Words by Jim Ayello; rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Marshawn Lynch at Green Bay - 9.75
Here are Beast Mode’s numbers from his past three games against the Packers: 26 touches, 99 yards (2012); 21 touches, 124 yards and 3 touchdowns (2014 Week 1); and 26 touches, 183 yards and 1 touchdown (2015 NFC Championship). Like his career and a fine wine, his production versus the Pack has gotten better with age. Look for similar results against a Green Bay defense that was gashed by Matt Forte.
2. Jeremy Hill vs. San Diego – 9.5
Last week, the Bengals finished second in the league with six trips to the red zone, and they fed their beast. Hill racked up a league-high eight carries inside the 20, including all four of the Bengals’ totes inside the five, two of which he punched in. It’s great that he’s the unquestioned touchdown maker, because he’ll need all the opportunities he can get this week, as the Chargers defense allowed just six rushing scores to back all of last season. Oh, and something else to keep an eye on: Hill played just 53 percent of the Bengals’ snaps in Week 1, ceding 44 of the backfield reps to Giovani Bernard. Even if this pattern continues, Hill can still be enormously effective, but the timeshare could prohibit him from attaining top 5 status, which his talent suggests he’s capable of.
3. Matt Forte vs. Arizona – 9.5
The defense that just allowed Saints running backs 154 receiving yards on 15 catches is preparing to try and contain Matt Forte, not only the man owns the single-season record for most catches by a back in season (102, 2014) but also the guy who had five catches last week on a team with more injured wide receivers than healthy ones. Forget Arizona’s excellent run defense, this is a primo matchup for Forte.
4. Justin Forsett at Oakland – 9.5
Forsett is another in a long list of bounce-back candidates this week as he goes from facing one of the stiffest defenses against the run in Denver to one of the worst in Oakland. The Raiders were in the Christmas spirit all year last year happily giving 100 yards and a touchdown to every good running back on their list and even a few naughty ones. Last season, they yielded more than 1,700 rushing yards to backs, along with a league-high 22 total touchdowns. Nothing's changed. Last week Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard combined for 150 yards and two scores. Even Marc Trestman couldn’t screw this game plan up.
5. Mark Ingram vs. Tampa Bay – 9.25
Even though C.J. Spiller is expected back for this one, I do not expect him to dent Ingram’s production significantly. Ingram remains the goal line back and proved himself to be a capable receiver last week, as he nearly put up a year's worth of receptions in one game. Of course, Spiller will cut into a few of Ingram’s catches, but it’s not like they’ll pull the former Heisman winner off the field every time they want to throw. Ingram will tally close to 20 touches, which is plenty of work to do damage against a team that allowed two of the worst running backs in the league (Bishop Sankey and Terrance West) to combine for 115 yards and a score.
6. Eddie Lacy vs. Seattle – 9.25
Last week, the Seahawks dared Nick Foles to beat them, and he did. They won’t play the same game with Aaron Rodgers, meaning Lacy should have some room to run. Historically, Lacy hasn’t fared well against Seattle (3.2 YPC in two games), but I don’t think this Seaawks defense -- without Kam Chancellor -- is the same unit as in years past. Also, look for the Packers to get Lacy involved in the passing game. Benny Cunningham picked up 77 yards receiving last week, and Seattle allowed the 10th most yards to backs through the air last season. Teams seem to be identifying that as a weakness.
7. Chris Ivory at Indianapolis – 9.25
Here is a list of running backs who ran for 90 or more yards against the Colts last season: Arian Foster (twice), Jonas Gray (kind of twice, since he ran for 201 yards), Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Shonn Greene (seriously). What do all of those backs have in common? They all weigh about the same or more than Chris Ivory. That means, when the Colts are susceptible against the run, it’s against big, bruising types like #BeastEast, who finished fourth last season in missed tackled created with 52, according to Pro Football Focus. Last week, he created four missed tacked and averaged 3.2 yards per carry after contact, fifth in the NFL.
