The NFL regular season is here. After months of speculating how players will be used and which rookies will break out, we finally have some concrete information. In some cases, this should lead to big changes in how we view players going forward. But it’s important not to overreact.
PFF’s fantasy football recap focuses on player usage and stats, breaking down all the vital information you need to achieve fantasy success in 2021.
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- Adam Thielen: 10 targets, 9 rec., 92 yards, 2 TD (3-for-3 on contested targets)
- Joe Mixon: 29 attempts, 127 yards, 1 TD (8 avoided tackles), 4 targets, 4 rec., 23 yards
Make a waiver claim for Tyler Conklin: With Irv Smith Jr. out for the season, Conklin is the clear receiving tight end option for the Vikings. The Vikings traded for Chris Herndon for the Jets, but he was largely used for two-tight end sets. He only put up 41 yards on his four catches in this game but should be more involved in the offense in future weeks.
Pick up K.J. Osborn in deeper leagues: The Vikings used to stay in 12 personnel most games, but the injury to tight end forced them to use more three-receiver sets. Osborn was just as involved in the offense as the other two big-name wide receivers. He probably can’t be worth trusting as a starter at this point, but he could develop into a fantasy starter with more work.
Start Ja’Marr Chase: He was only in 15.3% of starting lineups in ESPN leagues after his four drops throughout the preseason. He led the Bengals in targets (7), receptions (5) and yards (101), including a 50-yard touchdown this week. The Bengals had an early lead, allowing Cincinnati to rely more on the run than the passing game. Chase should see double-digit targets when the Bengals need to pass more.
- Austin Ekeler: 15 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD, 0 targets (3.5 yards after contact per carry)
- Antonio Gibson: 20 carries, 90 yards (6 avoided tackles), 5 targets, 3 rec., 18 yards
Pick up Larry Rountree III in deeper leagues: The Chargers spent all of last season — as well as August this year — without a clear backup behind Austin Ekeler. The sixth-round rookie appears to have won the job after Joshua Kelley was inactive and Justin Jackson barely played. Some thought he would be the goal-line back for Los Angeles, but Ekeler took both goal-line carries. Rountree is unlikely to have much standalone value without this role but would have significant value if Ekeler has a long-term injury.
Pick up Dyami Brown in deeper leagues: The third-round rookie was an every-down starter in this game with Curtis Samuel on injured reserve. Brown was targeted just as much as Terry McLaurin but only caught one of the four passes and lost yards. Brown has at least two more weeks to prove he deserves significant playing time going forward. He doesn’t necessarily need to beat out Samuel when he’s back, as Washington could limit Adam Humphries‘ playing time instead.
Pick up Taylor Heinicke in Superflex leagues: Fitzpatrick took a blow to the back and didn’t return to the game. It’s unclear how long he might be out for, but Washington has a short week playing the Giants on Thursday Night Football. The backup quarterback could be a fantasy starter in Superflex leagues in that matchup.
Lower your expectations for the young Charger receivers: Both rookie wide receiver Josh Palmer and tight end Donald Parham were popular late-round best-ball picks, but neither was a large part of the Chargers’ offense in this game. The third-round rookie was a distant fourth on the depth chart. Parham saw significant playing time, but more often than not, it was as a blocker. The free-agent addition Jared Cook ran 29 pass routes to Parham’s 13. Neither young player should be expected to make much of an impact over the next month or two.
- Miles Sanders: 15 carries, 74 yards, (46 yards before contact), 5 targets, 4 rec., 39 receiving yards
- DeVonta Smith: 7 targets, 6 rec., 71 yards, 1 TD (3 explosive plays)
Always start Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith: The Eagles quarterback had one of the best games of the week thanks to three touchdowns in the air and 62 yards on the ground. Philadelphia’s first-round receiver was his favorite target, leading the team in targets, receptions and yards. They are on rosters in almost every league but were probably left on a lot of benches. This shouldn’t be the case going forward.
Buy low on Kyle Pitts: The No. 4 pick was hyped all offseason but had a relatively quiet start with 31 yards and no touchdowns. He saw eight targets, which is pretty impressive for a rookie tight end, and should put up better numbers with that high target share in future weeks. This is possibly the cheapest Pitts will ever be in trade talks.
Sell High on Dallas Goedert: The veteran tight end scored a touchdown, making him one of the most valuable tight ends in fantasy football this week, but he was only in for a little more than half of the pass plays. Zach Ertz was rumored to be on his way out all offseason, but he and the Eagles worked things out. The 30-year-old saw slightly more playing time when both were healthy but missed part of the third quarter with injury. The limited playing time will make him less reliable going forward.
Waiver Wire Add Kenneth Gainwell: Boston Scott appeared to be the primary backup in Philadelphia, but it was clear Gainwell has earned the No. 2 job. The rookie was mostly used in the two-minute drill and later downs. He doesn’t have much standalone value yet, but that could change as the season goes on. The Eagles were expected to use more of a committee approach at running back, which lowered Miles Sanders‘ ADP, and those expectations were met in this game.
