Kickoff: Sunday, September 12th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Betting Odds: SF -7.5, 45.5 total via Oddsshark
San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo (Sit), Trey Lance (Sit)
It’s Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season which means Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t injured…yet. Garoppolo has struggled to stay healthy since joining the 49ers in 2018, tearing his ACL in Week 3 of that season and suffering a high ankle sprain last season that limited him to just six games. Garoppolo did manage a 16-game season in 2019 and he finished just outside the QB1 ranks for fantasy managers that year. San Francisco’s offense is defined by its powerful running game, however, which limits Garoppolo’s upside. During Garoppolo’s only full season with the 49ers, the team ran the ball on 51.4% of their plays, second in the NFL. The 49ers are expected to be in control for the majority of this game, so a heavy dose of the running game in the second half wouldn’t be surprising. Garoppolo should be able to do enough to get the victory for San Francisco, but that won’t be enough for fantasy managers this week and he should remain on your bench.
San Francisco HC Kyle Shanahan has indicated during the preseason that the 49ers will have packages for rookie QB Trey Lance but reiterated that Garoppolo is the starter. Lance has shown promise during his opportunities in preseason games but his role is expected to be very small, at least early in the season. Lance looks to be the QB of the future for the 49ers but fantasy managers are more concerned about the present and that makes Lance an easy “sit” for Week 1.
Raheem Mostert (Start, RB2), Trey Sermon (Sit)
Raheem Mostert is no stranger to competition in the backfield. Mostert shared the RB duties with Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida in 2019, split time with Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson in 2020, and now looks to compete for touches with rookie Trey Sermon and Jamychal Hasty. Mostert has never been a reliable option for fantasy managers as a result and it looks like this season will bring the same frustrations for anyone who rosters him. Mostert has been very good when given the opportunity, posting an absurd 5.6 yards per carry for his career and scoring a TD on 4.2% of his touches. The problem with Mostert is the number of opportunities he gets. Mostert gets a new-look Lions defense in Week 1 as the team is transitioning to a base 3-4 under new DC Aaron Glenn. This change may provide Mostert with better running lanes as the Detroit defenders learn the nuances of the new defense. I expect Mostert will see enough volume, especially in the second half as the team looks to salt away a victory, to provide RB2-level production in Week 1.
Trey Sermon should see his touches increase as the season progresses, but I don’t know if we’ll see enough of him this week to make him a reliable option for fantasy managers. Sermon might be a viable Flex option for managers who deployed a Zero-RB approach in fantasy drafts, but I suspect we see him finish just outside the RB2 ranks this week.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Brandon Aiyuk (Start, WR2), Deebo Samuel (Start, WR3/Flex), George Kittle (Start, TE1)
When George Kittle fractured his ankle during San Francisco’s Week 8 contest against the Seattle Seahawks last season, the offense lost its number-one pass-catcher. However, then-rookie Brandon Aiyuk showed why the 49ers traded up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft to select him. Aiyuk provided the 49ers with a reliable option in the passing game and posted 40 receptions for 468 yards and four TDs from Week 8 through the end of the season. Aiyuk will be looking to build on his impressive second-half of 2020 and gets a favorable matchup against a defense that struggled mightily in all phases of the game last season. For this week, Aiyuk projects as a solid WR2 candidate primarily because of San Francisco’s penchant for controlling the game on the ground and the expectation the team will have a second-half lead and won’t be forced to throw.
Lining up opposite Aiyuk will be Deebo Samuel, an electric playmaker that Shanahan loves to manufacture touches for in several ways. Samuel has struggled to stay healthy, dating all the way back to college, as he missed nearly 10 games last season with a hamstring injury and a fractured foot. Samuel will be utilized all over the field, including as an option in the running game on sweeps. Unfortunately for fantasy managers, Samuel may be the third option on a low-volume passing offense which will severely limit his upside this week. As mentioned, the expectation for the offense will be to control the ball with a heavy dose of the running game and that makes Deebo a boom/bust option this week. He should manufacture enough production to be a consideration for fantasy managers as a WR3 or Flex option.
When fantasy managers think of the recent 49er passing game, one name generally stands above the rest: George Kittle. Kittle has been a force at the TE position for fantasy managers since his breakout in 2018 but injuries derailed his 2020 season. Kittle missed nine games last season with knee and ankle injuries but returned for the team’s final two games and renewed hopes for fantasy managers for 2021. Kittle is the only 49er to record 100+ targets since 2018 and he’s done it twice with 136 in 2018 and 107 in 2019. Had he not gotten injured last season, he was on pace for another 120+ target season as well. Kittle is the only member of the 49er receiving group that fantasy managers can comfortably rely on and there is no reason to suggest otherwise this week. Drop Kittle into your TE spot and rest easy as he’s an every-week TE1 when healthy.
Jared Goff (Sit)
After five seasons, the Los Angeles Rams had seen enough of Jared Goff. Goff compiled a 42-27 record in Los Angeles but struggled with turnovers as he threw 55 interceptions and fumbled 42 times. Goff was traded to the Lions during the offseason as the Rams looked to get out of his cumbersome contract and Goff will now be piloting a team that struggled mightily last season. Detroit should have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL but the WR positions will be manned by a hodgepodge of underwhelming veterans or unproven youngsters. Goff might get plenty of opportunities to throw the ball given the low expectations for Detroit’s win total, but even a high-volume passing attack doesn’t make Goff an attractive fantasy option. Goff doesn’t seem to possess the arm talent to push the ball downfield with regularity and his role seems to be more of a stopgap at the position than a long-term solution. Fantasy managers should look elsewhere for their QB production this week and likely for the majority of the season.
