The NFL is finally back, bringing with it all of the joy and frustration that keeps fantasy managers awake at night. During the first week, some questions have been answered, and many more have been raised. Usage rates will be explored and fantasy performances evaluated under the metaphorical microscope, all to optimize dynasty fantasy rosters for the remainder of the season. Let’s dive in!
Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay
Fans were hoping for fireworks on opening night and were not left disappointed. Even more important for dynasty managers was the performance of their star players. Managers with Dak Prescott can take a sigh of relief; his shoulder looked just fine as he carved up the Buccaneers’ defense for 403 passing yards and three touchdowns. Both Cooper and CeeDee Lamb caught their share of balls, and it appears as though they’ll both be able to sustain top-tier production. The big talking point coming out of this game seems to be Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys came in with a plan to avoid the run, which makes sense considering how prolific Tampa Bay’s defensive line is. That said, Elliott didn’t look wonderful on the touches he had, and his counterpart, Tony Pollard, appeared to have significantly more burst. Managers shouldn’t panic based on this one game, as Elliott still garnered 83% of the offensive snaps. He’ll continue to be the bell-cow for now, but non-contending managers might want to consider trading him away if his value rebounds after the next few weeks. On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady continues to defy every standard convention regarding football and life in general. He remains a wonderful bridge quarterback for a contending team. Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski were highlighted in this game and might be considered as strong trade-away candidates based on age and consistency. Ronald Jones followed a predictable game script given his young career, managing only a few weak runs for 14 yards before fumbling the ball away and being benched for the remainder of the game. Given his value, managers can only hold and hope that he gets another chance next week. Understand that starting him any given week is akin to juggling with dynamite; sometimes RoJo will just blow up an entire fantasy week, and often not in a good way. Leonard Fournette, despite setting one pass like a volleyball into the waiting arms of the nearest defender, put together a decent performance overall. He’ll never be the player he once was coming out of LSU, but he’s suitable for a low-end RB2 performance every other week.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans
Apparently, Houston isn’t the worst team in the NFL. For now, those rights still belong to the Jacksonville Jaguars. On the Jaguar’s side, the main takeaway for dynasty managers is that Carlos Hyde will remain relevant and looks to cut into the assumed workload of James Robinson. Additionally, Trevor Lawrence seemed to spread around the ball fairly evenly to his three primary receivers: D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr., and Marvin Jones Jr. Houston, the big surprise of the day, might be able to produce fantasy-relevant players. Brandin Cooks, whose value was trending down, may see a slight uptick in value due to his five-catch, 132-yard performance. Going into the game, the backfield in Houston was a complete question mark. Mark Ingram stole the show with 26 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. If dynasty managers can find someone willing to trade for Ingram, now would be the time. With an 18 game season and this kind of workload, Ingram may inevitably decline or deal with injuries down the stretch. Tyrod Taylor also remains a trade-away candidate to a team needing immediate quarterback help or a bye-week fill-in. If Houston begins to lose games consistently, they may turn to their rookie quarterback Davis Mills. Managers should try to lock in Taylor’s value before he goes back to the bench.
New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers
The Zach Wilson of preseason lore was no more in this game. While the stat line turned out alright, the play was less than stellar. That’s alright though, Wilson is a rookie and will have plenty of opportunities to improve. Conversely, the hype surrounding Corey Davis seems to have been accurate. Davis went off to the tune of five catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Playing from behind, the running game wasn’t a huge focus for the Jets, but it appears to be a running back-by-committee between Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, and Michael Carter. That may change as the season goes on, but managers expecting Carter to be the starter out of the gate should temper their expectations. While Carolina took home the win, it certainly wasn’t an awe-inspiring performance. Sam Darnold looked mediocre at best for most of the game, and fantasy managers may have to accept that he’s reached his ceiling. It’s early yet, and maybe he grows into his new surroundings, but the first week left much to be desired. On the plus side, Darnold’s peers in the Carolina offense looked stellar. Christian McCaffrey resumed his role as the offensive juggernaut that many fantasy owners expected him to be. The main wideouts, D.J. Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Robby Anderson claimed most of the targets and the production. Expect all three to be heavily involved in the offense moving forward.
