Week 1 Confidence Plays | Fantasy Football 2021

Welcome back, Football. We’ve missed you dearly.

In the times from the closing seconds of the Super Bowl, leading up to the NFL Draft, through the OTAs and minicamps, to the tease of the NFL Hall of Fame game, and the days leading up to the Thursday Night Kickoff — we truly learn how much football means to so many of us.

Maybe it has something to do with how short the season is: only four months of games for fans of over half the league. Maybe it’s because our basic Neanderthal instincts crave the violence displayed on Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays and the occasional Saturday in December).

Or, maybe it’s just because football is life.

Whatever your reasons for loving this game, it’s likely that passion that helped introduce you to fantasy football. And that passion is why you’re reading this article and many other similar articles. In a space that has infinite resources, thank you.

If you’ve read this weekly article in previous seasons, THANK YOU. As I look to grow in this space, I’m trying to make it more reader-friendly and caring less about writing it just for me. So don’t expect some 5,000-word diatribes this season. I promise you; you don’t want that.

But before I get to the shorter takes of Week 1, I want to stake my claim on a few players for this upcoming season. I usually sit down and write out a preseason edition of Confidence Plays, giving you a series of “my guys” for the upcoming season, but you know, work and life and all that. So here’s a quick rundown of guys I spent all summer reaching for and where I have them in my preseason rankings:

  • Justin Herbert (my QB7; FantasyPros ADP: QB8)
  • Justin Fields (QB15; QB17)
  • Antonio Gibson (RB4; RB12)
  • Najee Harris (RB8; RB11)
  • Zack Moss (RB28; RB35)
  • Ronald Jones (RB29; RB34)
  • Calvin Ridley (WR1; WR5)
  • Diontae Johnson (WR15; WR21)
  • Tee Higgins (WR19; WR24)
  • Mike Williams (WR22; WR49)
  • Laviska Shenault (WR27; WR38)
  • Darnell Mooney (WR34; WR51)
  • Mark Andrews (TE3; TE5)
  • Jonnu Smith (TE5; TE13)
  • Mike Gesicki (TE8; TE11)
  • Hayden Hurst (TE13; TE29)

I won’t bore you with the people I’m not as high on as the consensus. I’m sure there will be enough misses amongst these picks that you’ll find some reasons to pick me apart. (Just because I’m aiming for shorter articles doesn’t mean you don’t get my trademark self-deprecating humor. You’re stuck with it.)

A quick reminder of what Play and Fade mean: Play simply means players that I love based on match-ups and my expectation that they’ll finish with more points than projected. Fade indicates players I think underperform their projections/consensus weekly rankings. It doesn’t mean I’m outright benching them, but I’m likely not rushing to put them in any DFS lineups either.

So let’s get ready for more concise info and takes, and let’s get ready to win this week and all those fantasy football championships! On to Week 1!

Play

QB Jalen Hurts (PHI) @ ATL – I will try my best not to make this sound like a homer pick. (For those new to this column, yes, I’m an Eagles fan. And yes, I hate it as much as you do.) Here’s a list of things the Falcons were good at on defense in 2020: (Wait for it.) Nope, nothing. They allowed the 4th most total yards per game, the most passing yards per game, the 2nd most fantasy points per game to QBs, and the 5th most rushing TDs to QBs. Here’s a list of things the Falcons did to get better on defense: (Wait for it.) Nope, nothing. This game will be a shoot-out, and I want ALL the Jalen Hurts for his arm and legs this week.

Other QBs with good match-ups: Trevor Lawrence (JAX) @ HOU and Jimmy Garappolo (SF) @ DET

RB James Robinson (JAX) @ HOU – After Week 1, the narrative will quickly become “Start your (insert position) against the Texans.” Houston did nothing to get better. (In fact, I’m pretty sure they actively tried to become worse.) They allowed the most rushing yards and rushing TDs to RBs in 2020 and the second-most fantasy points per game to RBs. In case you slept through 2020 or are trying out fantasy football for the first time, here’s the young King, James Robinson’s resume: an undrafted free agent thrust into a starting job after the timely release of starter Leonard Fournette at the outset of last season. He proceeded to rush for 1,070 yards and 7 TDs while adding another 49 receptions, all as part of the 5th worst offense in football last year. And because the new coaching staff felt he wasn’t good enough, they spent a 1st round pick on a running back, who unfortunately went down with a Lisfranc injury last week and is now out for the season. Get ready for the James Robinson Revenge Tour in 2021. Sign me all the way up.

RB Ty Johnson (NYJ) @ CAR – It will not be fun trying to find out who the top RB on the Jets is week to week. But after a great preseason, I think Johnson begins the season as the “hot hand” they ride. The Panthers have been notoriously awful against RBs for the last few years and are particularly bad at covering receiving backs. Johnson should be an easy FLEX in PPR leagues this week.

Other RBs with good match-ups: Raheem Mostert/Trey Sermon (SF) @ DETPhillip Lindsay (HOU) vs JAX, and James Conner (ARI) @ TEN

WR DeVonta Smith (PHI) @ ATL – Look, when you’re in, you’re in. Don’t dip your toe in; just close your eyes and dive in. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner didn’t get much run in the preseason after dealing with an injury — wait, an Eagles receiver got hurt? Color me SHOCKED — but he’s healthy now and locked and loaded. Smith will likely see plenty of CB A.J. Terrell on Sunday. While Terrell is a good tackler, he’s not the best at covering WRs. Last year, he finished tied for 25th among CBs in snaps per reception allowed and per PFF, a coverage grade of 57.0 — 75th among qualifying CBs. Oh, and the Falcons allowed the most fantasy points per game to WRs last year. Smith is a high upside FLEX this week.

