Week 1 Rankings (2016): Top 40 Running Backs

by Ray Kuhn

Clarity. When making decisions it is something useful to have, but if you play fantasy football to search for clarity you might be in the wrong hobby.  It should be easy. I mean after all drafts are newly complete and your predraft rankings haven’t even had time to collect dust, but that doesn’t mean the running back position is clear in many spots. By the time we reach halftime of the early games on Sunday, it is very possible that your rankings will already be out of date.

The concerns you had entering your draft haven’t been truly addressed yet, and the hope is that Week 1 will bring with it some of that elusive clarity. Committees are certainly in style , and a good portion of backfields will likely have multiple players with fantasy value. Let’s take a look at how the running backs rank for the first week of the season while keeping in mind that this list might have some serious movement by next week:

  1. Todd Gurley – LA Rams – at San Francisco
  2. Lamar Miller – Houston Texans – vs. Chicago
  3. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings – at Tennessee
  4. David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals – vs. New England
  5. LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills – at Baltimore
  6. Mark Ingram – New Orleans Saints – vs. Oakland
  7. Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons – vs. Tampa Bay
  8. Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys – vs. New York Giants
  9. DeAngelo Williams – Pittsburgh Steelers – at Washington
  10. Eddie Lacy – Green Bay Packers – at Jacksonville
  11. Latavius Murray – Oakland Raiders – at New Orleans
  12. Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – at Atlanta
  13. C.J. Anderson – Denver Broncos – vs. Carolina
  14. Spencer Ware – Kansas City Chiefs – vs. San Diego
  15. Ryan Mathews – Philadelphia Eagles – vs. Cleveland
  16. Matt Forte – New York Jets – vs. Cincinnati
  17. Danny Woodhead – San Diego Chargers – at Kansas City
  18. DeMarco Murray – Tennessee Titans – vs. Minnesota
  19. Rashad Jennings – New York Giants – at Dallas
  20. Carlos Hyde – San Francisco 49ers – vs. Los Angeles
  21. Duke Johnson – Cleveland Browns – at Philadelphia
  22. Christine Michael – Seattle Seahawks – vs. Miami
  23. Melvin Gordon – San Diego Chargers – at Kansas City
  24. Frank Gore – Indianapolis Colts – vs. Detroit
  25. Jeremy Langford – Chicago Bears – at Houston
  26. Jonathan Stewart – Carolina Panthers – at Denver
  27. T.J. Yeldon – Jacksonville Jaguars – vs. Green Bay
  28. Ameer Abdullah – Detroit Lions – at Indianapolis
  29. Arian Foster – Miami Dolphins – at Seattle
  30. Jeremy Hill – Cincinnati Bengals – at New York Jets
  31. James White – New England Patriots – at Arizona
  32. Giovani Bernard – Cincinnati Bengals – at New York Jets
  33. Chris Ivory – Jacksonville Jaguars – vs. Green Bay
  34. Theo Riddick – Detroit Lions – at Indianapolis
  35. Charles Sims – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – at Atlanta
  36. Isaiah Crowell – Cleveland Browns – at Philadelphia
  37. Justin Forsett – Baltimore Ravens – vs. Buffalo
  38. Darren Sproles – Philadelphia Eagles – vs. Cleveland
  39. Bilal Powell – New York Jets – vs. Cincinnati
  40. Matt Jones – Washington Redskins – vs. Pittsburgh

Thoughts:

