With the first bye week upon us, this will be the last time each team will have played the same number of games until late in the season. So besides game-planning to lose my league’s toilet bowl, I took some time out of my busy drinking schedule to see how the top fantasy football scorers have held up to general pre-season predictions.
Interestingly, at the top of each position, there is a pattern of expected and surprise so far in the 2021 season. Let’s look at who the expected vs surprise are, and whether the latter will keep it up as the games play on.
QB – Expected: Patrick Mahomes; Surprise: Tom Brady
No surprise that Mahomes is one of the most valuable fantasy QBs. Everybody saw that coming after his previous stellar years, which is why he was overall the first QB off the draft board, usually by round 2. Solid pickup, and as the #2 QB in most scoring formats, no one’s upset with his performance this season. Except actual Kansas City fans.
But at #1 is Tom Brady, and that’s surprising… if anything can be with this guy. Brady has always been an OK-to-good fantasy QB, but he’s usually not sniffing the top of the heap. In 2020, at week 5 Brady was averaging more than a touchdown behind Mahomes; and at the end of the season, Brady was sitting at #8 highest scoring QB to Mahomes at #4. And that’s including Brady really heating up (per usual) toward the end of the regular season, and Mahomes not playing week 17. If he had played, Mahomes would assuredly have outscored Josh Allen to take the top spot.
Probability of Brady continuing at this pace? 70%. The Bucs have a tough schedule, especially to close out the season. But then again, Brady put up ridiculous numbers even against the Ram’s D. Sure the Dolphins are wet tissue paper, but he put up over 50 points without Gronk. The running game has to get going a bit more, but it’s not like it’s been nonexistent; Leonard Fournette has been putting up serviceable numbers through week 5 (13th ranked RB). Besides injury (and Brady did just hurt his thumb), I’m not sure what will stop him from continuing to ball out.
Honorable Mention: Jalen Hurts. Really impressive numbers so far. Imagine how much higher it would be if he didn’t fumble every effin’ game.
RB – Expected: Derrick Henry; Surprise: Austin Ekeler
If you come at The King, he will not miss and run over you. We all expected Henry to be near the top of the heap. Maybe a tiny bit surprised at just how huge his numbers have been, which is due to Tannehill regressing a bit so far this season compared to his fantastic late weeks in 2020. Henry is sitting comfortably at the top RB spot, and it’s scary that he’s catching passes now too. Those who took Zeke or Kamara before him have to be drinking themselves silly like I am.
The surprise is Austin Ekeler. No surprise he’s good, of course. He’s always been good. He played just 10 games in 2020 and was still ranked #35 (above Singletary, who played 16) and when he played all of 2019 he was ranked #7. But coming into this season, he was expected to be a tier 3 RB. But I guess we didn’t fully understand that a) a healthy Ekeler is a monster, and b) just how dominant this year’s Chargers’ offense would be. It’s like they’re getting to the red zone on every drive, and Ekeler gets the most looks down there.
Probability of Ekeler continuing at this pace? 75%. I’m always worried about Ekeler getting injured due to his size and the punishment he takes, and indeed he recently had a small ankle issue. But his conditioning looks great and the Chargers have been fortunate with few injuries overall. Another worry is that they have basically no other decent RBs backing him up, so Ekeler is being used at bell cow level, which may be unsustainable. Luckily they have their bye in week 7 for him to rest up (meaning, stream on Twitch).
Honorable Mention: Cordarrelle Patterson. Mike Davis who? This guy is having a giant year. I just don’t trust the Falcons to keep giving him these opportunities.
WR – Expected: Cooper Kupp; Surprise: Mike Williams
Los Angeles teams this season, man. Ok, Cooper Kupp may be a slight surprise at how giant his numbers have been. But for those paying attention, he was already good under Jared Goff, so under Matt Stafford, we expected him to be very good. Couple that with Kupp eating Robert Woods‘s lunch for the first four games of the season (until Woods made a stink about it), and we can see why Kupp is putting up big numbers and will continue to do so as long as Stafford stays healthy.
But if you said you saw Mike Williams at the top of the heap in week 5, you’re either a liar or slipped into a coma right after the 2019 season where he did put up impressive numbers (1001 yards, 20.4 yards per reception). Why is he breaking out now? Probably because Joe Lombardi brought his “slingin’ it” playbook over from the Saints and he’s targeting Williams like he did with Mike Thomas. I guess they finally realized that Williams is 6-foot-4 and runs like the wind. Only took 4 years and a new coach to figure it out.
Probability of Williams continuing at this pace? 85%. The Chargers have a lot of mouths to feed with Williams, Keenan Allen, Ekeler, and not Jared Cook (he doesn’t get to eat this season for reasons); but somehow Justin Herbert is feeding them all. Williams is the clear favorite receiver, and gets many more red zone looks than Allen does. There was that one dud against the Raiders, but that will probably be an anomaly moving forward. The major issue comes from defenses taking Williams more seriously, but so far he looks nearly matchup proof.
Honorable Mention: Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow found himself a guy… that he already knew from LSU. trust those college connections.
TE – Expected: Travis Kelce/Mark Andrews; Surprise: Dawson Knox
For tight ends, there are like 5 guys you want and then everyone else. Kelce and Andrews (along with Kittle, Waller, maaaayyybe Hockenson) were the ones to try and grab coming into 2021, and then we all knew we’d be streaming all season long, just happy not to see a 0 there. If anything, Kelce and Andrews have underproduced, with the Chiefs struggling and Andrews only making up for his lackluster numbers with a monster game against the Colts in week 5.
Then there’s Dawson Knox who has already scored more fantasy points than in all of 2020, and soon to be 2019 as well. 5 TDs over 4 games makes you a fantasy TE god, and with the Bills looking like the most dominant team in the NFL so far, there looks to be a lot more coming out of Knox with a pretty juicy schedule after the bye in week 7 (Miami, Jacksonville, NYJ, Indianapolis). But…
Probability of Knox continuing at this pace? 40%. If the Chargers have a lot of mouths to feed, the Bills double that. Also, Knox is touchdown dependent since he only sees about 4 touches a game. That’s not a bad position to be in, but that was Robert Tonyan last season and look where he is now. Odds are, this level of production isn’t sustainable. But hey, if Knox has already won you a game or two, that’s all you should really be asking of a TE who you probably picked up on waivers. Don’t be so goddamn greedy.
K – Whatever
Younghoe Koo is not having a good season and I’m just upset about it.
DST – Expected: Bills; Surprise: Bears
This season’s DSTs have been all over the place. What the hell happened to the Washington Football Team? Why are the Rams not playing well? How are the Chiefs this freaking bad?? Everything’s been sort of a surprise to some extent, but the Bills were expected to be pretty good coming in with most of their defense intact from 2020, as well as a couple big pickups during their draft (Rousseau and Basham). So it’s not too surprising that they’re at the top, though the margin between them and #2 is a lot wider than we would have expected.
More surprising is just how good the Bears are playing on defense. Ranked 19th last year and no huge upgrades during the off-season, and yet they’ve been trouble for some decent teams like the Lions and Raiders. Sean Desai in his first year as defensive coordinator is knocking it out of the park, and goes to show you what impact some fresh eyes on the defensive side can have.
Probability of Bears DST continuing at this pace? 30%. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Lions and Raiders have decent offenses, but they’re not in the class of the Rams (which the Bears DST collapsed against). And next we have Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco coming up. Their high fantasy scoring is certainly due to some good defense, but a lot of luck as well (like Lions fumbles). Let’s see how they do against the Packers before we think “set and forget” with the Bears.