The feeling when the Goodyears hit a familiar back road.
That first taste of cold beer on a Friday night.
A charismatic vibe created solely by the soft glow of a fire, three guitar chords and the freeing feeling of the night.
As I began writing this installment of “Start, Sit & Seth” – the column, now its fourth season, that combines feel-good life lessons and anecdotes with redraft fantasy football advice – I wasn’t sure what it is that makes someone “country” nowadays.
What I did know was that the general stereotype of what country is today – large trucks, chewing tobacco and one way of thinking – wasn’t one I wanted to believe.
Since leaving my roots, I’ve often alluded to the disadvantages of being a small-town kid with big dreams: an accent that I’ve all but lost that made it hard to pronounce words like “fishing” or “racing,” the damning stares you get when you’re young and want to do something different and the constant need to prove them all wrong.
But there is also unsung good of what growing up in a place no one has ever heard of that I long to tell.
And there’s no night in a small town that created more unknown good (and mischief) than any. Prom night.
Kane, Pennsylvania – Prom Night 2014
My sophomore year prom night began with me sneaking out of the house after the overwhelmingly awkward dance had ended. This night is one I’ll never forget only, as it was the first time I heard country music as it was intended to be heard.
Two hours after my successful getaway, I found myself, along with my best friends, at the after-party in the middle of a field, thoroughly buzzed.
Surrounded by what felt like every teenager from our town and the next two over, we listened to the likes of Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean until the sun came up.
From then on, country music grew from a commodity to a passion. Some of my fondest memories were with its simple melodies in the background. But its lyrical truths also helped me get through some of life’s toughest moments.
Take the Boy Out of the Country
As country music changed over the years since 2014, so did I. After high school, l I went to college in a town that, while still relatively small, felt a lot like a city at the time.
Though traditions like bonfires, and summer trips with friends – often associated with country music – became seldom, the music did not. So much so that in my junior year of college, I received a last-minute internship offer at a country music lifestyle magazine in Nashville.
I inevitably turned the internship down. And later that summer, I found myself at the intersection of either focusing on my country music reviewing or my fantasy sports content. I guess you can figure out which way I went. One passion became a career path, while the other remained just that. A passion.
But no matter where I am, writing this column in my loft apartment, less than a mile from the largest university in the state or overlooking the New York City skyline while sipping on a rum and coke, there will always be a part of me that’s country to its core.
In an effort to rediscover what it is that makes someone country, I returned to my roots, where just down the street from where I lived in high school was another small-town kid with far-reaching aspirations.
Introducing Brianna Blankenship, Rising Country Singer/Songwriter
I’ve known Brianna Blankenship, 22, since we were kids. Her dad was my elementary wrestling coach, and her brother was a consistent presence in my life growing up. What I didn’t know was that Brianna would one day become a professional country singer/songwriter.
She first began performing in elementary school chorus, featuring the muddled vocals of the 10-year-old version of me. But it was during the high school production of “Footloose” when her performing skills were really showcased.
Throughout her varsity years, Brianna auditioned numerous times for “The Voice,” spending her weekend waiting 10+ hours in life after traveling to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or New York City. All the while, my friends and I at the same age were occupied causing the mischief described previously.
Though it’s often not discussed on the airing of reality singing competition shows like “The Voice” and “American Idol,” participants have several rounds of auditions before they ever make it to the celebrity auditions. Paired with multiple interviews and 10+ hours of waiting, it’s easy to see how these auditions could weigh on any teenager.
“I think the hardest thing when I was in high school when getting the noes was I would tell others I was going to audition [for the Voice], and then everyone gets excited for me,” Brianna said in an April 9 interview. “Then I would come back and didn’t make it. It was more of a learning experience of what not to do.”
From Chestnut Street Elementary Choir to Music City
Brianna graduated high school with plans to attend cosmetology school in a time that’s beginning to feel like lifetimes ago: 2016.
In the vital, self-discovering time that comes after most people graduate, she picked up the guitar and began to learn more songs. Finally feeling comfortable enough, Brianna began sharing videos of herself singing for social media.
Eventually, she was discovered by a music scout from Nashville. She’s since been working with a Music City-based team of vocal coaches, songwriters and a Grammy Award-nominated producer.
