Week 1 of the NFL season is upon us. Who should find a top spot in your lineup at the RB position this week? Let’s talk about it.
There may be no more valuable position in fantasy as the season than running back. A premiere position with a lot of consistency at the top, and chances for shocks below. Carries are aplenty, but it’s not often you’ll see deeper backs spending time at the top of the line week after week.
Let’s look at 10 guys who should find their way into the top spot in the lineup for you in Week 1.
10. Derrick Henry vs. the Dolphins
Henry finally gets the biggest workload in Tennessee and gets a prime position going against the Dolphins in Week 1. Henry, in year three, expects to really take the next step to become a premiere back in the league. In year two, he backed up his rookie performance with another five touchdowns but took advantage of more touches and, in turn, had more yards.
The Dolphins rush defense wasn’t bottom of the league in 2017, but it did give up the seventh most touchdowns on the ground.
Ndamukong Suh is gone. That’s a big hole to fill on the defensive line. Even with Robert Quinn coming over in a trade, Henry is a solid play in Week 1 and could find himself in the end zone early in 2018.
Mariota’s legs open up the run game well and Henry can catch out of the backfield if need be. It’s a big year for Titans receivers and there’s a lot of optimism in this offense moving forward. With Henry getting his full share and a pass attack looking to find new footing, who will find the end zone first? I’m thinking Henry.
9. Royce Freeman vs. the Seahawks
Freeman sits at a great spot for the Broncos heading into a new year with another new QB under center. The Case Keenum era begins in Denver after his wondrous year in Minnesota.
Rookies will always feel pressure coming into the league, but as a third round pick, Freeman will be given time to grow into the offense. The Seahawks are a defense in disarray. This isn’t the Legion of Boom anymore. Earl Thomas reported Wednesday, but who knows how long he’ll actually be in Seattle. Could he be traded this year? It’s a real possibility.
Freeman was great in the preseason and it’s not a shock to see him in the starting role. Devontae Booker still seems to be the pass threat in the backfield but with Keenum coming off a great year and receivers to target, Freeman could find big holes in the Seattle defense.
With the Seahawks still in limbo, expect Freeman to find lanes everywhere on the field.
8. Alex Collins vs. the Bills
Alex Collins is another guy who had a wonderful year in 2017. With a Ravens bunch that doesn’t want to fall behind in the AFC North, Collins could once again find himself in the end zone a ton in 2018.
Flash back to last season, when he finished just shy of the 1,000-yard mark, Collins found footing in a Ravens offense also in limbo. The Steelers are the Steelers and these aren’t your father’s Browns. Andy Dalton is the savior in Buffalo but is he in Cincy? Is Joe Flacco elite? Well, yes. Are the Ravens back? Well, no.
It’s a great matchup all around for the Ravens against Buffalo. The defense should feast; could Collins too?
The Bills gave up 125-plus yards seven times in 2017. That included a smack down at the hands of New Orleans, with a combined 294 yards and five touchdowns. With talented wideouts aplenty and a lot of speed, holes could open up for Collins at the right time on Sunday. He’s an easy play.
7. Carlos Hyde vs. the Steelers
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: These aren’t your father’s Browns. There are no shortage of backs in Cleveland, with Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb on the roster, but Hyde got the starter nod in Week 1. If history tells us anything, it’s that Hyde will make the most of it.
With an offense that features Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry and a revamped Josh Gordon, among others, the Browns are sure they won’t go 0-16 again. But just how far can they go?
In his first four years in San Francisco, Hyde steadily improved across the board. In 2017 he finished with 938 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns.
Multiple running backfields were tough on the Steelers in 2017, when the likes of Chicago, Jacksonville and Cincinnati gauged the Pittsburgh defense at all turns. The Steelers, like the Seahawks, are a team in flux. Le’Veon Bell isn’t coming through that door. That takes a toll. Can Cleveland stun the Steelers in Week 1? Hyde will play a big role if they do.
6. James Conner vs. the Browns
No Bell, no problem? James Conner is ready. His lineman think he’s ready. Bell is sitting out. The debate rages on about what the Steelers should do, what Bell should do, etc. If Conner starts the season well, that might bring the debate to a swift conclusion.
