Week 1 was action-packed, unpredictable, and everything we love about football. There will be some victory lapping their preseason takes and others in utter despair. Regardless of what side you fall on, it was one hell of a start to kick the year off.
With that being said, here are a few takeaways from Week 1.
Jalen Hurts from worst to first
Not to be mistaken with the Eagles' QB2, Joe Flacco, Jalen Hurts is the new elite fantasy QB sensation.
There was speculation during the offseason as to whether Hurts was the right man for the job based on his 2020 performance. The biggest critique of Hurts was his accuracy. He only had a 51.2% completion rate in his four-game sample size.
Essentially, he couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean. However, Hurts was able to silence his naysayers in Week 1.
Hurts had a career-high 77% completion percentage while throwing for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns, tying a career-high. Additionally, he ran for 62 yards, boosting his output on the day. He finished as the QB6 on the week with 28.8 fantasy points.
His dual-threat ability gives him weekly top-12 upside. For example, from Weeks 14-17 last year, he was the QB7 in fantasy while averaging 229.9 passing yards and 68 rushing yards a game. Based on what we have seen in his first five games in the NFL, Hurts provides a consistent rushing baseline to complement his passing numbers. Even against tougher future matchups, Hurts’ ability to use his legs will give him a solid floor week to week.
For these reasons, Hurts should be considered a locked-in QB1 for Week 2 when he faces the San Francisco 49ers — the same team that just gave up 338 passing yards against the Detroit Lions of all teams.
Deebo Samuel “ Deebo’D” the competition
One member of the infamous “YAC Bros” outshined the rest.
Not George Kittle. Not Brandon Aiyuk. Deebo Samuel was the target leader for the 49ers’ offense on Sunday. Samuel posted 9 receptions on 12 targets for 189 yards and 1 touchdown. He set a career-high in receiving yards along with the second-highest reception and target totals of his career. Samuel ran 25 routes and saw an enormous 48% target share. He finished as the WR3 on the week, which was the second-highest fantasy finish of his career.
Still, even with all this, we were left with more questions than answers regarding San Francisco’s offense.
49ers beat: Aiyuk 'still learning how to be a pro' https://t.co/Uo8PlnsTBN
— NBC Sports EDGE Football (@NBCSEdgeFB) September 13, 2021
Brandon Aiyuk, who was widely considered as the WR1 on the team, surprisingly did not receive a single target. Even though Aiyuk was not listed on the final injury report, he was dealing with a hamstring injury during the pre-season, which may explain his lack of involvement.
There were also recent reports about Aiyuk being outplayed by Trent Sherfield in camp. If that's truly the case, Aiyuk has an uphill battle to reclaim WR1 status in San Francisco. “Survival of the fittest” also plays a significant factor in this equation when it comes to 49ers receivers.
“Availability is the best ability.” Samuel has missed significant time in his NFL career due to injury, yet when healthy, he is highly involved in the offense. In his five healthy games in 2020, he averaged an 83% snap share and over 8 targets per game. We can’t predict injuries, but Samuel is a primary target in the offense when on the field, which makes him more than just a one-week wonder.
Samuel is a solid start in Week 2 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles based on projected volume and opportunity.
Najee Harris embarrassed
Harris had a “Welcome to the NFL” experience in Week 1. The offseason hype wasn’t strong enough to will Harris into a fantasy-relevant performance.
Despite the Steelers’ Week 1 win, Harris' highly anticipated NFL debut was a letdown. He had 16 rushing attempts for 45 yards and one reception on three targets. Harris only averaged 2.8 yards per carry and finished as the RB45.
The good news is that he cornered all of the backfield opportunities. The below breakdown of those opportunities reflects a moral victory that may help Harris managers sleep at night:
Najee Harris: 76.2% of the team's rushes, 100% of the team's running back rushes, 9.4% target share. Good peripherals, at least.
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) September 12, 2021
Week 1 highlighted that Harris’ talent alone will not garner consistent RB1 production as many fantasy players might have hoped. According to PFF, the Steelers’ offensive line ranked 31st in run-blocking in 2020, which played a part in Harris’ poor performance as their rushing attack was dead last in success rate. But his overall volume should trump our concerns:
Najee Harris played all 55 of the Steelers offensive snaps today. You don't see that often. (per @NextGenStats)
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 12, 2021
That massive workload is encouraging for future matchups. In a down-to-the-wire brawl, the Steelers trusted the rookie despite his lack of production throughout the game. Assuming this trend will continue, Harris should still be considered an RB2 in his Week 2 matchup. The Steelers face the Las Vegas Raiders, who are coming off a victory where their defense gave up 189 rushing yards to the Baltimore Ravens.
Beware of James Robinson
“Who is this year's James Robinson?” This was a popular question during the offseason that remains unanswered.
Unfortunately, the answer doesn’t seem to be, “James Robinson is this year's James Robinson.”
After Travis Etienne was placed on IR, Robinson was considered a solid RB1 start among experts. In 2020, regardless of game script, Robinson was heavily involved in the running and passing game and finished as RB7 in points per game.
However, the 2021 James Robinson may not be the version many fantasy players were expecting. The rushing-share stats below sum up the story of his surprising usage:
James Robinson saw 35.7% of his team's running back rushes today. Last year, his lowest single-game running back rush share was 84.6%.
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) September 12, 2021
Is it possible Urban Meyer didn’t watch any of Robinson's games last year? In Week 1, Robinson was an afterthought throughout their stunning loss against the Houston Texans. He only had 5 rushing attempts for 25 yards and 3 receptions on 6 targets for 29 yards. His poor outing landed him as RB37 on the week. But it’s not like his competition did much better.
Even though it feels like he has been in the league for 20 years, the 30-year-old Carlos Hyde has found yet another way to steal touches from a more talented (and preferred) fantasy asset. Hyde out-touched Robinson (11 to 8) with 9 rushing attempts for 44 yards and 2 receptions on 2 targets.
Maybe the Ohio State connection between Hyde and Meyer is stronger than we originally thought.
This split does cause some concern for Robinson’s future workload and makes him much riskier to trust week to week. The unpredictability of the Jaguars' running back usage should make fantasy managers wary going forward. Robinson should be considered a risky flex play in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos, who just shut Saquon Barkley down.