Start or Sit These Players on Sunday to Win Week 1 Fantasy
Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season is here, and with it comes a new beginning and renewed optimism that 2021 is your year to shine and bring home your coveted Fantasy Football Championship.
Identifying starts and sits in Week 1 can be difficult. There is a tendency to start the players you drafted in early rounds, and for the most part that is what you should do. After all, you drafted them early for a reason.
Evaluating matchups and projecting usage in Week 1 can be tricky because there is a lot of unknown. The best advice I can give you is to make informed decisions based on moves teams have made during the offseason, historical data, and your gut. You have to trust the moves you make, because after all this is your fantasy roster.
I will be here each week to give you my start/sit recommendations for the Sunday match-ups. The goal is to aid you in setting the best roster possible. I will avoid suggesting you start Christian McCaffrey and sit Benny Snell. The obvious moves won’t be found here. My goal is to assist you with your tough decisions each week, and often the recommendations here will be weekly flex plays.
Each and every week this season, I will give you my “Start of the Week,” along with three “Start” recommendations and three “Sit” recommendations at each skilled player position. So without further ado, let’s take the first step towards your next fantasy title.
1. Start of the Week
Jalen Hurts – Philadelphia Eagles
Every season we seem to have a QB emerge as a fantasy breakout. In 2018 it was Matt Ryan and his QB2 overall finish. In 2019 it was Lamar Jackson, and a season ago it was Justin Herbert. In 2021, I believe that QB will be Jalen Hurts. It all starts in Week 1 versus Atlanta.
Hurts scored 19, 22 and 26 fantasy points in his first three starts against New Orleans, Arizona and Dallas in 2020, and Hurts he steps into a terrific opening matchup under new offensive-minded coach Nick Sirianni in Week 1.
Atlanta ranked 32nd against the QB in 2020. They allowed 4,918 yards and 34 touchdowns through the air and 347 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. Jalen Hurts has the ability to exploit both areas on Sunday. Atlanta yielded 24.4 points per game to the QB per week last season, and I am looking for Hurts to go over that number in Week 1.
Atlanta will put up their share of points as well in this one, and I expect Hurts and the Eagles go toe to toe with Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Last season, road quarterbacks averaged over 23 fantasy points per game against the Falcons. If that isn’t enough, Atlanta allowed the ninth-most rushing yards to opposing signal-callers to boot.
Ryan Tannehill – Tennessee Titans
Since taking over as the Titans starting QB in Week 7 of 2019, Ryan Tannehill is the 6th highest scoring QB in fantasy football. He has averaged 23 completions, 247 yards, 2.1 TDs, and .4 INTs a game. In addition, he had pitched in 3 carries for 17 yards and .4 TDs on the ground each week. That all adds up to an average of 21.58 points per week.
Arizona was decent against QBs last season with 19.9 points allowed per week to the QB position. This season, Tannehill has an upgrade at WR in Julio Jones and a new Offensive Coordinator in former TE coach Todd Downing. I am expecting more passing volume out of the Titans this season, as they still employ one of the worst defenses in the league. Start Ryan Tannehill in Week 1.
Sam Darnold – Carolina Panthers
Nothing like a little revenge game to kick off your season. In Week 1, that is exactly what awaits Carolina Panthers’ QB Sam Darnold. Darnold was traded from the New York Jets to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for a 2021 NFL Draft sixth-round pick (No. 226) plus a 2nd and 4th round pick in 2022.
In three seasons in New York, Darnold finished as QB27, QB27, and QB30. Since entering the league, Darnold is top-4 in the NFL in terms of interception rate with 3.20%. He’s behind only Jameis Winston, Nick Mullens, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. I’m guessing I haven’t sold you yet.
Fairly certain that we can all agree that Darnold hasn’t exactly been good for fantasy. We also likely agree that he is due a second chance now that he has escaped Adam Gase. He’s set up to succeed in Carolina with a solid OC in Joe Brady and the best receiving weapons he’s ever had.
Do I think that Sam Darnold is the second coming of Ryan Tannehill? No, I do not, but I absolutely see him sticking it to his former team that last season allowed 23.3 points per week to the opposing QB (3rd worst in the NFL).
Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence was the first overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft. He started at Clemson and is now the starting QB for the Jacksonville Jaguars. By now I am sure you are all aware of the hype and comparisons to Andrew Luck.
Trevor Lawrence struggled early in the preseason and it appears that his weak offensive line could give him some trouble in his rookie season. He showed well versus Dallas in his final preseason tune up, which likely calmed the nerves of many of his fantasy managers.
I can’t think of a better matchup for Lawrence to begin his NFL career, as the Texans’ defense in 2021 is by all accounts horrible. I am not sure how often I will be comfortable starting Lawrence this season, but in Week 1 he should deliver a solid-to-spectacular debut with his arm and legs, and I am starting him.
Jameis Winston – New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston won the QB battle in New Orleans and will be a starting QB once again. Winston has some of us thinking he can duplicate some of his high-TD, high-INT fantasy relevance of his 2019 season in Tampa Bay, and perhaps he can, but Green Bay’s pass defense is legitimate and New Orleans should want to attack heavily on the ground in a neutral-site game.
In addition to the Packers defense challenging Winston’s fantasy ceiling, Sean Payton will as well. Winston may have won the job for the Saints, but QB Taysom Hill is not going anywhere. He will still be involved and most likely in the red zone. I need to see what this Saints offense is going to look like, and as a result I am avoiding Jameis Winston here.
Tua Tagovailoa – Miami Dolphins
This is a fun one, as it pits two former Alabama QBs against each other as well as pitting Bill Belichick and Brian Flores head to head once again. I fully expect Tua to have a better season than he did as a rookie. His weapons have improved and he is another year removed from his severe hip injury.
I would anticipate that this one is a low scoring contest with most of the offensive attack coming on the ground from both teams. There will be plenty of weeks that you can feel comfortable starting Tagovailoa. Week 1, however, is not one of those weeks.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – Washington Football Team
I am looking forward to seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick in Washington this season. He enters an offense with arguably the best weapons he has ever had in his 16 year career.
That said, I am expecting a little more “FitzTragic” than “FitzMagic” in the opener. I am counting on new Chargers’ head coach Brandon Staley’s pass defense to show plenty of energy in his coaching debut. Like Tua, there will be plenty of weeks to fire up Fitzpatrick, but Week 1 just isn’t one of them.
3. Running Backs
James Robinson – Jacksonville Jaguars
James Robinson finished last season as the RB7 in only 14 games played. Robinson averaged 17.9 PPR points a game. His success was mainly due to volume, as J-Rob had the highest percentage of team carries in the league (71.2%). Entering 2021, his volume will remain high due to the season ending injury to Travis Etienne.
The matchup in Week 1 is fantastic as well. Houston surrendered a league worst 2,206 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground to RBs a season ago, and the 31.8 fantasy points allowed weekly to the RB was second worst only to Detroit’s 32.2. If anything, Houston might have a worse run defense this season than a season ago. Robinson was nearly my “Start of the Week” in Week 1, so fire him up with complete confidence.
Raheem Mostert – San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco backfield will be a committee as long as Kyle Shanahan is leading this offense. The lead back in that committee will be Raheem Mostert. When Mostert is healthy, he is an extremely productive fantasy back.
In Week 1, Mostert is healthy and the Lions’ run defense stinks. No team gave up more fantasy points to the opposing RB in 2020, and the Lions have done little to change that this season. The Niners should blow the doors off Detroit this Sunday, and as a result the game script should be favorable for plenty of carries. Start Mostert with confidence and if need be, start Trey Sermon as well.
Sony Michel – Los Angeles Rams
Another running back that has proven to be productive when healthy is new Rams’ RB Sony Michel. The biggest downside to Sony the fantasy back was he is rarely healthy and his usage in New England was never going to allow him to breakout.
The Rams went after Michel to use him in a key role for Sean McVay’s offense. He’s the guy the coach should trust most in the backfield out of the gate, especially in the red zone. Expect Sony Michel to score at least one short TD on Sunday night. That score, combined with his overall productivity, makes him a back to start in Week 1.
Javonte Williams – Denver Broncos
I have been a fan of Javonte Williams since we started watching film this offseason. Williams is the type of back that can do everything well. I do believe that Williams should evolve into an every week starter this season, but that is not the case in Week 1. Melvin Gordon is still going to command a large share of the workload and the Giants’ run defense is sneaky good. Williams is a great asset to roster, but you just need to be a little patient with him.
D’Andre Swift – Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell gave D’Andre Swift the green light for their Week 1 match-up with the San Francisco 49ers. The fact that he is healthy is great news. The fact the Loins face the Niners is not. The matchup isn’t ideal and the fact he has missed so much time in training camp with a groin injury leads me to believe that we will see a lot more Jamaal Williams than D’Andre Swift.
Game script likely won’t help Swift get on the field either. In a game you are most likely blown out, it makes more sense to ease Swift back from injury than it does to give him a large workload. He’s a sit until I can get a better feel for his health and how the Lions are planning on deploying their backs.
Myles Gaskin – Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has a knack for locking in on his opponents best player and taking him away. With all due respect to the other 10 men on the offense for Miami, I believe at this stage of the season that Myles Gaskin is that player
Gaskin will still get the most touches over Malcolm Brown, and speedy change-of-pace back Salvon Ahmed, but I expect that it won’t matter with the Patriots focused to take him away and make Tua try to beat their secondary downfield.
4. Wide Receiver
Robby Anderson – Carolina Panthers
Revenge game angle 2.0! Robby Anderson gets to start his season with a revenge game like his QB Sam Darnold. What a better way for Darnold to get his revenge than to target his former Jet teammate early and often on Sunday.
Anderson had a nice season last year in Carolina with 95 receptions, 1,096 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is set to get a nice start to 2021 with an upgrade at QB and a very beatable opponent. The Jets’ secondary is weak enough to think he will be busy with Sam Darnold with plenty of big-play TD upside.
Laviska Shenault – Jacksonville Jaguars
Who will end up as the top Jaguars’ fantasy receiver 2021? In my opinion, it is Laviska Shenault. Shenault will have to share targets with D.J. Chark and Marvin Jones, but with both receivers battling injury, Shenault should be the favorite option for Trevor Lawrence in Week 1 against the Texans.
Shenault started to heat up towards the close of last season, putting at least 15 PPR points in three of his final five games. Houston’s defense shouldn’t be a problem for Shenault this week, and he should be considered a starter in Week 1.
DeVonta Smith – Philadelphia Eagles
DeVonta Smith should be one of the top two or three options in the Eagles’ pass attack this season, and an opening week matchup in Atlanta makes him a viable fantasy starter.
Last season, opposing receivers scored 20 touchdowns and averaged the most fantasy points per game as a unit when facing the Falcons. That’s good news for the rookie, who should be on the flex starter radar.
Kenny Golladay – New York Giants
Kenny Golladay missed a lot of playing time last month with an injured hamstring, so he’s had limited time to build chemistry with his new quarterback, Daniel Jones.
Golladay, himself, even said he thinks the Giants could have a slow start on the offensive side of the football, which isn’t what you want to hear as his fantasy manager. He’ll be tough to trust in the first few weeks, so I would prefer that you don’t.
Ja’Marr Chase – Cincinnati Bengals
Ja’Marr Chase is going to be a very good wide receiver in this league, and I have very little doubt. Chase is one of the best WR prospects we have seen enter this league in recent memory. With that being said he will not be in any of my starting lineups in Week 1.
Chase didn’t play last season, and he has been struggling to knock the rust off his game. Add in that his QB is coming back off a major knee injury and hasn’t played since December. With Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon almost certainly to be targeted ahead of him, and the possibility he splits snaps with Auden Tate, I don’t see a path in which he starts this week. The good news is there will be plenty of weeks in his career when he will.
Marquez Callaway – New Orleans Saints
There has been a lot of preseason hype being thrown Marquez Callaway’s way, and rightfully so. With Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith banged up, Callaway has become the de facto No.1 WR in New Orleans.