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Washington Redskins
The biggest news stemming from this game was the significant hip injury that took Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick out of the game. While viewed as a bridge quarterback on most dynasty rosters, managers may have to look elsewhere if Fitzpatrick’s injury extends past this week. Despite the injury, Washington’s offense continued along well with Taylor Heinicke at the helm. Terry McLaurin led the offense with four catches for 62 yards and Antonio Gibson on the ground for 90 yards. Logan Thomas managed to secure a touchdown to salvage what would have otherwise been a dismal fantasy performance. If dynasty managers try to trade McLaurin based on the Fitzpatrick injury news, now would be an opportune time to get him at a value. As evidenced by one of his sideline grabs today, McLaurin has talent in spades. For the Chargers, Justin Herbert had an inconsistent day. Looking sharp in certain moments and lost in others, he managed to eventually pull out the win while compiling a decent stat line. He should remain a top dynasty quarterback asset and only improve from here. Despite a hamstring injury that initially threatened to sideline him, Austin Ekeler made it through the game while toting the ball 15 times for 57 yards and a touchdown. The big surprise in Ekeler’s game was the lack of a single catch, typically his calling card. Expect that to regress to the mean for him as the season progresses. In the air, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Jared Cook all saw significant targets and looked sharp. Given Williams’ inconsistent and injury-filled past, it was nice to see him nab eight balls for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Indianapolis Colts
Russell Wilson dominating the game should be no surprise to fantasy managers by now. Nevertheless, it’s wonderful to see him come into the season on fire after an offseason filled with trade rumors surrounding the veteran signal-caller. Wilson spread the ball around this game, with the two biggest beneficiaries being Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. While Metcalf’s value is already that of a top-5 dynasty receiver, Lockett could likely be had at a discount given his age and perceived inconsistency. Based on Sunday’s performance, expect Lockett to continue to perform at a high level when healthy. On the ground, Chris Carson dominated the carries and turned in a solid performance. Rashaad Penny, who can never seem to stay healthy, left the game with a calf injury and did not return. While this injury would seemingly open a buy window for Penny, fantasy owners would be wise to stick clear of a running back at his age with his history of injuries. For the Colts, Carson Wentz started his first game outside of an Eagles jersey and managed to look competent. His receivers couldn’t provide many opportunities, and he turned to the running backs for production consistently. As a result, Jonathan Taylor had a significant workload on the ground and through the air, reminding fantasy managers why he’s generally considered a top-5 dynasty asset at the running back position. Nyheim Hines took a fair share of work and could be used as a suitable flex most weeks with a high floor, but low ceiling. Michael Pittman, the receiver many dynasty managers expected to succeed with T.Y. Hilton on injured reserve, was only able to pull in three catches for 29 yards. Pittman is a hold with the hope that he can establish a better rapport with Wentz moving forward.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tennessee Titans
Kyler Murray was on fire out of the gate in this game. If this game is any indication, he and DeAndre Hopkins are poised for a big fantasy season together. While Christian Kirk managed to pull down two big touchdowns in this game, fantasy managers should temper expectations going forward. With Hopkins, A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, and Kirk all getting at least five targets in this game, it’s fair to think that Murray is likely to be spreading the ball around on offense. On the ground, James Conner and Chase Edmonds split the workload evenly, though Edmonds appeared to be the more effective back. That said, Edmonds doesn’t profile as a lead running back in the NFL and will continue to share the backfield, lowering his upside any given week. The Titans had far less success than the Cardinals on offense. Tannehill was stymied for most of the day through the air, salvaging his day with a late-game touchdown strike to A.J. Brown. Likewise, Derrick Henry could not get much traction in the ground game and was stopped on multiple goal-line attempts. For an offense that many fantasy managers rely on every week, this result is undoubtedly concerning. While all of these players remain a hold, managers with shares should keep a close eye on next week’s game to determine whether this week was an isolated event or a pattern.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Detroit Lions
What happened to Trey Sermon? Trey Lance was brought in for a red zone play and touchdown pass. Raheem Mostert was injured. Elijah Mitchell had a day on the ground. Brandon Aiyuk was active but didn’t record a catch. Deebo Samuel dominated. On the San Fransisco side, significant dynasty news events happened in rapid succession. While not much is known about Trey Sermon's inactive status, some speculate it’s due to him not being used on special teams. Given the Mostert injury, Sermon may be active next week. Even so, savvy dynasty managers should take this opportunity to acquire shares of Sermon on the cheap if a manager is panicking as a result. While Elijah Mitchell performed well, there’s a good chance he ends up splitting time with either Sermon or Mostert any given week, so this may be an opportune time to sell high. In the same sense as Sermon, if a dynasty manager is willing to unload Brandon Aiyuk at a discount, now is the time to buy, with his lack of usage apparently due to injury. On the flip side, this might be a great time to sell Samuel at his peak value for a more stable receiver or running back. For the Lions, Jared Goff showed that he could be a competent quarterback outside of Sean McVay’s system. Goff focused on tight end T.J. Hockenson and running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams due to the lack of stellar receivers on the depth chart. If this game is any indication, all three of these players look poised to have a big year in fantasy. Swift and Hockenson already have significant value in dynasty, but contending managers should look into trading for Jamaal Willams if his cost remains low.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Cincinnati Bengals
