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These are the players who stood out for fantasy-relevant reasons — the good reasons, the bad reasons, and the in-between.
This column will be posted every Monday afternoon.
Players about whom we’re feeling more optimistic based on recent play or news.
Dak Prescott (Dal) — Prescott answered any and all questions about the health of his leg and his throwing shoulder by throwing 58 times for 403 yards and three touchdowns against the Buccaneers in Week 1. Prescott isn’t likely to throw 58+ passes many times going forward since the Buccaneers are the top pass-funnel defense in the league, but OC Kellen Moore still showed he has complete faith in Prescott. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Cowboys finish near the top of the league in pass attempts this season considering their incredible receiving corps and they’re still shaky defense. Dak is going to have the chance to match or exceed his QB5 ADP from this summer based on the potential passing volume that’s coming his way. (Tom Brolley)
Jalen Hurts (Phi) — It was a pristine 2021 debut for Hurts as he looks to convince the Eagles that he’s the QB of the present and future in Philadelphia. In a complete dismantling of the Falcons, Hurts went 27/35 for 264 yards and 3 TD passing, adding 7/62 rushing. Hurts was in control the entire game, taking care of the football, navigating the pocket, and using his legs when he needed to extend a play. He was sacked just once, didn’t panic on a couple of bad snaps, and overall just looked calm and poised. He also made some spectacular throws, most notably his TD to Dallas Goedert late in the first half, throwing across his body to a spot where only Goedert could haul in the ball. It was also a masterclass in coaching from new head man Nick Sirianni, who continually put Hurts in better situations than Doug Pederson did a season ago, giving his talented QB easy throws to get him in rhythm. Hurts finished the week as the QB6 in fantasy points, and is a no-brainer starter for fantasy players going forward. (Joe Dolan)
Hurts aDOT on completed passes yesterday was 3.4 yards (lowest in the league).— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) September 13, 2021
Last year it was 7.8 yards, highest in the league.
65.9% of the PHI ReYDs were YAC, highest yesterday (40.9% in 2020, 25th).
Just one game, but new staff already putting Hurts in better situations. https://t.co/AiDmBlKkee
Matthew Stafford (LAR) — It’s always fun when a player gets into a new situation — a better situation — and actually does what he was supposed to do from the start. In his Rams debut, Stafford was electric, going 20/26 passing for 321 yards and 3 TD, just eating the Bears alive. On his second throw as a Ram, he hit Van Jefferson for a 67-yard TD (with an assist to the Bear DBs who didn’t want to touch Jefferson down), and he later hit Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods for scores of their own. Moreover, per PFF, Stafford was perfect on play action, going 7/7 for 153 yards and a TD, and one third of the Rams’ passing plays went for 15 or more yards, more than any other team in Week 1. It was Sean McVay getting his new sports car, taking it for a thrilling ride, and bringing it back to his garage in one piece. It was an overmatched opponent, for sure, but early returns are promising for Stafford, and he’s a viable QB1 despite his lack of rushing production. (JD)
Joe Burrow (Cin) — The Bengals ran 68 plays in Week 1, and Burrow dropped back on just 32 of them. He threw just 27 passes, so the Bengals did seem to take it easy on him. However, he was sacked five times, and got up each time. And the statline was overall pristine — he went 20/27 for 261 yards and 2 TD. One of the most encouraging things about Burrow, frankly, was that head coach Zac Taylor trusted him enough to call a fourth-and-1 passing play in overtime near midfield, where an incompletion would have turned the ball over to the Vikings and given Minnesota a chance to pick up 10 yards to kick a game-winning field goal. But Burrow executed the play perfectly, calmly completing the pass to TE CJ Uzomah for 32 yards to set up the game-winning field goal of Cincy’s own. Again, it wasn’t a prolific performance, but it was super encouraging from the youngster. (JD)
Christian McCaffrey (Car) — Well, CMC is back. After missing 13 games last year, HC Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady placed no restrictions on the fantasy RB1 as he went for 21/98 on the ground and 9/89 through the air on Opening Day vs. the Jets. McCaffrey was on the field for a workhorse-like 89% of the offensive snaps and scored 27.7 fantasy points… without scoring a touchdown. In fact, dating back to his last 16 games, CMC has scored 20 or more FP in 15 contests and 25+ FP in 11 for an average of 29.8 FPG. Not bad! McCaffrey is going to single-handedly be a league-winner because no player has the scoring floor / ceiling combination that he carries on a weekly basis. (Graham Barfield)
