When Jalen Hurts was benched at halftime of the 2018 College Football National Championship, he fell into quarterback-prospect purgatory. After sitting behind Tua Tagovailoa for a season in Tuscaloosa, Hurts reemerged at Oklahoma and led the Sooners to a playoff appearance before being selected by Philadelphia with the 53rd pick of the 2020 draft. Now, in just his second NFL season, Hurts is already the face of the Eagles—and he may soon be a fantasy superstar.
After replacing Carson Wentz late last season, Hurts went 1-3 in four starts and completed just 52 percent of his passes. Even in defeat, however, Hurts flashed significant dual-threat ability and fantasy potential, averaging 23.8 points per game from Week 14 to the end of the season, good for QB7 during that span.
On Sunday, just a couple of weeks after head coach Nick Sirianni officially named him the Eagles’ starter, Hurts took a significant step forward in his circuitous journey toward fantasy football stardom, throwing for three touchdowns and 264 yards on 27-of-35 passing, to go along with 62 yards on the ground. Hurts was drafted as the 12th fantasy quarterback on average this season; he finished as the QB5 in Week 1 with nearly 29 fantasy points.
Hurts possesses top-five rushing upside at his position, but it’s his improvements as a passer that could pay serious dividends for both his own fantasy prospects and those of the rest of the Eagles’ playmakers. Hurts’s 9.1 completion percentage points above expectation on Sunday were by far the highest of his career and the fifth most of any QB in Week 1. Miles Sanders and DeVonta Smith, each of whom were drafted outside the top 18 players at their respective positions, outscored their half-PPR ESPN projections in Week 1, and last year’s first-rounder, Jalen Reagor, had his best game as a pro against the Falcons. Smith led all rookie receivers in Week 1 with eight targets, and finished with 71 receiving yards and a touchdown catch, which Hurts dropped right over the head of a Falcons defender:
Sanders totaled 19 touches for 113 scrimmage yards and a score, and Dallas Goedert, drafted as the half-PPR TE11 on average coming into the season, also got in on the action with four catches and a touchdown on five targets (including two in the red zone).
Sure, the Atlanta defense is one of the league’s worst, but Hurts was more poised and accurate in Week 1 than he’s ever been, and the Eagles offensive line graded as the NFL’s fifth-best pass-blocking unit against Atlanta. The former second-round pick may need to improve upon his league-worst 3.6 aDOT moving forward, but Philly should be able to move the ball as long as he’s making smart reads and playing within the offense, two areas of improvement Sirianni mentioned in his postgame press conference.
Perhaps Hurts is experiencing a Lamar Jackson– or Josh Allen–type leap, but even if the Philly signal-caller can’t sustain this level of production across 17 games, his short-term fantasy prospects are strong. With matchups against San Francisco, Dallas, and Kansas City over the next three weeks, the Eagles are likely in for a few high-scoring affairs, meaning the young quarterback should produce enough passing and rushing volume to be a reliable top-10 option at the position. If Hurts is merely average as a passer, he should still offer his skill-position players better quarterback play than Wentz did last year, when Wentz tied for the league lead in interceptions and ranked 35th out of 42 qualified quarterbacks graded by PFF.
The fantasy future—at least in the short term—appears sunny in Philadelphia.
QB Jameis Winston, Saints (rostered in 43 percent of Yahoo leagues, 26 percent of ESPN leagues)
There’s a new, efficient Jameis in town. The former Buccaneers quarterback threw five touchdowns (and zero interceptions!) in Week 1, leading the Saints to a 38-3 drubbing of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Volume could be a slight concern—Winston’s 20 passes were his second fewest in a game that he has started and played at least 50 percent of the offensive snaps—but his ability to command the playbook this early in the season without a true no. 1 receiver bodes well for his fantasy prospects moving forward. Not for nothing, he also gave fans the best sound bite from the weekend:
Jameis Winston is a national treasure pic.twitter.com/fmuHF4p3cB— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) September 13, 2021
HB Elijah Mitchell, 49ers (1 percent Yahoo, 1 percent ESPN)
Mitchell stepped in for an injured Raheem Mostert and performed admirably on Sunday, carrying the ball 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. Mostert will reportedly miss about eight weeks with chipped cartilage in his knee, leaving several touches on the table for one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. Considering Mitchell beat Trey Sermon out to start the season, the sixth-rounder out of Louisiana appears primed to lead the 49ers’ backfield in Week 2 and beyond.
HB Mark Ingram II, Texans (18 percent Yahoo, 11 percent ESPN)
Ingram wins my Can’t Believe He Made This Column award. Yes, the Texans’ depth chart lists him as the team’s starting running back, but I (and most other fantasy players) pegged him as the third guy in the backfield behind David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. While Ingram’s still in a committee for one of the worst teams in the NFL, it’s hard to look past his volume against the Jaguars. He had 26 carries—including a league-high three from inside the opponent’s 5-yard line—and a touchdown. That’s nothing to scoff at, even for the Texans.
