2021 Season: Week 1 Sunday Storylines

(Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck)

Malcolm McMillan (@McLateralFF)
The Lateral Writer

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Trey Lance only had one play yesterday. That has now been changed to one pass, which is the accurate version of events.

Well, that was a wild Week 1. Even before the games started. Fantasy football managers were absolutely rocked right before kickoff when San Francisco announced that 49ers running back Trey Sermon was a healthy scratch. They were a little less shook, but still shocked, when Buffalo Bills running back Zack Moss was also declared a healthy scratch. Admittedly, it was even still a surprise when Atlanta Falcons running back Wayne Gallman was also, also a healthy scratch for their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Nobody cared when La'mical Perine was declared a healthy scratch for the New York Jets.

So did things get any less crazy once the games actually started? Of course not. Good thing that The Lateral is here to help you digest some of the biggest storylines from yesterday's games.

Week 1 Sunday Storylines

Welcome to Shanahanigans: Elijah Mitchell breaks out for San Francisco

Remember earlier when San Francisco 49ers running back Trey Sermon was a healthy scratch? Turns out, that was important because he was replaced by fellow rookie running back Elijah Mitchell. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game that Mitchell made the gameday roster over Sermon due to camp performance. After today, it will be difficult to see Mitchell losing that spot. The sixth-round rookie put up 104 yards on 19 carries, including a 38-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The zero targets could be a red flag for fantasy football managers, but the 49ers running back's 16.4 PPR point performance will make him a top waiver wire add in the coming week. Especially since fellow 49ers running back Raheem Mostert seems likely to miss time with a knee injury.

That was not the end of the Shanahanigans in Detroit though. Partway through the first quarter, the internet broke when rookie quarterback Trey Lance came in for starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo and promptly threw a touchdown. On his first NFL regular-season pass ever. 

It was his only pass of the game. 

But the craziness did not even end there. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel had a career day, with nine receptions on 12 targets for 189 yards and a 79-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, a fantasy football favorite to breakout (and last year's first-round pick for the 49ers) only contributed a single punt return. In short, Kyle Shanahan is going to keep people guessing all year long, and that is exactly how he likes it.

It Aint' Easy being Green... Bay? (When the Saints Go Marching into Jacksonville) 

Who had Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers getting benched on their 2021 NFL season bingo card? Anyone? After all the offseason drama in Green Bay, this is the last thing Packers fans wanted to see. Well, they probably did not want to see their team lose 38-3 to the New Orleans Saints either. Unfortunately, both things definitely happened. 

Not that Rodgers was the lone problem for the Packers. In fact, nothing went right. Running back Aaron Jones? 4.2 PPR fantasy football points and just nine rushing yards. Wide receiver Davante Adams? 10.6 PPR fantasy points with a relatively pedestrian 56 yards and five receptions on seven targets. The lone bright spot may be wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who saw the same number of targets as Adams (though only produced 4.7 PPR points). If Green Bay can turn it around and he can hold onto that role, Valdes-Scantling could be a steal on the waiver wire this week. But if this is just the beginning of a long season for the Packers, fantasy football managers may want to stay away.

On the other sideline, the New Orleans Saints had a very efficient, dominant performance on both sides of the ball. Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander managed to keep wide receiver Marquez Callaway in check, but the Packers defense could not cover anyone else. The most interesting takeaway? The tight ends. Tight end Adam Trautman led the New Orleans Saints in targets (six) and tight end Juwan Johnson led them in touchdowns (two). Trautman ultimately saw no meaningful targets, and Johnson saw only three targets, but the tight end situation in New Orleans merits monitoring going forward.

Editor's Note: For more on Juwan Johnson, go check out McLateral's debut article at Pro Football Mania.

Campus to Canton? College Quarterbacks connected with their old favorite targets

One of the interesting trends in this past NFL draft was pairing sophomore starting quarterbacks with rookie wide receivers. Specifically, wide receivers that those quarterbacks targeted in college. At fifth overall, the Cincinnati Bengals took Ja'Marr Chase, quarterback Joe Burrow's favorite target at Lousiana State University. With the next pick, the Miami Dolphins followed suit and drafted Jaylen Waddle from the University of Alabama to reconnect with his former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Then the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to take Heisman winner DeVonta Smith to catch passes thrown by his former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.

This strategy paid off on Sunday, as all three teams won their opening games. Granted, there are a lot more factors than just a rookie wide receiver that contribute to a win. But the wide receivers were a major factor in securing the "W" for their teams. All three wide receivers led their teams in PPR fantasy football points, and only Jaylen Waddle failed to lead his team in targets and yards. All three led their teams (or tied for the lead) in receiving touchdowns and receptions.

From a fantasy football perspective, it is tough to capitalize on this trend at this point. These players were all drafted in fantasy football drafts, and you would have to pay a premium in any trade after their Week 1 performances. But if teams continue this trend in next year's NFL draft, those rookie wide receivers could be must-haves on any fantasy football roster in 2022.

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