Joe Mixon (Cin) — Though many who have been burned by him in the past scoffed, Bengal coaches and beat reporters talked up Mixon as a bell cow all off-season. Well, in Week 1, Mixon touched the ball 33 times, racked up 150 yards from scrimmage, and scored a TD. He played 31 snaps on run plays, the most of any back in Week 1 (PFF). Does that qualify as bell cow work? Moreover, Mixon’s longest gain of the day was 19 yards, which suggests he was consistently picking up chunks of yardage and wearing down one of the better run defenses in the NFL. The Bengals’ offense overall looked good in Joe Burrow’s return to the field, which helps matters as well. We’ll see how long Mixon holds up with this workload, but there’s not a back in the league who had a more encouraging Week 1 from a fantasy perspective. He’s an RB1. (JD)
Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines (Ind) — The Colts rolled with just Taylor (55% snap share) and Hines (45%) in their backfield in Week 1 with Marlon Mack planted to the sidelines in his first game back from his Achilles injury. They also dominated the offensive workload with Taylor posting 17/56 rushing and a promising 6/60 receiving on seven targets (18% share) while Hines finished with 9/34 rushing and 6/48 receiving on eight targets (21%). There were some concerns new QB Carson Wentz wouldn’t involve his RBs in the passing game like Philip Rivers did last season but those concerns were eased in the season opener. Taylor isn’t going to be this involved as a receiver most weeks, but he’ll be locked in as an RB1 option if he can average 4+ targets per game after avering 2.6 targets per game as a rookie. The Colts’ coaching staff talked about getting Hines more touches at the end of the preseason and Week 1 was a great step in that direction so he can be viewed as a high-end RB3/FLEX in a potential pass-heavy script against the Rams this week. (TB)
Najee Harris (Pit) — Harris, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick, posted a pedestrian 5.9 FP in his professional debut but we’re optimistic much better fantasy days are coming in the near future. Najee posted just 16/45 rushing (2.8 YPC) with a four-yard catch on three targets against the Bills but, more importantly, he never left the field on Pittsburgh’s 58 offensive snaps. Harris isn’t going to be the most efficient player running behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, but he has a great chance to finish as an RB1 this season based purely on volume. Harris is an easy player to target as a buy-low candidate this week, especially with much easier matchups looming against the Raiders and Bengals the next two weeks. (TB)
David Montgomery (Chi) — The Bears are going to be an overall tough watch until Justin Fields replaces Andy Dalton, but we did want to throw some love Motgomery’s way, because he looks like a really good NFL runner. Having adjusted to the speed of the game in 2020 after a disappointing rookie campaign in 2019, Montgomery now uses his elite contact balance to work his way through traffic and create explosive runs. He popped off a 41-yard scamper on his first carry of the season against the Rams on Sunday night, and finished the day with 16/108/1 rushing and 1/10 receiving, as the only Bear player to top 10 fantasy points in a PPR league. He played 59% of the snaps — the Bears did use Damien Williams on a 43% share as a passing-down back — but got enough work to make it count. His 20 routes also matched Williams, per PFF, so it’s not like he won’t get work in the passing game. He’s a strong RB2 despite the bad offensive line. (JD)
Darrell Henderson (LAR) — The reality is that the Rams traded for Sony Michel because they don’t trust Henderson to stay on the field — fact. But Henderson is also a really talented kid, and he’s been in the building for three years now, so it was also certain that he was going to get the first crack to be the lead guy in the backfield following the Cam Akers injury. And, well, that bell was answered. In a Sunday night rout of the Bears, Henderson played nearly every snap in the backfield — 49 out of 52, with Michel taking the other 3. And Henderson played well on those 49 snaps, with 16/70/1 rushing and 1/17 receiving, turning in the PPR RB14 performance of the week (pre MNF). Henderson still has to prove he can stay on the field, and Michel’s role is almost certain to increase once he gets a better grasp of the offense. But tentatively, he’s a high-upside RB2. (JD)
Myles Gaskin (Mia) — Gaskin is locked in as the team’s top back after the Dolphins spread out the work in this backfield to Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed in the preseason. Gaskin posted 9/49 rushing (5.4 YPC) and he caught all five of his targets for 27 yards in Miami’s season-opening victory over the Patriots, and he easily paced the backfield with a 54% snap share ahead of Brown (30%) and Ahmed (20%). Brown did come into the game on Miami’s lone drive inside the 10-yard line so Gaskin is going to lose out on some goal-line carries, but he makes up for it with his 4.2 catches per game since the start of 2020. Gaskin is a safe RB2 with limited touchdown upside this week against the Bills, and he had some success against them last season with 10/93 receiving and 14/66 rushing in two games. (TB)
Devin Singletary (Buf) — Zack Moss is officially in OC Brian Daboll’s doghouse after the team made him a surprise healthy scratch against the Steelers in Week 1. The Bills rolled with a combination of Singletary (75% snap share), Matt Breida (12%) and Isaiah McKenzie (18%) in their backfield with Moss on the sidelines. Singletary posted a solid 11/72 rushing (6.5 YPC) and 3/8 receiving on five targets for 11.0 FP against a stout Steelers defense. Singletary had limited success in two games against the Dolphins last season (13/63 rushing, 3/26 receiving), but he has a much better chance to produce as a RB3/FLEX option for as long as Moss is out of the mix. (TB)
