In the spirit of any good disclaimer, it is essential to make the primary purpose of this article known upfront and be transparent about potential pitfalls when using the information below. The 2020 season taught us that those aforementioned pitfalls could range anywhere from “minor inconvenience” to “oh no, my team is in shambles”, so my aim is to provide as much insight as possible regarding each featured player’s best-case and worst-case scenario that week.
For those of you that have read this article in the past, welcome back and thank you, genuinely, for taking this ride with QB List for another season. If this is your first time clicking, I love you too, but you are not here to have a random stranger tell you they love you. Here is what to expect this season:
- Weekly breakdowns of RBs, WRs, and TEs (under 65%-rostered on ESPN and/or Yahoo) who I feel could produce useful fantasy numbers that week.
- A list (in order of highest-to-lowest priority) of additional options to consider at the end of each position’s section. This could include players who barely missed the 65%-rostered threshold, but may be available, along with others who could help your team out in a pinch.
- A recap of the previous week’s recommended player performances followed by a recommendation of what action to take with said player moving forward.
Feedback/ questions/ suggestions in the comments are always appreciated, whether you agree with the content or not, and will only improve this article, so please do not be shy as we are all on this roller coaster together. Hopefully, your teams are still healthy since draft day, but if you are in search of early season fill-ins or just want to find some names to put on free agent speed-dial, here are a few players that I feel can contribute in Week 1 and beyond.
* If anyone featured below is at risk of not playing or is relegated to a bench role late in the week, I will do my best to keep you all updated on Twitter (@BrandonMillerFB). All players below are under 65%-rostered as of 09/08/21.
David Johnson (RB, Houston Texans)
Given the premium that most fantasy footballers place on RBs, there is a good chance that your league’s RB free agent pool already looks like a barren wasteland. It does not help that, outside of the weekly dart-throw at TE, RBs without a defined role are arguably the most challenging to stream and speculate on. There are no guarantees in fantasy sports, so the goal is always to make whatever decision(s) gives you the highest probability of success (also, the sky is blue).
Let’s use this week’s top RB recommendation, David Johnson, to help paint that picture. The downs: Johnson is currently listed third on the team’s depth chart (behind Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay), he has not completed a full 16-game slate since 2018, and Houston’s offense will undoubtedly be less effective without Deshaun Watson under center (shorter drives = fewer plays = fewer opportunities to rack up stats). The ups: Johnson registered the best rushing efficiency of his career last season behind a poor offensive line (4.7 yards-per-carry), he had the most yards-per-reception (9.5) among RBs with 40+ targets last year, and Texans’ interim QB Tyrod Taylor is a notoriously conservative game-manager who will check-down to RBs whenever necessary.
What this boils down to is an offense devoid of playmakers who could use someone like Johnson to emerge as a consistent threat. Although the workload might be shaky at first, I’m counting on Johnson’s track record, talent, and receiving skills to keep him on the field more than his backfield competition (Ingram and Lindsay are simply not pass-catchers). If you need depth at RB, I feel Johnson is a step above other available options and could establish himself as a reliable FLEX this season.
Giovani Bernard (RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Hey, were you looking for another 29-year-old running back currently listed third on their team’s depth chart? If so, let me tell you about career backup Giovani Bernard! In all seriousness, there is true potential for Bernard to carve out a regular role this season. Although he has filled in for injured starters on occasion throughout his eight-year career, his primary usage has always been as a passing-down/ change-of-pace back. In case you did not watch any Bucs games last year, catching the ball was a struggle for backfield mates Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. While those two will likely split the early-down and short-yardage workload, Bernard has little-to-no competition for his role as the top pass-catcher out of the backfield who gets the occasional carry.
To be clear, I am not trying to sell you on Bernard having some magical season out of the blue. However, I do feel there is a lot to like. Tom Brady is not getting any more mobile and annually has one of the quickest snap-to-release times in the league, often looking the RB’s way before blitzing defenders can get a clean hit. Another RB of the same ilk, James White, had some legitimately productive years as Brady’s go-to receiver out of the backfield. Bernard is a depth piece who lacks a high ceiling but could provide consistent production in PPR leagues with his locked-in role. The Bucs open the 2021 season on Thursday, so make sure to get him into an RB slot if you decide to roll the dice on him this week.
Other names to consider (in order): Phillip Lindsay, Giovani Bernard, James White, Tony Pollard, J.D. McKissic.
Mecole Hardman (WR, Kansas City Chiefs)
We often refer to late-round fantasy draft picks as “lottery tickets.” Anyone who has ever played the actual lottery is well-aware of the life-altering effects a winning ticket could have, but the odds of winning “the big one” are so slim that most view it as a faraway dream. In lottery terms, the best way I could describe Mecole Hardman heading into 2021 is a $5 scratch-off: the cost is not too high and he will not make you filthy rich, but it also would not be shocking to see him return positive value on your investment.
In summary, I am saying that Hardman is available (roughly 65%-rostered right now) and does not require a hefty investment, but has the potential, talent, and team context working in his favor to provide positive results. The raw talent has never been a question; Hardman is a legit burner (4.33s 40-yard dash) with leaping ability (36.5” vertical). Now in his third season, a time when many post-hype WRs have “broken out” in the past, Hardman has the opportunity to cement himself as the third option in the Chiefs’ passing game behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Why would you get excited about a third, at best, receiving option? Because his QB is Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City attempted 630 passes last season (just over 39 attempts/ game).
Although I still think Hardman will have some “boom-or-bust” weeks scattered across his game log this year, the weekly floor should now be higher with increased opportunities and those “boom” weeks just might win you a matchup when they hit. Even if you are hesitant to start him right away, he is a fine bench stash that could make you look very smart for getting in early.
Jalen Reagor (WR, Philadelphia Eagles)
As the 21st-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jalen Reagor was one of the more sought-after rookie WRs in fantasy leagues last year. Unfortunately for those that invested in the multi-talented pass-catcher out of TCU last season, his rookie campaign mirrored that of his team: disjointed, rife with injuries, and anything but consistent. What many would call a “bust” first season, I would call a buying opportunity for year two.
Although Reagor will have to contend for targets with touted rookie De’Vonta Smith and veteran Dallas Goedert, I feel that his open-field abilities will lead to a variety of short-area looks from Jalen Hurts, who is not exactly known for his downfield passing prowess. With a new coaching regime in town, we will hope Philly brings a more cohesive offensive attack to the table so that Reagor can show he was worth the hype coming out of college.
Other names to consider (in order): Sterling Shepard, Marquise Brown (57% Yahoo), Darnell Mooney, Cole Beasley (46% Yahoo), DeVante Parker, Tyrell Williams, Jakobi Meyers, Parris Campbell, Elijah Moore, Rondale Moore, Terrace Marshall, A.J. Green.
Austin Hooper (TE, Cleveland Browns)
No need to beat around the bush; streaming tight ends is typically a headache. The best one can hope for out of a TE streamer is somewhere around six-plus targets with a few red zone looks sprinkled in. If the player has low run-after-catch numbers, a low average depth of target, or their overall targets are lacking, take a look at their red zone targets as well as the upcoming opponent.
Despite a disappointing first season in Cleveland’s run-first offense, Austin Hooper is still just 26-years-old and will look to bounce back against a Chiefs team that allowed the seventh-most fantasy points-per-game to opposing TEs last year. I expect the Browns to be playing catch-up against KC’s high-powered offense, leading to more opportunities than usual for the talented Hooper.
Other names to consider (in order): Hunter Henry, Evan Engram (check status), Gerald Everett, Jared Cook, Cole Kmet, Eric Ebron
(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)