WR Michael Pittman Jr. (IND) vs SEA – I don’t know what to make of Carson Wentz just a few weeks removed from foot surgery, but the team is confident he’s ready to start. With no real threat at TE, a position he’s utilized plenty throughout his career, and no T.Y. Hilton, Pittman becomes his number one option. He’s 6’4″ with speed and facing a secondary that allowed the most receptions to WRs a year ago. Love Pittman’s potential this week.

Other WRs with good match-ups: Robby Anderson (CAR) vs NYJ, A.J. Green (ARI) @ TEN, and Marvin Jones Jr. (JAX) @ HOU

TE Tyler Higbee (LAR) vs CHI – Most know I’m the farthest thing from a Higbee Stan. But when the matchup is there, who am I to fade? Higbee should see more red-zone looks with the injury to Cam Akers, and the Bears allowed the 3rd most TDs to TEs in 2020. At the TE position, with so many average options, you’re looking for scoring opportunities. Higbee has as good a chance as anyone this week.

Other TEs with good match-ups: Jordan Akins (HOU) vs JAX and Zach Ertz (PHI) @ ATL

Fade

QB Justin Herbert (LAC) @ WAS – This is painful to write. I love Herbert this year and think he has top-3 upside. But I truly believe that journey begins for him in Week 2. The Washington Football Team has one of the best defenses in the league. Their front 7 might even be the best, even after losing Ryan Kerrigan to PHI. They added CB Williams Jackson III from CIN to improve a pass defense that allowed the 2nd fewest passing yards per game a year ago. Herbert had 11 of 15 games last year with either 300 yards passing or 3+ pass TDs. WAS allowed only one game with 3 or more TD passes and three 300+ yard passing games (one in the playoffs to Tom Brady) all of last season. The odds are not in Herbert’s favor this week.

Other QBs with bad match-ups: Baker Mayfield (CLE) @ KC and Tua Tagovailoa (MIA) @ NE

RB Aaron Jones (GB) @ NO – Well, it’s not REALLY in New Orleans, but I digress. Still, the Saints had one of the best run defenses in the league last year. They also allowed the fewest fantasy points, the 5th fewest receptions, and the 2nd fewest receiving yards to RBs a year ago. Against these same Saints in Week 3 a year ago, Jones finished as the RB15. Not bad, but not the RB1 you spent a 1st round pick on. There’s also a different dynamic with the GB offense this year. The addition of trusted slot receiver Randall Cobb could take away underneath routes. The chemistry built between Aaron Rodgers and TE Robert Tonyan could take away routes from Jones. The lack of playing time in the preseason — exactly ZERO snaps played — could cause slower decision-making early. You’re still starting Jones this week. I’m less bullish on his ability to finish in the top 12 with such a tough matchup.

RBs Zack Moss & Devin Singletary (BUF) vs PIT – As neither of the two RBs in Buffalo has pulled away from each other, I will follow suit and lump them together. If Moss is the early-down back, good luck pushing the pile. PIT allowed the 10th fewest rushing yards per game to RBs last year, while BUF averaged only 81 rushing yards per game from their RBs. If you think Singletary can help you through the air, PIT allowed the fewest receptions and receiving yards to RBs a year ago. Hard pass on the BUF backfield this week.

Other RBs with bad match-upsDavid Montgomery (CHI) @ LAR, D’Andre Swift (DET) vs SF, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC) vs CLE

WR Chase Claypool (PIT) @ BUF – Buffalo has one of the better pass defenses in the league, allowing the 6th fewest fantasy points to receivers a year ago. More to the point, they were tied for 4th in fewest TDs allowed to WRs. If there’s one thing that elevated Chase Claypool’s game in 2020, it was his ability to score TDs. Claypool is likely to see plenty of CB Levi Wallace, who had the lowest passer rating allowed among current Bills CBs a year ago and allowed only three TDs all year. This feels more like a Najee Harris-JuJu Smith-Schuster game to me, both of whom have better match-ups, so I’m fine with sitting Claypool as a result.

WR Courtland Sutton (DEN) @ NYG – As much as I’m on the Team Courtland Sutton bandwagon, I want to see him get his legs warmed up first. I have to think James Bradberry will be glued to the bigger receiver (Sutton) versus, the smaller, quicker one (Jerry Jeudy). Bradberry allowed the 12th lowest passer rating when targeted among CBs a year ago, and the Giants defense has been slowly getting better. Let Sutton work his way into your lineup over the next few weeks.

Other WRs with bad match-ups: Allen Robinson (CHI) @ LAR, Mike Williams (LAC) @ WAS, and Kenny Golladay (NYG) vs DEN

TE T.J. Hockenson (DET) vs SF – Everyone seems to love Hockenson this season because, well, who the hell else is Jared Goff going to throw to in this offense? But here’s the reality of Week 1: if the Lions have no one else that can beat the SF defense, shouldn’t the 49ers just double and triple cover Hock and let a bunch of nobodies try to beat them? SF allowed the fewest receptions to TEs last year and the 5th fewest TDs. Not to mention, Jared Goff has averaged less than 200 passing yards in his last four games against the 49ers. Literally, nothing about this matchup screams “Start him.”

Other TEs with bad match-ups: Robert Tonyan (GB) @ NO and Anthony Firkser (TEN) vs ARI