D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams (Det) — In what ended up being the highest-scoring affair of the week, the Lions made a valiant second-half comeback attempt after going down 31-10 at the half. Detroit ran a ridiculous 92 plays, which allowed Swift (11/39 rushing | 8/65/1 receiving) and Williams (9/54/1 rushing | 8/56 receiving) to both go off. In fact, pending MNF, Williams is the RB3 on the week (25.0 FP) while Swift is the RB4 (24.3 FP). Two teammates finishing inside of the top-5 RB scorers rarely happens and obviously the Lions won’t run over 90 plays every week (average is about 65 plays/game), but this duo is going to continue to co-exist together with these types of roles. Swift ended up getting more snaps than Williams by a wide margin because the Lions were in hurry-up mode (68% to 35%), but both backs got snaps on the field at the same time and Williams got 17 touches on his 32 total snaps. So, when Williams was on the field, he got the rock 53% of the time. Perhaps most encouraging was Swift’s usage. He ran a route on 65% of Jared Goff’s dropbacks, which is a massive change in his role compared to his rookie season when he went into a pass route on just 48% of the Lions pass plays. While this is a true 1A / 1B committee, Swift playing in a high-volume receiving role is going to offset losing carries and goal-line totes to Williams. Further helping this backfield’s outlook is the fact that Williams, Swift, and T.J. Hockenson are the Lions only good weapons until Amon-Ra St. Brown or one of their receivers breaks out. Swift and Williams are going to get tons of touches. (GB)
Chase Edmonds (Ari) — If you drafted Edmonds this summer, you didn’t draft him to be a bell cow. In fact, one could make the argument that he got talked down so much for not being a bell cow that his ADP — often in the sixth and seventh rounds — fell too much. And if you drafted Edmonds, you had to love what you saw in Week 1. He posted 12/63 rushing and 4/43 receiving on 4 targets, while playing 58% of the offensive snaps in a blowout of the Titans. He played more snaps than James Conner (49%), and while Conner got more carries with 16, Edmonds actually outrushed Conner by 10 yards. Moreover… Conner didn’t run a single route, per PFF (Edmonds had 27). Edmonds outsnapping Conner in a game the Cards had in control from the opening kickoff is a super encouraging sign, as is of course posting 106 yards from scrimmage. He’s a RB2/FLEX option. (JD)
Antonio Gibson (Was) — Washington ended up losing a nail-biter, but the bigger loss is that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to be out for some time with a hip injury. Fitz is going to be put on the I.R. boomerang this week, which means the earliest he can return is Week 5. While losing Fitzmagic is a huge loss to the offense as a whole, we have to be somewhat encouraged by Antonio Gibson’s Week 1 usage. Gibson played on 65% of the team’s snaps, ran more routes than J.D. McKissic (15 to 10), and turned his workhorse-like 25 opportunities (attempts + targets) into 108 yards from scrimmage. Gibson did have a costly fumble that ended up in a Chargers touchdown, but Washington immediately went back to their guy on the next drive. Gibson will be relied on more heavily with Fitzmagic out and his usage was all we could ask for on Opening Day, so we are giving him a slight upgrade here. (GB)
Adam Thielen (Min) — All. Adam. Thielen. Does. Is. Score. He did it twice in Week 1 against the Bengals, as part of a massive 9/92/2 line on 10 targets. It was a 30.2 FP performance, the #4 WR performance of Week 1, and he ran 50 routes, tied with teammate Justin Jefferson for 6th-most among all players. While the Vikings did use more 3-WR sets than they did at basically any point last year, with KJ Osborn functioning as their #3, Thielen and Jefferson were, as expected, the preferred targets for QB Kirk Cousins. While TDs are not “sticky” for fantasy, sometimes, there are outliers, and it just seems like Thielen is one of them. While he did have a catch-and-run TD, he’s consistently among the league leaders in end-zone targets, and his first TD (a five-yarder from Cousins) fit the bill. Thielen is a high-end WR2 for fantasy. (JD)
Antonio Brown (TB) — HC Bruce Arians, who first worked with Brown in Pittsburgh, has been saying all summer that Brown is playing at speeds he once saw earlier in his career after undergoing off-season knee surgery. Bruce wasn’t lying to us with his assessment. AB torched the Cowboys for 5/121/1 receiving (24.2 YPR) on seven targets while playing 65% of the snaps. Brown should be viewed as a WR2 going forward with potential to become a WR1 if he unseats Evans or Godwin in 12 personnel. Don’t think twice about using him against a Falcons secondary that he ripped for 16/231/3 receiving in two matchups last season. (TB)
DeVonta Smith (Phi) — Smith had a fantastic NFL debut for Philly, posting 6/71/1 receiving on 8 targets, scoring a touchdown on the first reception and target of his NFL career on a perfectly thrown 18-yard wheel route from Jalen Hurts. Smith’s 8 targets led the Eagles, his 87% snap share led the Eagles’ WRs, and his 37 routes led all Eagles pass catchers (PFF). This is just an instance of a very clean and polished prospect emerging in a good matchup in Week 1 and doing exactly what he was drafted to do. And his usage suggests he’s a rock-solid WR3 for fantasy players going forward… and perhaps more than that. (JD)
