After an exciting opening of the 2021 NFL season, fantasy owners around the world will be checking into the waiver wire to find the diamond in the rough and improve their overall roster. Below are six names that impressed in their respective openers and could find themselves with fantasy relevance moving forward.
QB Jameis Winston
14/20, 148 pass yards, 5 passing touchdowns, 0 INT, 37 rush yards, 29.6 FPTS
Yahoo: 44% ESPN: 30%
Winston dominated in his starting debut with the Saints, throwing an NFL-high five touchdowns. Despite a league low 20 passing attempts, the former Buccaneer still managed to finish as QB3 in Week 1. I was high on Winston coming into the year as a valuable fantasy asset as a backup and he did not disappoint in that regard.
Don’t expect him to become your team’s full-time starter, but he will have several matchups as the year moves along that will provide the opportunity for an elite return. Let’s not forget that in his infamous 30 interception season in 2019, he still managed to lead the league in passing yardage (5,109) and finished the year as QB5. If you are looking for an upgrade at the quarterback position, do not let him slip away and onto another roster.
RB Elijah Mitchell
19 carries, 104 rush yards, 1 TD, 16.4 FPTS
Yahoo: 11% ESPN: 4%
The out-of-nowhere fantasy asset in Week 1 was Elijah Mitchell. He made the most of his opportunity after the early departure of Raheem Mostert, rushing for 104 yards (3rd) and finishing with 16.4 fantasy points (RB15). With Mostert’s injury being season-ending, Mitchell should be one of the most sought after running backs on the waiver wire.
Now with that being said, this will likely be rookie Trey Sermon’s job to lose, though being a healthy scratch on Sunday coupled with Mitchell’s breakout performance will put a wrinkle into the matter. Still, San Francisco remains a strong run-heavy team and there is no reason to believe both running backs won’t have their moments as the season goes on. Next week’s game against the Eagles will provide a strong indication for how this situation will shake out. Having a potential RB2/Flex option as your RB4 or RB5 will be very enticing as this situation unfolds further.
WR Sterling Shepard
9 targets, 7 receptions, 113 receiving yards, 1 TD, 24.3 FPTS
Yahoo: 40% ESPN: 30%
Sterling was phenomenal against the Broncos in Week 1, leading the Giants in targets (9) and finished the game with a 7-113-1 line, good for WR8 in PPR leagues. The former Sooner was thought to be the odd man out in New York’s receiving corps following the additions of Kenny Golladay and rookie Kadarius Toney, but that was not the case Sunday.
With Barkley being eased back in to the thick of things after a 2020 knee injury sidelined him most of the season, the Giants will have to continue relying on the passing attack to move the ball down the field. With Golladay, Barkley, and Engram all banged up or limited, Shepard is most likely the guy to benefit. He may seem like a risky start right now, but the 28 year-old veteran has legitimate WR2/WR3 upside at least in the early part of this season.
WR Sammy Watkins
8 targets, 4 receptions, 96 receiving yards, 13.6 FPTS
Yahoo: 14% ESPN: 15%
Watkins solid debut was a welcoming sight after leaving one of the most wide receiver-friendly offenses for the most run-heavy team in 2020. The eight year veteran led the Ravens in targets (8) and should be able to lock in that amount of workload with the lack of depth Baltimore has at receiver since rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman’s groin injury occured in training camp.
Watkins will face a pair of beatable secondaries in the following two weeks, including a revenge game on Sunday Night Fooball Week 2 vs Kansas City. Watkins, pending health, should have solid flex appeal throughout the season.
WR K.J. Hamler
4 targets, 3 receptions, 41 receiving yards, 7.1 FPTS
Yahoo: 2% ESPN: 2%
This one may be only justified in deeper leagues, but make no mistake about it, Hamler should have tremendous upside following the injury to Jerry Jeudy, which could keep him out until late October. Sure, the Broncos still have a former 1,000 yard receiver in Courtland Sutton, but they are still easing him back into things after his significant knee injury last season. Hamler is a formidable option that can emerge as a nice deep threat with more volume.
Bridgewater may be an overlooked fantasy commodity, but he knows how to get others involved. Last season as a starter for the Panthers, Bridgewater led to three wideouts finishing in the top 25 among their position (PPR). Noah Fant will likely command the most targets, but Hamler will have a steady role for the time being. Their next two games against the Jaguars and Jets will be nice matchups for the second year wideout to get going and provide you a solid return as a sleeper.
TE Juwan Johnson
3 targets, 3 receptions, 21 receiving yards, 2 TDs, 17.1 FPTS
Yahoo: 11% ESPN: 2%
Johnson was the main beneficiary of Winston’s debut, catching a pair of scores for an impressive 17.1 fantasy points, good for fifth among tight ends. The three targets were uninspiring, but a blowout win is never going to favor volume in the passing game. Going back to his Buccaneer days, Winston loved throwing to his tight ends and that carried over Sunday with 45% of his attempts going to the position.
Without a prominent receiving corps, Johnson could continue to build on his strong start to 2021. As long as Michael Thomas is out, there is a massive target share up for grabs and the tight end should have the opportunity to take advantage.
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