WR Sterling Shepard, Giants (38 percent Yahoo, 25 percent ESPN)
From Week 7 to the end of last season, Shepard averaged eight targets and 14.6 PPR points per game, making him a viable WR2 or flex play in most leagues. For his career, when he sees at least eight targets in a game, Shepard averages 16.7 PPR points, which pushes him into low-end WR1 territory. Against the Broncos’ vaunted defense on Sunday, he saw nine targets and put up 113 yards and a touchdown, and also logged a team-high 43 passing snaps. Kenny Golladay’s role will likely increase throughout the season, but Shepard is a strong bench addition with upside.
WR Nelson Agholor, Patriots (32 percent Yahoo, 30 percent ESPN)
One of the Patriots’ major free-agent signings lived up to his billing in Week 1 with a 72-yard, one-touchdown performance. He flashed big-play ability multiple times last season, and should have a handful of 100-yard games in store for 2021. He’s the clear top target out wide for New England heading into Week 2.
TE James O’Shaughnessy, Jaguars (1 percent Yahoo, 1 percent ESPN)
The former fifth-rounder isn’t an overwhelming athletic presence, but in Week 1 he was one of Trevor Lawrence’s favorite targets. Opportunity is everything in fantasy, so if O’Shaughnessy continues seeing eight-plus targets and something close to 40 routes per game, he should have a nice season at a top-heavy position.
Najee Harris’s offensive snap percentage. Though he had a poor fantasy performance in Week 1, that usage suggests future fantasy stardom.
The number of routes run by TJ Hockenson against San Francisco. Hockenson’s previous career high was 38, and his 23.7 PPR points on Sunday were the second most of his career.
Jamaal Williams’s touches against the 49ers. The former Packer had an almost even split with D’Andre Swift (19 touches) and could be a viable flex play heading into Week 2 against Green Bay.
The distance (in yards) of Melvin Gordon III’s longest rush in four seasons, in which he reached a top speed of 21.52 miles per hour. Gordon performed well on Sunday, but he was narrowly out-touched by rookie Javonte Williams, 15-14. Each running back logged 33 snaps.
The number of targets Austin Ekeler saw against the Washington Football Team. It was the first receiving-game goose egg of his career as a starter.
Trevor Lawrence’s pass attempts against the Texans, the third-most all time for a rookie in his debut.
The average number of fantasy points scored in 2020 by quarterbacks who attempted 40 or more passes in a game. See Lawrence, Trevor above.
Deebo Samuel’s wide receiver half-PPR ADP. He was the WR3 in Week 1 behind a league-leading 8.1 average YAC above expectation.
Brandon Aiyuk’s wide receiver half-PPR ADP. He ran 15 routes and saw zero targets on Sunday, both career lows.
Julio Jones’s receiving yardage in his Titans debut. It was the lowest Week 1 total of his career.
Russell Wilson’s average depth of target against the Colts in his first game with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Wilson threw 21.7 percent of his passes 20 yards or more downfield, the highest rate among NFL starters in Week 1.
Derrick Henry ↘
Is Henry washed? Probably not. But the Tennessee offense looked out of sync in Week 1 against the Cardinals under new offensive coordinator Todd Downing. If Henry underperforms against the Seahawks and Colts over the next two weeks, he could be a prime buy-low candidate.
Cowboys Passing Game ↑
The Dak Prescott contract looks better today than it did a week ago. Prescott tied a career high in passing attempts on Thursday, and his top receivers reaped the benefits, as CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper both finished among the top-12 half-PPR scorers at their position.
Ezekiel Elliott →
Elliott had a bad fantasy week, but he was missing perennial All-Pro guard Zack Martin, and the Cowboys were facing one of the best rush defenses of the past decade. Elliott still played 83 percent of the offensive snaps.
Corey Davis ↗
The former top-five pick looks to have found a partner in crime in Zach Wilson. Davis logged 24.2 half-PPR points in Week 1 behind a 20.6 percent target share and an average target depth of 17.3 yards.
James Robinson ↓
Despite Robinson’s historic rookie season in 2020, the Jaguars selected Travis Etienne Jr. with the 25th pick in April’s draft. That alone was concerning, but after Etienne was ruled out for the year with a Lisfranc injury, Robinson seemed likely to build on his breakout performance with significant usage and little competition for touches. But Carlos Hyde, who played under Jags head coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State, led the backfield with nine carries in Week 1.
Packers Offense →
Everyone just needs to R-E-L-A-X. The Packers are back at Lambeau next week against a Lions defense that allowed 41 points and 442 yards against the 49ers in the season opener. Expect a get-right game for Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams, each of whom ranked in the top five at their positions in fantasy last season.
Matthew Stafford Truthers ↑
Stafford fans seem to forget that he spent seven seasons throwing to arguably the most gifted wide receiver of all time in Calvin Johnson. Still, the new Rams starter had a huge debut on Sunday Night Football against the Bears, posting a career-best 156.1 passer rating and 24.3 fantasy points, good for ninth at his position in Week 1.