Ja’Marr Chase (Cin) — Yeah, so much for those preseason drops and the misrepresented story about Chase struggling with the NFL football (he was simply describing what makes the NFL football different, not admitting he was struggling with it). If you got a post-panic discount on Chase in your redraft leagues, you’re floating on Monday. Chase posted a 5/101/1 line on 7 targets in his NFL debut, including a 50-yard TD from Joe Burrow, his college QB (they hooked up for 9 50+ yard TDs at LSU, and picked up right where they left off). Moreover, Chase led the Bengals’ receivers in snap share (90%, to 74% for Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd) and routes run (30, to 27 for Higgins and Boyd). So the club used him as their #1 despite the preseason drops. Internally, they sure didn’t think he was struggling. He’s a strong WR3, and given his upside and how encouraging Burrow looked in Week 1, a hard guy to bench. (It should be noted that his first actual touch was a rush attempt that lost two yards, but the Bengals went out of their way to get the ball in his hands.) (JD)
Brandin Cooks (Hou) — Cooks is far and away the best receiver in Houston so it was no surprise to see him dominate targets (21%) from Tyrod Taylor in their season opener. He finished with 5/132 receiving on seven targets and he had two catches of 40+ yards against the Jaguars in the season opener. Cooks is going to see much tougher matchups than Jacksonville’s dreadful secondary starting this week against the Browns, but his weekly target share is going to keep in the mix as a WR2 most weeks. (TB)
D.J. Chark (Jax) — Chark saw his first game action with first overall pick Trevor Lawrence, and he paced Jacksonville’s passing attack with a 24% target share with an aDOT of 16.6 yards. He caught just a quarter of his targets (3 of 12) but he turned them into 3/86/1 receiving with his score coming on a 41-yard strike against the Texans. Marvin Jones (5/77/1 receiving) and Laviska Shenault (7/50) are going to battle it out with Chark for the weekly lead in targets but there should at least be plenty of volume coming with this bad team set to play in a ton of negative game scripts. Jacksonville’s big three WRs will be in the WR3/4 mix each week even with a tough matchup looming against the Broncos. (TB)
Jaylen Waddle (Mia) — Waddle, the first WR selected in the 2021 Draft, lived up to expectations in his NFL debut against one of the league’s better defenses. He recorded 4/61/1 receiving on six targets (22%) against the Patriots, and he showed his speed on his game-high 36-yard reception and some toughness on his goal-line touchdown. The Dolphins used Waddle as a full-time player with an 80% snap share, which trailed only DeVante Parker (83%) at the position. Will Fuller will be added to the mix this week and I wouldn’t be surprised if the target share between Miami’s top three WRs is spread pretty evenly this season. That means Waddle will likely have some uneven games depending on the matchup, but he didn’t look over his head in his professional debut and he’s in the mix as a WR3/4 going forward. (TB)
Corey Davis (NYJ) — The Jets offense was stuck in mud for much of their debut as their run game struggled to get going, Zach Wilson was sacked 6 times, and they lost T Mekhi Becton, but Corey Davis was the lone brightspot. Davis was Wilson’s main target during the pre-season and that carried over into Week 1 as he tied for the team lead in targets (7) and turned in an efficient 5/97/2 receiving line. Granted, both Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole missed the game, but Davis seems entrenched as Wilson’s go-to receiver. He has two matchups on the more difficult side coming up (vs. Patriots / Broncos) in Weeks 2-3, but then draws the Titans and Falcons in Weeks 4-5. (GB)
Deebo Samuel (SF) — Hello Deebo! With Brandon Aiyuk mysteriously getting demoted and on the sidelines for half of the game, Samuel took command as the 49ers No. 1 wide receiver and absolutely shredded the Lions secondary for a 9/189/1 bomb. Pending MNF, Samuel is the WR3 on the week and his 33.9 FP are, by far, the most he has ever scored in a game. Samuel easily led the team in targets (12), routes run (25), and was moved all over the field and took advantage of his easy matchups. With Aiyuk apparently battling Trent Sherfield and Mohamed Sanu for the No. 2 / 3 / 4 WR spot in the pecking order, Samuel has emerged as the 49er receiver to have in fantasy. Samuel’s next four matchups are what dreams are made of, too: vs. Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, and Cardinals. We recommended Samuel as one of our top wide receiver targets in drafts all summer and offseason, so hopefully you have him on all of your squads. (GB)
Mike Williams (LAC) — The Chargers and new OC Joe Lombardi unleashed a very pass-heavy gameplan against Washington’s vaunted defense, as Justin Herbert dropped back to pass 49 times compared to just 25 runs. While Keenan Allen remained the top target and dropped a casual 9/100 receiving line, the bigger story was Mike Williams emerging. Williams was the main beneficiary of the Chargers pass-first plan and turned his 12 targets into a nice 8/82/1 line (24.2 FP). L.A.’s new coaching staff raved about Williams this offseason and promised that he would get an increased role, and if Week 1 is any indication, that is going to be the truth. Keep in mind, the Chargers are pretty thin at receiver behind Williams, too. (GB)
