Words by Jonnie Carlyle
Rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Adrian Peterson vs. San Francisco - 10
Far from the world’s best dad or even in the running to be considered a competent one, Adrian Peterson seems to have this running back thing down. Peterson has never had less than 10 touchdowns in a season and faces a defense that lost arguably the top four of their starting front seven. It’s nice the 49ers have Navorro Bowman back, but I am not sure the guy that takes two hours just to get his knee to a place where he can freely move will be enough to slow the Peterson train. The Vikings also have some major issues up front after right tackle Phil Loadholt tore his Achilles and center John Sullivan has been battling back spasms for a couple weeks, but if one can thrive with Christian Ponder under center, one can thrive in any circumstance. It’s Adrian Peterson. He’s the best running back in the NFL. And he’s angry. Think that new super dinosaur from Jurassic World, but with longer arms and someone has harmed one of his offspring. Oh wait… Well, you get the idea.
2. Eddy Lacy vs. Chicago – 10
One of the league’s best offenses? Green Bay has been top five in scoring three of the last four years, with the lone outlier being Aaron Rodgers’ shortened season in 2013. One of the league’s best running backs? Eddy Lacy has averaged nearly 1500 of total yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons, including an average of 100 total yards and a touchdown against the Bears for his career. Facing a leaky defense? Sure it’s not 2014 anymore, but Chicago was downright horrible down the stretch last season as they surrendered seven rushing touchdowns and just a hair under five yards per carry in their last five games. For what it’s worst, the Bears have given up the 7th most rushing yards through the preseason as well.
3. DeMarco Murray vs. Atlanta – 9.5
None of us really know how the backfield pie is going to be sliced up in Philadelphia between DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews or how big of an impact new Falcon head coach Dan Quinn will have on an abysmal Atlanta rush defense that allowed more touchdowns to running backs than any other team in 2014. However, what do know regardless of the two aforementioned unknowns is Chip Kelly’s rushing offense will be one of the best in 2015. In his two seasons, the Eagles have never been lower than 7th in rushing attempts, 9th in rushing yards or 5th in rushing touchdowns. Ca-ching. Sure this is a committee backfield, but with DeMarco likely being the DeFacto lead back, history has shown the production will be there.
4. Justin Forsett vs. Denver – 9.5
I am not sure I am completely buying into whatever Justin Forsett is selling, but I am no dummy either. What other established, go-to does the Baltimore offense have? Buck Allen has a fumbling problem, one that sprung up near the goal line. That’s never good for a rookie. Lorenzo Taliaferro is both injured and terrible; I’ll let choose which fits the narrative better. Outside, there’s only an old Velociraptor named Steve Smith, Sr. (heaven forbid you forget the (suddenly arriving) ‘Sr.’) and some other guys not named Breshad Perriman or Torrey Smith. But most of all, it’s the arrival of Marc Trestman at offensive coordinator that is most convincing. Trestman has always utilized his running backs in the passing game. Forsett is an excellent pass catcher. Match made in heaven. Who allowed the most receptions to running backs in 2014? The Broncos, that’s who. Match further made in heaven. I don’t know if Joe Flacco is “a elite quarterback” but I do know Justin Forsett is a elite option in Week 1.
