5 Burning Questions For Week 1 (2021 Fantasy Football)
Week 1 is here! It’s time to set those fantasy lineups, but first, let’s talk about some of the most pressing questions entering the season. Throughout the 2021 campaign you can expect this article to drop on Thursday mornings. Oh, and if you like this big-picture, macro-level approach to fantasy football, then I encourage you to check out the podcast below.
Macro-level edges I bought into this offseason:
🏈 RB Dead Zone
🏈 Legendary RB seasons
🏈 Mid round QB
🏈 Rookies undervalued
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) September 7, 2021
Remember to reach out with questions on Twitter (@toomuchtuma) anytime.
1. What can we expect out of the 49ers’ rushing attack?
All offseason, figuring out the 49ers has felt like one of the keys to 2021 fantasy football success. Whereas we generally know how an offense like the Vikings will function (returning starters, similar OC philosophy), there have been so many moving parts in San Francisco. We know that Kyle Shanahan’s unit has one of the softest schedules following last year’s disaster. This sets up well for their rushing attack.
Yet due to it being an ambiguous situation, both Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon were very easy to acquire this year. Shanahan mostly kept Mostert in bubble wrap this summer, refusing to unleash him until Week 3 of the preseason where he rumbled for 53 yards on just seven totes. Recall that the 29-year-old is a wildly underrated athlete who ripped off the two fastest ball carrier speeds of the 2020 season on long touchdown runs in Weeks 1 and 2.
Meantime, Sermon spent the preseason by rushing for 63 yards on 16 attempts, in addition to hauling in 2-of-2 targets for 14 yards. It was modest production, but the 49ers showed hints of offensive dominance at times. Trey Lance will eventually take over, which should only increase the number of rushing lanes for these two. Mostert is the better bet early in the season, but Sermon’s time will come. The Lions are a juicy Week 1 matchup.
2. How worried should we be about the Bengals’ O-line?
As bullish as I’ve been on the Bengals throughout the offseason, I’m anticipating a slow start out of the gate. Training camp featured numerous stories of Joe Burrow exhibiting some discomfort with his surgically repaired knee. We also received reports of No. 5 overall pick Ja’Marr Chase struggling with drops. The cherry on top is that it would seemingly be silly to have much faith in this offensive line.
Add it all up and things won’t be easy early on, especially when Cincinnati draws Minnesota, Chicago, and Pittsburgh in Weeks 1-3. The saving grace for their fantasy relevant skill players should be a narrow target/touch distribution, which is a major part of why I want pieces of this offense in season-long formats. We can realistically expect Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Chase to receive the majority of work in this offense. Pure volume will help alleviate O-line concerns.
Finally, we know that coach Zac Taylor wants to play fast with Burrow. The below table is a reminder of the team’s splits with and without their franchise QB last season. This early-season schedule should be when things are most difficult for the Bengals. If they smash out of the gate, then it’s wheels up. But if they struggle, we can at least fall back on the idea of things being a work in progress.
3. How often are the Bills going to throw the ball?
Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is good for fantasy football. He's also a perfect pairing with Josh Allen. In 2020, the Bills ditched the idea of "run-pass balance" in favor of a more progressive, aerial-oriented attack. Daboll and Allen led an offense that threw 62% of the time in neutral game scripts last season, which was the fourth highest mark in the league.
It's noteworthy, then, that in Buffalo's final preseason game of the summer, they opened with 16 consecutive passing attempts. Allen is already being drafted as a top-three quarterback in every format, but finishing as the No. 1 fantasy QB is certainly within his range of outcomes. If Daboll starts getting really aggressive throwing the ball, then this ceiling outcome would become even likelier. A Week 1 matchup against Pittsburgh could be a spot for Allen to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Buffalo opening the game with 16 straight pass attempts is quite encouraging for the possibility of a Josh Allen ceiling outcome this year.
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) August 28, 2021
4. Will Elijah Moore live up to the hype?
It feels shameful to say this, but I'm a bit bullish on the Jets' offense this season. Historically, this would've been a silly thing to say, but there's a real chance that the 2021 New York offense includes the best group of skill players that the franchise has had in quite some time. Zach Wilson, Michael Carter, and Elijah Moore are three thrilling rookies to build around.
Let's focus on Moore for a minute, who alongside Terrace Marshall and Rondale Moore, became a late-round receiver I didn't want to leave my drafts without. Moore was the apple of fantasy players' eyes for most of the summer, as he continuously made highlight-reel plays during minicamp and the start of training camp. Unfortunately, he then suffered a quad injury and missed the entire preseason. That caused the hype on Moore to die down significantly, but it's critical to remember his production in college too.
Moore broke out as a 19-year-old sophomore in 2019, amassing 850 yards following the departures of AJ Brown and DK Metcalf from Ole Miss. That might not sound like a lot, but it's significant when you realize the next-closest-pass-catcher had just 192. In 2020, Moore totaled 1,193 yards and the No. 2 finisher from his team had just 524. Moore broke out at a young age and dominated. The buzz was insane until he got hurt. This might be your last chance to buy low.
I think the craziest thing about Elijah Moore is every day I come here saying I’m going to focus on someone else. Then he makes that impossible #Jets
— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) August 4, 2021
5. Will Shane Waldron transform the Seahawks' offense?
As FantasyPros' News Desk Manager, I read a lot of articles from beat writers. The word most commonly associated with Seattle's offense this summer has been "pace." There's a narrative out there that Pete Carroll only wants to run the ball, and anecdotally speaking, it's mostly true. So how did the Seahawks replace Brian Schottenheimer following the failed "let Russ cook" movement? They brought in an OC who will run the ball.
If you stopped reading there you'd miss the good news. Waldron comes the Rams (wow, another coach plucked from the Sean McVay staff), which is a team that prioritizes a strong rushing attack. For all the love that McVay and Kyle Shanahan receive for being so progressive, both of their philosophies are rooted in running the ball. What makes their offenses progressive are the schemes and playing with pace. This is a perfect pairing with Russell Wilson, who thrives in up-tempo environments.
During last year's offensive collapse, opposing defenses were continuously playing two-high safeties and simply waiting for Wilson to chuck it deep to DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett. This was because they couldn't execute underneath concepts, which defenses were basically handing them. Waldron's offense is designed to create easy looks in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. There might be a question of how well Metcalf can run laterally, but he's simply someone I don't want to bet on. Lockett and Gerald Everett should be able to handle these plays just fine.
In summary, I'm really curious to monitor how this team looks. There's certainly a chance we see a higher ceiling in 2021. Per ESPN Stats & Info, since 2015, Seattle has the sixth-most air yards per attempt (8.4) and during that time they're 22nd in yards after catch per reception (5.0). It's time for Wilson to be given a progressive offense, and hopefully it happens.