Rob Gronkowski (TB) — The Buccaneers played their best offensive players across the board in their season-opening victory over the Cowboys, including Gronk who played on 88% of the snaps compared to a 28% rate for Cameron Brate and 9% rate for O.J. Howard. Gronk didn’t disappoint with his expanded role, catching all eight of his targets for 90 yards and two touchdowns in their victory. We’ll keep an eye on the usage of Brate and Howard in the upcoming weeks, but Gronk should be considered as a top-12 TE for as long as he dominates snaps in one of the league’s best offenses. That includes this week against a Falcons’ defense he posted 5/58 receiving against in two matchups last season. (TB)
T.J. Hockenson (Det) — Hockenson’s 2021 debut could not have started any better as he dropped 23.7 FP (8/97/1) on the 49ers as Jared Goff tried a valiant second-half comeback attempt. Hockenson benefited from the Lions running a ridiculous 92 plays in the Garbage Time heroics, but the Lions new coaching staff clearly established that Hockenson is the team’s No. 1 target. He ran a route on a team-high 59 of Goff’s 71 dropbacks and got a bunch of shallow targets designed to get him in space (5.3 aDOT). While there is no way the Lions will run that many plays every week, Hockenson’s arrow is still ticked straight up with that type of usage. (GB)
Players about whom we’re feeling less optimistic based on recent play or news.
Matt Ryan (Atl) — This was, uh, not the debut Ryan was looking for in Arthur Smith’s new regime. Ryan finished 21/35 for 164 yards against Philly, and while he didn’t turn the ball over, he was under pressure constantly in the second half and suffered three sacks. The Falcons pulled him by the end of the game for Josh Rosen just to try to keep him healthy, but the damage was already done. Ryan threw for 57 yards on the Falcons’ first two drives, which both stalled out in the tight red zone and resulted in two short field goals for Younghoe Koo. Those were the Falcons’ only points of the day — after the first two drives, Ryan went 13 for 20 for 107 yards in the final three quarters. Most concerningly, his arm did not look good when trying to drive the ball to the sidelines. The Falcon offensive line wore down late, Calvin Ridley disappeared after catching three passes on the opening drive, and Kyle Pitts struggled to make an impact in his NFL debut. (JD)
James Robinson (Jax) — Urban Meyer needs an intervention for his love affair with the well-past-his-prime Carlos Hyde, which has dated back to the opening days of free agency when they stunningly gave him a multi-year contract. J-Rob finished behind Hyde in rushing with 5/25 and he added 3/29 receiving on six targets while playing 64% of the snaps in Jacksonville’s lopsided loss to the lowly Texans. Meyer isn’t budging from his commitment to playing Hyde with Robinson each week, but at least J-Rob will benefit more from the pass-heavy game scripts that will be coming Jacksonville’s way this season. Even that role could be in peril in the future if the Jaguars eventually elevate Duke Johnson to the active roster once he gets more time to learn the offense. Robinson is a downward trending RB2 heading into a tough matchup against the Broncos. (TB)
Ronald Jones (TB) — It didn’t take long for RoJo to find himself back in Bruce Arians’ doghouse to start 2021. Leonard Fournette opened the game with the starters before ceding snaps to Jones, but RoJo quickly found himself back on the sidelines for the remainder of the game after he fumbled on the first play of Tampa Bay’s fifth drive. RoJo finished with just 4/14 rushing and he played just 9% of the snaps. Fournette didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Week 1 — he dropped a pass that resulted in an interception — so Jones is going to get chances to play again as long as he cleans up his play a bit. RoJo is just a bench stash for now and Fournette is the only Buccaneers RB worth lineup consideration for the time being. (TB)
Zack Moss (Buf) — Moss is officially in OC Brian Daboll’s doghouse after the team made him a surprise healthy scratch against the Steelers in Week 1. The Bills rolled with a combination of Devin Singletary (75% snap share), Matt Breida (12%) and Isaiah McKenzie (18%) in their backfield with Moss on the sidelines. I don’t see Moss being a weekly inactive and it’s only a matter of time before Breida gets hurt, but you don’t need to continue to roster him since this backfield has limited fantasy appeal to begin with. (TB)
Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon (SF) — After Trey Sermon was surprisingly made a healthy scratch 90 minutes before kick-off against the Lions, Raheem Mostert became one of the best and most popular DFS plays on the Week 1 slate. And then, in typical Mostert fashion, he got 2 carries, turned them into 20 yards, and got hurt. Mostert’s latest injury is a knee cartilage issue that will sideline him for 8 weeks. There is a decent chance that Jeff Wilson (knee) will play before Mostert does again this year. The 49ers have already put Mostert on I.R., so he is safe to drop in your leagues. While Sermon will certainly be active in Week 2 (you’d think!), he is still behind Elijah Mitchell and Ja’Mycal Hasty on the depth chart. We have to completely re-adjust our outlook here. HC Kyle Shanahan simply believes Mitchel and Hasty are better players right now and that Sermon is well behind them. Sermon is still worthy of a bench stash with Mostert’s latest injury, but he has a lot of work to do to get playing-time. (GB)