D’Andre Swift (Start, RB2), Jamaal Williams (Sit)
One of the players frequently mentioned as a potential breakout candidate for the 2021 season is second-year RB D’Andre Swift. Despite missing much of his rookie-year preseason and training camp because of injury and COVID-19, Swift grew into the team’s #1 RB during the second half of the season. Swift showed a penchant for finding the end zone, scoring 10 TDs on just 150 touches, and was a key part of the team’s passing game as well. Detroit is expecting an improved offensive line with the addition of rookie Penei Sewell and the change at QB to Goff might result in more targets for Swift. The Lions probably aren’t going to be leading much this season, which dampens Swift’s outlook some, but as one of Detroit’s two primary offensive weapons, Swift should still provide plenty of weeks of starter-level production for fantasy managers. Expect one this week as Swift looks to finish as no worse than an RB2 against San Francisco.
It was no surprise the Lions would be looking to free agency or the draft to find a replacement for future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Peterson. It was also no surprise when the Lions signed Jamaal Williams after the Packers released him. It was surprising, however, when new Detroit OC Anthony Lynn called Williams a “classic ‘A’ back…I can leave those guys in there for all three downs.” Swift missing time this offseason due to a groin injury doesn’t help fantasy managers who likely used a second- or third-round pick on Swift. Williams was consistent during his time with Green Bay, regularly accumulating around 700 total yards and a handful of TDs, so talent isn’t much of a concern. I expect Williams to have roughly the same impact in Detroit as he did in Green Bay assuming Swift stays healthy and Williams will be a thorn in the side of fantasy managers who are relying on Swift as their RB1. I don’t think Williams will see enough volume in Week 1 to make a fantasy impact, but he is the clear handcuff to Swift and is a priority bench option given Swift’s injury history thus far.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Tyrell Williams (Sit), Kalif Raymond (Sit), Amon-Ra St. Brown (Sit), T.J. Hockenson (Start, TE1)
What an offseason it’s been for WRs in Detroit. Last year’s starters, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are now playing with the Giants and Jaguars, respectively, and the Lions are going with a group of mostly unknowns as we head into the 2021 season. As such, it’s pretty much anyone’s guess who will end up as the team’s #1 WR this season, but given his past production, we’ll give the nod for now to Tyrell Williams. Williams burst onto the fantasy scene back in 2016 when he was with the Chargers as he topped 1,000 receiving yards and found the end zone seven times on 69 receptions. Williams was unable to match that production the next two years, but the Raiders took a chance on him before the 2019 season. Williams missed all of last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder and the Raiders released him following the season. Williams struggled as the #1 option with the Raiders but now seems to be in the same role in Detroit. Williams might see enough season-long volume to make him a decent real-life player but the expected struggles of the team combined with Goff at QB make his fantasy prospects much less desirable. Williams should be benched in all but the largest of leagues in Week 1.
When the Lions cut Breshad Perriman on cutdown day it likely slotted Kalif Raymond in the other starting outside WR spot. Raymond spent the last two seasons as a member of the Tennessee Titans but was never able to make a meaningful impact. Raymond has good speed and was used primarily as a kick returner for the Titans. Much like Williams above, Raymond is going to suffer from the projected offensive deficiencies and the lack of a reliable deep threat from Goff. It’s hard to know what to expect from Raymond from a fantasy perspective as he has such little game experience, but I think it’s safe to assume he will not be cracking the starting lineup for fantasy managers much if any this season. Avoid Raymond in Week 1.
One of the most exciting receivers on Detroit’s roster is rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown is expected to step in the starting slot receiver role and, given the lack of enticing options at the other WR positions, has a chance to carve out a nice role in this offense. I think there is a good chance St. Brown leads the WRs in targets and receptions, though that may not lead to much in the way of fantasy production. Expect growing pains for St. Brown as he acclimates to the speed and complexity of the NFL, but there is a chance he could be counted on by fantasy managers this season. Unfortunately, this week doesn’t look like one of those weeks and he should be benched in almost every league.
Along with Swift, the most fantasy-relevant player on this offense is T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson had a disappointing rookie season after a stellar debut in 2019 but rewarded fantasy managers in 2020 with 67 receptions on 101 targets for 723 yards and six TDs. Hockenson finished at or near the top-five of the fantasy TE ranks last season and might very well improve on those numbers this season. Given the lack of surrounding talent at WR, it is realistic for Hockenson to see 140+ targets this season and turn in a top-three fantasy performance. Hockenson will be the primary receiving weapon for the team and with Goff’s penchant for short and intermediate passes, there is a realistic opportunity for Hockenson to approach 100 receptions this year. If he can stay healthy, Hockenson should be much like his peer on the other side of the field this week and return TE1 production every week. Start Hockenson with confidence in Week 1.
-Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN on Twitter)