“Everyone that I’ve worked with on this team has been very supportive,” she said. “Coming from a small town, I didn’t know anything about the music industry. I just knew how to play guitar and sing. And there really is a lot to it. I mean, I’m still learning as I’m going.”
In 2019, Brianna auditioned for “American Idol” and at last made it to the celebrity round of judging in Washington D.C. There, she received a “yes” from Luke Bryan but received a “no” from both Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, noting she needed to work on her confidence – something she’s continued to keep in mind.
Last year, despite COVID-19, Brianna released her first two singles, “The Good Guy” and “Church.” Her audience has continued to grow, as she played a venue in Florida earlier this year, and she will be playing in Pittsburgh this month, Erie, Pennsylvania, in May and Ohio in the summer.
“You Gotta Dig Your Roots”
Despite her success, Brianna is still holding true to her small-town roots as much as she did when she began her music journey.
She acquired her cosmetology degree, but she currently works at an eye doctor’s office near her hometown. She’s learned it’s best for her to work a standard 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. job to allow her to play shows on the weekend.
Gigging aside, continuing to practice her songwriting and performing, in addition to managing other aspects of her music career, is a full-time job in itself.
“My biggest goal is just to be doing music full time and not having to play this double life,” she said.
On the weekends when Brianna’s not performing, you can usually find her hopping around to different venues listening to as many undiscovered local artists as she can.
“Go for your goals,” she said. “Go for your dreams. No matter how big they seem. I’ll be here cheering you on every step of the way because I’m still trying to cheer myself on. It does not matter where you’re from. Coming from a small town shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want to do and live out your dreams.”
Final Answer: What Makes You Country?
In hearing Brianna’s inspiring story, one with similar parallels to mine, down to the town she was raised in, I was able to rediscover what it means to be country.
It’s not the number of antlers you have hanging in the garage, the inability to pronounce your “—ing” or even the amount of wild memories you have of your younger self and your buddies.
It’s about taking in and experiencing everything around you – big or small, rural or urban – to help you better yourself and accomplish your goals. And when you do, don’t forget your roots.
The same can be said in fantasy football. Each season we’re presented with new players and familiar players now on new teams. The NFL changes slightly as a whole each year, and we constantly have to adjust how we value and project players.
But just like when you go to chase your dreams and leave the comfortability of home, in fantasy football. we have to continue to remember what we’ve learned in our previous experiences and carry it with us.
Don’t get stuck in the past. But build on the foundation it provides to accurately allow you to take in the present and the copious amount of information that come with it.
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 spirit of digging your roots, this column’s selections will focus solely on players who have been affected by NFL free agency and recent transactions.
Quarterback I’m Rising On:
Sam Darnold (Carolina): After being traded from the New York Jets to the Carolina Panthers for a 2021 sixth-rounder and 2022 second- and fourth-rounders on April 5, the arrow is pointing up for Sam Darnold for a multitude of reasons.
The first being the Adam-Gase effect. In his two seasons in Miami under Gase, fellow quarterback Ryan Tannehill never threw for more than 19 touchdowns and finished as the QB23 in 2016 and the QB38 in 2018 on a points-per-game basis.
In only 28 starts for Tennessee, Tannehill has thrown for 55 touchdowns and rushed for another 11, putting him at the QB8 in 2019 and QB11, once again on a points-per-game basis.
Now working with a skilled offensive pairing of head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady that prompted Teddy Bridgewater to a respectable 16.8 fantasy points per game last season, Darnold suddenly becomes more attractive.
He’s still going to be a middle-tier QB2 option for me. But, depending on how Carolina’s early-season schedule shakes out, I may be content with Darnold as my day-one starter a single quarterback redraft league.
Quarterbacks I’m Fading:
Deshaun Watson (Houston): Another relatively simple fade here. Players with off-the-field controversy, especially ones sexual in nature, have no part on my fantasy football roster.
While I won’t make any conclusions on what the future holds for Deshaun Watson, I will note that there are now 22 total filed cases from women accusing him of behavior ranging from inappropriate exposure to sexual assault during scheduled massages, according to ESPN.