Pick up Cordarrelle Patterson: The league’s best kick returner of all time was the clear backup running back in Atlanta with Wayne Gallman a healthy inactive. He lined up all over the field for the Falcons and led the team in rushing yards with 54 on seven carries. He has wide receiver eligibility on some fantasy sites, which could make him an attractive option for standard leagues at wide receiver.
Drop Eric Ebron: The Steelers drafted Pat Freirmuth to be the tight end of the future, but he’s already starting to take some of Ebron’s playing time. This rookie had more playing time even though the veteran ran more routes. Ebron only ran a route on 17 of 38 pass plays. That won’t be enough for him to ever be in fantasy lineups, and that could even decrease as the season progresses.
Don’t overreact to Devin Singletary: Zack Moss was a healthy inactive, giving the full running back job to Singletary. The surprises continued as the Bills went with five wide receivers for the entire first drive, with Isaiah McKenzie lining up in the backfield for two of the three plays. Singletary aggravated his shoulder injury and missed a lot of the game. He was able to return, but it’s possible the game plan was for McKenzie to see more of those snaps. Singletary can be added off the waiver wire in leagues where he’s available, but he should only be started with caution.
Buy low on Najee Harris: The rookie’s stat line was unimpressive with under 50 yards and a touchdown, but he played every offensive snap against a good Bills defense. It’s very rare for any running back to see 100% of snaps, and Harris did it in his first game. It’s unlikely whoever drafted Harris will be too discouraged from this game, but it can’t hurt to try getting him now.
Don’t pick up Gabriel Davis: The second-year receiver was a clear fourth player on Buffalo’s depth chart both in terms of playing time and targets. The three starters had at least eight each, while Davis only had five. He was the one to score the touchdown today, but in other weeks it will be the other Bills receivers far outplaying Davis. The other Bills receivers could all be considered buy-low options this week.
- Tyler Lockett: 5 targets, 4 rec., 100 yards, 2 TD (24.0 aDOT)
- Jonathan Taylor: 17 carries, 56 yards, (6 avoided tackles) 7 targets, 6 rec., 60 receiving yards
Start Nyheim Hines in the flex spot: Indianapolis relied heavily on both backs in both the run and pass game. There was concern Carson Wentz wouldn’t target the running backs as much as Philip Rivers did, but Hines (8) and Taylor (7) finished first and second on the team in targets. There was also concern with Marlon Mack being healthy, but the veteran didn’t see any offensive snaps. The sophomore back will still see the majority of the carries, but Hines should still see enough touches to be a solid flex option most weeks.
Add Zach Pascal off the waiver wire: It was clear that Pascal was the Colts starting wide receiver throughout the preseason despite Parris Campbell’s return from injury. He led the Indianapolis wide receivers and tight ends in targets, leading to two touchdowns. He probably can’t be trusted in starting fantasy lineups yet, but there is a chance he becomes Wentz’ favorite target at wide receiver.
Monitor the Seahawks backup RB situation: Rashard Penny and Alex Collins battled for the backup job in the preseason. Penny won, leading to Collins being inactive, but he also left the game with a left calf injury and didn’t return. The veteran Seahawk has dealt with the injury all week, so he likely re-aggravated it. Seahawks starter Chris Carson has a history with injuries, so the primary backup in Seattle will likely have value as a fantasy starter at some point this season.
Don’t pick up Gerald Everett: The free agent addition might seem like a good add after scoring a touchdown, but he will be inconsistent from one week to another. The Seahawks used him and Will Dissly interchangeably throughout the game. Seattle has a history in recent seasons of using multiple players at tight end, and this year appears to be no different.
Don’t overreact to Christian Kirk’s stat line: The Cardinals wide receiver put up some big numbers but is the clear third receiver on the depth chart and could fall to fourth. Ronalde Moore saw most of his snaps come in four-wide receiver sets but also looked very good in his opportunities. The veteran might have some short-term value, but Kirk could also lose more of his snaps in 11 personnel as the season progresses.
The Cardinals back are who we thought they were: Arizona used their running backs as many anticipated this offseason. Both Chase Edmonds and James Conner saw significant carries. Edmonds was the clear receiving back, while Conner saw more playing time as Arizona got closer to scoring. Both backs will be flex options all season, as expected.
Don’t add Anthony Firkser: The popular sleeper led the Titans’ tight ends in snaps, but that’s not likely to continue. Tommy Hudson played significantly in 11 and 12 personnel on early downs in the preseason — he missed the game with a toe injury. The Titans fell behind early, which kept them in 11 personnel and passing most of the game. Tennessee only played six snaps in 12 or 21 personnel, and Firkser wasn’t in for any of those plays. The Titans will likely run those a lot more in future weeks, and Firkser will also see less time in 11 personnel once Hudson is healthy.
Buy low on the Titans offense: No one in the offense put up the fantasy numbers expected, but this seemed to be an off week for the Titans. They should improve in future weeks.