5. Jeremy Hill vs. Oakland – 9.25
There was once a time when fantasy owners couldn’t wait to insert their guys into their starting lineup when they faced the Oakland Raiders and that time…is still right freaking now. Sure there are some budding superstars in Khalil Mack and Sio Moore, but when you’re still starting Charles Woodson your defense clearly still has some holes. True story, when the late Al Davis was looking for ideas for his next press conference tutorial on how to look exactly like a zombie and wondered aloud how he could make the normal sized piece of paper big so everyone could read it, Charles Woodson wheeled in his personal projector. Not like the “hey check out this killer projector I got off Amazon for the Super Bowl” but instead like the “let that Vis a Vis marker dry before you move you hand, Mrs. Davis” kind of projector. Enter Jeremy Hill, who recorded five games of 100+ yards (four of which were at least 147 yards) after taking over the Bengal backfield in Week 9 and scored six touchdowns in those nine games. That momentum and role should carry right on in to Week 1 against the Raiders, a team that ranked bottom seven in rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns allowed, and receiving yards by running backs last year
6. Matt Forte vs. Green Bay – 9.25
No funny stories or sub-tweeting here, Matt Forte is easily the most boring of the bunch as his consistency off the field may only be rivaled by his consistency on it. Forte has only had one season in his career with less than 288 touches and that came in a season where he missed four games. In 2014 he accounted for 75% of the Bears rushing attempts and there doesn’t seem to be any reason that should change with John Fox taking over for the pass happy Marc Trestman. Green Bay is no slouch defensively, but the Jordy Nelson injury may actually help Forte’s production as it’s unlikely the Pack will annihilate the Bears in one half of football like they did last season. Expect a smidge tighter game, with plenty of Forte as Fox and company play ball control in hopes of keeping the ball out of both Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler’s hands.
7. Lamar Miller vs. Washington - 9
Things I hate: ketchup, First Take, pretty much anything Kanye says outside of 808s and Heartbreaks, Tom Brady’s chin, and owners that don’t respond to trade offers. Lamar Miller ain’t on that list. One could even go as far to say I love Miller and the potential he brings in a matchup with a Washington team that could be more dysfunctional heading into the season opener. Sure it’s not 2014 anymore, where Washington surrendered eight rushing touchdowns in their final eight games, but something tells me the NFC East doormat kind of wishes it was. Turnover machine Kurt Cousins takes over for sack-taking machine RGIII, likely bolstering Miller’s opportunities in a game that already had the makings of a game script gone haywire. Miller has also seen his carries increase three straight seasons and for the first time in his career won’t be competing for playing time, further encouraged by the fact head coach Joe Philbin suggested Miller is in line for an increase in touches.
8. Jamaal Charles vs. Houston – 9.5
Before we get too deep into things, can we all just admit Hard Knocks should have been renamed JJ’s kiloWatts or something equally lame (I’ll admit it, I am not a names guy)? I mean, come on, like he’s the only guy to ever stay late and hit the pads. Or rap awkwardly to a not even real rap song whilst wearing a backwards hat. I guess it’s pretty cool he can lift a bunch of super heavy tires and tell us exactly how many times but I think I could do without having it rubbed in my face. Thankfully Jamaal Charles isn’t a stationary object resigned to lying on his side waiting to be flipped. Don’t get me wrong, Watt is clearly the best defensive player in the NFL but I don’t need slo-mo and epic Inception music to know Katy Perry looks good in latex. Charles’ task in Week 1 is tough, the aforementioned Watt, Vince Wilfork, Jadaveon Clowney and of course, The Kool-Aid Man aka Big Red aka Andy Reid. 10 different times Charles had 15 or fewer carries, including five straight to end the season. Yikes. However, not something we Charles owners should be that concerned about as the Chiefs finally have real pass catchers and he’s still Jamaal Charles; the guy who’s never averaged less than five yards per carry in any season and has three straight seasons of at least 13 touchdowns and 1300 total yards. Houston is also without Arian Foster and has Brian Hoyer playing quarterback, so no fear of the Texans running away with this one.
9. Doug Martin vs. Tennessee – 9.0
Hey Doug, I am not a huge fan of the “Muscle Hamster” nickname either, but the only way it is going to disappear is if you disappear. And let’s be honest, it could be worse. Based on the last couple seasons, you could be “Gimpy” or “Bobby Rainey’s backup” or “local insurance salesman”. So just enjoy the ride and keep doing what you’ve been doing since being united with fellow Boise State football alumnus, Dirk Koetter (is that what you call them, “alumnus”?). You’ve looked phenomenal in the preseason and you get the only team in 2014 to allow 2000+ rushing yards. Game script should keep this one tight at worst for Martin and company, which will mean a heavy dose of carries for the fourth-year back.
