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NFL Rankings

Week 1 Fantasy Football Rankings: RB

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: September 12, 2021, 11:47 am ET

Christian McCaffrey looks to put his injury-plagued 2020 behind him while Najee Harris hopes to prove he is too big to fail in the Steelers’ backfield. 

Other positions: Quarterback | Receiver | Tight End/Kickers/Defense

Updated 9/12 at 11:45 AM ET. Removed healthy scratches Trey Sermon and Zack Moss. Updated 49ers and Bills RBs. Raheem Mostert RB18. Saquon Barkley now RB19. 

Updated 9/12 at 10:30 AM ET. Dropped Saquon Barkley to RB18 after Ian Rapoport's report that he would be "used sparingly." 

Week 1 Running Backs 

RK

Player

Opp

1

Christian McCaffrey

NYJ

2

Dalvin Cook

@CIN

3

Derrick Henry

ARI

4

Alvin Kamara

GB

5

Aaron Jones

@NO

6

Jonathan Taylor

SEA

7

Nick Chubb

@KC

8

Joe Mixon

MIN

9

Najee Harris

@BUF

10

Antonio Gibson

LAC

11

Ezekiel Elliott

@TB

12

Austin Ekeler

@WAS

13

David Montgomery

@LA

14

Chris Carson

@IND

15

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

CLE

16

James Robinson

@HOU

17

Mike Davis

PHI

18

Raheem Mostert

@DET

19

Saquon Barkley

DEN

20

Chase Edmonds

@TEN

21

Miles Sanders

@ATL

22

Myles Gaskin

@NE

23

D'Andre Swift

SF

24

Josh Jacobs

BAL

25

Damien Harris

MIA

26

Kareem Hunt

@KC

27

Ty'Son Williams

@LV

28

Javonte Williams

@NYG

29

Darrell Henderson

CHI

30

Devin Singletary

PIT

31

Melvin Gordon

@NYG

32

Jamaal Williams

SF

33

Nyheim Hines

SEA

34

Sony Michel

CHI

35

Ronald Jones

DAL

36

Tevin Coleman

@CAR

37

Kenyan Drake

BAL

38

A.J. Dillon

@NO

39

James Conner

@TEN

40

David Johnson

JAC

41

Leonard Fournette

DAL

42

Michael Carter

@CAR

43

J.D. McKissic

LAC

44

Carlos Hyde

@HOU

45

Darrel Williams

CLE

46

Justin Jackson

@WAS

47

Tony Pollard

@TB

48

Giovani Bernard

DAL

49

James White

MIA

50

Ty Johnson

@CAR

51

Tony Jones

GB

52

Devontae Booker

DEN

53

Matt Breida

PIT

54

JaMycal Hasty

@DET

55

Kenneth Gainwell

@ATL

56

Malcolm Brown

@NE

57

Alexander Mattison

@CIN

58

Rashaad Penny

@IND

59

Joshua Kelley

@WAS

60

Le'Veon Bell

@LV

61

Elijah Mitchell

@DET

 

RB Notes: Despite last year’s injury-ruined affair, the Panthers have given zero indication they plan to scale back Christian McCaffrey’s every-snap role. … Dalvin Cook opens the season as a three-point road favorite against a Bengals linebacker group competing to be the worst in the league. … Speaking of three-point favorites, that is what Derrick Henry will be operating as at home in a 52-totaled game against the Cardinals. A home shootout is never not what the doctor ordered for the Big Dog. … Bound for his first 1,000-yard rushing campaign even before the league expanded the schedule to 17 games, Alvin Kamara has never been of greater importance to either the Saints’ aerial attack or ground game. Be on the lookout for backup Tony Jones earning some potential low-end RB3 value. … Aaron Jones’ usage figures to change this season. He could be needed less near the goal line but more as a pass catcher. We won’t get any definitive answers in what will be a domed, road shootout with the Saints. … When last we left Jonathan Taylor in the regular season, he was rushing for the ninth most yards in NFL history (253) as the Colts wrapped up a playoff berth. Nyheim Hines’ role isn’t going away, but Taylor proved as a rookie he could be the prolific early-down monster he was in the Big 10.