- Corey Davis: 7 targets, 5 rec., 97 yards, 2 TD (17.1 aDOT)
- Christian McCaffrey: 21 carries, 98 yards, 9 targets, 8 rec., 89 yards (4 total explosive plays)
Always start Corey Davis: The free-agent addition dominated the preseason, seeing targets on 10 of 13 pass routes. His target share wasn’t quite as high in Week 1, but he remained very effective despite the Jets’ offense starting slow. He should be viewed as an every-week fantasy starter.
Monitor the Panthers receivers: Terrace Marshall Jr. was clearly third on the Panthers depth chart, but he had twice as many targets and three times as many catches as veteran Robby Anderson. The rookie isn’t getting enough playing time now to be put in fantasy starting lineups, but if he’s seeing this many targets in Week 1, he should have plenty of opportunities to show he deserves more snaps.
Drop Tevin Coleman: The Jets used the top three running backs on their depth chart significantly in this game. The veteran was the clear option to run with the ball, but all three had carries. We can expect fourth-round rookie Michael Carter to see more playing time as the season goes on. With a three-man rotation in New York, Coleman can’t be a fantasy starter. Similarly, Carter being this involved in Week 1 is bad news for Ty Johnson. Carter should get picked up in leagues where he is available.
Buy low on Elijah Moore: The Jets didn’t have two of their top four wide receivers, but it was still promising for Moore to play nearly every offensive snap despite other veteran options on the roster. His only catch went for three yards, but he should be more involved with the Jets’ offense as the season progresses.
Make it a priority to add Carlos Hyde: The Jaguars made it pretty clear they would be a passing team in the preseason, and that remained true in Week 1. They didn’t give much indication of how they would use their running backs, but it appears Robinson is their receiving back and Hyde is their rushing back.
Robinson received both offensive snaps near the goal line, but they were both pass plays. The big question will be who gets to run it in when Jacksonville tries to run in a score. If the answer is Hyde, then he could have some flex value.
Add James O’Shaughnessy: The Jaguars tight end ran a route on 44 of the team’s 56 pass plays. It’s unlikely Jacksonville reaches over 50 pass attempts too often, but it’s clear O’Shaughnessy will be a popular target. He caught six of eight passes for 48 yards in this game. His backup caught a touchdown, but he should be the one to find the endzone in future weeks. If he can keep up that playing time and target share, he is a borderline starting fantasy tight end.
Start Brandin Cooks every week: The veteran receiver has played for many teams in his career with many quarterbacks, and he has produced in every situation. He was started in only 31.3% of Yahoo leagues this week, and now plenty of fantasy managers regret having him on the bench. While the matchup was favorable for him this week, he will be able to make up for future difficult matchups with more volume.
Don’t overreact to Mark Ingram II’s stats: The Texans gave Ingram the ball 26 times, and he ran for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Texans could only do this because they had a big lead early in the game, which is unlikely to happen very often down the road. They also took advantage of one of the weaker run defenses in the NFL. All four starters for Houston saw double-digit snaps, and it will be even closer to each back seeing 25% of snaps in the future.
- Deebo Samuel: 12 targets, 9 rec., 189 yards, 1 TD (48.0% target share)
- T.J. Hockenson: 10 targets, 8 rec., 97 yards, 1 TD (7 first downs)
Don’t start Brandon Aiyuk: The 49ers’ second preseason game was surprising because Trent Sherfield rotated in with Aiyuk alongside the starters. Those eyebrow raises turned into red flags as Sherfield started the game and took most of Aiyuk’s playing time. There is no denying how well the free-agent addition has played over the past month.
Aiyuk could regain his starting job at some point this season, but it might be on a rotational basis. It’s worth noting that Mohamed Sanu seems to have a clear hold on the slot role, so it’s unlikely both receivers would be on the field at the same time without Deebo Samuel losing playing time.
Aiyuk is not a buy-low candidate because he might never be a clear starter this season. If anything, he should be traded if someone is willing to pay for him. Similarly, Sherfield probably shouldn’t be a waiver wire target since he will at best be competing for playing time.
Add Elijah Mitchell: Rookie Trey Sermon was inactive today because the 49ers didn’t view him as a top-three back on the team. Raheem Mostert started the game but left after four snaps with a knee injury and didn’t return. Mitchell took over and had a great game against the Lions’ defense, seeing 19 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Assuming Mostert misses more time, Mitchell might be the most popular waiver wire target of the week. Sermon could be cut in small leagues with light benches, but he also could be worth holding onto if a roster spot is available.
Pick up Tyrell Williams: The free-agent addition took a helmet-to-helmet hit that cost him half of the game, but he was the clear top wide receiver for the team prior to the injury. He ran a pass route on all 23 of the Lions’ first-half pass plays. No other wide receiver had more than 14 in that time. A number of other receivers ran a lot of second-half routes, which gave them some decent numbers, but Williams will be the player to have for the long term.
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