Fantasy Football Value Plays: Week 1 Loves & Hates
At long last—what many might view as the best time of the calendar year, NFL action is back this week, beginning with the Dallas Cowboys offensive juggernaut facing the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The first of many classics with huge fantasy football implications. You’ve drafted your teams already but your real work for the season hasn’t even seen its humble beginnings yet. I’m back with a series I started last year but this time, we’re rolling in Week 1. Welcome back to my Fantasy Football Weekly Loves & Hates, picking it up from last year’s Week 16.
In this series, I’m here to help you with identifying the best and worst value plays at each skill position for fantasy football purposes. We’ll take into account matchups, game scripts, statistics that might be advertised scarcely, and any other player notes that can help you make the best decisions in your format. This won’t be your spot for trying to rank the top players at each position or suggesting deep waiver wire digs every week. Rather, whether you are playing DFS or season-long formats, your start/bench/cut decisions can be informed based on the players that stand out the most at each position—the ones that could go off (loves) and the ones that could disappoint and lose you a matchup (hates).
Last year, since I picked up this series as a Fantrax writer, we fared decently but over the past several months, we’ve been focused on growth, learning new ways to get an edge, and improving to make winning even more of a habit.
Here's my self-report for the 2020 season. 👇
Looking to keep learning & be better next year. 🤞 pic.twitter.com/5o0uXFPlVt
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 29, 2020
With that, let’s kick off Week 1 of Loves & Hates. There is clearly no prior week to grade in this piece, so we will dive into the upcoming slate and the highlight players at each position for Kickoff Week.
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Week 1 Value Plays (and not)
Love: Kirk Cousins (MIN)
The Vikings will arguably be one of the most interesting offenses to watch for fantasy football purposes in 2021. Their 7-9 finish in 2020, although detrimental for their fans, was highly correlated with the production they got out of their offense, with or without their superstar-talent running back Dalvin Cook on the field. In fact, on the season, Kirk Cousins was tied for the most fourth-quarter passing touchdowns in the regular season (13) as he spread the ball primarily between breakout rookie Justin Jefferson and veteran athletic monster Adam Thielen.
What’s even more telling for Cousins’ sleeper potential, especially this week, is that he stepped up against the poor quarterback fantasy defenses. In nine games against bottom 15 quarterback fantasy defenses in 2020, he averaged 295 passing yards, 2.8 touchdowns, and 0.8 interceptions per game.
2020 Kirk Cousins FPTS vs below-median (bottom 15) fantasy defenses vs. QBs ⬇️
W3 vs TEN: 14.44
W4 vs HOU: 12.9
W5 vs SEA: 10.16
W6 vs ATL: 18.72
W9 vs DET: 14.8
W11 vs DAL: 17.46
W12 vs CAR: 20.68
W13 vs JAX: 15.9
W17 vs DET: 29.3
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) September 7, 2021
This week, he faces a mediocre secondary that is further depleted; the Bengals ranked thirteenth as a fantasy defensive against quarterbacks in 2020 and on Sunday, they will be starting Eli Apple at cornerback over the injured Trae Waynes. In what should be a hard-fought offensive-minded game between two potent offenses, expect Cousins to be flinging until the final minutes and take over as one of the best options at quarterback despite being undrafted in many redraft leagues.
Hate: Derek Carr (LV)
On Monday Night Football, the Ravens will look to begin the season with a statement against one of the NFL’s most pleasant surprises on offense in 2020. Derek Carr and the Raiders still have a formidable offensive unit in 2021; however, losing their best deep threat in Nelson Agholor may cause a big hit to the offensive scheme unless Henry Ruggs III breaks out in a big way to prove us wrong about an elite Ravens secondary.
The Raiders’ best offensive weapon remains the star tight end Darren Waller. In 2020, the Ravens were a middle-tier defense against tight ends in the passing game but they can do the job against everybody else. To add to the narrative, the Ravens ranked as a top 10 rushing defense by expected points contributed in 2020 so the Drake-Jacobs backfield isn’t expected to be a force pushing Las Vegas’ offense.
Carr is coming off a season where he ranked 11th in the NFL in intended air yards while the Ravens were consistently one the best teams in the NFL in restricting the huge plays; they ranked as the #4 defense in fewest net yards per pass attempt. Don’t expect Derek Carr to move the offense efficiently or be a trustworthy start if you need a decent performance to win your matchup on Monday Night Football.
Love: James Robinson (JAX)
The Houston Texans are downright horrendous. They are probably the biggest negative headline in the sport right now and their league-worst -58.2 expected points contributed by their rushing defense should come in handy to help #1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence get settled into the NFL. Whether it be via consistent productive handoffs or a little bit in the receiving game, James Robinson can take over this game since the Jaguars don’t need an explosive passing performance out of Lawrence and his wide receiver crew to win this game.
With his high-percentile burst score, agility score, and bench press, Robinson has the athletic ability to trounce all over the Texans and be a top 5 running back in fantasy formats in Week 1.
Hate: D’Andre Swift (DET)
One of the headliners of the offseason was the blockbuster trade that downgraded the quarterback position for Detroit from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff. While Goff is still a capable thrower of the football when healthy, the opportunity for Swift combined with the lack of ability for the Lions to rely on the run game in Week 1 makes him a risky play even though some of you may have spent a hefty price on draft night on the Georgia product.
