Believe it or not, Week 1 is here. After months of debating whether football would return in full capacity, they are going to play what should hopefully be a normal season. The running back position is always a tricky one, and these last few weeks have brought us a ton of news. Leonard Fournette was released by the Jaguars, and a rumor began to float around about Alvin Kamara being on the trade market. This was a hefty draft class for rookie running backs, as a few will be getting touches in Week 1. Get up to date NFL Projections here.
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Week 1 Studs
When a guy is getting over 25 rushing attempts + targets per game, the odds of landing number one each week in the rankings are fairly high. Christian McCaffrey will find himself here a lot, and he draws a solid Week 1 matchup against the Raiders. They ranked 21st in DVOA against the run last season and allowed the 6th most receiving yards per game to opposing backs last season. McCaffrey is in a prime spot to kick off another strong fantasy season. On the flip side of that game, Carolina was one of the worst defenses in the league last season, especially against the run. This defense is going to be one to target all season long. They allowed 5.3 yards per attempt to backs last season and 1.7 rushing touchdowns per game. Josh Jacobs is in an excellent spot for Week 1.
Austin Ekeler is a name I am high on for a variety of reasons, but looking at Week 1, the matchup couldn’t get much better. He will face a Bengals defense that ranked bottom ten against the run in 2019 and doesn’t project to be much better. Ekeler is going to get a mix of touches through the air and on the ground. While we will see Josh Kelley mixed in at times, Ekeler is going to be leading the backfield in touches. With the tougher matchups to Barkley and Kamara, I prefer Ekeler.
Green Bay was a team that had glaring needs over the offseason, and they failed to address both of them. The one I care about for this article is their run defense. They allowed 4.7 yards per carry last season 120 rushing yards per game. Dalvin Cook was finally healthy last season and had 63 targets and 250 rushing attempts. While there were some contract disputes over the offseason, Cook looks to be playing through his final year.
Week 1 Duds
There are two premium backs that worry me a bit this week. Alvin Kamara is one of them, who is coming off of an entertaining few days as he was listed for trade by New Orleans. They seemingly are working for a new deal, but that is the least of my concerns right now. The Buccaneers defense upgraded their front seven last season, and the results were instant. They held opposing backs to just three yards per carry. Only two backs scored over 15 fantasy points against the Bucs defense last season. Kamara is still worthy of a start, of course, and the PPR value is always there for a floor, but in terms of a ceiling, it might be tough for him to get going.
Saquon Barkley is another one, going up against Pittsburgh in Week 1. I expect most of his production to come through the air. Once again, these guys rarely bust. This is more of them likely finishing lower than usual. Pittsburgh was a top three run defense last season, and the Steelers, likely being ahead and winning this one, will force Barkley to gain more through the air. The Steelers were excellent against backs in the passing game, holding them to just 35.1 receiving yards per game.
The Ravens struggled against the run at times last season and gave up some monster games, including one to Nick Chubb. It is tough to sell Chubb as a premium back with Kareem Hunt cutting into that fantasy ceiling a bit. I expect the Ravens to be far better against the run this season with the offseason moves they made. I also expect them to be ahead in this game, which puts more volume in the Browns passing game. That isn’t exactly a positive sign for Chubb.
Week 1 Injury Corner
It will be a bummer if David Montgomery can not make it back against Detroit, given this is a plus matchup for him. He was listed out 2-4 weeks, and if it is closer to the two weeks, he will be a game-time-decision and still a risky start. A strained groin to start the year, especially with an abnormal start to the season, is not great. We would see Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson pick up most of the work in the backfield. Another leg issue for a young back is Miles Sanders. He has been battling a hamstring injury over the last few weeks, and it is a reason why I highlighted Boston Scott as a potential option. I am prepping for Sanders to be healthy and ready to go at the moment. However, his ranking would drop if reports talk about the injury lingering. Scott played well down the stretch last season and can work in and out of the passing game.
This injury hasn’t been talked about enough, but Kenyan Drake has been in a walking boot and dealing with a foot injury. Those are not things I want to hear, but Kliff Kingsbury is prepping for Drake to have a full workload. If anything changes, Chase Edmonds is one of the top handcuffs already and would jump into a featured role. It was a disappointing season for Sony Michel, and he has battled injuries all offseason. After being removed from the PUP list, Michel will jump into what is a fairly crowded backfield. New England added Lamar Miller to a group that had Damien Harris and James White. I am not particularly thrilled with the Patriots backfield and what has always been a revolving door of touches.
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