by Ray Kuhn
Here we are once again. It feels like we just left you at the end of the 2017 season, but 2018 is set to hit the ground running. We are just coming out of draft season, and in a lot of cases there are still more than questions than answers. We might think we know who this season’s Alvin Kamara will be, along with many other running backs who emerged out of nowhere in the past to have weekly fantasy value, it’s impossible to say with certainty who that might be in 2018. Throughout the draft season we have given it our best guess, and now is not the time to abandon all of that research. Or at least not unless new information presents itself.
So for this week, aside from late breaking news and match-ups, our rankings will be similar to what they were for draft season. That will likely hold true through about the first quarter of the early games on Sunday, if we are lucky that is. With that being said, here are the Week 1 rankings:
- Todd Gurley – LA Rams – at Oakland
- Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints – vs. Tampa Bay
- David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals – vs. Washington
- Leonard Fournette – Jacksonville Jaguars – at New York Giants
- Melvin Gordon – LA Chargers – vs. Kansas City
- Ezekiel Elliot – Dallas Cowboys – at Carolina
- Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs – at LA Chargers
- Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings – vs. San Francisco
- Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals – at Indianapolis
- Christian McCaffrey – Carolina Panthers – vs. Dallas
- Saquon Barkley – New York Giants – vs. Jacksonville
- Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons – at Philadelphia
- Alex Collins – Baltimore Ravens – vs. Buffalo
- Jordan Howard – Chicago Bears – at Green Bay
- Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins – vs. Tennessee
- LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills – at Baltimore
- Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos – vs. Seattle
- Jay Ajayi – Philadelphia Eagles – vs. Atlanta
- Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns – vs. Pittsburgh
- Lamar Miller – Houston Texans – at New England
- Rex Burkhead – New England Patriots – vs. Houston
- Dion Lewis – Tennessee Titans – at Miami
- Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans – at Miami
- Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers – vs. Chicago
- Tevin Coleman – Atlanta Falcons – at Philadelphia
- Isaiah Crowell – New York Jets – at Detroit
- Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks – at Denver
- Peyton Barber – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – at New Orleans
- Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders – at LA Rams
- Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions – vs. New York Jets
- Chris Thompson – Washington Redskins – at Arizona
- Tarik Cohen – Chicago Bears – at Green Bay
- Matt Brieda – San Francisco 49ers – at Minnesota
- Bilal Powell – New York Jets – at Detroit
- Duke Johnson – Cleveland Browns – vs. Pittsburgh
- James White – New England Patriots – vs. Houston
- Giovanni Bernard – Cincinnati Bengals – at Indianapolis
- Jordan Wilkins – Indianapolis Colts – vs. Cincinnati
- Alfred Morris – San Francisco 49ers – at Minnesota
- Adrian Peterson – Washington Redksins – at Arizona
- If you noticed a glaring omission, no I haven’t lost my mind (although some might beg to differ) and thank you for paying attention, but Le’Veon Bell didn’t make the cut for this week. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he is a top running back, it’s just that as of Tuesday night there isn’t an update as to when he will report to training camp. At this point it certainly puts his status for this week in jeopardy, and it’s difficult to accurately rank him based on that information. If he reports, and the news reports are that he is going to be a factor in Pittsburgh’s offense against Cleveland, there is no way you can leave him on your bench. At that point we have to downgrade James Connor to a borderline FLEX option, at best, depending on what the projected workload might be but I would make sure to have a better option on hand. As long as Bell is in the lineup Connor’s value is limited to that of a handcuff as Pittsburgh will likely run Bell into the ground.
- In the immediate aftermath of the NFL draft Royce Freeman wasn’t the most popular among rookie running backs. At this point, and having been through an entire preseason, it’s hard not to have Freeman ranked as the top rookie runner. While we know that Denver isn’t going to use just one running back, Deangelo Henderson was released and the depth chart (a mediocre Devontae Booker and rookie Philip Lindsay) isn’t that thick behind Freeman. This is part of the reason why Freeman finished the preseason with an ADP in third round and early reports are that the rookie will be Denver’s starting running back on Sunday. He was the more explosive, by a wide margin, of the Broncos’ running backs this summer as Booker gained just 33 yards on nine carries. That came as Freeman carried the ball 15 times for 84 yards while also scoring 3 TD. In two NFL professional seasons Booker hasn’t shown the ability to be a number one running back while Freeman certainly has that potential. The fact that the rookie mixes explosiveness with a nose for the end zone means that he likely won’t cede goal line carries and subsequent touchdowns.
- Let’s just continue our tour of backfields with questions and take a look at San Francisco. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but Jerick McKinnon’s torn ACL has rendered fantasy owners’ third round pick worthless. Instead it is 2017 all over again, and we are debating the merits of Alfred Morris on the waiver wire. Last season that actually worked while Ezekiel Elliot was suspended as Morris averaged 4.8 yards per carry while gaining 547 yards (although he scored just 1 TD). While I wouldn’t bank on any one particular back being the starter, it will be results based, Morris is slated to start the season in that role. Game play also needs to be taken into account, and while Morris could dominate first and second downs for the first 80 yards of the field, Matt Brieda is still the back to own for me. Entering the season Brieda was slated to have a “Tevin Coleman type” role, and there is no reason to expect that to change. Now that McKinnon will not be a factor, that likely means there will be more opportunities. After missing the last three preseason games with a shoulder injury Brieda’s stock has cooled, but all indications are that he will be good to go this week. The problem is that the 49ers are traveling to Minnesota and dealing with the Vikings stout run defense will not be an easy task.
- Either or? I didn’t realize we got choices in fantasy football, but that is how the Dolphins appear to be presenting their initial depth chart. Regardless of the fact that “Kenyan Drake or Frank Gore” is is listed as Miami’s starting running back, Drake is still (by far) the player to own (and start this week). Yes Gore will get his share of carries, but that is where his value will stop. Unless Miami is looking to kill the clock or feature the short yardage game, Drake will be a large part of the Dolphins’ game plan (although that could slightly differ from game to game). Aside from Gore stealing a goal line carry, and subsequent touchdown, I wouldn’t be concerned as a fantasy owner starting Drake. The early speculation from head coach Adam Gase is 15-20 carries and 6-8 targets per game, and that erases any doubts put in place by the depth chart.
- At least for now we are in the clear with LeSean McCoy. The NFL has come out and officially said that he will not be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, which means that Buffalo’s offense will be available this week. It will not be an easy match-up in Baltimore for the Bills and Nathan Peterman, but McCoy will be heavily featured. Buffalo was careful with McCoy and his groin injury towards the end of the preseason, but I wouldn’t be concerned about his status. While it might not be pretty he will likely touch the ball 25-30 times, and when the Bills inevitably fall behind McCoy will be a factor in the passing game.
- With Marlon Mack not practicing on Monday and still clearly being hindered by his hamstring injury I wouldn’t look for him to be a factor (or even in the lineup) this week. Even if Mack does take the field, it’s going to be the Jordan Wilkins show despite the “good progress” the second year running back has apparently made. At this point I would strictly consider Christine Michael to be noise as he hasn’t appeared to be explosive this preseason. That brings us to Wilkins, who carried the ball 27 times this summer and failed to take advantage as he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. With that being said I would be careful not to overrate Wilkins too much, although his projected touches should at least put him on your radar. The good news is that he did catch five passes for 57 yards, so there is some value, but Indianapolis’ offense is still somewhat of a question mark.
Make sure to check out all of our Week 1 rankings: