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Devy Primer: Week 1 (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Jeff Bell | @4WhomJBellTolls | Featured Writer
Aug 31, 2021

If Clemson wins this football game, it will be on the back of D.J. Uiagalelei.

Week 0 in college football has come and gone. While it wasn’t always pretty last week, the fact that we got to watch real football was exciting. Now with week 1 of college football here, we get to see some Goliath matchups across the college football landscape. This week’s slate of games brings back out of conference games. 

Kevin Coleman, Christian Williams, Jeff Bell, and CJ Lang guide you through the opening weekend action.

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Favorite Storylines

Alabama’s Mass Turnover (Christian)

Every year, we watch Alabama turn bunches of players over to the NFL. Every year we say, “well, they can’t possibly continue their greatness after such a large turnover, can they?” This year, it’s a worthy question. Just three defensive starters are gone, so it’s easy to see a path to greatness on that side of the ball, but seven offensive starters have left the program, which could be cause for concern. RT Evan Neal will transition to left tackle, a new quarterback (with a vastly different skill set) will take the helm, and the wide receiver room lacks consistency. This year, the cause for concern is that Nick Saban felt the need to go out and snag some players from the transfer portal (namely, Jameson Williams from Ohio State and Henry To’oTo’o from Tennessee) to bolster the roster. That hasn’t been the case in previous years. It will be interesting to watch an Alabama team grow and potentially hit speed bumps for the first time in a while.

Coach Ed Orgeron LSU (Kevin)

Before the 2019 NCAA Championship, Coach O’s career has taken many twists and turns. He got run out of coaching early in his career because of off-field issues at Miami, only to return and establish himself as the wingman of Pete Carrol’s run at USC. He then would fail at Ole Miss as a head coach and was pushed out of USC when it wouldn’t name him the full-time coach. Coach O established himself as a legend at LSU after winning the 2019 championship, but Coach O’s legend has slowly deteriorated in a year. The Tigers went 5-5 last season, along with getting named in a Title IX lawsuit about mishandling a rape accusation. Not to mention wholly mismanaged his coaching staff. He had to hire a new offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator for consecutive seasons and hire a defensive coordinator whose only coordinating experience came at Bowie State University. The 2021 season is vital for Orgeron. He returns 17 starters but still has question marks at quarterback and on the offensive line. Not to mention he fired his offensive line coach in June. The big question is whether LSU can return to dominance or will 2019 be Coach O’s one-hit-wonder. 

Finding Clarity in the 2022 QB Class (Jeff)

The depth of the 2022 QB class is a recurring storyline. Take a deep breath with this list: Spencer Rattler, Sam Howell, Malik Willis, Kedon Slovis, Carson Strong, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, Jayden Daniels. While Rattler is the early favorite as the top pick, a case could be made for any one of those players to make an ascent. Most of that group will be in action this weekend, and the open nature of this upcoming class will continue to be a storyline as the season progresses.

Player Spotlights

Quarterbacks

D.J. Uiagalelei (SO – Clemson): 6’4, 250 lbs
There isn’t a player I’m more excited to watch than D.J. Uiagalelei, the standout freshman from the 2020 Clemson season. Uiagalelei stepped in for Trevor Lawrence and performed beautifully, throwing for over 400 yards against one of the better defenses in all of college football and showing his preparation for the big stage. That perception of readiness will be put to the test immediately, as DJU will face off against one of the best defenses in Georgia this weekend. Both of these teams have legitimate title-contending aspirations, and if Clemson wins this football game, it will be on the back of one of the most talented football players in the country. D.J. Uiagalelei is the QB1 in most devy drafts, and this weekend, he may justify and ultimately solidify that high ADP.

Sam Howell (JR – North Carolina) 6’1, 220 lbs
I wish I had more space to talk about Spencer Rattler, the player who most have as their QB1 heading into the 2021 college football season, but in a matchup against Tulane, I think Rattler will be just fine (and probably get to sit the entire second half). Howell, however, gets a tough test against Virginia Tech in Week 1. The Hokies have a stout defense and a capable offense, which makes me believe that Howell will have to put on a show in this game despite some of his top weapons being gone. Howell will need to display improved decision-making and field vision in this one, which he often lacked in big games in 2020. Howell can make his case for being the top overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft this fall, which starts on the road at Virginia Tech.

Running Backs

Bijan Robinson (SO – Texas): 6’0″, 214 lbs
Robinson is the top back in Devy. New coach Steve Sarkisian’s offense, allowed Najee Harris to display a wide array of skills and ultimately be the first back off the board in the 2021 draft. Robinson has those tools and features a better athletic profile. Robinson accumulated 899 total yards as a true freshman and with the recent announcement of inexperienced Hudson Card as the starting quarterback Texas looks to lean on him heavily this season.

