- Most of our first-round running backs are locked and loaded in excellent Week 1 matchups, so let’s skip down The List a bit. Ezekiel Elliott gets a tough draw against the league’s best run defense in Tampa Bay, but don’t let that tempt you to start an inferior player. Dallas should look to lean on Elliott early and often in an attempt to make Dak Prescott‘s return from injury as smooth as possible, and Elliott’s pass-catching ability gives him safety in negative game scripts. Elliott ripped off three games of six catches or more across the first five games with Prescott last year, ad if the quarterback is hesitant to stand in the pocket and let it rip out of the gate, Zeke should benefit.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire falls out of my strong starts this week due to a few factors. For one, this is a team with Super Bowl aspirations, and as CEH recovers from a minor ankle injury, I see little reason for the Cheifs to overload him out of the gate. Secondly, this is first and foremost a passing offense, and until CEH improves upon his 23 receiving yards per game from last year, I’m going to be conservative with my ranking of the sophomore running back. And finally, with just five touchdowns across 13 games last season, we can’t even bank on a touchdown here. CEH has a decent floor, but I need to see it first before I rank him up with the true volume options.
- Saquon Barkley‘s ranking is all about playing time, and I’ll likely be adjusting this one up until kickoff. But I see very little reason for the Giants to force Barkley into a large workload here, so what are we looking at, 10-12 touch potential here? Against a really good Broncos defense, I don’t expect scoring to be easy to come by and neither do oddsmakers, as the Giants bottom-five implied point total would suggest. Unlikely to see huge volume combined with a tough time reaching the end zone, and we are really banking on efficiency here with Barkley. In his first game back from an ACL injury, RB22 sounds about right.
- D’Andre Swift looks set to play after missing much of camp with a groin injury, but his lack of conditioning combined with the 49ers’ defense makes this a middling spot to start him. If you have other options I’d give them a shot, as I’d rather see a game from Swift first. But you likely need to start him, and his pass-catching ability should give him a decent floor in PPR leagues. But unless the Lions have just been slow-playing Swift through the preseason, I would expect him to be up to full speed by Week 2 or 3.
- I know it is scary starting a rookie running back sight unseen, but Trey Sermon draws a dream matchup against the Lions for his debut. Hopefully he can take the 1B role to Raheem Mostert right off the bat, as the competition behind him consists of 2020 UDFA JaMycal Hasty and 2021 6th round rookie Elijah Mitchell. With very little experience after Mostert in this backfield, that won’t be held against Sermon, and he would profile as the runner to get the work while playing with a lead. I’ll be starting Sermon with relative confidence in a game where the 49ers project to score nearly four touchdowns.
- Fellow rookie Javontae Williams was held out of the preseason finale for non-injury reasons, which sure sounds like the Broncos putting their most talented option in bubble-wrap in a meaningless game. Yes, Melvin Gordon III is going to see his snaps, but Williams should be explosive enough to get by on 40% or more of the snaps to start out. Denver boasts a strong defense but a lackluster quarterback situation, and I’m sure they would love nothing more than to be able to produce explosive plays on the ground. Williams ranks below Sermon here due to matchup, however, as the Giants were well-coached on defense last year and the Broncos’ implied point total is a touchdown lower than that of the 49ers.
- If the Texans are as bad as we think they are, Carlos Hyde is in a sneaky good spot in Week 1 for a guy that may be sitting on your waivers. New coach Urban Meyer has shown us by drafting the now injured Travis Etienne and signing Hyde that this is going to be more of a committee approach on the ground. The Texans’ defense is just bad enough to put Hyde on the streaming radar, as 40 percent of the snaps might be enough to make him a low-end flex option. Jacksonville’s 24.24 implied point total is a respectable number, and Hyde could help them salt this game away down the stretch if they have a lead. A touchdown feels attainable here as well.
- There are actually some intriguing options in my do not start range, but I’d like to see their role first before trusting them. Is Phillip Linday the lead back in Houston? Is Giovani Bernard‘s 3rd down role as good as I think it can be in Tampa Bay? Will Ty’Son Williams start hot in this run-heavy Ravens offense in an excellent matchup? Will Nyheim Hines and J.D. McKissic retain their volume roles in the passing game after undergoing a potentially harmful quarterback change? I expect these situations to be clearer by Week 2, but any of them could be worth a gamble on zero-RB rosters.
Green=Strong Starter, Yellow=Solid Starter, Red=Look for Better Options
Week 1 RB Rankings