From the Pitt Panthers to the Steelers, Conner is a guy this fanbase should absolutely love. There’s no doubt Bell is the back you dream of and the best in the league at this time but if he’s not there, Conner should make the most of this matchup.
Low ownership in every league leading up to the announcement Bell would be missing Week 1 (and likely longer) means Conner is a great pickup heading into the Cleveland matchup. The Browns defense got better, especially in the secondary, but with Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuester barreling at you, Conner is a great pickup for an all-front Steelers attack.
5. Rashaad Penny vs. the Broncos
The surprise pick! By the Seahawks, not me. Penny will always be a legend at San Diego State, that’s for sure. In a city with one of the greatest rushing moments in playoff and league history, can the back become a legend in Seattle?
This is a true sleeper. The Seahawks are still looking to find the form that made them so formidable. Penny finding his way could take some of the pressure off Russell Wilson and that up-and-down passing attack.
The Broncos front line is fearsome but is prone to give up yardage. If Wilson is as ready as he says he is, and these receivers find space early, Penny, with his size and speed, could become an early target.
It’s a tough call with the start Penny has had, but maybe the element of surprise will help the back.
4. Tarik Cohen vs. the Packers
The human joystick couldn’t be left off this list. The Bears are developing a great pair in the backfield. Jordan Howard has said he’s working on his catching out of the backfield, but for the time being Cohen not only creates space on the outside with his rushing but is an easy target for quick outs.
For a 5-11 Bears team, Cohen was one of the brightest spots, with highlight plays that lit up Twitter seemingly week in and week out.
After completely re-working the offense in the offseason to give top targets to second year man Mitch Trubisky, Cohen could become even more dangerous in 2018.
The Packers are built to score. The Bears are sure with the Mack addition this defense is going to turn heads. This has all the workings of a slugfest on Sunday Night Football. If the scores rise, Cohen will be a part of it, that’s for sure.
3. Adrian Peterson vs. the Cardinals
AP All Day! Well, some days. It’s been a rough stretch for Peterson but he seems happy (see above) in Washington. With Kirk Cousins gone, Alex Smith takes over at QB for the Redskins and with a handful of receivers primed for bigger seasons in 2018, Peterson could play his way directly into your flex role this season.
He’s still Adrian Peterson. The flashes are still there. In the right system, with the right offensive scheme, he’s a weapon. There are a lot of backs in the backfield in Washington. Chris Thompson, Rob Kelly, Samaje Perine and on and on. Peterson still got top nods.
Smith loves tight ends. Jordan Reed was on his way to greatness but injuries have derailed him. Can Smith bring the best out of Reed, Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder? If he can, keep your eye out for AP against the Cardinals this week.
2. Kerryon Johnson vs. the Jets
The Lions and running backs. Two things that want to go together, kind of go together but aren’t really together. Is a true back the missing piece here? Probably not, but Kerryon Johnson is a workhorse and my rookie to keep an eye on in Week 1.
The Jets’ defensive struggles against the run showed a lot late last season, as they gave up at least one rushing touchdown in five of their last six games.
There are a lot of guys to like in the Lions’ backfield, weird as that feels to say. With LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah all competing for touches, Johnson will have to start well. Another deep sleeper with huge upside, Johnson should be on your radar regardless of the charts this week.
Matt Stafford should find open receivers aplenty, which should stretch the field for these backs.
1. Joe Mixon vs. the Colts
It’s Joe Mixon’s year, right? He’s the guy in Cincy now. Big rushes, fast cuts and everything in between. Bengals faithful are hoping Mixon can take that next leap. It’s been a rough go after the first year or two with Bengals backs of late. Mixon doesn’t seem to be like those guys.
Going up against an Indianapolis defense that, like the Jets, gave up rushing touchdowns late in the season, Mixon shouldn’t have trouble getting yards early.
Another team looking to stay out of the bottom of the AFC North, the Bengals still have a great duo in AJ Green and Andy Dalton. If they find each other early, like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones did on Thursday night, Mixon should then really have some highlight-reel room.