Texas features a great matchup to get Robinson rolling for fantasy purposes. Louisiana should provide enough competition to see a whole game worth of production out of Robinson, and despite his profile, on DFS slates, his price is appealing.

Breece Hall (JR – Iowa St): 6’1″, 221 lbs.
The nation’s leading rusher returns for his junior season, and he starts with a very favorable matchup against Northern Iowa. Fresh off a Fiesta Bowl season, expectations are high at Iowa St. as they enter the season ranked seventh in the AP poll. Hall has little more to show at this level; he brings a great blend of power and balance to the position, though the speed at the next level may be a question. Coach Matt Campbell has shown a willingness to lean on him, and there is every reason to believe he can duplicate his breakout sophomore season.

On many DFS sites, Hall will be the highest priced back. The production will be there in this game, though concern exists the game gets out of hand. Still, Hall will be a big part in building any lead, and given the uncertainty of early-season college production, he represents a very safe play.

Wide Receivers

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (SO – Ohio State): 6’0 196lbs
Ohio State has slowly turned into “WR U” in the college football landscape. They recruit some of the top guys in the country and help develop them into NFL-ready prospects by leaving Columbus. A big reason for that is they have one of the best wide receiver coaches in the country in Brian Hartline. Hartline has become one of the hottest names among coaching circles throughout college football and is one reason why every devy manager should be taking stock in Ohio State receivers right now.

While others will undoubtedly be going after receivers like Garrett Wilson, Julian Fleming, Gee Scott Jr., Chris Olave, and Emeka Egbuka, the receiver I think can be a sleeper in that core is Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba was one of the best receivers to come out of Texas in recent years, where he complied 5,346 receiving yards and scored 82 touchdowns in his prep career. He was an absolute monster and produced those numbers against Texas’s largest classification (Class 6A). He’s an elite talent with elite skills.

Smith-Njibga could have the best hands-on Ohio State’s depth chart, and he can be lined up anywhere on the field. He’s a versatile receiver who has the speed to play on the outside but is also a technical route runner who can excel at the slot. Not to mention he’s one of the best athletes at the receiver position. Just look at his touchdown against Nebraska, and you’ll see his complete athletic profile on display. Jaxon can be Ohio State’s second-leading receiver next season, and based on his current ADP in devy leagues, he is one of the most significant values out there. Be sure to check him out this Thursday against Minnesota. 

Jalen Tolbert (JR – South Alabama) 6’3 195lbs.
Since I’m a small school fanatic, I needed to make sure to include one of my favorite devy targets from the group of five schools: the University of South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert.  

In 2020, Tolbert accounted for 1,085 yards receiving on 64 receptions. He also scored eight touchdowns and averaged seventeen yards per catch. That includes a breakout game against Arkansas State in which he caught ten passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns.

Tolbert is a mismatch nightmare for defenses because of his size. He uses his body well in traffic and should be South Alabama’s go-to receiver in the red zone. He has elite eye discipline and can make tough catches all over the field. His athleticism pops off the tape. Tolbert also checks all the intangible boxes you want to see from a young receiver and should benefit from improved quarterback play with Jake Bentley transferring from South Carolina. He is my favorite devy sleeper in the class and is someone you should be actively trying to draft or acquire across your leagues. South Alabama takes on Southern Miss this Saturday, and Tolbert should be the player to watch. 

Tight Ends

Jake Ferguson (SR- Wisconsin): 6’5, 246 lbs.
Just two years removed from a Rose Bowl appearance, the Badgers struggled on offense last season. Both Jonathan Taylor and Quintez Cephus graduated to the NFL in 2020, leaving Jake Ferguson as the leading receiver for the Badgers in a COVID-shortened season. The Badgers changed up their offensive play-caller last year and had such poor communication issues that Jack Coan, the starting QB, had to run to the sidelines for almost every play call. This season, head coach Paul Chryst takes play-calling duties back over, and with a now-healthy QB Graham Mertz, Wisconsin is looking to get back on top of the Big10 West division.  

Ferguson has made several 2021 Preseason Watch lists: the John Mackey Award, the Lombardi Award, the Senior Bowl, and he has been named a Preseason All-American. Last season he led the Badgers in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns and was 4th in the conference in TD receptions. The Badgers open the season at home against a Penn State defense that allowed almost 28 points per game last year, gave up the third-most yards per game in the Big10, and allowed opponents to score on 25 of 28 red zone trips. With PSU linebacker Micah Parsons no longer in the middle of the field for Penn State’s defense, Ferguson should have a decent first game of 2021.

