The NFL season is upon us and we’re all gearing up for our fantasy leagues. The preseason hype is over and everyone picked their sleepers and busts. Let’s take a look at the fantasy running back starters and reserves entering Week 1.
Patriots – LeGarrette Blount appears to have the first crack at the position and any rushing touchdowns. James White will be sprinkled in the passing game but probably not enough to have value. Veteran Brandon Bolden is also still hanging around in case Belichick wants to shake things up like he usually does. Dion Lewis is on the PUP and out for the first six weeks with a knee injury. Once he’s back, only Blount will maintain some value.
Dolphins – Arian Foster locked up the starting job and Jay Ajayi wasn’t thrilled with the decision. It looks like Ajayi won’t even suit up for week one. Foster should get a full load of carries as he tries to stave off the injury bug. Kenyan Drake is the only other running back to own and could supplant Ajayi as #2 in the coming weeks.
Jets – People are up and down on Forte. He’s been a beast for years, but how long can he last. He’s 30 years old and his past workload may be catching up to him. I still think Forte is on the plus side of a 75/25 split with Bilal Powell.
Bills – This is LeSean McCoy’s show and should be the workhorse of the team. One of only a few 3-down backs, McCoy is set for a big year if healthy. The backup job is cloudy in my opinion. Somehow Reggie Bush impressed enough to make the team but I like Mike Gillislee as the #2 back. Bush could get some work on 3rd downs. The Bills also have rookie Jonathan Williams as a darkhorse.
Steelers – Le’Veon Bell should be back in Week 4 barring another suspension. DeAngelo Williams will hold down the fort until Bell is back. I expect Williams to be a RB1 for the first three weeks and a must handcuff to Bell.
Bengals – Jeremy Hill will do the heavy lifting and get the ground TDs (and fumbles). Giovani Bernard has never been expected to be a workhorse back, but always shows up when his number is call. Hill will be steady, but not spectacular. Bernard should put up a few big games, especially in PPR leagues, but good luck guessing which week it will be.
Ravens – The running back position for the Ravens has been in flux all preseason. Justin Forsett was cut, then resigned and expected to be the starter. Terrance West had a great preseason and was the started in the few days that Forsett wasn’t on the roster. Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon both have a shot to get their share of carries. At the end of the year, who knows which of these four will lead the team in rushing yards.
Browns – Isaiah Crowell has the starting job for now and Duke Johnson will be a receiving threat from the position. It’s possible that Duke gets more carries if “The Crow” doesn’t show up.
Colts – Frank Gore is up in age (33), but he’s also one of those rare 3-down running backs. The Colts want to limit his workload, but have Robert Turbin as the backup. Jordan Todman and Josh Ferguson don’t sound like viable options either.
Texans – Lamar Miller is one of the new additions to the team and looks to be the workhorse. Let’s see if he lives up to his potential as a rushing/receiving threat; I think he will. Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes have never impressed when they were called into action.
Titans – The one-two punch of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry look to be lethal I expect the workload to be 70/30 at the start in favor of Murray, but Henry may get more carries as the season wears on.
Jaguars – It will be interesting to see how the Jags use Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon is the better receiving threat, but I think the workload is 60/40 in Ivory’s favor. Ivory is questionable for week 1 with a calf injury.
Broncos – Well we got to see C.J. Anderson blow up Thursday night, and it might be that way all season. His handcuff, Devontae Booker, came in and coughed up a fumble. Not a good first impression.
Raiders – Latavius Murray is the started but there has been a lot of hype around backup DeAndre Washington. He’s not a bad handcuff, but I think Murray will have a solid season and fend off any competition. Taiwan Jones is also around to vulture some carries.
Chargers – The highly touted Melvin Gordon looks to put a tough rookie season behind him and show that he can be a productive NFL running back. Backup Branden Oliver is out for the season so there is less competition for Gordon. Danny Woodhead is still around, he’s 31, but can still catch a ton of balls if Rivers throws it to him. I expect Gordon to improve on last year, and Woodhead to have a very slight decline but be more than serviceable.
