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.
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
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.