Figuring out who to start at the running back position for your fantasy team each week is going to be tougher than normal this season, but there's no need to stress about it more than you have to.
Sure, some of the league's top players are injured at this point and there will undoubtedly be more in the future, but the league is full of talent and there will always be great match-ups to exploit.
That's why those of us in the fantasy industry put together these lists for you—to give the reader a gauge of what to look forward to from his or her players on any given Sunday.
With that, here are the weekend's running back rankings along with some detailed analysis on the top-12 guys for Week 1:
48. Bilal Powell (vs. Buf
47. Adrian Peterson (vs. Jax)
46. C.J. Spiller (@ NYJ)
45. Danny Woodhead (@ Ten)
44. Kendall Hunter (@ GB)
43. Jacquizz Rodgers (@ KC)
42. Alfred Morris (@ NO)
41. Daniel Thomas (@ Hou)
40. Mike Tolbert (@ TB)
39. Pierre Thomas (vs.Was)
38. Beanie Wells (vs. Sea)
37. Cedric Benson (vs. SF)
36. Maurice Jones-Drew (@ Min)
35. Evan Royster (@ NO)
34. Isaac Redman (@ Den - Sunday Night)
33. Roy Helu (@ NO)
32. Ben Tate (vs. Mia)
31. Donald Brown (@ Chi)
30. Mark Ingram (vs.Was)
29. Ronnie Brown (@ Oak - Monday Night)
28. Ryan Williams (vs. Sea)
27. Jonathan Dwyer (@ Den - Sunday Night)
26. Reggie Bush (@ Hou)
25. Rashad Jennings (@ Min)
24. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (@ Bal - Monday Night)
23. Peyton Hillis (vs. Atl)
22. Michael Bush (vs. Ind)
21. Darren Sproles (vs.Was)
20. Robert Turbin (@ Ari) – If Marshawn Lynch is listed as OUT
19. Willis McGahee (vs. Pit - Sunday Night)
18. Trent Richardson (vs. Phi)
17. Shonn Greene (vs. Buf)
16. Frank Gore (@ GB)
15. Toby Gerhart (vs. Jax)
14. Michael Turner (@ KC)
13. Jamaal Charles (vs. Atl)
RB1 Plays in 12-Team Leagues
12. Steven Jackson (@ Det)
Jackson received more than 275 touches for the seventh year in a row in 2011 and not-so-coincidentally, is also riding a streak of seven straight seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards.
He’ll continue to get his touches this year and should start with 20-25 against the Lions this Sunday.
What I DON’T like about this matchup for him is two-fold:
First, the Lions gave up the second-fewest TDs to running backs last season and considering S-Jax has never been a TD guy, I doubt he hits paydirt in Week 1.
Second, especially with the Lions at home, they could go up big real early and force the Rams to pass more than they would like.
He’ll still stay involved throughout the game and will get more touches than most this weekend, but this may not be the game he jumps up into the top-10 in fantasy points.
11. Chris Johnson (vs. NE)
That suicidal-thought-inducing nosedive into fantasy hell Chris Johnson put on last year is hopefully in his rear-view mirror. And Week 1 against the Patriots should be a good test to see if it is.
Things will be a bit different in Tennessee this season with the athletic-as-hell Jake Locker under center, as quarterbacks who present the threat to run tend to keep defenses honest while opening holes for their RBs in the process.
Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Jared Cook will all be drawing the Pats defense away from the line of scrimmage, so Johnson should have some room to run.
The only problem I can foresee this Sunday will be if Brady and his offense run up the score on the Titans early because if they do, Johnson might not get more than 15 carries with Tennessee turning to the pass.
Only four backs saw more than 15 carries against New England last season and all of them were in real close games, so CJ2K owners better be rooting for the Titans hard-core this weekend if they want him to lead their fantasy team to victory.
10. Stevan Ridley (@ Ten)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis hit free agency and cruised to Cincinnati where the bucks were found, so there will be a lot of potential in this New England offense for young Mr. Ridley.
Believe it or not, the Patriots have been in the top six in rushing touchdowns each of the last six seasons, a trend I like to continue in Week 1 with the 220-pound Ridley at the helm.
Stevan will only have Danny Woodhead to contend with for touches this weekend with Shane Vereen nursing a foot injury, so he should be in line for a good 15-20 touches.
Considering the Titans allowed the seventh-most fantasy points and nine different RBs to rush for 97 or more yards last season, I like Ridley’s chances of putting his stamp on the permanent starting job this weekend.
9. Kevin Smith (vs. StL)
When Kevin Smith got the chance last season, he impressed mightily, so it's not so far-fetched to think he can do it again in an explosive offense like this.
Against a Rams defense that allowed the fifth-most fantasy points and second-most rushing TDs to RBs last season, my guess is that he’ll impress once again.
Without Mikel Leshoure (suspension) and Jahvid Best (PUP) standing in his way, Smith should get a healthy amount of carries and put up some nice fantasy points pretty quickly.
My only concern here is if the Lions go up big early and take out some of their starters to avoid injury once the game is in hand in the fourth quarter.
Smith should have put up enough fantasy points by then, though, so no worries.