Swift clearly does not lack in talent as he averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2020. The volume, however? Sometimes just at around 5 carries and sometimes way up at 15? Couple that with his consistent lack of more than about 4 receptions in a game and you have yourself a low-floor fantasy producer even in PPR formats. It doesn’t help that he is facing the formidable 49ers defense that ranked top 10 as a rushing defense in 2020 and are now much healthier to begin 2021.
Without touchdowns, Swift will likely hurt some fantasy owners and with the Lions possibly playing most of the game from behind, expect the touches to be skewed towards tight end T.J. Hockensen, veteran wide receiver Tyrell Williams, and rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, especially in the red zone where fantasy matchups are often won.
Love: Keenan Allen (LAC)
In most formats, by most fantasy platforms, Keenan Allen is currently being projected outside of the top 10 among wide receivers in Week 1. This is just disrespectful. Allen is the clear #1 option on an offense that not just added a generational talent on the offensive line in Rashawn Slater but also moved on from head coach Anthony Lynn who held them back as a team in 2020. Last season, Allen ranked fifth in targets among wide receivers (147), fifth in receptions among wide receivers (100), and tied for twelfth in touchdowns caught by wide receivers (8).
Now, he gets a fine-tuned Justin Herbert along with the other benefits of the past offseason and in Week 1, the Chargers may rely on him even more than an expected amount. Not only is their franchise running back Austin Ekeler in danger of not being 100% for Week 1 but fellow deep threat wide receiver Mike Williams sees a tough matchup for his skillset; in 2020, the Washington Football Team ranked second among NFL defenses in net yards per attempt, making it difficult for Williams to hog some of the volume from Allen.
RB Austin Ekeler was not practicing during the open period. He was working off to the side with trainers. #Chargers
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) September 8, 2021
Hate: Tyreek Hill (KC)
Hear me out on this one. If you are in a redraft league, you likely spent an early-round pick building your team around Tyreek Hill. This is a caution and also a real shun against Hill in DFS formats where you’ll have to pay a hefty price for someone who can disappoint in the spotlight of Week 1.
The Browns, already really good in 2020, spent an offseason addressing their needs by acquiring defensive assets. They drafted Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at linebacker and Greg Newsome II at cornerback. They paired up their superstar pass rusher Myles Garrett with former #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. They also added defensive tackle Malik Jackson, cornerback Troy Hill, and safety John Johnson III. All that while already being a middle-of-the-pack defense against explosive plays already in 2020.
Indeed, Cleveland’s improved elite-upside roster will be put to the test immediately against the NFL’s best offense in the Kansas City Chiefs, looking for revenge from a close playoff fight last season. But the former MVP Patrick Mahomes might have to look in other directions in Week 1 — the premium tight end Travis Kelce, the support cast wide receivers like Mecole Hardman, etc. In the playoff matchup between these two teams in the AFC Divisional Round, Hill did haul in 8 catches for 110 yards (no touchdowns) but these ain’t the same Browns—they’re way better and more prepared. In 2020, Hill finished as the #2 PPR wide receiver but did have three games with no touchdowns and seven games with fewer than seven targets. Expect a similar game from the speedster in Week 1.
Love: Jordan Akins (HOU)
Talk about a deep sleeper? In most leagues, this man isn’t even owned. You probably never even had this guy on a cheat sheet of players to even consider drafting unless you are in a tight-end premium league. This is where you steal matchups when you’re in desperation mode at tight end. This is where you stay ahead of the waiver wire game.
With wide receiver Keke Coutee, tight end Darren Fells, and tight end Kahale Warring all released, why not Jordan Akins to get some fantasy-relevant volume in 2021? Don’t sit around and wait until your league-mates notice. Get him while the matchup stove is hot. In 2020, the Jaguars allowed the third-most fantasy points and second-most touchdowns to tight ends. With the Texans likely playing behind for a good chunk of the game, I’m expecting Akins to be one of the primary targets if the Texans ever have a red-zone opportunity—I’m calling my shot, he’s scoring a touchdown. Thank me later when others want him on the waiver wire for Week 2 but you have him already.
Hate: Mike Gesicki (MIA)
The Dolphins were one of the most intriguing teams to watch evolve in 2020, one of the reasons being the fantasy-relevant breakout of tight end Mike Gesicki. Although very touchdown-dependent, Gesicki finished the season as the #7 tight end in PPR scoring. One of his dud games, however, did come in Week 1 against the Patriots in New England when he caught 3 of his 5 targets for a total of 30 yards and no touchdowns. The Patriots matchup was a formidable one for tight ends last season anyway, as they ranked in the top 10 at restricting receptions to tight ends and explosive pass plays. Additionally, they only allowed three receiving touchdowns to tight ends all season; no team allowed fewer.
New England’s defense doesn’t get much easier to handle; despite losing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to injury to start the season, they are getting others on defense healthy and back from COVID opt-outs, headlined by linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s return to the team. Fade Gesicki in what could be a very revealing wild card week for tight ends in the NFL.
If you liked Ahaan’s Week 1 Loves & Hates, be sure to check out the rest of our Week 1 Rankings and Analysis!
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