  • Do depth charts really matter? To an extent yes, but depth charts are also fluid. Once the game begins the results on the field often take over, but it has to count for something that Christine Michael is currently ahead of Thomas Rawls on the initial depth chart. Based on Rawls’ health, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that Seattle is taking it easy on him and his ankle. That means, at least for the first week or two, Michael is the back to own. Aside from the last preseason game, in which Michael had just two carries, he had success this summer carrying the ball 24 times for 157 yards. Granted it was the summer, but this is perhaps the best he has looked in his short pro career, and he looks primed to take advantage of a soft Miami run defense. Rawls will get some work, but I wouldn’t plan on him being too much of a factor (10-12 touches max) for this week.
  • Another starting running back who will not be opening the season in that role is Jamaal Charles. He is still the back to own in Kansas City’s backfield, but for this week Spencer Ware deserves the focus. As far as fill-in, handcuff, or bargain basement options for this week, Ware is projected to be the best. Last season while filling in for Charles, he averaged 5.6 YPC on 72 carries and found the end zone six times. With Charles taking it easy this summer as he recovers from his ACL surgery, Ware ran with the first team. The one aspect of his game that was lacking last season was pass catching (he caught just six balls all season), but for what it’s worth he caught eight this summer. Charcandrick West is still going to be a factor, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charles not even play, but Ware will be the workhorse.
  • On Saturday, fantasy owners rushed to release Justin Forsett while adding Terrence West. However, it appears that was all for naught as Forsett is slated to lead Baltimore’s running backs in touches this week. While that does help his value to a degree, Forsett’s value remains unchanged from where it was prior to the Ravens’ roster maneuvering. In two months Kenneth Dixon is likely going to the running back to own in Baltimore, but until then the backfield will be a three-headed monster. By all accounts West had a successful summer, but he has yet to prove himself in the NFL (averaging 3.9 and 3.7 yards per carry in his two seasons). Buck Allen showed promise as a receiver last season, 45 receptions for 353 yards, but he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry on the ground. That brings us back to Forsett who averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 151 carries prior to his injury, but his appeal is limited to that of a FLEX option this week.
  • In the last four weekends of 2015 you could say that Rashad Jennings dominated the action. He was given the workload of a number one running back and lived up to those expectations. In those games he gained 521 of his 1,159 total yards While Shane Vereen is around as the third down back, everything else appears to belong to Jennings. With Andre Williams released, the goal line carries are his. Of course we would like to see the Giants’ offensive line look better than it did in the preseason, but there is nothing holding him back from being a borderline RB2.
  • The backfield in Miami is going to be a timeshare this season as the Dolphins strive to keep Jay Ajayi healthy. Arian Foster wasn’t the first back they tried to bring in, as the Broncos matched their offer sheet to CJ Anderson, so they don’t have full trust in Ajayi. The Seahawks present a rough match-up for Miami, so it is likely they will be passing the ball more than trying to control the tempo of the game and march down the field. This sets up to be a game dominated by Foster, and you would think this is the healthiest he is going to be all season.
  • One of the most popular draft day sleepers this summer was DeAndre Washington. That was not without good reason as the Raiders talked him up and he had the college success to back it up. Last season Latavius Murray carried the ball 266 times, averaging four yards per carry, and coach Jack Del Rio wants to keep the ball on the ground more this season. Murray will start off the year getting his chances to show what he can do as Oakland looks to establish their offense. Washington will be a factor, but at least for a few weeks, it will likely just be as the primary backup (both as a rusher and a receiver) unless Murray truly struggles. With this week’s opponent being the Saints, I wouldn’t expect that to be the case.

Make sure to check out all of our Week 1 rankings:

Week 1 Rankings (2016): Top 15 Defenses
Week 1 Rankings (2016): Top 20 Tight Ends

18 comments

  1. Sam says:

    Hi,
    Can you please suggest me if any changes need to made from bench to starting lineup./
    QB Derek Carr, Oak QB
    RB Jeremy Hill, Cin RB
    RB Melvin Gordon, SD RB
    WR Allen Robinson, Jax WR
    WR Amari Cooper, Oak WR
    TE Greg Olsen, Car TE
    FLEX Sammy Watkins, Buf WR
    D/ST Vikings D/ST D/ST
    K Chandler Catanzaro, Ari K
    BENCH
    SLOT PLAYER, TEAM POS ACTION
    Bench Eric Decker, NYJ WR
    Bench Derrick Henry, Ten RB
    Bench Philip Rivers, SD QB
    Bench Giovani Bernard, Cin RB
    Bench Patriots D/ST D/ST
    Bench Terrance West, Bal RB
    Bench Mohamed Sanu, Atl WR

    Thanks.

  2. Shawn says:

    I’m having a dilemma right now.

    I have AP, Deanglo Williams, & Christine Michael as my running backs. I’m thinking of doing Christine Michael as my flex, but also wondering about Tyler Lockette, which would you go with?

    Thank you for everything you put out, very very helpful.

    QB – Russel Wilson
    RB – Adrian Peterson
    RB – Deanglo Williams
    WR – Demaryius Thomas
    WR – Michael Floyd
    TE – Martellus Bennett
    Flex – Christine Michael
    D/ST SeaHawks
    K – Justin Tucker

    Bench
    Blake Bortles
    Carson Palmer
    Tyler Lockett
    Stefon Diggs
    Devin Funchess
    Jerick McKinnon
    Gary Barnidge

  3. Andy says:

    Professor,
    Who will you start in my Flex: Christine Mike or Arian Foster or John Brown Wr Arizona ? I have to bench Thomas Rawls.
    Thanks.

  4. Sam says:

    Who should I play in Flex: Hilton vs. Detriot ; Yeldon vs. GB ; Bernard vs. NYJ; or Diggs vs. Ten. I already have Hill starting vs. NYJ.

    Thanks.

  5. Mitch says:

    Should I sit R Cobb or K Allen to start C Michael at flex. Miller and Lacy are my other RBs.

  6. Derrin says:

    Thank you for your articles every week! I’m an avid reader for sure! I need help at the flex position after reading this article: I had John Brown there but now I’m thinking I should use 3 RBs instead considering I’m strong in that position:
    Demarco Murray
    Carlos Hyde
    Matt Forte
    Frank Gore
    I also have AP in one of the RB spots so instead of going with a Wr in the Felix I’m thinking RB which two of those RBs would you put in the final RB spot and Felix spot or would you go with a receiver:
    John Brown
    Stephon Diggs
    Sterling Shepard
    Thank you for the always great informative articles and answering questions!

  7. John says:

    Professor,

    What is your take on starting Spencer Ware this week (PPR)?

    Currently I am starting Ware over Hyde/Duke/Foster/Michael.

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