Jerry Jeudy (Den) — Ugh. We feel sick for Jeudy, who was absolutely eating in Week 1 with 6/71 on 7 targets before being carted off with a high ankle sprain midway through the third quarter of the Broncos’ win over the Giants. While it doesn’t appear Jeudy is totally out of the woods yet on his “scary looking” sprain (as our Edwin Porras put it), initial X-Rays were negative, suggesting Jeudy did avoid the worst possible outcome, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. We’re awaiting more test results to determine the severity, but it appears likely Jeudy will go on at least short-term IR with the injury, though the team hasn’t decided to do so yet. For now, we’re holding if we can. Jeudy had a legitimate shot to catch 10 passes in that game if he didn’t go down. (JD)
Broncos coach Vic Fangio says Jerry Jeudy will miss “some time” with a high ankle sprain. Team hasn’t decided yet if he will make a trip to IR.— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) September 13, 2021
Mike Evans (TB) — It’s not time to completely panic for Evans’ owners after just one game, but the season opener wasn’t a fun watch for those who used a third/fourth round pick on him. He posted a measly 3/24 receiving on six targets against the shadow coverage of Trevon Diggs while Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski each went for 90+ receiving yards with at least one touchdown. Evans and Tom Brady never really looked on the same page as the veteran quarterback just missed connecting with him for two big gains, which would have drastically changed his fantasy fortunes. Evans has a great spot to rebound against a Falcons’ defense he posted 8/156 receiving against last season in two games, but Brown is clearly going to command more looks this season, which is going to make Evans much more volatile as a WR2. (TB)
Odell Beckham (Cle) — OBJ appeared to be trending toward playing in Cleveland’s season opener for much of last week, but the Browns pulled the plug on his return from ACL surgery after pre-game warmups against the Chiefs. Beckham didn’t return to team drills until the final week of August so it really shouldn’t be too shocking that he wasn’t quite ready to play in the season opener. The Browns were clearly hesitant to play Beckham in the season opener, which means he’s likely to have a limited role for the first week or two when he’s eventually active on gameday. OBJ may not be ready to contribute to fantasy teams until October at the earliest. (TB)
Michael Gallup (Dal) — Gallup suffered a calf strain midway through the third quarter in Week 1, and he’s expected to miss the next 3-5 weeks after ending his night with 4/36 receiving on seven targets. Cedrick Wilson stepped right into Gallup’s spot in the lineup as the team’s #3 WR and the Cowboys played only four WRs in Week 1. He’ll be a desperation play against the next couple of weeks for anyone who was counting on Gallup in their lineup. (TB)
Brandon Aiyuk (SF) — The most surprising news from the 49ers this weekend wasn’t even Trey Sermon being demoted to No. 4 on the depth chart… it was Aiyuk’s goose-egg. After missing some time during Training Camp with what was a fairly minor hamstring strain, HC Kyle Shanahan played Aiyuk behind Trent Sherfield in Week 1 and said that Aiyuk’s limited role was about “being smart (with his hamstring injury).” That quote leaves plenty of room for hope, but we have seen Shanahan make decisions like this in the past. He doesn’t care where you were drafted, he doesn’t care how well you played in year’s past… if you aren’t ready, Shanahan isn’t going to make you a part of the gameplan. While Aiyuk wasn’t even targeted, his role wasn’t as awful as it probably seemed. Aiyuk ran a route on 15 of Jimmy Garoppolo’s 27 dropbacks, which was third on the team behind Samuel (25) and George Kittle (16). Meanwhile, Trent Sherfield ran 14 routes while Mohamed Sanu ran 11. The only thing you can do with Aiyuk moving into Week 2 is HODL and not overreact. If Shanahan is telling the truth and Aiyuk was limited this week because he missed time with an injury, Aiyuk will be back in our good graces soon enough. (GB)
Mike Gesicki (Mia) — Gesicki is back to his boom-or-bust ways after posting a goose egg in the season opener against the Patriots. He saw just two targets from Tua Tagovailoa and played on just 39% of the snaps, behind Durham Smythe (70%) and just ahead of rookie Hunter Long (33%). Gesicki will fall further down the team’s passing game pecking order with WIll Fuller returning from his suspension this week so Gesicki should only be used in great matchups or in potential heavier pass scripts. Gesicki hammered the Bills for 13/177/1 receiving on 21 targets last season and this week’s game script projects to be better for him if you want to give him another chance as a low-end TE1. (TB)
Players whom we’re not ready to upgrade or downgrade, but their situations demand monitoring based on recent play, injuries, or news.
