What a first week of football! Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season was even more unpredictable than usual.
Aaron Rodgers finished below two Fantasy points. Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Najee Harris, Aaron Jones, and James Robinson all finished outside of the top 25 at the RB position, while Jamaal Williams and Melvin Gordon finished inside the top five. The 49ers scored 41 points, yet Brandon Aiyuk didn't register even one target on the day. Josh Allen attempted a career-high 51 passes, but he was still outscored by Jared Goff, Daniel Jones, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Darnold.
Week 1 was certainly a strange one, but if you're anything like me, you reveled in the strangeness for 12 straight hours and were left wanting more by the time the day was over.
If so, here is the more you've been craving: a deep dive into the snaps, routes run, targets, red zone work, and everything in between from every game on Sunday. Enjoy!
Unfortunately, health issues continue to impair my ability to fully dedicate myself to work at the moment. I apologize for not being able to bring you as detailed of analysis as I usually provide. I'm doing all I can to get to a healthier place. Starting next week, I hope to be able to provide the full analysis you're used to.
What We Learned From Week 1
T.J. Hockenson and D'Andre Swift are who we thought they were: absolute PPR machines
If you are a SportsLine member, you likely got your fair share of exposure to Hockenson and Swift during draft season. Hockenson was ranked as my TE4 behind only Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and Mark Andrews, while Swift was ranked as my RB12. I laid out Swift's realistic path to a 100-target season here, and I detailed Hockenson's early-career trajectory comparison to Travis Kelce and the ideal fit with Jared Goff here. So, hopefully you drafted a lot of both of these guys, because through one week, they look like exactly who we thought they were.
To this point in his career, Swift has been a historical outlier, in terms of his ability to draw targets.
In Week 1, Swift's TPRR rate was even higher (27 percent) than it was during his rookie campaign. He's a clear top-12 Fantasy RB in any sort of PPR format.
Hockenson's Week 1 TPRR rate (19 percent) didn't spike in the way Swift's did, but that doesn't matter as long as his role in Week 1 is sustainable -- due to the number of routes he ran, Hockenson's per-route rates didn't even need to increase for him to reach double-digit targets.
Darrell Henderson looks like the guy in L.A.
Henderson played 94 percent of the snaps in Week 1! That rate seems like it will inevitably drop as Sony Michel becomes more accustomed to the offense, but the fact that L.A. was comfortable letting Henderson play the entire game is so exciting for his Fantasy outlook.
Prior to the season starting, I extrapolated Henderson's potential rushing and receiving volume based on his past usage, L.A.'s historical RB usage, and Matthew Stafford's tendencies in targeting the RB position. With only a projected 50-60 percent of L.A.'s backfield work going to Henderson, the amount of volume he projected for still indicated that a top-14 Fantasy RB finish was likely based on historical precedence from backs with similar workloads. That was with a 50-60 percent backfield share projection! If he continues to play anywhere near the number of snaps we saw from him in Week 1, Henderson has top-five Fantasy RB upside.
Given his struggles to stay healthy in the past, Sean McVay's unpredictable week-to-week tendencies, and the likelihood that Michel works his way into a larger role, Henderson isn't someone I would value as a top-five Fantasy RB. But that type of upside is there. On Wednesday, I will publish my rest-of-season rankings, which are adjusted for everything we saw in Week 1, and I'd guess that Henderson will rank as a top-15 Fantasy RB after his usage this week.
Tyreek Hill is on his way to a record-breaking season
I wrote about this before the season started: Tyreek Hill has yet to be targeted at a per-route rate that matches his talent, but his splits with Sammy Watkins off the field indicate that change could come in 2021.
And then in Week 1, the Chiefs targeted Hill on 40 percent of his targets -- the third-highest single-game mark of his career.
Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Byron Pringle were afterthoughts; none had more than three targets. The offense ran entirely through Hill, Kelce, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, as it should.
Hill won't be targeted on 40 percent of his routes going forward, but he does appear poised to easily improve on last year's 22.8 percent TPRR rate. With his per-target efficiency, any notable increase in TPRR rate could realistically result in some of the gaudiest numbers ever posted by a pass-catcher.