The ground remains where you want to attack the Chiefs, while the run is what the Browns will continue to establish in 2021. Look for Nick Chubb to remain remarkably consistent in the RB6-16 range. … The Najee Harris prophecy was self-fulfilled by the Steelers, who cleared Harris’ deck even more than expected over the summer. Famous last words with a rookie, but it is hard to see how this one goes wrong in fantasy. … Year of the Mixon … again. There is always something preventing Mixon from being a truly satisfactory fantasy foundation. Giovani Bernard won’t be it in 2021. Not even the Bengals’ putrid offensive line is standing between Mixon and 1,600-1,800 yards from scrimmage as an every-down back. Only his health can get in the way. … I have come to the conclusion that Saquon Barkley will be maybe the single-most consequential re-draft back this season. We just don’t know about Week 1, where a snap count against a top-tier Broncos defense is a real possibility. Going forward, if Barkley’s pre-injury pass-catching returns, he could make a beeline for RB2 overall, even with the G-Men sporting arguably the league’s worst offensive line. 

Sterling though it was, the Bucs’ defense tied for the “league lead” in running back receptions allowed last season. That will be Ezekiel Elliott’s path to Week 1 RB1 fantasy value as an 8.5-point road ‘dog vs. an elite D. … Will this be the lowest Antonio Gibson is ranked all year? It is certainly possible if anything like the rumored “CMC role” develops in Washington. … Week 1 always offers up some surprise injuries. One of Wednesday’s was Austin Ekeler’s hamstring issue. If he can go for Sunday, he will be needed for one of his patented 8-10 catch performances against the Football Team’s foreboding defensive line. … It’s a brutal opening-week matchup for David Montgomery, but with Tarik Cohen on the shelf, Montgomery will be the man for all seasons in a game where the Bears will be in comeback mode from the opening whistle. … I’m placing a big Week 1 bet on Gus Edwards vs. the pathetic Raiders. With only Ty’Son Williams behind him on the depth chart for the opener — for now — Edwards is going to have free reign as the Ravens establish their Week 1 will on the road. Although Baltimore has since signed a small army of veteran backs behind him, Ty'Son Williams is the only Ravens runner familiar enough with the playbook to play any sort of role in a contest that will have excellent running game script. ... The Colts are a tough road opener for Chris Carson, though Rashaad Penny made an exceedingly weak attempt at carving out anything other than a cursory change-of-pace role this summer. Carson’s 15-20 touch workloads are firmly secure. 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire suffered a "slight" ankle sprain in the Chiefs' second preseason game on August 21, but is mercifully practicing in full. "The Mentor" Darrel Williams figures to have a weekly role as the Chiefs' No. 2 back, but it is all there for the taking for CEH after his inconclusive rookie campaign. He is an RB2 who could quickly establish himself in the RB1 ranks. … It’s possible I am drastically under-ranking James Robinson. I just need to see it first from coach Urban Meyer, who has never bothered to signal that he is a Robinson fan. Anything other than a huge day against the Texans’ expansion-level defense would be a major red flag for the second-year pro. … The Falcons are deadly serious about this three-down Mike Davis thing. We’ll see how long Davis’ body allows it to remain a thing. Although they are sporting a disastrous linebacker group, the Eagles maintain a strong defensive line. … I apologize in advance if this is too big of a Chase Edmonds bet. One game of data is one game of data, but the Cardinals’ Week 1 RB usage could tell the entire story for 2021. … It will also be a highly-telling week for Miles Sanders, who can’t afford for rookie Kenneth Gainwell to become the Eagles’ “every down” third-down back. 

It won’t be an upside week for Myles Gaskin against what figures to be a resurgent Patriots defense. It will be all about establishing that he maintains his near every-down role. … D’Andre Swift (groin) is practicing in full. He will be tested both at home (Jamaal Williams) and abroad (the 49ers’ elite defense). If Williams’ role is similar to the one he played in Green Bay, the road will be clear for Swift to ascend to top-20 status. If it’s bigger, we’ll have a huge mess on our hands. … Josh Jacobs fading probably went too far this summer, but there is almost nothing to like in this matchup/game setup. … Points and overall plays figure to be in short supply for Patriots/Dolphins, limiting Damien Harris’ Week 1 RB2 ceiling. … Now we play the waiting game. How much distance will be between Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon? Will the Broncos rip the Melvin Gordon Band-Aid off and immediately commit to Javonte Williams? Will Sony Michel be the Rams’ starting early-down back or a pure “breather” option for Darrell Henderson? We have guesses, but only Week 1 has the answers. … Somehow, some way Tevin Coleman is getting yet another chance to lead a committee. Only Michael Carter possesses any season-long upside. … David Johnson’s pass-catching will probably be the lone playable trait in the Texans’ backfield.  

Patrick Daugherty

Patrick Daugherty is the Senior Fantasy Football content creator for NBC Sports EDGE. You can find him on Twitter @RotoPat.