Aaron Rodgers (GB) — Rodgers will have to tell everyone out there in Packer Land to “R.E.L.A.X.” this week after Green Bay posted the worst performance in Week 1. The Packers mustered NFL Week 1 lows of three points and 229 scrimmage yards in an embarrassing season-opening 38-3 loss to the Saints. Rodgers averaged just 4.8 YPA and he threw two INTs on 28 attempts after throwing just five INTs on 526 attempts last season. The Packers laid an absolute egg the last time they visited Florida back in Week 6 last season when they got smoked 38-10 by the Buccaneers, so maybe there’s something in the air down there. It feels a bit different this season after Rodgers’ “holdout” this off-season and with their O-line concerns with David Bakhtiari (ACL, PUP) out of the lineup, but the Packers have plenty of time to get on track. They’ve earned a longer leash than most offenses since they have a long history of producing high-end fantasy options and this offense has a great bounce-back spot against a Detroit squad that allowed 41 points to the 49ers in Week 1. (TB)
Ezekiel Elliott (Dal) — Zeke played on a promising 83% of the snaps in Dallas’ heartbreaking season-opening loss, but he simply wasn’t a part of their game plan against the league’s most formidable run defense from 2020. He managed just 11/33 rushing and 2/6 receiving against the Buccaneers while his backup, Tony Pollard, had an increased role in the passing game (4/29 receiving, 24% of the snaps). Perhaps more concerning than his lack of touches was the fact that he couldn’t beat a cornerback to the end zone out in space at the goal line in the early third quarter. Zeke is still a perfect buy-low candidate since the Cowboys will be much more committed to running the ball in the future once they get Zack Martin back in the lineup and they face some easier run defense like the Chargers this week. (TB)
Saquon Barkley (NYG) — True to reports prior to Week 1, the Giants didn’t give Barkley a full workload in their loss to the Broncos — he played just 48% of the offensive snaps and barely did anything for fantasy, with 10/26 rushing and 1 catch for 1 yard on 3 targets. Outside of Sterling Shepard, it was a brutal day for the entire Giants’ team, and while Barkley got through the game unscathed, the team around him appears to be a bigger problem. There’s no evidence OC Jason Garrett can scheme up a creative offense, and head coach Joe Judge is a clown. At least the offensive line held up OK, but this group is a painful watch overall. We’ll check reports on if Barkley’s usage will increase in the coming weeks, but one thing we don’t think will be reported is the Giants all of a sudden looking like a professional offense. (JD)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) — CEH needs a break-through performance in the worst way after another uninspiring showing to start the 2021 season. He finished with 14/43 rushing (3.1 YPC) while catching all three of his targets for 29 yards (9.7 YPR) in a victory over the Browns. CEH did play on 72% of the snaps, well ahead of Darrel Williams (22%) and Jerick McKinnon (6%) so it could be just a matter of time before he busts out with a top-12 RB performance. CEH has just five career TDs and Andy Reid hasn’t found a way to get CEH more involved in the passing game since early in his rookie campaign (either that or he’s no longer interested in doing it). Still, all indicators continue to point toward CEH getting some positive regression playing in one of the league’s best offenses, and maybe it will come this week against a Ravens’ defense he torched for 134 scrimmage yards early last season. (TB)
Damien Harris (NE) — Harris coughed up a potential victory for the Patriots in their season opener with his fumble inside the 10-yard line with under four minutes remaining in the game. His miscue put a major damper on his strong overall performance as the team’s clear top back. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled on his second NFL touch and he never saw another snap with Harris handling 77% of the team carries on his way to 23/100 rushing (4.3 YPC) and 2/17 receiving on three targets. Stevenson should get more opportunities in the future unless his fumbling becomes a major issue, but Harris looks locked into a massive role as the team’s top runner. Bill Belichick has been harsh on his backs in the past for fumbles, but they actively created their current backfield situation by trading away Sony Michel before the season so Harris should have a longer leash than his past backs. Harris should be viewed as a RB2 this week against the Jets and moving forward even with LT Trent Brown picking up a knee injury in the season opener. (TB)
