Here are my top-40 running backs (standard-scoring leagues) for fantasy Week 1.
To clarify, this countdown doesn't lean on a particular stat; it's merely an educated best guess of which rushers will tally the best combination of total yards and touchdowns for the NFL's opening weekend.
Throughout the summer, I have respectfully doubted Adrian Peterson's capacity to post AP-esque numbers in September and October as a result of his ongoing rehab from ACL surgery last December.
And while I would love to be wrong about Peterson—fantasy's most dynamic tailback of the previous five seasons—I'll never be comfortable riding backs who've had less than 10 full months to recover from a major injury. No exceptions.
Speaking of which, I only have modest hopes for Ryan Mathews (collarbone) and Trent Richardson (knee) this week, allowing each rusher to ease back into the pace of live action. Perhaps they'll be stronger bets for fantasy success in Weeks 2, 3 and 4.
The same holds true for the unranked Maurice Jones-Drew.
Top 40 Backs For Week 1
1. Arian Foster vs. Miami
2. Matt Forte vs. Indianapolis
3. LeSean McCoy @ Cleveland
4. Darren McFadden vs. San Diego
5. Chris Johnson vs. New England
6. Steven Jackson @ Detroit
7. Ray Rice vs. Cincinnati
8. Marshawn Lynch @ Arizona
9. Jamaal Charles vs. Atlanta
10. DeAngelo Williams @ Tampa Bay
11. Isaac Redman @ Denver
12. Darren Sproles vs. Washington
13. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Dallas
14. Frank Gore @ Green Bay
15. Shonn Greene vs. Buffalo
16. Fred Jackson @ N.Y. Jets
17. Doug Martin vs. Carolina
18. DeMarco Murray @ N.Y. Giants
19. Michael Turner @ Kansas City
20. Rashad Jennings @ Minnesota
21. Reggie Bush @ Houston
22. Toby Gerhart vs. Jacksonville
23. Kevin Smith vs. St. Louis
24. Trent Richardson vs. Philadelphia
25. Roy Helu @ New Orleans
26. Stevan Ridley @ Tennessee
27. Beanie Wells vs. Seattle
28. Ryan Mathews @ Oakland
29. Michael Bush vs. Indianapolis
30. BenJarvus Green-Ellis @ Baltimore
31. Willis McGahee vs. Pittsburgh
32. Donald Brown @ Chicago
33. Adrian Peterson vs. Jacksonville
34. Montario Hardesty vs. Philadelphia
35. Evan Royster @ New Orleans
36. Peyton Hillis vs. Atlanta
37. Cedric Benson vs. San Francisco
38. C.J. Spiller @ N.Y. Jets
39. Mark Ingram vs. Washington
40. Ben Tate vs. Miami
1. The Browns surrendered an average of 147.4 rushing yards last season, which bodes well for LeSean McCoy (1,624 total yards, 20 TD in 2011) getting off to another fast start this year.
2. That said, I'll give Arian Foster (4,061 total yards, 30 TD in 2010-11) a slight nod over McCoy for the week based on two factors: home-field advantage...and the Dolphins (Foster's opponent) might be the NFL's worst team.
3. In his last two Week 1 efforts, Oakland's Darren McFadden boasts averages of 153 total yards and 0.5 touchdowns.
4. The Buccaneers allowed 100-plus rushing yards nine times last season. And in Tampa Bay's final six games—all losses—the defense allowed a stunning 193.6 ground yards per outing. This week's benefactor of that (hopefully relevant) tidbit: Panthers tailback DeAngelo Williams, who may not have to split carries with Jonathan Stewart (ankle injury).
5. I have respect for Evan Royster and Alfred Morris and their roles in the Redskins' offense. But I'm banking on Roy Helu (1,091 total yards on only 200 touches last year) to quickly emerge as Washington's preeminent back—between the 20s and in the red zone.
Hopefully, this week's No. 25 ranking will be Helu's lowest of the season.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.
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