8. Adrian Peterson vs. Detroit - 9
In 12 career games against the Lions, Purple Jesus has scored 12 touchdowns and racked up 1,454 total yards. Some of you might be thinking: “Well, those numbers were picked up against the Lions defense before they were good.” That’s true. The Lions did allow the fewest rushing yards to running backs last season, but that team also rostered Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The 2015 version of the Lions do not. This year's Lions just allowed Chargers runners to rack up 97 yards on the ground, a total they surrendered only twice last season. Expect AP to get healthy against a team he historically has torched.
9. Jamaal Charles vs. Denver – 8.75
To say that Charles has struggled against the Broncos recently would be a massive understatement. In the teams’ two tilts last season, Charles totaled 61 yards on 17 touches. In Tijuana, they refer to those numbers as no bueno. For the Chiefs’ top weapon to have only touched the ball 17 times in their two games against their chief competitor for the AFC West crown is damn near inexcusable, but it is telling. It shows that Denver, at least in the John Fox/Jack Del Rio era, was content to make Alex Smith beat them. Fox and Del Rio are gone, and Smith looked excellent last week, but I expect Wade Phillips to construct a similar game plan to cage Charles. That concept worked perfectly last week, as the Broncos eradicated Justin Forsett from the gameplan, and came away with a win.
10. Jonathan Stewart vs. Houston – 8.75
Stewart -- and Jerricho Cotchery -- led the Panthers in catches last week. Think about that for a second. Stewart is a guy who has not hauled in more than four passes in one game since Week 11 of 2011. Yet in Week 1 this season, he led his team in catches. I don’t think enough people understood the boon to Stewart’s fantasy value that was created after the Kelvin Benjamin injury. Cam Newton needs a reliable No. 2 target behind Greg Olsen, and there’s no reason why Stewart can’t be that guy. In fact, I’ll make a bold prediction here and say that Stewart snags at least five passes on Sunday for the first time since Nov. 2011. It seems as a good time as any, as Houston just allowed backs to catch seven passes for 60 yards last week.
11. Doug Martin at New Orleans – 8.75
I just … I can't … Charch, please don’t make me do this. I can’t stand Doug Martin -- as a running back not as a person.But I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend him this week. He’s got a juicy matchup against a Saints defense that has allowed 90 or more yards to running backs in seven of the past nine weeks, dating back to Week 10 of last year. Included in those seven is Martin himself, who picked up 108 yards in their Week 17 matchup. So, as much I hate to admit it, Martin looks the part of a solid RB2 play this week. Ugh. I’m sure he’ll make me regret saying that.
12. T.J. Yeldon vs. Dolphins – 8.5
It’s the biggest upset of Week 1 no one is talking about. … OK. It’s not that big, but I had do something to get you excited about the fact that the Jaguars offensive line graded out as Pro Football Focus’ third best run-blocking unit last week. Woooo! That’s pretty big for a group that finished 25th last season and dead last in 2013. Come on guys, it’s the Jags. Baby steps. For those who liked what they saw out of Yeldon in Week, I think you can expect more of the same in Week 2, as both Miami and Carolina’s defenses finished in the middle of the pack against running backs last season. Plus, the Dolphins struggled mightily last week to contain Alfred Morris (5’10, 224 pounds) who shares a similar frame with Yeldon (6’1, 225 pounds).
13. DeMarco Murray vs. Dallas – 8.5
Grantland’s Bill Barnwell made an excellent observation in his article recapping the Eagles’ Monday night loss against the Falcons.
“(Chip) Kelly’s solution to his team’s offensive struggles early last season was to up the dosage of Darren Sproles, and that salve worked again (Monday night). Last year, Sproles’ success came at the expense of LeSean McCoy. … Here his reps (24 snaps) came at the expense of (Murray, 31 snaps).
