It shouldn't surprise anyone that Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season was filled with surprises. The first weekend of games always is.
Week 1 brought nailbiters in Tampa Bay and Kansas City. Blowouts in Nashville and Jacksonville. And all kinds of the big statistical outbursts that fantasy managers live for.
Just about every pass-catcher in Thursday night's opener not named Mike Evans blew up. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce both had big games for the Chiefs. Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers paced the running backs in fantasy points, because of course he did. And two backs for the Detroit Lions both finished among the top-10 ball-carriers.
As fun a week as it was, it's time to relegate it to the pages of history. To stop celebrating a Week 1 win or shake off an opening-week loss. As Bill Belichick would say, we're on to Week 2.
And that means beginning preparations by examining position-by-position PPR fantasy rankings for the week to come.
So, Kyler Murray had himself a week.
The Arizona Cardinals quarterback helped propel quite a few fantasy managers to wins in Week 1. In Sunday's blowout win over the Tennessee Titans, Murray was a force with both his arm and his legs—289 yards and four scores through the air and another 20 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, had a week best forgotten. Against the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville, Rodgers had one of the worst starts of his NFL career—133 passing yards, no scores and two picks.
There are actually some fantasy scoring systems where that would net Rodgers negative points.
It's important not to get too high or too low after just one week of games. But it would also be silly not to take what we saw in Week 1 into account when putting together rankings for Week 2.
And that means Murray gets the top spot at quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers, Detroit Lions (at GBP) [DraftKings DFS Value $6,600]
Yes, last week's performance was a week-killing nightmare. But that means that an angry Rodgers will be taking the field at Lambeau against a leaky Lions defense that allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks in 2020—the same Lions defense that Jimmy Garoppolo lit up in Week 1.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans (vs. SEA) [DraftKings DFS Value $6,300]
Like Rodgers, Tannehill had a Week 1 to forget—212 passing yards, one touchdown and an interception in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. But this week's home date with a Seattle defense that surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season should provide the impetus for a rebound.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (at MIA) [DraftKings DFS Value $7,200]
It's far too early to start panicking about Allen. And to be frank, some level of statistical regression was bound to happen in 2021. But the cold reality is that Miami was a bottom-five fantasy matchup for quarterbacks last year. Bright side? Allen threw for 415 yards and four scores in Miami a year ago.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. SF) [DraftKings DFS Value $6,500]
After Hurts lit up the Atlanta Falcons last week for 264 yards and three scores (while rushing for 62 more yards) the second-year pro will be a popular fellow in Week 2. But there's quite a bit of difference between taking on Atlanta's "defense" and San Francisco's. A backslide is likely.
Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos (at JAX) [DraftKings DFS Value $5,400]
Bridgewater looked good in last week's win over the New York Giants, throwing for 264 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense was doing its best to make Tyrod Taylor look good in Houston. Expect Bridgewater's hot start to the season to continue.
WEEK 2 QUARTERBACK RANKINGS
The biggest takeaway from Week 1 across the fantasy landscape at the running back position is patience.
Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys was held to just 33 yards on 11 carries against Tampa. But that was against a Buccaneers defense that has led the league against the run each of the past two years.
Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans didn't do a whole lot better—58 yards on 17 carries against Arizona. But that was in a game where the Cardinals raced out to big lead and the Titans had to abandon the run.
It's far too early to panic about either.
In fact, for the most part fantasy managers should be patient with Zack Moss of the Buffalo Bills and Trey Sermon of the San Francisco 49ers, who were both healthy scratches in Week 1. This isn't to say that Elijah Mitchell (who functioned as the Niners lead back after Raheem Mostert got hurt) isn't a priority waiver add.
But if you can spare the space (or stash them on an IR spot) hang on to Moss and Sermon for now.
As last week showed, things can change on a dime.
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals (vs. MIN) [DraftKings DFS Value $4,900]
Edmonds quietly had a decent game in last week's win over the Titans, piling up 106 total yards on 16 touches. This week Edmonds and the Redbirds draw a Vikings defense that allowed Joe Mixon to top 120 rushing yards last week and gave up the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs in 2020.