This was a quality game, with the Bengals clinching it in overtime via a field goal from their rookie kicker. Kirk Cousins performed admirably, throwing two touchdown strikes to Adam Thielen and distributing the ball to multiple targets. The most surprising target was second-year receiver K.J. Osborn, who came down with seven catches for 76 yards. While unlikely to be a constant figure in the box score, Osborn appears to have the third receiver role locked down for the Vikings. Dalvin Cook impressed, rushing for 61 yards and a touchdown, affirming his high-level dynasty status. For the Bengals, Joe Burrow didn’t appear hampered by the season-ending knee injury he sustained in 2020. Ja’Marr Chase had little trouble seeing the football, catching five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown and Mixon lit it up on the ground for 127 yards and a touchdown. The biggest concern on the day was when Tee Higgins was carted off, but he later returned once receiving IV fluids. In general, the Bengals' offense appeared as advertised and should provide significant production for dynasty managers throughout the season.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills
In a minor upset, the Steelers managed to knock off the Bills on their turf this Sunday. Roethlisberger had a rough game but did enough to pull out the win. Diontae Johnson, who was hurt earlier in the game, came back to make a fabulous touchdown grab in the back corner of the endzone. Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Juju Smith-Schuster were Roethlisberger’s main targets on the day, and there’s a good chance that all of them will be productive throughout the season. Najee Harris took the brunt of the workload on the ground but couldn’t get much going, only managing 45 yards on 16 carries. The Bills were similarly stifled on offense, able to manage a measly 16 points. Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Emmanuel Sanders received most of the targets but couldn’t do anything with them. Despite the rough day, Diggs should rebound over the rest of the season. The most interesting point of the Bills' outing was the inactive list. Zack Moss, who most expected to split carries with Devin Singletary, was listed as a healthy scratch before the game. Unless other news comes out, this surprise inactivity would be a significant concern for a running back who was already locked into a running back-by-committee.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons
Jalen Hurts can really play, at least against the weak Atlanta secondary. The second-year quarterback stole the show in this game, throwing for 64 yards and three touchdowns while running for 62 yards on the ground. Despite this amazing performance, dynasty managers might consider testing the trade market to determine whether an amazing value could be had based on this one performance. Hurts spread the ball around fairly evenly between Dallas Goedert, Jalen Reagor, and DeVonta Smith, with all three scoring a touchdown. Miles Sanders ran well with his touches, but rookie Kenneth Gainwell did garner more attention than many managers would have assumed going into the game. On the other side of the ball, Matt Ryan couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm outside of the first quarter. Phenom rookie tight end Kyle Pitts played a fair amount for a rookie, but this likely wasn't the performance that most fantasy managers were looking for. That said, if any fantasy manager is looking to trade away Pitts or Calvin Ridley, it would be a good time to acquire some shares as both are likely to rebound. The biggest concern is surrounding Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson, who appears to be the backup running back for the Falcons. While the performance this week was poor, both players should still maintain a decent amount of volume moving forward. Dynasty managers hurting for running back production should look to scoop Patterson off of waivers this week.
Denver Broncos vs. New York Giants
Possibly the saddest news for this slate was the carting off of wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. Early reports are that he suffered a high ankle sprain, which usually involves multiple weeks of rest and recovery. Before going out of the game, Jeudy racked up six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams split carries fairly evenly, but Gordon was able to rip off a 70-yard touchdown run to make his stat line look much better than the rest of his performance would suggest. If box-score dynasty owners see Gordon’s performance and want to buy, now would be the time to sell an aging running back asset before his value falls off a cliff. For the Giants, Saquon Barkley looked rough. Coming off an ACL tear in 2020, he only carries the ball 10 times for a measly 26 yards. Conversely, Sterling Shepard was a bright spot for the offense, reeling in seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Overall, Kenny Golladay, Shepard, and Darius Slayton seem to be the main targets in this offense moving forward. Tight end Evan Engram will likely claim a share of his own once he’s healthy enough to return to game action. Dynasty managers extremely open to risk might consider acquiring shares of Barkley with the poor performance, but with the Giants’ offensive line and his prior injury, there’s a chance he doesn’t rebound.
Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints
Aaron Rodgers pulled a disappearing act in this game. The Packers couldn’t manage a single touchdown, and Rodgers himself threw for less than 200 yards and had two interceptions. The rushing game was non-existent, and the receivers did little to help move the ball. Overall, this was a game to forget for Green Bay. Given that it’s not a scenario that’s likely to repeat, dynasty managers should consider sending offers for players like Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Aaron Jones to acquire shares on the cheap. For the Saints, Jameis Winston had a surprising stat line, throwing for five touchdowns and no interceptions! While the defense helped set the offense up for most of the production, Alvin Kamara reaffirmed his role as a top-5 fantasy running back, rushing for 83 yards on the ground and bringing in a touchdown through the air. Despite a stellar preseason, receiver Marquez Callaway was held to one catch for 14 yards. While better days are likely ahead for Callaway, he is a risky start for fantasy until he can establish consistent production.
Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots
This was a rare win for the Dolphins on the Patriots' home turf in Foxborough. Given the relatively unproven nature of both offenses at play, this game had multiple impacts on the dynasty landscape. Tua Tagovailoa, who had an up and down season in 2020, had an inconsistent game to start the 2021 season. He managed to hook up with his college teammate Jaylen Waddle for a short score and ran one in himself. That said, Tagovailoa only threw for 202 yards and had an interception as well. Running back Myles Gaskin had an average day in the air and on the ground, which should be good enough for most dynasty managers considering his relatively low cost. The Patriots, on the other hand, witnessed the debut of their rookie quarterback, Mac Jones. For his first game, Jones was impressive, dealing for 281 yards and a touchdown. Damien Harris surprisingly had almost all of the carries, touting the ball 23 times for 100 yards. Given the lackluster scoring production, fantasy managers won’t be overly impressed with the receiver stat lines, but Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, and Jonnu Smith all saw their fair share of targets. Going forward, Harris looks to be the main fantasy asset that dynasty owners will want to rely on from the New England side. For dynasty, Mac Jones should remain a hold as he grows into the position and his value continues to rise.
Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs
“Don’t call it a comeback,” though it certainly was. This game showed that the Chiefs can never be underestimated and that the Browns will be a serious contender this season. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt dominated the game on the ground for the Browns, tallying three touchdowns between them. Odell Beckham Jr. was ruled out with injury before the game, so Baker Mayfield spread the ball around to many receivers, including Jarvis Landry, Anthony Schwartz, David Njoku, and Austin Hooper. None of them stood out, though Landry did manage a rushing score to pad his stats. The Chiefs spent most of the afternoon playing catch-up and did so quite well. While not his best game, Patrick Mahomes finished with 337 yards and three touchdowns passing with another on the ground. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a modest day on the ground but did come through with three catches for 29 yards to save the day. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce remain the two receiving weapons that Mahomes relies on the most, with Hill blowing up in this game for a whopping 197 yards and one touchdown. Competing dynasty teams should aim to acquire shares of Kelce, Hill, and Mahomes whenever there is an opportunity, though there is unlikely to be one after this eye-opening performance.
Chicago Bears vs. Los Angeles Rams
Welcome to Los Angeles, Matthew Stafford. With Jared Goff off to play in Detroit, the Rams hope to have finally found their quarterback for the foreseeable future. Despite his experience in the league, Stafford has never had a high-class surrounding cast to help amplify his strengths. He was stellar in this game, focusing on Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee as his primary targets. Despite the acquisition of Sony Michel, Darrell Henderson took nearly all of the carries for the Rams, rushing for 70 yards and a score. Given the star-studded team, the Rams have put together, competing dynasty teams should look to acquire shares of Woods, Kupp, Stafford, Higbee, and Henderson, wherever a fair deal can be found. For the Bears, the story is quite different. With Andy Dalton at the helm, the bears looked unimpressive and lackluster. The ground game did manage some surprising production, with David Montgomery rushing for 108 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields did play for a short time, throwing only two passes for ten yards. That said, until a shift is made at quarterback, the Bears’ receiving weapons will find consistent production hard to come by. With an eye towards the future, savvy dynasty owners should try to acquire shares of Allen Robinson on the cheap.
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