If this truly is the case -- and it sure seems to be -- the question Murray owners have to be asking themselves is how long do you think this Eagles offense will take, with a new quarterback and a questionable interior offensive line, to come together? A hint: Last year McCoy didn’t really get going until Week 6, the first time he averaged more than 4.2 yards per carry in any game. The rest of the way, he totaled at least 97 yards or a touchdown in all but two games. Those numbers indicate owners should be patient with Murray, because he’ll eventually produced, just not against Dallas or any time in the new few weeks. … Oh, and the answer is no, I don’t put much stock into “revenge games,” and I’m pretty sure Kelly doesn’t either.
When these teams met last year, late in the season, McCoy ran for over 200 yards in the two games, while scoring once. If the Eagles take the lead (or at least stay close), it should help keep Sproles on the bench, and let Murray do his work.
14. Carlos Hyde at Pittsburgh – 8.5
Here’s a fun fact: In one game this season, Hyde produced exactly half of what he gave the 49ers last season over 14 games (333 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns). Stop drooling. I’ll admit, it’s hard not to get over-excited after a performance like that, but before you start offering up Le’Veon Bell or Marshawn Lynch to Hyde owners, remember Minnesota was a bottom-tier run defense last season. This week should provide a much better barometer of what kind of back Hyde will be. The Steelers allowed the seventh fewest rushing yards to backs last year and conceded just eight touchdowns to the position.
15. Joseph Randle at Philadelphia – 8.5
Nothing is set in stone, but if you wanted the Dallas running back situation spelled out for you, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently obliged in a radio interview with 105.3 The Fan:
"The facts are as (the Giants) game went, apart from that first drive, we departed from the way that you'll hopefully see the Cowboys play. Now, every game, we'll have to make adjustments for what happens and other things could happen. But, for instance, I think Randle got about 10 or 15 or 16 carries, but you will probably see him in a normal game, and one that didn't go the way that one went, you'd probably see him up there at 22, 23, 24 carries."
Well, there you have it. From the horse’s mouth to your fantasy team, Randle allegedly is going to be ’Boys bell cow, which makes him a great start against a Philly defense that surrendered 21 total touchdowns to backs last season and had trouble containing Tevin Coleman, a slightly faster version of Randle, last week.
16. Lamar Miller at Jacksonville – 8.25
This has all the makings up a misleading matchup. What I mean is Jacksonville isn’t as bad against the run as most think. For example it’s easy to say Gus Bradley’s unit stinks when you look at the 1,756 rushing yards they yielded to opposing backs last season. But look how many carries it took to get there: 433, meaning they barely allowed 4.0 YPC. They only allowed three 100-yard rushers last year. I’m not saying this is not a good matchup for Miller, because it is. The entire Miami offense was totally flat last week, but I expect a rebound for Miller as the Dolphins get a lead, and run out the clock.
17. Ameer Abdullah at Minnesota – 7.75
The concern I have about Abdullah going forward is the same one I had entering the season: He has a big glass ceiling above him that I don’t think he’ll be able to break through. What I mean is he’s not an every-down back, at least the Lions don’t see him that way. His coach Jim Caldwell said after Sunday’s game that how he was used against the Chargers is how they see him being used going forward. How he was used Sunday was 11 offensive touches. That’s not a lot to work with. It means he’ll be reliant on the big play all season and this week against the Vikings. That’s bad news. Guess how many rushes of 20-plus yards the Vikings surrendered last season. The answer is six, which was the second fewest in the league. Abdullah may get some help via the air. He's a gifted receiver, and the Vikings allowed the third-most receptions to running backs last year.
18. LeSean McCoy vs. New England – 8.5
In two games last season, Bills runners averaged a meager 3.2 yards per carry against the Patriots. Granted, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson or Anthony Dixon aren't nearly as talented as Shady, but I expect a similar outcome Sunday in Buffalo. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is infamous for his ability to take away a team’s strength. Much as I was impressed by what I saw from Tyrod Taylor in Week 1, Rex Ryan’s Bills are a run-first team, and Belichick knows it.