D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions (at GBP) [DraftKings DFS Value $7,100]
There weren't many bright spots for the Lions against the 49ers in Week 1. But the running (and receiving) of both Swift and Jamaal Williams was an exception. Look for that to continue against a Packers defense that gave up the fifth-most PPR points to running backs last season.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (at PIT) [DraftKings DFS Value $6,000]
The schedule did Jacobs and his fantasy managers exactly zero favors to open the season. First there was a matchup with a Ravens team that allowed the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game last year. Now it's a Steelers defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points to backs in the AFC in 2020.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts (vs. LAR) [DraftKings DFS Value $7,200]
Taylor did OK for fantasy managers in Week 1, amassing 116 total yards against the Seattle Seahawks, and David Montgomery topped 100 rushing yards last week against the Rams. But Los Angeles isn't in the habit of allowing big games to running backs. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Mark Ingram II, Houston Texans (at CLE) [DraftKings DFS Value $5,000]
Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was Ingram who earned the lion's share of the backfield touches—26 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Texans will no doubt try to pound away with Ingram in an effort to control tempo and the clock against a superior Browns team.
WEEK 2 RUNNING BACK RANKINGS
Week 1 of the 2021 fantasy football season contained some gonzo performances from the wide receiver position—mostly from the names we expect big stat lines from.
The biggest of the lot came in the first game of the season. Amari Cooper of the Dallas Cowboys was an unstoppable force against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, blowing up to the tune of 13 catches for 139 yards and two scores.
Not to be undone, Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs reminded fantasy managers why he was the first player at his position drafted in some leagues, scorching the Cleveland Browns for 197 yards and a score on 11 grabs.
The bronze medal performance was something of a surprise, though. The day may well come when Brandon Aiyuk is the No. 1 wideout in San Francisco, but with Aiyuk nicked up, it was Deebo Samuel Day against the Detroit Lions—nine catches for 189 yards and a touchdown.
Now if we can just get a Davante Adams sighting in Week 2.
Brown had a big 2021 debut for the Buccaneers, reeling in five passes for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. The good times should keep rolling against a Falcons defense that surrendered the fourth-most PPR points to wide receivers last season.
Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. DAL) [DraftKings DFS Value $6,100]
There was quite a bit of breakout talk surrounding Williams over the summer, and so far so good—the former seventh overall pick caught eight passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in a win over Washington. He's rapidly moving toward every-week starter status.
Kenny Golladay, New York Giants (at WAS) [DraftKings DFS Value $5,700]
Golladay's Giants debut was OK—four catches on six targets for 64 yards against the Denver Broncos. But in addition to facing a Washington team that allowed the sixth-fewest PPR points to receivers in 2020, Golladay also has to contend with sketchy quarterback play from Daniel Jones.
Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts (vs. LAR) [DraftKings DFS Value $4,400]
This is essentially a warning for all the Colts pass-catchers in Week 2. No team allowed fewer fantasy points to wide receivers in 2020 than the Rams, and the L.A. pass defense put the clamps on Allen Robinson and the Bears in Week 1. Steer clear if at all possible.
Tim Patrick, Denver Broncos (at JAX) [DraftKings DFS Value $4,600]
With Jerry Jeudy out indefinitely with a high-ankle sprain, it's Patrick who will step into the role of the No. 2 wide receiver for the Broncos. Patrick caught four passes for 39 yards and a score in Week 1, and he's on the WR3 radar in a favorable Week 2 matchup with the Jaguars.
WEEK 2 WIDE RECEIVER RANKINGS
If you wanted a share of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in 2021, it was going to cost you—usually a first-round pick.
It didn't take long for Kelce to show why he's worth it.
Against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, Kelce hauled in six of seven targets for 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That's a beefy 24.7 PPR fantasy points.
However, things didn't go so well for the new kid on the block.
After a summer filled with hype, Kyle Pitts of the Atlanta Falcons finally made his NFL debut. It was underwhelming to say the least—Pitts secured just half of his eight targets for a pedestrian 31 yards.
Still, wise fantasy managers won't give in to the urge to panic with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft. The entire Atlanta offense was out of sync Sunday, and better days should be ahead.
Just take a deep breath. One game does not a season make.
After exploding for 90 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches against the Cowboys in Week 1, many fantasy managers are heralding the return of Gronk. That may be a bit premature, but the veteran draws another top-five fantasy matchup Sunday against the Falcons.
Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots (at NYJ) [DraftKings DFS Value $4,500]
In Week 1 at least, it was Smith who received more targets among Patriots tight ends. So we'll give him a slight edge over Hunter Henry headed into a matchup with a Jets defense that allowed the most fantasy points to tight ends in 2020.
Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles (vs. SF) [DraftKings DFS Value $4,600]
Goedert started the 2021 season off strong, catching four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown last week against the Falcons. But where that was a great matchup for tight ends, no team gave up fewer PPR points to tight ends last season than the 49ers.
T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (at GB) [DraftKings DFS Value $5,500]
Hockenson had a strong 2021 debut last week against the 49ers, leading the Lions in receptions (eight), yards (97) and scoring his first touchdown of the season. Backing those numbers up in Week 2 won't be easy in a bottom-five fantasy matchup with the rival Packers.
Pharaoh Brown, Houston Texans (at CLE) [[DraftKings DFS Value $2,900]
Pharaoh Brown was one of the biggest surprises among tight ends in Week 1, reeling in four of his five targets for 67 yards. Tyrod Taylor appears to trust the sixth-year veteran in the passing game, and this week Brown faces the same Browns team that just got torched by Kelce.
WEEK 2 TIGHT END RANKINGS
Week 1 was an object lesson in the unpredictability of team defenses in fantasy football.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the first defense drafted in many leagues in 2021. But there was no shortage of trepidation among managers given their Week 1 matchup with the high-powered Bills offense.
Those worries were unfounded—Pittsburgh held the Bills to just one touchdown, sacked Josh Allen three times and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
However, fantasy managers who saw Green Bay's opener against New Orleans as a plus matchup given Jameis Winston's penchant for turnovers and the injuries the Saints had at wide receiver were left holding the proverbial bag—Winston threw five touchdown passes without an interception and the Packers got destroyed 38-3.
As the season moves on, defensive matchup information should become more accurate.
But early in the year, unless you have an elite defense, choosing one each week can be a speculative endeavor.
Denver Broncos (at Jacksonville Jaguars) [DraftKings DFS Value: 3,800]
Denver's big-play numbers against the New York Giants last week weren't great, but the Broncos held the Giants to just 13 points. Week 2 brings another excellent matchup against a Jaguars team that turned it over three times in an ugly Week 1 loss at Houston.
Matt Prater, Arizona Cardinals (vs. Minnesota Vikings)
Prater had a decent Week 1, although Arizona's offensive efficiency was almost too good against Tennessee—at least from a fantasy kicker's perspective. There should be plenty of scoring chances Sunday against a Vikings team that just allowed 27 points to the Bengals.
Baltimore Ravens (vs. Kansas City Chiefs) [DraftKings DFS Value: $3,100]
The Ravens are one of those defenses that is drafted to be an every-week starter regardless of matchup. But if ever there was a team to give one pause about that philosophy, it's a Chiefs squad that has averaged 33.5 points over their last two meetings with the Ravens.
Tyler Bass, Buffalo Bills (at MIA)
On some level, it almost feels silly to examine matchup information for kickers—like, it's the textbook definition of trying to hard. But if you do go down that rabbit hole, you'll find that only one team gave up fewer fantasy points to the position than Miami in 2020.
Chicago Bears (vs. Cincinnati Bengals) [DraftKings DFS Value: 2,800]
The Bengals admittedly looked good offensively at home against the Minnesota Vikings, while the Bears gave up several big plays in a loss to the Rams. But the Cincinnati offense is young, the Bears have talent on defense and the game is in Chicago. They call them "sleepers' for a reason.
WEEK 2 DEFENSE RANKINGS
WEEK 2 KICKER RANKINGS
Before we get to this week's Top 100 overall (rankings that can be of help in making flex decisions), a couple of notes.
The first is the same as always. There are no quarterbacks in these rankings. If your league has a superflex spot and you have a quarterback with a pulse you can put in that spot, it's a no-brainer.
Even low-end starters like Denver's Teddy Bridgewater are much better flex options than most wide receivers or running backs.
The second note is a simple one. One word—a word popularized some time back by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
No one wants to take a loss in Week 1. It's a depressing way to start the season. It turns anticipation into anxiety.
But you can't let that anxiety cloud your judgment to the point that you start making knee-jerk decisions. Unnecessarily risky start/sit decisions. Panic player drops. An ill-advised trade.
One loss is bad enough. But get freaked out and start flailing around, and one loss will become two will become three will become…
Avoid the snowball.
WEEK 2 TOP 100 OVERALL/FLEX RANKINGS
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Fantasy points allowed data courtesy of My Fantasy League.
Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks.