One thing I try to make clear in Week 1 is that I'm not overly concerned with matchups. For one thing, I'm not sure we're that good at predicting the strength of defenses early in the year, but mostly I just don't want to sit players I drafted in the first two rounds. I do factor in a team's implied point total, which factors in defense, but that's about it.
In other words, I've given no thought to sitting Ezekiel Elliott against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night. The backs on the other sideline? That's a different story altogether.
Bruce Arians running back usage drew the ire of Fantasy managers multiple times in 2020 and, with the addition of Giovani Bernard, it may be even worse this year. The most frustrating part is that the most recent performance didn't always seem to dictate playing time in the following game. That's why i'm skeptical Leonard Fournette will earn the lion's share of the touches in Week 1. In fact, I'd rather start Ronald Jones.
The only thing I do feel confident in is that Giovani Bernard will be the pass-catching back. Bernard has been much better than Fournette and Jones at this aspect of the game and the Buccaneers have raved about the veteran since he arrived in Tampa Bay. He's been a full participant this week after an ankle scare at the end of last week, and I'm expecting Bernard to be a full go.
My current touch expectation for Week 1 has Jones at 44% of the carries followed by Fournette at 33% and Bernard at 15%. But I have Bernard at 13% of the team's targets, with Jones and Fournette splitting five percent. That math leads to Bernard as the best option in PPR, Jones as the best in non, and Fournette as a desperation flex.
But I'll say again, this is a very low confidence situation from game to game and even drive to drive. These are the types of situations you can exploit in DFS by choosing the least popular, but they're an absolute headache in redraft leagues.
- Heath gives you the best players to stash at each position and gives his unique philosophy on matchups on the Fantasy Football Today in 5 podcast. Listen below and follow at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:
Now let's get to the rest of the Week 1 RB Preview:
Week 1 RB Preview
The following players are not being projected to play Week 1 at this time. Here's what it means:
Tarik Cohen RB
CHI Chicago • #29
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
David Montgomery should be as close to a workhorse back as he was last year. Damien Williams is the primary backup running back, but just a stash for now.
Jeff Wilson RB
SF San Francisco • #30
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon have a great setup against the lowly Lions in Week 1.
Numbers to know
- 7.9 -- Mike Davis broke a tackle once every 7.9 attempts last year, the best mark in the league.
- 110 -- J.D. McKissic's targets from last year. Antonio Gibson needs to take a big chunk of that to justify his ADP.
- 25% -- The Saints and Chargers were two of four teams last year to dedicate at least a fourth of their targets to running backs. Dan Campbell and Anthony Lynn are now together in Detroit, which is one of the reasons why D'Andre Swift can succeed on a bad Lions team.
- 12 -- Cam Newton accounted for 12 of the Patriots' 20 rush TDs last year. His departure opens the door for a breakout season for Damien Harris.
- 118 -- Tom Brady threw 118 passes to running backs last year, and that was without a pass catcher as good as Giovani Bernard on the team.
- 152 -- Nyheim Hines had 152 touches last year and the Colts say they want him to have more in 2021. That would not be good for Jonathan Taylor.
- 23.3 -- Joe Mixon averaged 23.3 touches per game in 2020. He could be among the league leaders if he stays healthy.
Matchups that matter
Waiver Wire Targets
LAC L.A. Chargers • #22
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Justin Jackson appears to be locked in as the No. 2 back behind Austin Ekeler, which we expect to mean 10 touches per game for as long as Jackson stays healthy. That's probably not good enough to start against the Washington Football Team, but it will be in some matchups. If Ekeler's hamstring injury is more serious than we think it is, Jackson could be a must-start back. He's averaged 14.6 PPR FP/G in five career games with at least 10 touches.
TB Tampa Bay • #25
Age: 30 • Experience: 9 yrs.
Giovani Bernard practiced fully on Monday so he appears to be good to go for Week 1. That makes him my favorite Bucs running back in full PPR and a solid flex at that. He has five-catch upside every week and should get a few carries a week as well. Bernard is probably not going to be very useful in non-PPR.
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #23
Age: 28 • Experience: 7 yrs.
The Jets have a mess at running back but the coaching staff is most familiar with Tevin Coleman, so I expect Coleman to get the first look in Week 1. He should also be the goal line back, should the Jets approach that area of the field.
Tony Jones RB
NO New Orleans • #21
Age: 24 • Experience: Rookie
Jones took the RB2 job from Latavius Murray, which should make him a low-end flex as son as Week 1. Murray showed us last year, just how valuable this role can be is something happens to Kamara.
NE New England • #38
Age: 23 • Experience: Rookie
Damien Harris has an extensive injury history and Stevenson looks like he'd be the next man up if Harris goes down again. Stevenson was a preseason star and profiles as the Patriots' best short-yardage back if Harris isn't there. He's a better non-PPR stash, but he should be rostered in most leagues regardless of format.
TEN Tennessee • #32
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
If you have IR spots in your league, Evans is even easier to stash. He should be available early in the year and I still like him as the most likely beneficiary if Derrick Henry suffers an injury,
ATL Atlanta • #25
Age: 27 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Gallman is a much more capable backup than Qadree Ollison and would likely be a top-25 back should Mike Davis go down. It's not even that hard to imagine Davis struggling against a tough opening schedule and Gallman getting more work that way.
CAR Carolina • #22
Age: 25 • Experience: 5 yrs.
There's enough value to be found in Week 1 that you should play the running back who is projected to outscore every other running back by five Fantasy points in Week 1. Sometimes it's just that simple.
DET Detroit • #32
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Swift has a bad matchup, an injury designation and the lowest implied point total on the slate, so it's easy to see why he'll be low rostered. Why should you play him? Because in Anthony Lynn's offense a negative game script just means the running backs get more catches and fewer carries. Swift showed last year he can succeed in bad game scripts. The Lions lost their last four games by a combined 70 points and Swift averaged 68 yards, four catches, and 15.6 Fantasy points per game in that stretch.