Even if Watson does return to the Texans this season, his No. 1 receiver Will Fuller will not as he has signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. The Texans, which only added running backs Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram II and receiver Donte Moncrief to their skill-position rooms, will likely have close to the worst rosters in the league after also not having a draft pick until the third round.
All-and-all, I want nothing to do with the NFL’s newest franchise in fantasy football this season.
Running Back I’m Rising On:
Aaron Jones (Green Bay): Despite the pen not even being dry yet on Aaron Jones’ four-year, $48 million deal to stay in Green Bay and the departure of change-of-pace back Jamaal Williams, analysts alike are ranking Jones outside their top-five running backs for 2021.
Yes, second-year back AJ Dillon is still present and will likely absorb some of the 30 total touchdowns Jones has scored over the last two seasons. But Jones still managed to be a top-five PPR RB for the second straight season in 2020, despite his total touchdowns dropping from 19 the year prior to 11.
Williams accounted for an average of 40 targets the last two seasons, often taking entire valuable two-minute drills away from Jones. With Dillon not being nearly the receiving threat Williams was, Jones should set a career-high in receptions this season, prompting him to another top-five finish at the position and well-worth the draft capital he’s currently going for.
Running Back I’m Fading:
Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas): Truthfully, I’ve been out on Josh Jacobs since his trolling of fantasy managers in Week 14 last season. But with the Raiders recently signing Kenyan Drake – a back who’s totaled more than 2,250 total yards the last two seasons – to a two-year $11 million deal, I’m even more so now.
On the surface, Jacobs never became the receiving threat we saw at Alabama, catching only 33 receptions last season, despite the rumors that he would be heavily involved in the passing game.
But his overall production was inconsistent, as he broke only 14 PPR fantasy points once (Week 14 against the Chargers) when he had fewer than two rushing touchdowns. His lack of big-play ability, coupled with his lack of passing game work and shared workload he’ll now face, makes him an easy pass for the third-round Average Draft Position (ADP) he’s currently going at.
Wide Receiver I’m Rising On:
Nelson Agholor (New England): One of the biggest winners from free agency has to be Nelson Agholor and his agent after he secured a two-year, $22 million contract from the New England Patriots – more money than notable receivers like Fuller and Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.
I get that it’s tough to fully buy into Agholor from a talent perspective after he had a horrendous 2019 season in Philadelphia when he caught only 39 receptions for 363 yards and three touchdowns before a resurgent 2020 season in Las Vegas when he caught 48 passes for 896 yards and eight touchdowns.
But what intrigues me to take a shot on Agholor in redrafts this season, aside from his absurdly cheap ADP, are the other offensive signings in New England – tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith – and the history involved with them.
In 2011, when tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both received 100+ targets, players like Wes Welker (PPR WR3 in 2011) and Deion Branch (PPR WR43 in 2011) became high-octane fantasy producers because of the space the tight ends opened up for Tom Brady.
The 2011 season specifically represented for Branch the most Receiving Yards per Reception (Y/R) since his 2003 sophomore season. With Agholor coming off a career-high 18.7 Y/R, I see them intending to use him in a similar fashion. He might not be the most consistent receiver this season, but Agholor’s big-play potential makes him well worth a late-round flier.
Wide Receiver I’m Fading:
Corey Davis (New York Jets): With Darnold now in Carolina, it likely means that Bingham Young University (BYU) quarterback Zach Wilson will be the second-overall pick in the draft and the Jets’ day-one starter.
This doesn’t bode well for Corey Davis, who is fresh off signing a three-year $37.5 million contract with the Jets. Wilson is a quarterback who “thrives in chaos,” according to former NFL quarterback and now analyst, Mark Sanchez.
After looking through Wilson’s tape, he’s certainly athletic but isn’t a true rhythm passer like Tannehill last season, who led Davis to career highs in yards (984) and touchdowns (five) while tying his previous career-high for receptions (65).
Davis thrived last season working as the Titans’ No. 2 receiver behind the prolific A.J. Brown. Now being the No. 1 again for an unproven quarterback on a team that hasn’t produced a PPR WR2 since Robby Anderson in 2017, I’m not optimistic for another strong season from Davis.
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.