Unless Green Bay gets blown out in every game, Aaron Jones remains on track to be a top-five Fantasy RB
I detailed Jones' path to the RB1 finish in Fantasy here -- essentially, I expected him to see a career-high snap rate without Jamaal Williams around to steal passing down work from him. That is exactly what we saw in Week 1.
Jones wasn't targeted at a high rate in Week 1, but I trust the past three seasons of data over three quarters of a bizarre Week 1 game. I expect him to be targeted at a high rate going forward. And if he runs more routes, as we saw from him prior to Green Bay's first-team offense being pulled, he should put up a career-high in targets.
I speculated that Jones could reach the 100-target mark in 2021 if he accounted for roughly 75 percent of Green Bay's RB routes, which is what we saw from him in games without Jamaal Williams last year. He accounted for 74 percent of the Green Bay RB routes in Week 1 prior to the starting offense taking a seat.
The Joe Mixon RB1 season is finally a reality
With Giovani Bernard no longer around to limit his passing game involvement, Joe Mixon projected as a clear top-10 Fantasy RB for me heading into 2021. It's only one week, but everything we saw in our first look at Cincy's 2021 offense matched expectations.
He played 79 percent of the offensive snaps -- a rate which he only topped once in 22 games over the two prior seasons. It's worth pointing out that he did split third-down snaps evenly with Samaje Perine, but that's still a huge improvement from his situation in past seasons. It's a tiny sample size, but Mixon was on the field for all four of Cincinnati's plays from the two-minute offense.
With the Bengals playing at one of the fastest paces of any team in the NFL, and Mixon sitting atop the depth chart with no real threat to cut into his excellent rushing and target share, the path to a top-10 Fantasy RB season is clear.
Najee Harris is set for an absolutely mammoth workload
Even though I was highly skeptical of Pittsburgh's offensive line and the overall efficiency of the offense, Najee Harris ended up making his way into my top-12 at the position after watching his usage in the preseason. And in Week 1, Pittsburgh showed us exactly what they did during preseason action -- he is an every-down back, literally.
It doesn't matter what offense he plays in, playing every single down is enough to make any RB Fantasy relevant -- ask late-season 2020 David Montgomery. Through pure volume alone, Harris is set to finish as a top-12 Fantasy RB. If his Fantasy manager is willing to part ways with him after disappointing Week 1 performance, his peripheral numbers indicate that you absolutely should take advantage.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire's usage was much better than it was during his rookie campaign
Clyde Edwards-Helaire's passing game involvement was massively underwhelming in his rookie season. And unlike many rookies who see their role expanded as the year goes on, CEH's role got worse as the year progressed.
First half of the season:
Third downs -- 33%
2-minute offense -- 40%
Third downs -- 19%
2-minute offense -- 0 of 51 (45 went to Williams, 6 to Bell)
Third downs -- 1 of 13
2-minute offense -- 0 of 12
His usage in Week 1 could indicate that CEH will be used much more often on passing downs in his second season as a pro, though. He was on the field for 54 percent of third downs and 40 percent of Kansas City's two-minute offense opportunities. Overall, his snap rate was up to 74 percent, which tied his season-high from 2020.
Chris Carson is set for a huge season
Whether it was due to Rashaad Penny's injury, or simply a product of cleaner health, we saw far more of Chris Carson in Week 1 than in any game in 2020.
Carson really only played nine games that were uninterrupted by injury in 2020. He averaged 15.8 half-PPR points in those games, which would have ranked him as the RB8 in 2020.
Carson's rushing workload wasn't quite as high as it had been in years past; he averaged just 13 carries across his nine healthy games as part of Seattle's more pass-heavy 2020 offense. Still, his 16-game pace in those games came out to 208 rushing attempts and 70.4 targets. Only four backs had 200-plus carries and 60-plus targets in 2020, and they all were top-10 Fantasy RBs.
In Week 1, Carson handled 16 rushing attempts and three targets, which resulted in 117 scrimmage yards. Only four backs had more scrimmage yards. Since Carson didn't find the end zone, it's possible that he might still be valued as the low-end RB2 that he was drafted as. In reality, he's someone who should likely be viewed as a borderline top-12 option at the position.