10. CJ Anderson vs. Baltimore – 8.75
It’s likely there are plenty of stats and analytics some nerd could drop on why CJ Anderson is a top 10 back in Week 1. Such as, no other running back had more touchdowns in the final five games of the 2014 season. Or that he averaged over 25 touches per game during the same stretch. Or that if one was to toss out a meaningless Week 17 game against Oakland, Anderson was the guy taking the handoff 85% of the time in Denver’s final seven games. Boring nerd speak, that’s what I always say. Here’s some real numbers for you to chew on. There’s a 100% chance Old Geezer McForehead explodes into a cloud of dust if Terrell Suggs hits him once. And with a completely revamped offensive line, Denver won’t take any more chances than they need to. Evan Mathis is also nice addition to the interior, but this is more about Peyton Manning’s survival.
11. Jonathan Stewart vs. Jacksonville – 8.75
It may be hard to believe, but in the final five games of 2014 only DeMarco Murray had more rushing yards than Jonathan Stewart. And it took Murray 34 more carries to amass 7 more yards. The postseason was more of the same, as Stewart was third amongst all running backs, despite only playing in two games and being the only back with 100+ rushing yards and less than 40 carries. Well would you look at that, Riverboat Ron. It’s almost as if once you turn the keys, fully turn the keys (Stewart averaged over 18 rushing attempts per) over to an uber talented back good things happen. Cam Newton is healthy too and so is the matchup. Jacksonville gave up the 5th most yards, the 4th most rushing touchdowns in 2014 and lost top pick defensive end Dexter Fowler to a knee injury all the way back in rookie minicamp. The Panthers may be a (ie, are a HUGE) mess in the passing game, but I wouldn’t be too concerned about that in Week 1.
12. Christopher Ivory vs. Cleveland – 8.75
I can’t believe I am saying this, but I am kind of buying the overhaul of this New York offense. Chances are, that’s the kind of line that sends the readers elsewhere but hear me out. After sifting through the Stephen Hills, Braylon Edwards’ and Percy Harvins of the world, the Jets finally have a legitimate number one receiver in Brandon Marshall (sorry Decker you’re more fit for the Robin role). That should mean extended drives. Chan Gailey is a much, much better offensive mind than people realize. If you don’t agree, Tyler Thigpen and Ryan Fitzpatrick (do you know he went to Harvard?) would like to have a word with you. That should mean more scoring chances. And new head coach Todd Bowles is a defensive guy who wants to control the game with great defense, which they have, and ball control. That should mean plenty of volume. And that's all music to Chris Ivory’s ears, which will only be strengthened by a Week 1 game script that should go just as planned. Josh McCown, horrible. His receivers, terrible. And that Brown defense, surrendered a combined 461 rushing yards to the following group of schleps: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Denard Robinson, Bobby Rainey and Alfred Blue in 2014. A real who’s who of “talent”. And, AND, the Browns just gave the boot to starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor.
13. Marshawn Lynch vs. St. Louis – 8.5
Marshawn Lynch is making an appearance just so I don’t get fined. And the fact Week 1’s start against St. Louis is much more difficult that most probably realize. Especially considering the mess that is Seattle’s offensive line. Center Max Unger was shipped off to New Orleans in the Jimmy Graham deal. Unger is considered one of the top centers in the NFL while Graham is by his own admission should be considered a wide receiver and not a tight end. And spare me the “blocking 75%” stuff; if Graham is truly blocking that much the Seahawks will be in trouble. St. Louis finished the season only allowing two rushing touchdowns in their final five games and Lynch managed a paltry 76 rushing yards and no touchdowns in St. Louis the past two seasons. Lynch being ranked here is a requirement, but if you’re expecting his typical production you’re likely to be disappointed.