Michael Mayer (SO – Notre Dame): 6’4, 241 lbs.
Notre Dame opens this season on the road against Florida State. Michael Mayer is a star in the making, coming off a freshman season where he tallied 42 receptions for 450 yards. He became a go-to target for QB Ian Book. Mayer led the team in receptions and was second in receiving yards his freshman year as a 4-star recruit and the No. 2 TE recruit in the nation. Notre Dame lost their final two games, the ACC Championship Game versus Clemson and the CFP Semi-Final Rose Bowl against Alabama. Still, Mayer proved he could be a significant asset for the Irish offense.

Mayer’s 42 receptions in 2020 were the single most by a freshman tight end in Notre Dame history! He was added to the Biletnikoff Watch List as one of the top pass catchers in the nation this season and will return to an Irish team that will see just nine starters return from last season. Mayer will need to provide a much-needed target for incoming transfer QB Jack Coan from Wisconsin. This game should be exciting to watch, not only to see if Mayer can continue the hot start to his career but also to see McKenzie Milton make his much-deserved return behind center for the Noles.

Games Of The Week

Georgia vs. Clemson (-4) Neutral Site

It’s not often that we get a powerhouse matchup quite like this in Week 1 of the college football season, but here we are. Georgia and Clemson are two top-five teams with legitimate title aspirations. The result of this game may determine which one has a shot at competing for a national title. Georgia has the most 5-star players in the nation. Despite that, expectations for the program that does not exceed that of Clemson’s. Clemson starts a true sophomore phenom in DJ Uiagalelei, gets one of the best receivers in the nation back (Justyn Ross), and returns most of a defense that helped them to the College Football Playoffs one year ago. 

This matchup could end up being a Week 1 game for the ages, but with Georgia battling their injuries to critical pass-catchers and my lack of 100% belief in JT Daniels, I would roll with Clemson at -4 in this game.

LSU (-3½) at UCLA 

This game is one of my favorite under-the-radar games of the week. We saw UCLA easily dispense of Hawaii last week in their season opener and now get an SEC opponent in LSU. News about an SEC megaconference and their dominance, the Pac 12 needs a win like this to prove it belongs with the caliber of teams the SEC has. Not to mention both coaches desperately need a good season. 

Chip Kelly’s tenure at UCLA has been average at best, and Coach Orgeron, as I mentioned above, needs a bounce-back season in 2021. LSU will be starting Sophomore Max Johnson at quarterback after Myle Brennan’s injury this past off-season. They also have arguably the WR1 in college football in Kayshon Boutte. While I expect this game to be competitive, I’ll take LSU to cover the -3½ spread. 

Alabama (-19) vs. Miami Neutral Site

In what has become a Labor Day weekend tradition, Alabama faces a P5 school in a high-profile neutral site game. As Christian mentioned, the Crimson Tide are fresh off Nick Saban’s sixth national championship, and attrition hit hard. Five-star sophomore Bryce Young begins his era as the next great Alabama quarterback, and this is likely an opening showcase for Saban’s next great wave of NFL stars. Since Alabama began this opening season tradition in 2012, they have won these matchups by an average of 27 points.  

Manny Diaz’s Hurricanes finished 8-3 season in 2020, and the only notable losses are first-round picks in edges Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau. Miami features a strong backfield led by veteran quarterback D’Eriq King and a talented running back trio of Cam’Ron Harris and freshmen Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton. The Hurricanes look to keep it close early, but as Alabama’s new talent acclimates, expect the Tide to pull away and cover the 19 points.

Texas (-8) vs. Louisiana

The Ragin’ Cajuns were coming off a fantastic season where they were 10-1 and shared the Sun Belt Championship with Coastal Carolina. Led by RB Elijah Mitchell, the Cajuns won their second-ever game against a ranked team when they took down #23 Iowa State in Ames, IA. The Cajun’s only loss came from a last-second field goal against Coastal Carolina, another surprise team last season, ending 11-1 and ranking #14 in the AP Poll. The Texas Longhorns have been a train wreck over the past few years. Once a storied and feared powerhouse in college football, they have had seven winning seasons over the last 11 years since they played in the BCS title game. They have lost at least four games in 10 of the previous 11 seasons and have not been a Big 12 Champion since 2009. Yet somehow, they find themselves ranked 21st in the nation to start this season, and new head coach Sarkisian takes the reins over from a fired Tom Herman.

With all that, Texas should run away with this game. Texas has one of the top running backs in the nation with Bijan Robinson. They have two young gunslingers in Casey Thompson and Hudson Card, and talented sophomore WR Jordan Whittington could seize the WR1 role for the Horns. The Ragin’ Cajuns lost their starting running back from last year when the 49ers drafted Elijah Mitchell. Outside of returning most of their defensive stars, it will take Louisiana a perfectly executed game plan to go into DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, TX, to make an upset. Look for Texas to cover here at home.

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