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Week One is arguably the hardest week to predict when it comes to both reality and fantasy football. As good or bad as teams may have looked in the preseason, we honestly don’t have much to go by. You’re obviously not sitting your stud players unless they’re injured but should still be wary of tough match-ups that could have the potential to cap their upside for a given week. Here’s how I would rank the fantasy-relevant RBs for Week One.
1) LeSean McCoy - Shady is the centerpiece of the Chip Kelly offense that runs behind arguably the league’s best offensive line. Even a Jags defense that may be improved from last year won’t be enough to stop Shady from doing Shady things to this defense (see what I did there?).
2) Matt Forte - In 2013, #TeamTrestman helped Forte set career highs in rushing yards, rushing TDs, receiving yards, & receptions. Look for Forte’s status as Chicago’s workhorse to help him get his 2014 off on the right foot.
3) Adrian Peterson - The Rams are by no means an easy match-up for Purple Jesus, but he may finally become an asset in the passing game under the tutelage of Norval Eugene Turner. The more ways he can get touches, and points for your fantasy team, the better.
4) Jamaal Charles - The offensive line in KC may be a slight concern but JC Superstar should still provide you a healthy floor and a high ceiling as Andy Reid‘s new Brian Westbrook and the centerpiece of the run-centric Chiefs offense.
5) Montee Ball – This game against Indy will be Montee’s first career start, but he has tremendous weejkly upside as the lead back in a Peyton Manning-led offense. This game could be a shootout and you know Peyton wants revenge for last year’s heartbreaking 39-33 loss on the national stage.
6) Marshawn Lynch - Beast Mode may have some talented RBs chomping at the bit to take some snaps away from him, and he may be one run-in with the law away from one of them getting a chance to carry the load for an extended period. But he still currently represents a safe weekly option for your squad.
7) Frank Gore - All offseason, I’ve expressed my concern with a Dallas run defense that may be bad enough to keep their offense off the field for long stretches at a time. This isn’t Carlos Hyde’s team yet and Gore looks to be the first beneficiary of the leaky run D in Big D.
8) Zac Stacy - Stacy is one of fantasy’s more undervalued RBs and represents one of the more undervalued Week One plays. I don’t think the loss of Sam Bradford is going to have as adverse of an effect on the team’s offensive production as people think, and a lot of that depends on how much Kenny Britt can help turn around the passing game. If the passing game clicks enough to take some pressure off of Stacy, he could put up a big week.
9) Eddie Lacy – This is as tough a match-up as any RB faces in Week One against the defending Super Bowl champs and their absurd defense. But Lacy has too much upside as Green Bay’s workhorse to bench in any situation. If the Pack can get inside the five yard line once or twice, Lacy can offset any potential damage that defense can do to his numbers with some goal line TDs.
10) Chris Johnson – This is easily the ballsiest of my Top Ten picks as no one seems to know what to make of CJ?K this year. But a juicy match-up as home favorites against an Oakland squad that may turn the ball over a few times against a solid defense, giving Gang Green some extra possessions, may be as good a shot as any for Johnson to prove his worth as the de facto RB1 for the Jets.
11-20) Both Reggie and Joique represent great options against a Giants team that may not find their offensive footing for a few weeks and whose defense doesn’t have the linebackers to cover pass-catching RBs in space, which I expect new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (who worked with Reggie in NOLA) to take full advantage of. Many expect the Texans to be a bounce-back team this year and Foster gets a great Week One match-up to prove his worth as Bill O’Brien‘s workhorse back. Bell may lose some reps to LeGarrette Blount, but is the better fit for Pittsburgh’s no-huddle offense and should still see enough touches to represent a safe bet for decent production. It’s tough to rank Gio this low, but I want to see how the team uses him in relation to the impressive rookie Jeremy Hill before I can rank him too much higher. He still maintains high upside due to ability to pick up receiving yards and TDs. And while you’re likely playing Doug Martin if you have him, even against, a Carolina team that is a tough match-up on paper, the addition of Logan Mankins and the issues Carolina’s offense has had this offseason make Martin a sneaky bet for RB1-type production this week.
21-30) The Week One tilt between Atlanta and New Orleans has shootout potential. You can bet that Matt Ryan & Drew Brees will want to out-do each other in this NFC North showdown, which will benefit their team’s skill position players. But I’d like to see how their rum games will shake out before I can get comfortable recommending any of their RBs as Top 20 weekly plays. The Stankman may be ranked high for some people’s tastes, especially considering we haven’t seen him play in an NFL game that counts yet, but he’s the best all-around RB on the Titans roster and, as such, is the least susceptible to seeing his usage affected by the flow of the game. I think he makes a statement in Week One and proves that he’s the Titans fantasy RB to own. And there won’t be many more opportunities for Trent Richardson to prove his worth to fantasy owners after he burned them last year. How he performs in a primetime game that projects to be a shootout will go a long way towards determining how effective he’s going to be in Indy from a fantasy standpoint.
31-40) Miami’s offensive line issues and switch to an offense being run by a coach with no experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL worries me a bit. But if the offense clicks quickly, Miller stands to be a beneficiary as the rumored Philly-centric offensive system would play to his skill-set. This week will go a long way towards determining what kind of seasonal roles will wind up being played by second-fiddle-on-their-own-team-types like Woody, Ridley, Hill, & Knowshon.
Andre Ellington) Fantasy football’s biggest injury question heading into Week One doesn’t play until 10:20 PM on Monday Night Football. A popular strategy being suggested to Ellington owners on our interactive and awesome forums is to pick up Jonathan Dwyer if available and leave Ellington in your lineup, making the switch to Dwyer if he doesn’t play. If this is the route you’d like to go, just realize that the talent drop-off from Ellington to Dwyer is a pretty large one. These guys are two completely different types of players that are going to be used in two completely different ways in Bruce Arian’s offense, so it can’t be assumed that Dwyer would replicate whatever production Ellington would put up against a tough San Diego defense. Arizona’s offensive line looks improved, but I wouldn’t recommend relying on Dwyer if Ellington can’t play. Especially if you have better options available. And being that Dwyer likely went undrafted in your league, there’s a chance you have better options available to you.
If you don’t own Dwyer or he’s already taken in your league, I would suggest benching Ellington. Even if he does play, the Cards could keep him on a snap count to be safe. Or he could wind up re-aggravating the injury and leaving the game early. For what it’s worth: this tweet from Jene Bramel, Footballguys.com’s injury-focused staff writer, seems to suggest Ellington won’t play.