14. LeSean McCoy vs. Indianapolis – 8.5
Guess what Shady, you’re not invited to my sweet party either! Sure there may not be fly honeys gyrating all over the place like yours, but we have bottled sodas and the best sausage dip you’ve ever tasted. So suck on that! The matchup is right and the talent is at least sort of there, so what’s the deal? Mostly the hamstring that had many watching at training camp grimacing and fearing the absolute worst after McCoy went down. I know he’s had more than one Paul Pierce-need-to-be-wheeled-off –the-court moments, but soft tissue injuries are always a pill to deal with. And only a couple days ago, it looked increasingly like McCoy was a shoe-in to be watching Week 1 from the sidelines. I guess you have to start him if you’ve got him; the Colts will be without Arthur Jones and Robert Mathis and is essentially the same group that Jonas Gray ran for a billion yards and four touchdowns on in 2014. McCoy’s also got volume on his side and Tyrod Taylor keeping ends honest with the read-option.
Completely unrelated note, but is anyone interested in coming over to a party in my mom’s basement? I’d rather not be forced to eat five pounds of cream cheese and Jimmy Deans.
15. Mark Ingram vs. Arizona – 8.5
Mmmmm, smell that kids? It’s called ‘optimism’ and Mark Ingram owners are loaded with it headed into the 2015 season. For the first time since the Saints (over)paid for the Alabama running back he was treated relative to his cost, gobbling up 76% of the rushing attempts and 59% of the red zone totes. And that red zone number is likely higher in games Ingram actually appeared in as he missed three games. New Orleans run blocking should be exponentially better too, as Saints sent wide receiver Jimmy Graham in tight end clothing to the Seahawks for center Max Unger. Buzz Killingtons will likely try to kill the mood with bringing up Arizona’s rush defense and that certainly is a concern. However, brilliant defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is no longer in Glendale and nothing shakes things up more than coaching changes. While something like “haters gonna hate” likely applies here, no self-respecting adult would ever utter such a phrase. Also, pull up your pants and get off my lawn.
16. Frank Gore vs. Buffalo – 8
He’s not Trent Richardson. We’re done here, right folks? Seriously, take a gander at the runners who’ve played with Andrew Luck and not been named Trent Richardson. The likes of Donald Brown, Ahmad Bradshaw and Dan Herron averaged 4.8 YPC and 1 touchdown for every 20 touches. Richardson meanwhile averaged 3.1 YPC and 1 touchdown for every 50 touches. How you say? I have no idea. However, one thing I do know is Frank Gore is a much better back than all those bums. Buffalo has arguably the best defensive line in football, which is the only reason Gore sits outside the top 10. Only two rushers scored touchdowns against the Bills in the final seven games of last year.
17. Carlos Hyde vs. Minnesota – 8
Like a closing time prowler at 2 AM, Carlos Hyde went home with what he thought was a solid eight after taking over for Frank Gore as the lead guy in a power running scheme buoyed by a great defense. Unfortunately for Hyde, when he woke up in 2015, that eight was a lady Bigfoot, snoring like a freight train in Hyde’s favorite Bubby Brister jersey. Gone is starting left guard Mike Iupati, who bailed via free agency. Gone is starting right tackle Anthony Davis, who abruptly retired in the offseason. Hyde also has to deal with the addition of ideal third down running back, Reggie Bush. The 49er defense is a mess too; meaning that two-down role Hyde will be pigeonholed into a role that will only shrivel up further as San Francisco should be chasing a much-improved Viking offense. Sheesh, we feel for you Carlos, we’ve all been there. Sometimes it is just best to turn down that last shot of Old Crow and instead partake in a killer street gyro from that sketchy guy donning sandals and a tank top in December.
18. Danny Woodhead vs. Detroit – 8
19. Andre Ellington vs. New Orleans - 8
I think it’s safe to assume 25-30 touches per game is not in the cards for Andre Ellington in 2015, but good news persists. Ellington is healthy-ish and even better, draws the Saints, whose defense should be about as effective as the levees were in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. No team surrendered more receiving yards to the running back position than the Saints, which is ideal for a space back like Ellington who only caught less than three passes once last season. Further complicating things for New Orleans, their back seven is in shambles and includes two rookies currently slated to start at linebacker. Cardinal linemen Mike Iupati and Bobby Massie will both be out in Week 1 but if there is any team who will struggle to take advantage of a shaky line, it is the Saints.