19. Frank Gore vs. New York Jets – 8.25
I love Gore this season, but I just can’t find a way to feel good about him in this game. T.Y. looks likely to sit out, and Andre Johnson didn’t appear ready for the season last week. All that tells me that the Jets, already a fantastic run defense, will have less to worry about through the air than if they caught the Colts healthy. If you’re looking for a modicum of upside here, last season, Todd Bowles’ Cardinals allowed Gore to gash them for 144 yards on 25 carries in Week 17. Like I said, it’s not much for Gore owners to hold onto, but it’s something.
20. DeAngelo Williams vs. San Francisco – 8.25
Congrats to those owners who played Williams in his only productive game of the 2015-16 season. I hope you enjoyed it, because between the return of Le’Veon Bell next week and a seemingly tough matchup this week, Week 1 was the last we’ll see or care about DeAngelo Williams this season. The 49ers shut down the best back in football, proving that all of the losses they endured this offseason (Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Chris Borland and Aldon Smith highlight the list) mean very little to them, and they intend to maintain their reputation as one of the best defenses in football. But, the Steelers won't be nearly as discombobulated as the Vikings offense, and Williams will have many more opportunities for fantasy points than Adrian Peterson did.
21. Isaiah Crowell vs. Tennessee – 8.25
22. Rashad Jennings vs. Atlanta - 8
This isn’t Men in Black. I’m not going to look into a stick, or watch one Monday Night Football game and in a flash forget all about last season. Sure, Dan Quinn looks like he has this Falcons defense headed in the right direction, but these boys sure were awful last year, to the tune of 2,375 total yards and a league-high 22 total touchdowns allowed to running backs. And that includes 155 yards and a score to Jennings and his backfield mate Andre Williams in Week 5 last season. I’m relying on a whole season’s worth of evidence rather than one game and trusting Jennings to be a bankable RB2 in this one. Hey, who knows? Tom Coughlin might even let him score this week.
23. Ronnie Hillman at Kansas City – 7.75
24. Tevin Coleman at New York Giants - 8
Don’t you just love when suspect backfield situations sort themselves out in Week 1? All preseason, it was near impossible to guess whether Devonta Freeman or Coleman would emerge as the lead back. I’m not even sure the Falcons coaches knew. But they do now. Coleman was electric on a couple of runs Week 1 and will get a chance to strengthen his grip on the job this week against a Giants run defense that surrendered the sixth-most rushing yards to backs last season. That all said, I am slightly worried that if this game becomes a shootout, that Freeman, who was targeted (4) twice as many times as Coleman, could end up receiving the lion’s share of the snaps.
25. Giovani Bernard
Detroit runners caught 8 balls for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers last week. And, Giovanni Bernard got a lot of activity last week. He was on the field only 8 fewer plays than Hill, making him a good start in PPR leagues. Touchdowns are unlikely, unless he scores from distance.
26. Danny Woodhead at Cincinnati - 8
I have about million reasons to love Woodhead in this game, but I’m only going to give you four. 1. Woodhead played 53 percent of the Chargers’ snaps last week, 7 percent more than presumed starter Melvin Gordon. 2. Woodhead received 6 rushing attempts inside the red zone, third among all running backs and six more than Gordon. 3. Woodhead was the second most targeted receiver on the Chargers behind Keenan Allen. 4. The Bengals allowed the second most receiving yards and third most catches to opposing back last season. Enjoy.
27. Alfred Morris – 7.75
You know that spot at the end of your bench where you’re stashing late-round sleeper or a handcuff running back? Yeah, well bump those guys up a spot this week and slot Morris in there. You need to put as much distance between he and and your starting lineup as possible, so as not to upset or even disturb the Rams’ fearsome front seven. OK, honestly, this situation isn’t that dire, but it’s close. Morris faces a unit that last year forced him into a game where he had more carries (8) than rushing yards (6). Last season, only two teams surrendered fewer scores to running backs than St. Louis, and they’re coming off a shutout pitched against Marshawn Lynch. Sure, Lynch picked up a decent yardage total against the Rams, but no one is confusing Morris for Beast Mode. This is going to be an off week for any Morris owner who starts him.
