6 in Jonathan Taylor, the PPR RB15 in Nyheim Hines and PPR RB70 in Jordan Wilkins last season, Sanders could finally come close to hitting that low-end RB1 threshold.

Trailblazing Running Back I’m Fading:

Tarik Cohen (Chicago):  Anyone who knows me personally, knows that Tarik Cohen is one of my absolute favorite players in the NFL to watch. Unfortunately, I think because of the emergence of David Montgomery in his absence, the once-trailblazing running back has seen his best days in Chicago.

He’s never seen 100 or more carries in a season, and that was before the torn ACL. Anymore, these backs in the NFL who do a majority of their work through the air are becoming decreasingly relevant in fantasy football, despite PPR scoring. Just ask anyone who tried to play McKissic down the stretch last season or even Cohen in his career 2018 year.

My biggest takeaway when researching these trailblazing backs is that to hit that higher consistency tier you want, they’re going to need to see at least 100+ carries while averaging upwards of 4.5 yards per rush. Unfortunately, unless something changes, that just isn’t Cohen.

Trailblazing Wide Receiver I’m Rising On:

Devonta Smith (Alabama):  While it’s still too early to tell how high 2020 Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith’s ADP will be in redrafts, if it’s anything like the dynasty mock drafts I’ve been seeing, it’ll be way too low.

Devonta Smith was the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard did for Michigan in 1991.

The main concern coming out for Smith is his size of six-foot-1-inch, 175 pounds. And while I would like to see Smith bulk up some before August, when are we going to learn to look with our eyes and see that Smith should be a once-in-a-generation trailblazing talent, despite his size?

Smith’s historic 2020 season places him second for most receiving yards in a season within a power-five conference. And his 23 touchdowns for a single season also place him fourth all-time, behind Randy Moss, Stedman Bailey and Davante Adams.

Smith’s 43-career touchdown is the most-ever for a receiver in a power-five conference, and touchdowns are what score more fantasy points than anything else.

If Smith lands on somewhere with even just a decent quarterback, like the Eagles, Giants or Lions, that’s enough for me to take the gamble on him in the late single-, early double-digit rounds of redrafts.

Other Consideration:  In his first season under new head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Curtis Samuel had by far his best season as a pro – posting 77 receptions, 851 yards and three receiving scores. He also added an additional 41 totes for 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns. That’s good enough for the PPR WR24 finish, right above both D.J. Moore and Cooper Kupp.

If Samuel signs to a favorable team, like the Packers or the Chiefs, and continues to be used both frequently in the passing game while still mixing in as a change-of-pace back, I am in on Samuel as a mid-to-late round value.

Trailblazing Wide Receiver I’m Fading:

Laviska Shenault Jr. (Jacksonville):  Look, I’ve been guilty at times too for digging what now second-year trailblazing receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. brings to the table. But this hype train has gotten way out of control already this offseason.

Yes, quarterback prodigy Trevor Lawrence and coaching legend Urban Meyer are both seemingly coming to Jacksonville. But also in Jacksonville remain two receivers, Collin Johnson and DJ Chark Jr., both of whom should slot above Shenault on the depth chart.

Shenault finished his rookie season with 58 receptions, 600 yards and five receiving touchdowns. What we didn’t see much out of this dual-threat player was his rushing ability, only handling 18 carries for 91 yards.

Again, I think having both Meyer and Lawrence in Jacksonville is going to improve the entire offense, and that should correlate to higher fantasy production for Shenault, too. I just don’t want to be paying the seventh or eighth-round pick that it’s feeling like it might take to get a third receiver for a rookie quarterback and coaching duo.

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.

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