20. Rashad Jennings vs. Dallas – 7.75
There’s a part of me that thinks Rashad Jennings should be ranked higher. He isn’t injured, yet. He’s the only back on the offense that isn’t one-dimensional. Apparently Andre Williams’ fingers are as ripped as the rest of his body and catching anything thrown his way that isn’t a dumbbell or protein shakes is asking too much. Dallas is as bad defensively as Brian Cushing is clinically insane. Their saving grace in 2014, when it wasn’t DeMarco Murray and the running game, was middle linebacker Rolando McClain who is suspended the first four games. We’re all happy Sean Lee is getting back on the field, but trying to play tackle football with cooked spaghetti noodles for legs is never a good idea. And has anyone seen this passing offense? Eli’s a slow starter, it’s just preseason, blah blah blah. Whatever the reason may be there should be at least some concern. Ah hell, looks like I have convinced myself. Way to earn it Jennings!
21. Ameer Abdullah vs. San Diego – 7.75
I am not normally one to go crazy for rookies, especially in Week 1 but the stars seem to aligning for Ameer Abdullah. It’s always safe to take coachspeak with a grain of salt, especially when players are in shorts and running against air. But then Abdullah’s first carry in the preseason happened. And then Todd Bowles’ Barry Sanders comparison happened. And here we are, hype-rocket in full bore. It’s not all solely fluff, though, as Joique Bell’s recovery has taken longer than expected leaving Abdullah the beneficiary and in line for at least one week of heavy workload. I mean, are we really that concerned about Zach Zenner? Well, sure, Charch is, but the rest of know better.
22. Melvin Gordon vs. Detroit – 7.75
23. Isaiah Crowell vs. New York Jets – 7.75
24. TJ Yeldon vs. Carolina – 7.75
25. Ryan Mathews vs. Atlanta – 7.75
26. Latavius Murray vs. Cincinnati – 7.5
I get there’s quite a bit of fluidity to the running back position and we can’t always assume rational coaching wins out, but has any of the hysterics surrounding Latavius Murray considered it took the coaching staff nine weeks before giving him his shot? And it’s not just any nine weeks, but 56 days of 2014’s versions of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew before they finally decided Murray was competent enough as a runner to take over. Clearly he proved the coaches geniuses as he went on to average 5.2 yards per carry. Oh wait, take out that one run in primetime (you know the one) and he barely averaged 4.0 yards per carry. One 90-yard run does not make a fantasy season, but in the case of Murray there does seem to be a little bit of that prognosticating going on. The Bengals struggled with stopping the run in 2014, but now two years removed from major knee surgery, standout defensive tackle Geno Atkins should have something about that. Michael Johnson also returns to a Cincinnati defensive line that clearly missed him in 2014.
27. Gio Bernard vs. Oakland – 7.75
28. Tevin Coleman vs. Philadelphia – 7.75
29. Brandon Bolden vs. Pittsburgh – 7.5
You know dude’s got a PHD in misinformation when he can drop some real insider info in normal conversation and we all just gloss over it like he said “On to Cincinnati” for the 100th time. On September 2nd, Bill Belichick suggested Brandon Bolden was capable of being a three-down back and up until the surprise cut sent Jonas Gray packing on the 5th, we all still had Gray penciled in as the Week 1 starter. Welp, here we are on September 9th and it appears Bolden will be just that. And what a matchup to walk in to. I mean it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Patriots throw the ball 75 times on opening night, but in the event they don’t troll, Bolden will shred that once proud Pittsburgh defense. The Steelers were a middle of the pack rush defense in 2014, but mostly because teams were content to throw all over the field. That doesn’t appear to be the case if the preseason is any indication, as no team surrendered more rushing yards, touchdowns or 20+ yard runs. I know, I know, it’s like, just the preseason man but don’t say you weren’t warned.