8. Fred Jackson (@ NYJ)
The Jets have a better-than-average rush D, but they’re especially tough against the pass so I expect to see a healthy workload for Fred Jackson this weekend. Add in that the Bills best receiver, Stevie Johnson, is battling groin issues again and I can pretty much assure you that F-Jax gets at least 20 touches.
Whenever fantasy players get injured the previous season, people tend to forget just how good they were before the injury and slide them down their scales because of it. If that’s the case here with Jackson, let me remind you that Freddy was a top-five fantasy back before he went down in Week 11 last season. He was averaging the second-most yards from scrimmage per game at that time.
C.J. Spiller may be used some to spell him at times, but considering Jackson had 21 touches for 120 yards in his only game against the Jets last season while Spiller had just 70 yards on 22 touches in his game, I’m betting on F-Jax being the guy in this one.
7. DeAngelo Williams (@ TB)
Normally I wouldn’t touch DeAngelo with a 10-foot pole on Sundays, but the stars seemed to have aligned for him this weekend so I really can’t ignore this juicy match-up.
If it turns out that Jonathan Stewart miraculously ends up being fine and plays this weekend, bump Williams back down into the 10-15 range. However, at this point, it looks like he’ll be alone in the backfield and should see a good 20-25 carries against the worst run defense in the league last season.
In Week 16 of 2011, DeAngelo went off for 66 yards and two TDs against these Bucs…on only seven carries.
Watch to see if Stewart is active and if not, strange as it sounds, you have to start Williams this weekend.
6. Doug Martin (vs. Car)
It may be a bit risky to call on a rookie as your RB1 in Week 1, but I’m betting the 5’9”, 223-pound Doug Martin hits the ground running in his first NFL game.
Carolina gave up double-digit fantasy points to almost every single running back not named LeGarrette Blount that they faced last season, a deficiency Martin should be able to rectify for the Buccaneers pretty quickly.
Seven 100-yard games and 22 total touchdowns against them left the Panthers allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing RBs in 2011, so look for Martin to be a gem for your fantasy team in his first ever NFL game.
5. Darren McFadden (vs. SD - Monday Night)
The only dig on Run DMC is that he’s injury-prone. However, a lot of people ended up letting Matthew Stafford fall out of fantasy-starter status in their drafts last year for the same reason and ended up kicking themselves for their ignorance.
Darren McFadden is easily one of the most talented running backs in the league and though he hasn’t been a big touchdown guy up until this point, Michael Bush is no longer in town to steal his thunder at the goal-line, so look for that number to increase.
McFadden wasn’t around for the Raiders two games against the Chargers last season but in his place, Bush averaged 160.5 total yards and added a one touchdown in their two match-ups.
Those are numbers I could easily see Darren putting up this weekend with half of Oakland’s receiving corps still on the mend.
4. Matt Forte (vs. Ind)
Check this out: Even though Forte missed the final 4.75 games of the 2011 season, he still had more total yards, the same amount of total touchdowns and most importantly—more fantasy points—than Chris Johnson did in a full 16-game season.
I say this just to show how dominant Forte was up until his injury (sprained MCL), in case you had forgotten.
This season, with former offensive line coach and run-friendly Mike Tice taking over as the offensive coordinator, you have to like his potential despite the presence of TD-vulture, Michael Bush.
Indy’s rush defense was atrocious last season as they allowed the third-most fantasy points to RBs, a malady that should continue this weekend as the Colts get used to their new 3-4 defensive scheme.
Start Forte as an RB1 this week with confidence.
3. Arian Foster (vs. Mia) – (If Healthy)
Foster once again led the league in fantasy points per game this past season beating out LeSean McCoy by nearly a point/game.
With the Texans not changing much at all on the offensive side of the ball this season, Foster should again lead the way each week, starting with Game 1 against the Miami Dolphins.
The ‘Fins were actually really tight against the run last season allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs, but in Week 2, they allowed Ben Tate to go up over 100 yards after Foster left the game in the second half with tightness in his hamstring.
Foster will be a game-time call this time around as he deals with some soreness in his knee, but should he be deemed ready to play, he’ll be the one with 100 yards and likely a TD this Sunday.
2. Ray Rice (vs. Cin - Monday Night)
15 combined touchdowns for Ray Rice last season?!?! Seriously? I mean, the kid had just 14 total TDs over his entire three-year career before last year’s blow-up.
The Bengals were pretty stingy against the run in 2011 allowing just three 100-yard games throughout the season, but of course, two of them went to Mr. Rice.
In fact, Ray probably had more success against Cincy last season than against any other team as he combined to rush for 295 yards and four TDs in their two games.
It will be interesting to see how the Ravens use him in their new up-tempo, no-huddle offense this week, but I doubt his touches will suffer too much, if at all.
1. LeSean McCoy (@ Cle)
McCoy’s run to another 20-touchdown season WILL begin this Sunday at Cleveland, of that much I am sure.
The Browns rush-D is pretty damn awful as they allowed the second-most rushing yards to opposing RBs en route to EIGHT 100-yard rushers last season.
They didn’t give up a ton of rushing TDs, but Shady shouldn’t have a problem putting at least one on the board with the 25-plus touches he’ll be seeing.
With Joe Haden likely to play in this one last game before going on his four-game suspension, I expect a run-heavy game-plan for the Eagles this weekend which means plenty of fantasy love from Mr. McCoy.
Click here to see the Rankings for QBs, WRs and TEs
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