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Observer Fantasy Football Corner 2021: Week 1

| Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The NFL season is almost here, and with that comes the return of fantasy football. Last year was a unique season, to say the least, with the pandemic being a significant factor in lineups and games played. However, due to the uncertainty surrounding the delta variant, there is a possibility we could be dealing with the same issues that plagued the NFL during 2020. Hopefully, that is not the issue, and with the NFL preseason wrapping up this past weekend and fantasy drafts beginning across the world, we here at The Observer want to provide our insights and thoughts as to who to draft and who to avoid so that you can take home the bragging rights at the end of the season!

Sam Ouhaj:

Player to draft: D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

Since Moore was drafted, he has been a top 15 wide receiver when healthy and proved that during the 2020 season, he is here to stay. The Panthers now have Sam Darnold, who, in my opinion, is a drastic upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater. As a result of Darnold being the starter, Moore should benefit greatly, though Robbey Anderson and Darnold have previously played together. I would consider Moore to be a solid WR2 in the lineup with high WR1 potential. A comfortable spot I suggest to take him would be anywhere between rounds 4-5. 

Player to avoid: Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns

Hunt has been an exciting player in fantasy. While he has produced well in terms of points and stats since joining the Browns, his production does not translate as Chubb proves himself as a top-five RB. It is a shame that he is on the same team as Nick Chubb because if Hunt were on any other team, he would be a player I draft every time. I suggest not to draft Hunt because of Chubb’s dominance and the fact that there are more running backs I would personally have as my RB2 such as James Robinson, Joe Mixon or DeAndre Swift. 

Sleeper: Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots

My favorite waiver wire pickup last season, Jakobi Meyers, will be a beast for New England this year. Meyers is set to be WR1 in New England, and while he may not be in your starting lineup, he is a phenomenal bench player to have on your team and hold for trade bait, especially in PPR leagues. A crazy statistic is that Meyers has yet to score a touchdown in the NFL, but I project that Jakobi Meyers will finish as a top 20 WR this season. While the New England QB situation or how he has zero touchdowns may scare you, this is a risk worth taking.

John Kalemkerian:

Player to draft: James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Robinson came out of nowhere last season to quickly claim the starting RB job in Jacksonville and helped many fantasy managers win their leagues as an early-season waiver-wire add. With Travis Etienne out for the season, Robinson has little competition and a strong case to repeat as a top-10 fantasy RB, especially since the Jags offense should be better this year with Trevor Lawerence behind center. If you can snag him in the third round or later, consider it a steal.

Player to avoid: Antonio Gibson, RB, WFT

Simply put, Harris is being heavily overvalued by fantasy managers this year. Yes, he has high upside, but taking a rookie running back in the second round (where he’s currently being drafted) is too risky. The RB room in Pittsburgh is crowded and lack of early-season production would likely force Harris into a committee with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland. Let someone else take the gamble on Harris this season and go with a player who has proven he can produce at the NFL level.

Sleeper: Mike Davis, RB, Atlanta Falcons

While the name doesn’t inspire confidence, a closer look at Davis’ situation makes it surprising that he’s being drafted around rounds seven or eight. Davis finished as RB12 last season despite only seeing double-digit carries in 10 games. As the clear lead-back in Atlanta, he should be able to replicate, if not exceed, that success. Grab him as a solid flex play, or even as your RB2 if you plan to wait on running backs.

Gehrig Smalstig:

Player to draft: Gus Edwards, RB, Baltimore Ravens

With J.K. Dobbins sustaining a season-ending ACL injury in the Ravens’ final preseason game, Edwards is in prime position to see a starter’s load of carries for the first time in his career. That statement might seem like an indication of his poor performance up to this point, but that is far from the truth. In all three years of his career, Edwards has finished with at least 5.0 yards per carry. He even saw an increase in goal-line production last year that resulted in a career-high 6 touchdowns.

All of this praise comes without even mentioning the Ravens’ rushing ability as a team. They managed to average over 20 yards per game more than the next best rushing team in 2020, and they should repeat that production this year.

Player to avoid: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is nothing against Mike Evans’ abilities as a receiver, I just see him as a victim of circumstance this year. A fully healthy Chris Godwin is a better receiver and Antonio Brown is showing flashes of his dominance that he exhibited all throughout the 2010s. That combined with the fact that the Buccaneers will likely be passing the ball less this year due to winning a lot of games by a lot of points makes me hesitant to believe that Mike Evans will live up to his draft position.