30. Alfred Morris vs. Miami – 7.5
Hot take alert! Washington is not a good football team. Unfortunately for Alfred Morris, he doesn’t have the wheels or tools necessary to outrun their dysfunction. Morris has seen a decline in both attempts and yards in consecutive seasons since his rookie year, including just barely topping 1000 yards in 2014. Strike one. A one-dimensional back, Morris also has trouble staying on the field once Washington falls behind as he only averaged 15.5 carries in their 12 losses and look for Washington to fall behind. Quickly. Strike two. Miami comes to town in Week 1 meaning Ndamukong Suh comes to town in Week 1. Strike three.
31. Alfred Blue vs. Kansas City – 7.5
Anyone who’s paid close attention to Arian Foster in the past five years has to have noticed he’s a unique dude. Alfred Blue, well I think it’s safe to say ‘unique’ is likely not an adjective used to describe the new lead back for the Texans. However, sometimes all a guy needs is opportunity and Blue should have plenty of that in Week 1. In the three games Blue filled in for Foster in 2014, he handled 78% of the rushing attempts including one game with 36 carries. And while the Chiefs were one of the stingiest teams in regards to rushing touchdowns in 2014, they did little else to slow opposing rushing attacks down as they gave up the 3rd most rushing yards and a league high 4.9 yards per carry. Kansas City will also likely be without nose tackle Dontari Poe on Sunday, providing further boon to Blue’s prospects.
32. DeAngelo Williams vs. New England – 7.25
A little over a week ago, DeAngelo Williams’ Week 1 matchup had all the stuff dreams are made of. However, the court system just didn’t have enough real issues to deal with and decided time, on the double no less, needed to be spent figuring out if Tom Brady specifically asked for his balls to be poked and prodded in such a way that they were more empty after those fanboys were done with them. Hey Rog, let me take a shot at this court thing, free of charge…
“Your honor, what are the chances Mr. Bundchen would allow any Patriots fan near his balls without his consent?”
Boom, see you in Week 5 Tommy. –emoji face wearing sunglasses-
But, we digress. Brady is playing, the Steelers are without Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and center Maurkice Pouncey. And that Pittsburgh defense, just how bad is it? Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassell, EJ Manuel and Matt Simms combined to go 30-33 for 386 yards and three touchdowns in Week 3 of the preseason. Manuel was throwing passes into tents against air at practices a few days before. Remember that time Tom Brady was throwing passes errantly into tents? Yeah, me either. One of two things happens here. Either the Steelers pass to keep up or the Pats blow them out. Neither of those is good for Williams.
33. Bishop Sankey vs. Tampa Bay – 7.5
34. Shane Vereen vs. Dallas – 7.5
35. Tre Mason/Benny Cunningham (whomever gets the start) vs. Seattle – 7.25
36. Cowboys runners vs. New York Giants – 7.25
If recent history is any indication, it should probably be Joseph Randle. However, if Jerrah’s history as meddling owner/GM/wannabe coach is any indication, it will probably be Darren McFadden. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, barring an injury. Ha! Jokes on me. It is actually illegal in 32 states to utter the name “Darren McFadden” in a complete sentence without using the word ‘injury’ or some variation of it. Punishment: one has to not only own McFadden for an entire season, but also start him at least 13 times. Or in other words, be a fantasy Jerry Jones but without all the photos with strippers and creepy groping. Bad jokes aside, there is a lot of production to be had behind the league’s best offensive line, especially against a shortfingered and depleted Giant defense. If you have to start Brandon Meriwether anywhere on your defense, you’re in bad shape. New York allowed the 6th most rushing yards despite being in the bottom half of rushing attempts faced and couldn’t hold DeMarco Murray below 120 yards in either game in 2014. However, the murkiness surrounding workload distribution makes it nearly impossible proceed with any sort of confidence.