Although I’ve added a Fade Column to my weekly schedule for the 2021 NFL Fantasy Season, I know this piece might not be popular with all fantasy managers. After all, it’s no fun to read tempered predictions (or bad news) tied to your favorite players.
That established, the goal of any fantasy season is to make as many good decisions as possible, hoping that the accumulation of good decisions will get you where you need to go. I am not saying everyone listed in this article needs to be automatically benched on your roster — your team depth and context will determine how you play that. Perhaps you’ll use this column more for a DFS slant, or even as a part of your weekly handicapping process.
Like anything else, I advise you to consider any reasonable argument you come across, but ultimately make your own measured decision.
And with that preamble established, here are your Week 1 Fades. Queue up the Mazzy Star, and away we go.
Allen Robinson, WR, Bears (at Rams)
DFS salary: $17 in single-game contests
Normally when we talk about Robinson, we comment on his history of being tied to spotty quarterbacks — and his tendency to generally overcome the poor surroundings anyway. This year, Robinson might eventually have an exciting quarterback to work with, if rookie Justin Fields lives up to the hype.
Alas, Andy Dalton is expected to play Sunday night at Los Angeles, and he’s not stepping into an ideal setup, either. The Bears have a substandard offensive line (perhaps the worst in the conference), and are up against a challenging defense anchored by two stars — defensive lineman Aaron Donald, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Figure on Donald crashing the Chicago pocket regularly, and Ramsey seeing a healthy dose of Robinson — unless the Rams prefer to bracket Robinson and stick Ramsey on an island elsewhere. Neither scenario sets up well for Chicago’s most reliable offensive player. Robinson had a 4-70-0 line in last year’s meeting, and even a repeat of that score looks like wishful thinking given the current context. Better days are ahead, but it’s going to be a rough takeoff. (Fearless Forecast: 4 catches, 56 yards, 0 touchdowns.)
Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders (vs. Ravens)
DFS salary: $24 in single-game contests
When you pick any primary running back for fantasy purposes, you’re investing in the entire offense and team infrastructure. You’re trying to tell yourself a story about that team’s motives and offensive design, and its likely final record. Unfortunately, the setup Jacobs needs to be a fantasy positive is in direct conflict with what the Raiders face entering 2021.
Jacobs has played 28 games thus far in his Raiders career, and here’s how his production breaks down, wins vs. losses:
• Jacobs in 13 wins: 95.6 rushing yards per game, 16.7 receiving yards per game, 17 touchdowns
• Jacobs in 15 losses: 64.8 rushing yards per game, 12.5 receiving yards per game, 2 touchdowns
The Raiders are projected to go 7-10 this year (and I have them doing worse than that). They’re underdogs to the Ravens this week. Kenyan Drake is around to siphon some touches, and the offense line is below league average. Jacobs wasn’t a proactive pick for me during draft season, and I won’t be DFSing him or recommending him for Week 1. (FF: 76 yards from scrimmage, one reception, 0 touchdowns.)
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Lions (vs. 49ers)
DFS salary: $15
When Hockenson and teammate D’Andre Swift are up for discussion, it’s a case of loving the player but hating the situation. Swift was dinged up all summer and has to share with Jamaal Williams, and the Lions will struggle for favorable game script. Good luck there.
Hockenson’s challenge is tied to his passing-game teammates. The shift from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff is an obvious drop, no eureka moment there. But Hockenson will also suffer from the weakness of Detroit’s receiver room; it’s likely the worst receiver group in the NFL. With that, most opponents will get off the bus with Hockenson identified as the man to mark, the man to eliminate. And does Goff strike you as someone who thrives when it comes to making throws into well-covered windows?
To push this more into a Week 1 fade, consider the opponent. The 49ers allowed the least amount of tight end production last year, and while that’s not a perfect stat (you have to consider schedule strength and other more nebulous factors), the overall unit is one I have confidence in. Hockenson’s Year 3 breakout chances are likely to be held back by his teammates. (FF, which is lower than my initial video projection: 3 catches, 41 yards, 0 touchdowns.)
Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers (at WFT)
DFS salary: $30
This one particularly stings, as Herbert is one of my most commonly rostered players of the season. I fell in love with him last year, as most observers did, and the Chargers upgraded two monumental problem areas — the offense line, and the coaching staff. I’m bullish on the LAC upside for 2021.
But Washington’s defense ranked third in DVOA last year, and figure to be in that neighborhood again this year, considering the talent here and the age of the primary talent. And it’s possible the Chargers could be without featured back Austin Ekeler (hamstring, no Wednesday practice), or at least dealing with a compromised Ekeler. Add in the fact that it’s a road game and an early body-clock game for the Chargers, and I have to come in under expectations for Herbert and the offense. (FF: 261 passing yards, 11 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception.)
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (vs. Denver)
DFS salary: $27
This one almost feels too easy. Barkley did little in summer camp — he is, after all, coming back from a torn ACL and MCL — and isn’t even a sure thing to play in Week 1. But even if Barkley does dress, and I suspect he will, consider all the other uphill elements. The Giants offense line is still a major problem. Daniel Jones is a shaky, mistake-prone quarterback. OC Jason Garrett is not considered an asset. Even the presumed new No. 1 receiver — Kenny Golladay — is coming off an injury-marred summer, limiting his reps with Jones and the offense.
Even if we made the assumption that Barkley is close to 100 percent — and that seems like wish casting — there’s not a ton of help here. And Denver's defense projects to be a Top 5 unit against the run.
Some fantasy managers might have fallen into a backfield situation where Barkley is not essential for Week 1. Perhaps you drafted a James Robinson type before a teammate injury pushed his value up. In fantasy, we chase numbers, we don’t necessarily chase names. Be careful with Barkley until he has a prove-it game in 2021. (FF: 74 total yards, three receptions, 0 touchdowns.)
Other Week 1 Fade Candidates
Dolphins passing game, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, Dallas Goedert, D'Andre Swift, Mecole Hardman, Ryan Tannehill.