Sleeper: Russell Gage, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Calvin Ridley worked his way into stardom from the WR2 spot for the Falcons, and while I don’t see the same WR1 potential in Gage, I do see him having a very productive season. He was targeted 110 times as a third option last year, and the departure of Julio Jones is sure to force him into more action. Yes, Kyle Pitts was immediately added into the mix as well, but rookie tight ends never have outstanding fantasy seasons. The talent is there, but Pitts would have to be an extreme outlier to force Gage to remain as the third option.

J.J. Post:

Player to draft: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ offense, at least when Dak Prescott was on the field, was about as gunslinging as you’d find in the NFL in 2020. In their first five games, before Prescott got hurt, they eclipsed 37 points four times. Central to that offensive outpouring was rookie wideout, CeeDee Lamb.

The second-year out of Oklahoma provides the perfect package for fantasy owners — he’s active on short routes to rack up PPR points and has the speed to produce highlight reel big plays. Though Lamb’s production fell off somewhat after Prescott went down, the Cowboys kept their faith in him, as he was on the field for more passing plays than either of his main competition for targets, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. With Dak back at the helm, and the Cowboys clearly ready to give their young wideout every chance he needs to become a star, picking up Lamb is a no-brainer.

Player to avoid: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

I’m a Giants fan. I know firsthand just how electric Barkley can be. He’s one of the most fun players in the league when he’s got the ball in his hands — he can hurdle, juke, sprint and break tackles with the best. There are few running backs who can match Barkley’s potentially generational skillset. But with all that said, it just doesn’t make sense to pick him, at least in the first round where he’ll be going, from a fantasy standpoint.

The first obvious concern is his injury. Barkley is coming off an ACL injury and a partially torn meniscus that kept him out for most of the 2020 season, and even as he slowly returns to contact play it’s unclear how much action the Giants will be willing to give him in the first weeks of the season. But what’s even more concerning is he’ll be running behind one of the league’s worst lines. The holes that made Jonathan Taylor and Nick Chubb league winners last season simply won’t be there for Barkley, and he doesn’t offer the massive PPR value of an Austin Ekler to make up for the fact that he’ll be getting stuffed so often. 

Sleeper: Phillip Lindsay, RB, Houston Texans

It’s no hot take to say Lindsay had a down year last season. He only rushed for 502 yards and a touchdown, and he ended the season injured. But looking past 2020, Lindsay put up 1000 yards and 7+ touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, early-career numbers that have only been matched by a small number of running backs before him. And now he’s in Houston, who has a crowded backfield, but no clear number one option.

The Texans will likely give each of the four backs in their stable of Lindsay, David Johnson, Mark Ingram and Rex Burkhead plenty of chances to emerge as a breakout bell-cow running back. If Lindsay can find his form from his first two seasons, he’ll be that lead back and a steal in the later rounds.

Jamison Cook:

Player to draft: Terry McLaurin, WR, WFT

McLaurin has a better quarterback this season and is the clear-cut no. 1 wide receiver in this offense. Fitzpatrick may be all over the place at times, but he can sling the ball around and McLaurin will be sure to benefit. He may not be a household name yet, but this is the year Scary Terry vaults himself into the top-tier of NFL wide receivers. Don’t miss out on the chance to have him on your roster because you went for a familiar name like Allen Robinson or Amari Cooper. McLaurin will outperform those receivers and is a guy that can win your league. 

Player to avoid: Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Do I really need to explain myself? I just don’t trust the guy. Every year seems to be his year to bounce back, but then it never pans out like it is supposed to. Plus the Bengals didn’t do much of anything to improve their offensive line this offseason, so I just can’t justify using a draft pick — let alone a pick in the first few rounds — on Mixon. Maybe this is the year he proves me wrong, but stay away from Mixon at all costs.

Sleeper: Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers

Cobb is back in Green Bay with his buddy Aaron Rodgers, and what was once a very productive connection has a chance to be reborn this season. With defenses focusing their efforts on Davante Adams, Cobb has an opportunity to flourish in a secondary role. In deeper leagues I would use a late-round pick on Cobb, you never know what could happen and anyone that has the chance to catch balls from Rodgers can be a productive fantasy player. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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