Welcome to Week 2 of the 2021 fantasy football season. The Las Vegas Raiders’ upset of the Baltimore Ravens in overtime on Monday Night Football capped a historic opening week in the NFL, as 12 underdogs covered the spread. Nine underdogs pulled outright upsets. Eye-popping fantasy performances were few and far between, though a couple of players put up surprising numbers that are sure to make their fantasy managers happy.
A word of advice – don’t overreact after one week of games. Your opinions of your players shouldn’t change dramatically after months of research, although there’s value in being able to identify where your preseason expectations were just flat out wrong and knowing how to react to that. I want to help you make the right moves and not make the wrong moves. Dropping or trading away a Top-10 running back because he had one bad game is the wrong move.
Let’s start with a recap of Week 1 events that impact the season. The first significant event occurred hours before the defending Tampa Bay Bucs hosted the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night. Baltimore lost Gus Edwards for the season with an ACL tear. This was another big blow for a backfield that had already lost J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending injury. Unfortunately for me, I had selected Edwards in the fourth round of my home league draft three days earlier.
As soon as I was able to move Edwards to my IR roster spot, I added undrafted free agent Ty’Son Williams, assuming he would be next in line and would start for the Ravens Monday night against the Raiders. I left him on my bench, deciding to take a “wait-and-see” approach. I moved San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert into the flex spot in my starting lineup. This was the right move since my tarot cards didn’t disclose that he would be injured after just two carries.
But back to Williams. Watching the game on Monday night, I thought I had hit the jackpot. The explosive Williams was clearly the No. 1 back in the first half, dominating touches. At one point, he busted through the line for a 35-yard touchdown. What the Ravens did in the second half defied logic. They turned to Latavius Murray, who ended up out-carrying Williams 10-9. Murray looked anything but impressive, gaining only 28 yards (2.8 yards per carry) and not being targeted at all.
I was sure Murray, who had just been signed after being released by New Orleans, would need more than two days to get up to speed and see any action. Williams still ended up with 65 yards on 9 carries. With his touchdown and three receptions for 29 yards, he scored 18.4 fantasy points. Of course, I’d take that production every day and twice on Sunday, but the time-sharing situation is concerning. In addition to Murray, the Ravens have also added Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman to their roster.
My recommendation is to add Williams if he’s still available in your league. Since he was rostered in 82.7% of ESPN leagues and 79% of Yahoo leagues before waivers ran late Tuesday, he probably isn’t available. My hope is that Williams has earned (or will earn) a bigger snap share with the Ravens. Murray, Bell and Freeman are all past their prime, but the powers that be in Baltimore have to come to that conclusion for him to be fantasy relevant. In the meantime, he stays on my bench.
I previously mentioned what was perhaps the biggest injury in Week 1. It occurred in Detroit when Mostert hurt his knee and was placed on the IR. The injury to Mostert happened after rookie Trey Sermon was listed as a healthy scratch before the game against the Lions. That was a surprise to the fantasy community, but 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan told us after the fact that another rookie, Elijah Mitchell, and JaMycal Hasty, had outperformed Sermon in training camp.
Mitchell’s late-round draft status and lack of production in preseason games had kept a veil over the former Louisiana-Lafayette running back. With Sermon inactive and Mostert out with a knee injury, the expectation was that Hasty, a second-year undrafted free agent, would have gotten the lion’s share of the workload after he earned most of the preseason work while Mitchell played only in the finale because of a hip injury. Hasty had only one reception and one carry in this game.
Opportunity knocked for Mitchell, and he swung the door wide open, posting 104 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Mitchell was the No. 1 waiver wire target this past week. I put in a claim for him in my home league, offering $16 of FAB but was outbid. I did add him for free on one of my ESPN teams. The reason I didn’t get more excited was the potential for a committee in San Francisco and the fact that Mitchell wasn’t targeted once on Sunday. I play in a PPR league.
I’m not saying that a committee dooms the fantasy chances of a running back. Even if Sermon and Hasty are involved, keep in mind that Shanahan wants to run the ball, and the 49ers were No. 6 in rushing attempts last season among just their running backs. San Francisco got 24.8 carries a game from its running backs in 2020. A run-heavy offense can provide enough fantasy points for two running backs to survive and even thrive. Consider Cleveland, with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Still, I don’t share the sentiment that Mitchell has massive upside. I would think he’ll start in Week 2 at Philadelphia and get the majority of carries against the Eagles, but I expect Sermon and Hasty to also get work. In the short-term, Mitchell looks like a borderline starting fantasy option in all leagues, with his value slightly higher in non-PPR formats. I am starting him as my RB2 on that ESPN team because I don’t have a better option. I benched Saquon Barkley because of workload concerns.
Here are other hot running back targets on the waiver wire that had been rostered below 50 percent:
MARK INGRAM II (22% at Yahoo, 13.3% at ESPN)
It was a surprising development to see Ingram get 26 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown in Houston’s 37-21 win over hapless Jacksonville. He was targeted only once, though, and had zero receptions. The fact that he appears to be a lead back on a run-first team made him the second-highest player added at Yahoo this week. He was my backup option when I put in a claim for Mitchell, and I was able to get him on claim for $1. That’s about what I think he’s worth, but I needed an RB.
TONY JONES (11% at Yahoo and 8.5 at ESPN)
Jones came on the fantasy radar when he took Latavius Murray’s job away from him in New Orleans. He saw a dozen touches on Sunday and accumulated 50 rushing yards. He looked good in relief of Alvin Kamara, but it will be hard to start him any given week unless we get an injury to Kamara. Like Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard, Jones is a great stash because he has massive upside if the guy ahead of him is injured. But he lacks stand-alone value.
ME AND JULIO DOWN BY THE FOOLYARD
I made the call on Friday, deciding to start Mostert instead of Julio Jones at flex on my home league team. I just had a feeling that Jones wouldn’t do much in spite of lofty projections for him to score 15 plus fantasy points. In the end, Jones had only three receptions for 29 yards on six targets against Arizona on Sunday. I took Jones in my home league draft because he had fallen into the seventh round and represented a value. I may be a fool, but I’m starting him this week.
WEEK ONE SCOREBOARD
The first week was a mixed bag for me. I easily won both of my matchups in my ESPN public league, scoring 160.94 and 158.36 points respectively. But I only scored 80.98 points in my Yahoo home league. This was the lowest weekly point total I have put up on the scoreboard in two years. I will point out that this is the team where two of my running backs (Edwards and Mostert) have been lost for the season. But I don’t want to make excuses. I am focusing on Week 2.
Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.