28. Bishop Sankey at Cleveland – 7.75
Let me start off by saying nothing gets my goat more than undeserved hype, so let me harsh the mellow on a few things. First, True Detective seasons 1 and 2: Terrible. Shut up, McConaughey. Wax poetic somewhere else. Second, Kim Davis: Shhhhhh. Congratulations for not doing your job. I don’t do my job, every day, but for some reason, Mike Huckabee isn’t raising my arm in triumph like I just knocked out Floyd Mayweather -- Someone should … that guy, too. Yuck. And finally, there’s Marcus Mariota, whose praises we’re singing because Tampa Bay was too busy rehearsing a Benny Hill sketch to play defense. Throw a touchdown pass longer than five yards (not including YAC), and then we’ll talk. There. Rant over. So, what does this all have to do with Bishop Sankey? Well, suffice to say I don’t believe in this offense one (Mar)iota, and I think even a halfway decent defense (Cleveland) grinds them to a halt. Remember, Sankey is still the guy that averaged a Trent Richardson-esq 3.7 yards per carry last year. One game doesn’t erase 152 brutal attempts. Sell high!
Cleveland allowed Chris Ivory to dominate them last week. Sankey's running "style" couldn't be less like Ivory's.
29. Melvin Gordon at Cincinnati – 7.75
30. Tre Mason at Washington - 7.75
31. LeGarrette Blount at Buffalo – 7.75
Dion Lewis looked good last week. So what? Let me know when Stevan Ridley, Jonas Grey or Corey Dillon resign with the Patriots, then I’ll be concerned -- especially if it’s Dillon; Belichick works magic with veterans, but this would be pushing it, no? Anyway, Dion Lewis is nothing more than the heir to Shane Vereen. Blount is still the first and second down/red zone back and the guy you’d rather own for the rest of the season. OK, now that I got that off my chest, don’t start Blount. That Buffalo front four is damn near impenetrable, and Brady & co. know it. Last year, Patriots backs ran the ball 29 times against the Bills in two games combined. They’re going to air it out. That means Blount, coming off a suspension, is probably not going to see the work he will in Week 3 against the Jaguars or Week 5 against the Colts.
32. Joique Bell at Minnesota – 7.75
33. C.J. Anderson at Kansas City - 8
In two career games against the Chiefs, Anderson amassed 199 rushing yards, averaging 5.37 yards per carry. Now, that was before Peyton Manning’s arm resembled a pop gun rather than a laser rocket, so don’t expect Kansas City to fear getting burned by the future hall of famer as they have in years past. Also working against Anderson is his sprained toe and the fact that Ronnie Hillman earned just as many carries (12) as Anderson last week and out-produced him (41-29). Hillman’s history proves he is a more than capable back, and if he continues to cut into Anderson’s workload, owners who invested a first round pick in the second-year player may quickly regret it.
34. Chris Johnson at Chicago – 7.75 (if Ellington is inactive)
35. Karlos Williams vs NE
36. Duke Johnson vs Tennessee – 7.75
37. Dion Lewis at Buffalo – 7.5
Remember when I said that Dion Lewis is the Patriots’ receiving back, and that they were going to throw a lot against Buffalo? You do? Good. Now stay with me. While it might seem that those two things would add up to a: Start Dion Lewis, they do not. While the Patriots will throw -- New England quarterbacks slung 70 passes in two games combined against the Bills last year -- only 7 were passes were aimed at Shane Vereen, Lewis’ predecessor. Vereen finished those games with a combined four catches for 17 yards. Put simply, the Bills are pretty much running back kryptonite. Avoid using any backs against them this year if you can.
38. Darren Sproles vs. Dallas – 7.5
39. Latavius Murray vs. Baltimore – 7.5
40. Ryan Mathews vs. Dallas – 7.5
41. Alfred Blue at Carolina – 7.5
42. C.J. Spiller vs. Tampa Bay – 7.25
43. Todd Gurley at Washington - 7.25
44. Lance Dunbar at Philadelphia – 7.25
45. Devonta Freeman at New York Giants - 7