Callaway, like Chase, will have weeks that he belongs in your starting lineup, and like Ja’Marr Chase, Week 1 shouldn’t be one of them. He has a difficult game this week as he will see a lot of Packers’ starting CB Jaire Alexander. The Packers defense only allowed 13 scores and the fourth-fewest points to opposing wideouts in 2020. Sit Marquez Callaway.
5. Tight End
Tyler Higbee – Los Angeles Rams
Tyler Higbee’s 2021 season shapes up as a rebound from a 2020 season in which he disappointed his fantasy mangers. The bounce back begins in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears.
Higbee is now the unquestioned top option at tight end after Gerald Everett’s departure, and Matt Stafford’s presence is a clear upgrade over Jared Goff. The Bears allowed 12 touchdowns and the second-most fantasy points to tight ends last season as well, so start Higbee as a low-end TE1 this weekend.
Logan Thomas – Washington Football Team
Logan Thomas is coming off a big season that saw him finish third in fantasy points among tight ends. He’s in a favorable spot to open this campaign on a high note, as the Football Team faces a Chargers defense that allowed seven touchdowns and the sixth-most fantasy points (16.4 PPG) to home tight ends a season ago.
With Curtis Samuel almost certainly ruled out after re-aggravating his groin injury, look for Thomas to see six-plus targets in this week’s contest. 4 catches for 60 yards lands Thomas in the top-12. He is an easy start for me.
Austin Hooper – Cleveland Browns
Hooper should be a lot more involved in the offense this season as the Browns’ passing game expands and the matchup calls for solid looks from Baker Mayfield. Hooper ended the regular season last year on a high note with at least 13 PPR points in each of his final three outings. He had another big game in the wild-card round of the playoffs against the Steelers (17 PPR points).
Kevin Stefanski is going to want to get his tight ends more involved in this offense, and with Baker Mayfield becoming more and more comfortable in play action, Hooper becomes a viable fantasy starter. Kansas City allowed 104 receptions to the opposing TE a season ago for 1,157 yards, and TEs scored 12 times. The Chiefs were 3rd worst in fantasy allowing 16.2 points to the opponents’ TE weekly. Austin Hooper is a great streaming option and a solid start this week.
Noah Fant – Denver Broncos
Noah Fant was limited in the final few weeks of camp due to a leg injury and that is the driving force behind my call to sit him in the opener versus the New York Giants. Overall, I am quite high on Fant as I have him ranked in my top-10 this season.
I fear that the Broncos limit his snaps and his targets. Denver has plenty of viable options they can deploy to handle the Giants. Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, K.J. Hamler and the RBs – Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams can shoulder the load and allow Fant to ease his way back to 100%. I am not expecting Denver to throw an awful lot either in what I expect to be a positive game script for the majority of the game.
Jared Cook – Los Angeles Chargers
Jared Cook is the new No. 1 tight end for the Chargers, and hopefully he can continue to be a touchdown dependent low-end No. 1 fantasy tight end in all leagues. I’m sitting Cook against the Football Team this week.
Washington has a great defense in general and they should be tough on the tight end position. Washington gave up two touchdowns to tight ends in the final 12 games last season after allowing 5 in the first 4 weeks. I also have concern that Chargers TE Donald Parham Jr. sees enough snaps to make Cook an after thought. Don’t drop Jared Cook, but don’t start him either.
Eric Ebron – Pittsburgh Steelers
Eric Ebron will likely remain the No. 1 tight end for the Steelers this season, but he’s going to lose playing time to rookie Pat Freiermuth. He is going to start losing snaps this week in Buffalo. Ebron is not worth starting this week against the Bills due to limited snaps and likely limited productivity.
Last season versus Buffalo, Ebron was held to two catches for 30 yards on five targets. Ebron is always a candidate for a cheap score in the red zone, but he likely will see less of those chances because of Najee Harris. He is a rather easy sit for me in your opening week.
Thank you for reading Start or Sit These Players on Sunday to Win Week 1 Fantasy
For all your start/sit questions be sure to reach out to me on Twitter @RotoHeatSully.
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