The 2021 NFL season is in full swing after a pretty wild Week 1 that saw a number of underdogs spring upsets or, at the very least, outperform expectations.
The first week of the season is of particular interest for fantasy football players because after months of projections and analysis on who should get touches and opportunity, we learn the real roles some of these players will have this year. While we still have the Monday Night game to come, the list of top fantasy performers features a number of names you’d expect, like Christian McCaffrey, Amari Cooper, Tyreek Hill, Patrick Mahomes, and Kyler Murray, but also some surprising names that many leagues have just sitting there in available free agents.
Here we will look at the best Week 1 performers still out there in most leagues, where you might be able to scoop up a key contributor off the waiver wire.
Corey Davis, Jets (26.7 points, rostered in 73.6% of NFL.com leagues): Davis might be available in your league, depending on how down everyone was on the Jets. It’s not a surprise that Davis was Zach Wilson’s favorite target given how often he looked for the veteran in the preseason, but Week 1 confirmed that Davis is going to be the guy for Wilson this season and if you’re in one of the 26% of leagues where he’s available, it’s time to fix that.
Sterling Shepard, Giants (24.3 points, 69.6% rostered): Like Davis, Shepard is Daniel Jones’ safety blanket at the receiver position and, while the G-Men aren’t exactly a high-flying passing attack, Shepard gets ample targets and opportunity. He’s available in nearly a third of NFL.com leagues, and looks the part of a strong pickup option.
Christian Kirk, Cardinals (24 points, 2.6% rostered): Maybe, just maybe, this is the Christian Kirk breakout year some of us have been hoping for since he was at Texas A&M. He’s a dynamic slot guy and with all the attention DeAndre Hopkins commands, Kirk sees some favorable matchups over the middle as safeties tend to be peeking to the outside to make sure Nuk isn’t taking the top off the defense. He’s available in just about every league and there’s certainly potential that this was an aberration, but if you’re in need of receiver depth you could do worse.
Zach Pascal, Colts (20.3 points, 0.6% rostered): Indianapolis did not look great offensively, but Pascal seemed to have a strong connection with Carson Wentz and that’s all that matters in fantasy. If he’s going to be the guy Wentz is most comfortable finding, it doesn’t matter how good the offense is overall, he’s worth picking up and given he’s available in over 99 percent of leagues, he’s worth a flier.
Jameis Winston, Saints (29.62 points, 34% rostered): Jameis lit up the Packers on Sunday and for all the concern about whether he had the weapons around him, we were reminded of how he can absolutely pile up the stats. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but he’s available in two-thirds of NFL.com leagues and that will change very soon. If you can snag him, he’s probably an upgrade unless you have Kyler Murray or Patrick Mahomes, because, while five TDs a week probably isn’t likely, he can very much sustain some big time production.
Jared Goff, Lions (28.92 points, 2.8% rostered): You may say “well he piled up points in garbage time,” but let me counter that with, think about how often Detroit is going to find itself in garbage time. Detroit is dreadful as a football team, but they had some huge fantasy performers (we’ll see another later), led by Goff. It probably won’t be quite like this every week, but in a two-QB league, particularly, he’s got some value because there will be a lot of games where he’s just chucking it late when the other team doesn’t care much.
Tyrod Taylor, Texans (23.64 points, 0.5% rostered): Maybe the least believable performance in terms of sustainability, but I do want to shoutout Tyrod for a tremendous showing in Week 1. It comes with the giant asterisk that is “played the Jaguars” but he was, genuinely, very good against a very, very bad team. I wouldn’t be running to the free agent pool to pick him up, but maybe more illustrative is the point that if you can get literally anyone who plays the Jaguars this year for a one-week rental, you should consider it.
Jamaal Williams, Lions (25 points, 56.9% rostered): Speaking of Lions who piled up the stats, Detroit let everyone eat in the second half, including their second running back. D’Andre Swift also had a great fantasy day, but Williams got plenty of touches and opportunity as well to raise some eyebrows and, with him being available in almost half of the leagues, he’s going to be a popular pickup this week.
Eli Mitchell, 49ers (16.4 points, 0.3% rostered): When Raheem Mostert got hurt, Mitchell became the feature back and looked very good. The extent of Mostert’s injury will likely determine just how valuable a fantasy pickup Mitchell could be, but he’s probably earned playing time and touches no matter what — particularly if they feel the need to try and protect Mostert a bit.
Dallas Goedert (14.2 points, 51.6% rostered): Zach Ertz is the bigger name in the Philly tight end room, but Goedert got the most targets and catches in Week 1. It’s always a bit scary to take a guy at that position who splits snaps with someone else, but Hurts was clearly looking his way a good bit and felt comfortable with him.
Juwan Johnson, Saitns (17.1 points, 0.3% rostered): Johnson feels like a big time boom/bust guy from week-to-week as his productivity is going to be reliant on whether he gets a score as Jameis’ preferred red zone target. He got two TDs against Green Bay, as the 6’4 big body is clearly an early favorite of Jameis in the scoring area, but there will probably be games where he’s a no-show. Still, he is available almost everywhere and, at the very least, could be a good bye week addition.
Dalton Schultz, Cowboys (10.5 points, 2.4% rostered): Taking anyone on the Cowboys seems like a fairly good idea, because they are going to throw it a lot and pile up some stats and points. Schultz had six catches in the Week 1 loss to Tampa and while he didn’t have any touchdowns, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him find paydirt on a number of occasions this year. Dak will spread the love around in Dallas and Schultz being available in as many leagues as he is feels like an easy pickup for a team without one of the elite tight ends.