Austin Ekeler (LAC) — Ekeler’s Week 1 was a mix of good and bad news. Let’s start with the good. First and foremost, he played! After missing a few practices last week with what ended up being a minor hamstring strain, Ekeler was able to play 58% of the team’s snaps in the Chargers Week 1 win over Washington. And more good news… Ekeler might be the goal-line back! Ekeler got both of the Chargers carries inside-the-5 and turned one into a TD. Keep in mind, Ekeler got exactly 2 goal-line carries across 9 full games last season. If this new coaching staff is going to let Ekeler score TDs, that is simply huge for his 2021 ceiling. Now for the bad news. Ekeler wasn’t targeted in the passing game at all and only ran a route on 26 of Justin Herbert’s 52 dropbacks (50%). While some of the reason why Ekeler wasn’t targeted has to be his hamstring injury, the flipside is that this new staff may envision a new role for Ekeler in the offense as a whole. Ekeler scored more receiving fantasy points per game than Alvin Kamara did last season and that was largely because he saw 20% of the team’s targets. There is a chance Mike Williams taking on a bigger role eats into Ekeler’s target share a bit, but we aren’t going to overreact. Everything else about Ekeler’s Week 1 was positive. (GB)
Javonte Williams (Den) — While a 70-yard TD to seal the deal in a win over the Giants is going to skew numbers in Melvin Gordon’s favor in Week 1, we would contend that Williams was the more effective back for much of the game. Of course, Williams didn’t have a huge game, posting 14/45 rushing and 1 for -4 receiving, and Gordon did have 11/101/1 on the ground and 3/17 through the air. Each back played 33 snaps, and they both touched the ball virtually equally. While we don’t want Williams backers to overreact to Gordon’s long TD, we also need to point out that they should be patient — Williams clearly isn’t going to take this gig full time immediately. We still contend he will do it eventually, but this is a marathon, not a sprint (think Jonathan Taylor in 2020). (JD)
Marquez Callaway (NO) — The Saints and Packers played the most bizarre game of Week 1, which included Jameis Winston throwing for five TDs while posting fewer than 150 passing yards, a feat that had never been previously done. Unfortunately, preseason phenom Callaway wasn’t involved in any of Winston’s touchdown passes and he saw just two of Winston’s 20 attempts in a low-volume passing attack in Week 1. Callaway never really had the chance to establish himself in a funky game script but better days should be ahead for him with a thin receiving corps behind him with Michael Thomas (ankle, PUP) and Tre’Quan Smith (hamstring, IR) out of the lineup. He should be viewed more as a WR4 this week against a Panthers defense that gave up 5/97/2 receiving to Corey Davis in the season opener. (TB)
Terry McLaurin (Was) — Scary Terry ended up saving his day after a slow start and an injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick with a 4/62 receiving line, but we’d be lying if we weren’t a little scared that McLaurin’s ceiling is considerably dinged with Taylor Heinicke under center. Heinicke’s stat line looked fine, but he doesn’t have near the arm talent that Fitzmagic does and that was fully evidenced on this ridiculous McLaurin catch on an underthrown ball from Heinicke. McLaurin survived on volume last year and that should still be in place after he was Washington’s lead receiver with Heinicke. McLaurin got 4 targets from Heinicke while Logan Thomas and Dyami Brown got 3 and Antonio Gibson got 2. McLaurin gets the Giants in Week 2, a team he has shredded for 7/86, 7/74, and 7/115/1 in his three career starts against them. (GB)
Courtland Sutton (Den) — Sutton had just 1 catch for 14 yards on 3 targets in his first game back from ACL surgery, but he encouragingly played an 80% snap share in the win against the Giants, and also encouragingly led the Broncos’ receivers with 33 routes run (Tim Patrick was second with 27, per PFF). And of course, with Jerry Jeudy likely to miss a few weeks minimum with a high ankle sprain, the Broncos need Sutton. We’ll get a closer look at the tape this week to see how Sutton moved, but what was also a positive was how well QB Teddy Bridgewater played. (JD)
Kyle Pitts (Atl) — The good news in Pitts’ debut was that the Falcons clearly tried to get him involved in Week 1, as his 8 targets tied for the team lead with Calvin Ridley, and he ran 31 routes on his 37 pass-play snaps. The problem is that he didn’t do much at all with those targets, catching 4 passes for 31 yards. This is not specifically a Pitts problem — Matt Ryan was atrocious, the Falcons offense was atrocious, and after two long drives at the beginning of the game, the Falcons never threatened to score again. The usage was a positive… nothing else was. Fortunately, for fantasy TEs, great usage is enough to lock them in as weekly starters. Hopefully for Pitts, the Eagles’ defense is just way better than we thought, because it was ugly for Atlanta at home in Week 1. (JD)
Logan Thomas (Was) — While Thomas ended up saving his day with a TD on Washington’s opening drive out of half-time, the impending QB downgrade from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Taylor Heinicke is obviously one to watch. On the positive side, Thomas’ Week 1 usage was all we could ask for. He ran a route on 28 of the team’s 30 passing plays, which is rare for a tight end. Thomas isn’t a blocker and is basically a big WR that plays TE. (GB)