Chiefs – This is another mess of a situation. We saw last year that when Jamaal Charles is out, both Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware can handle the duties. Charles still appears to be out with a slower than expected recovery on his ACL, and West/Ware are still battling for carries. Flip a coin on who out-produces who until Charles is back.
Giants – Rashad Jennings isn’t flashy, but he should get a full workload this season as a 3-down back. Shane Vereen will catch some balls, but not like when Brady was throwing to him in New England. If Jennings goes down, who knows if Paul Perkins, Bobby Rainey, or Orleans Darkwa would get the carries.
Cowboys – Ezekiel Elliott was drafted to be the workhorse for Dallas. Everyone has huge fantasy expectations (Top 5 RB) and he’s yet to have an NFL carry. Alfred Morris is backing him up and has looked great through training camp and preseason. Morris is a veteran in the league, but still only 27 years old.
Eagles – Ryan Mathews is the starter and can catch passes out of the backfield. The Eagles also have Darren Sproles to use in the passing game. If Mathews goes down, Kenjon Barner or Wendell Smallwood could fill in nicely.
Redskins – Matt Jones appears to have the starting job, but the vibes haven’t been good this offseason. Chris Thompson will catch passes and get 3rd down work, but backup duties would be Rob Kelley if Matt Jones can’t play.
Packers – Eddie Lacy will carry the load for the Packers; James Starks is the handcuff if Lacy falters; nuff said.
Vikings – Adrian Peterson will carry the load for the Vikings; Jerick McKinnon is the handcuff. Matt Asiata is also still hanging around.
Lions – Ameer Abdullah is the starter in Detroit. Theo Riddick is the 3rd down back and should catch a slew of passes. Zach Zenner could be a sneaky sleeper if Abdullah doesn’t perform and in short yardage situations.
Bears – With Forte gone, Jeremy Langford has some big shoes to fill. He’s the starter, but Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard are both on the roster looking for carries. If the Bears start out slow as a team and can’t get the running game going with Langford, don’t be surprised if there’s a change at the top.
Falcons – Devonta Freeman had a great year last year and should have another one in 2016. Tevin Coleman shouldn’t carve out too many carries, nor Terron Ward.
Panthers – James Stewart is the unquestioned starter at running back, but Cam Newton could actually lead the team in rushing and he steals rushing TDs from Stewart. Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker are the backups, but there’s not enough stats at the position on the Panthers.
Saints – Mark Ingram is looking to have another big year and really improved in the receiving department. Tim Hightower is the backup and can fill in if an injury hits.
Buccaneers – Doug Martin is the starter, but Charles Sims will vulture some carries and get a lot of receiving work. Martin will get the rushing TDs.
Seahawks – Thomas Rawls was expected to be the starter, but Christine Michael will start week 1. I would give the edge to Rawls as the more productive back this season, but Michael will get his fair share. I don’t see a Marshawn Lynch like workhorse here. C.J. Prosise can be a playmaker but he might not get the ball enough.
Rams – It’s the Todd Gurley show in LA and I have him as the #1 RB in fantasy football (thanks to the Le’Veon Bell suspension). If Gurley goes down, I don’t think there’s a RB that could put up relevant fantasy points on this team. Benny Cunningham is the backup and looked decent in preseason.
Cardinals – David Johnson is the starter and should be primed for a big year. Chris Johnson will back him up but I don’t expect him to get much work. Andre Ellington is still on Arizona, but not worth watching.
49ers – Carlos Hyde is the #1 running back in San Fran. With Chip Kelly’s offense, they should run plenty of plays and give Hyde the opportunity to produce in a big way. His status for week 1 is in question and Shaun Draughn would fill in if Hyde misses time. Mike Davis also impressed in preseason and can fill in when needed.
The world of Fantasy success is sometimes predicated upon the amount of depth on one’s roster. Getting familiar with the names above is the first step to becoming a winner!
John Kocur (Sports Writer)