Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers-$9400 @ Cleveland Browns
The top running back in the NFL is Le’Veon Bell, no one argues that. However it is hard to tell if he will be that again this year after sitting out another preseason over a contract dispute. As of Monday, Bell has yet to report to camp. It is hard to imagine Bell sitting out regular season games, but it is an increasing possibility.
This year the Steelers and Bell open up against an improved Browns defense. Another good note for fantasy players is that Bell may be a candidate to get a massive workload early and often. With his future in Pittsburgh looking grim, the team may decide to grind as much work out of Bell as they can before letting him walk.
With DraftKings PPR scoring, Bell is head and shoulders above the rest. He is an elite pass catcher and the Steelers use him as such. His patient running style should work well against an attacking Browns defense featuring a lot of new faces. Pittsburgh could develop an early lead and work Bell all the way to the finish line. It’s a hefty price tag (the week’s highest) but Bell has been shown he is worth it consistently the past two years.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals-$8800 vs Washington Redskins
A year ago the talk was about a battle between Bell and the Arizona Cardinals’ David Johnson. Johnson was injured in Week 1 and missed the entire season. Now back he will look to make that debate happen again. Johnson, like Bell, gives his team incredible upside as a pass catcher. With Sam Bradford under center his opportunity to touch the ball increases.
Johnson gets the Washington Redskins in Week 1. That defense has attempted to overhaul it’s run defense in this offseason. Arizona’s offensive line is mildly improved and the two units should cancel each other out. Washington’s linebackers are solid but are no match for Johnson. Bradford’s tendency to check it down and Johnson’s catching are a perfect match. He will be hungry and the Cardinals new coaching staff will be excited to utilize their best offensive weapon early and often.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints-$8500 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The New Orleans Saints reinvented themselves last year as a run first team. Mark Ingram was the bell-cow but Alvin Kamara was the catlyst. Like Bell and Johnson before him, KAmara is an adept receiver with the ability to line up all over the field as a mis-match. Ingram’s suspension for the first four games opens up even more opportunity for last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
New Orleans welcome the Buccaneers to town for their first game, good news for this offense. A year ago the Buccaneers were one of the league’s worst defenses. They’ve attempt to rebuild the unit but it will take time to gel. In the meantime look for Kamara to do damage in running and pass catching on his way to a big week.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys-$7700 @ Carolina Panthers
The Dallas Cowboys fell back down to earth in running back Ezekiel Elliott’s second season. An eight week legal battle that dragged throughout the entire season did not help. With that behind him, Elliott is poised for another run at the rushing crown. Even in limited action a season ago, he averaged over 100 yards per game.
The first game for the Cowboys is traveling to Carolina to play the Panthers. Carolina will once again feature a strong front seven led by Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Luke Kuechly. Dallas’ offensive line has been banged up, and will be missing the league’s best center in Travis Frederick. Elliott’s amount of opportunities will outweight that regardless. The Cowboys will hand it to him excessively and he will reward them for it. His ability to get stronger as the game progresses will show and the volume alone is enough for consideration in lineups.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars-$7100 @ New York Giants
Last year was the year of the rookie running back. Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars was outshined by Alvin Kamara but was the identity of his team’s offense. With another year under his belt, he is ready for a big season. Jacksonville gave him some help up front with the addition of Andrew Norwell from Carolina in free agency.
An early season trip to New York to play the Giants is in store for Fournette. The Giants feature a dominant interior presence in Damion Harrison. If Norwell and center Brandon Linder can handle him it should be easy sledding for Fournette. Jacksonville, like Dallas, will look to ride their running back to victory. Fournette will have plenty of opportunity to dominate the Giants. He is another safe play for a team that plays from ahead and loves to run the ball.
Value Running Backs
Dion Lewis,. Tennessee Titans-$4900 @ Miami Dolphins
Are we sure Derrick Henry will be the lead back for the Tennessee Titans? They are going to a new look offense and Marcus Mariota was always at his best with a spread field. Those two points make it easy to see why Tennessee went out and grabbed former Patriot running back Dion Lewis. the two could not look any more different but it may be Lewis, not Henry, that is the better play. Priced much lower, his pass catching ability alone make him an intriguing option. Add in the fact that Henry has never seen action as a stand-alone back and signs look good for a big Lewis week. Miami lost Ndamakung Suh in the offseason and have question marks at linebacker, one of the Titans running backs are going to have a big day. My money is on Lewis.
Duke Johnson Jr., Cleveland Browns-$4700 vs Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns are a darling of the NFL offseason. One of the lone incumbents on the offense is Duke Johnson Jr. The talented running back always had a role as the pass catcher in Cleveland’s offense. With the Browns likely to be trailing the talented Pittsburgh team, Johnson’s role could increase. Another thing going for Johnson is that he’s shown the ability to line up as a receiver. Josh Gordon is working his way back on the field and Jarvis Landry is solid. After those two, Johnson is the most proven receiver. Cleveland can use Johnson to take advantage of Pittsburgh weak middle linebackers as a mismatch.
Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens-$5600 @ Buffalo Bills
Alex Collins was a surprise breakout player in 2017 for the Baltimore Ravens. He enters this season as the lead back, at least on running downs. Baltimore is clearly losing faith in quarterback Joe Flacco. They can return to their roots of running the ball and playing good defense and Collins is the linchpin. Buffalo struggled to stop the run a year ago and lost talent up front. They are starting a young rookie linebacker and are set up to be another weak run defense. Baltimore’s power run game, led by Collins, is in for a big opening weekend at Buffalo.