Top Five Matchups to Exploit
These teams allowed the most points to opposing fantasy running backs last year (Week 1 opponent):
- New Orleans Saints (vs. Steven Jackson)
- Buffalo Bills (vs. Stevan Ridley)
- Tennessee Titans (vs. Isaac Redman)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Jamaal Charles)
- Dallas Cowboys (vs. David Wilson)
Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams
The Cardinals were fifth worst overall against the run and allowed the second-most rushing yards to opposing running backs in fantasy.
Jackson rushed for 139 yards in the last Rams game against this defense, while Richardson combined for 16 carries for 67 yards in two games (4.2 YPC) as Jackson's backup. The Rams added plenty of weapons in the offseason, but against the Cardinals in Week 1, it will be a lot of defense and running.
Also, Isaiah Pead is on a one-game suspension, and fifth-round draft pick Zac Stacy has fallen behind unheralded reserve back Benjamin Cunningham in some eyes. This is Richardson's team right now, and he will show it here, to the tune of 130 combined yards and a touchdown.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
We hated McFadden's risk and draft position this summer, but he qualifies as a must-start against a Colts run defense that allowed the sixth-most points to fantasy running backs a year ago.
Terrelle Pryor is the Raiders starting quarterback, and while the offense should be bad, Run DMC is the one thing it has going for it right now. The Colts should get a heavy dose of the run, particularly because McFadden is healthy.
If you have McFadden on your roster, you have to use him now.
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
You have to love Stevan Ridley against the Bills' second-worst run defense in the NFL from a year ago, but there will be enough fantasy points from the backs here to start some Pats backups.
In Buffalo last September, Ridley rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns, while Brandon Bolden added 137 and one score. In the second meeting, both Ridley and Danny Woodhead (twice) found the end zone.
It is no wonder the Bills gave up the second-most points to fantasy running backs last year. A lot of them came against the Pats, and Vereen is the new Woodhead/Bolden backup to Ridley.
Vereen will mostly be used as a pass receiver in the Pats' screen-heavy attack, and the Bills gave up the second-most receiving touchdowns to running backs last year. Vereen might rush for a mere 40 yards, but he can catch five passes for 50 and a touchdown.
Other RBs to Start: DeMarco Murray, David Wilson
Sleeper Options: Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard
Top Five Matchups to Avoid
These teams allowed the fewest points to opposing fantasy running backs last year (Week 1 opponent):
- Houston Texans (vs. Ryan Mathews)
- Denver Broncos (already played vs. Ray Rice)
- San Francisco 49ers (vs. Eddie Lacy)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Chris Johnson)
- Chicago Bears (vs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis/Giovani Bernard)
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
We understand the excitement of a talent like Lacy in a potent offense like the Packers, but this is the roughest matchup in football: the 49ers run defense. Only the Broncos allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to fantasy backs a year ago, and only the Bucs allowed fewer rushing yards in the NFC.
Oh, and the Packers still are an Aaron Rodgers-led, pass-first team.
If you like 15 carries for 45 yards and no scores in your fantasy starting lineup, go with Lacy. It won't get any better than that; in fact, he might even be considerably worse.
BenJarvus Green Ellis and Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Not only is this one of the more frustrating running back timeshares in fantasy, but it will be facing a Bears defense that allowed just seven touchdowns to backs a year ago. The Bears were fifth best against fantasy running backs, and each of these guys will split carries 50-50.
This looks like a game that will leave the fantasy total of both backs under 10 combined, and that is including Bernard as a potential pass receiver out of the backfield.
Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Despite boasting the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL, the Buccaneers did allow 13 touchdowns on the ground a year ago. That doesn't mean you should expect either of these Jets backs to reach the end zone.
A bad quarterback and a tough run defense spells trouble for an already weak Jets offense in Week 1.
Powell and Ivory are the best weapons the Jets have in a limited arsenal, but they are starting a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith who only won the job out of training camp by default. Mark Sanchez was too injured to truly compete, and Smith threw three interceptions in the dress rehearsal Week 3 preseason game.
Fringe RBs: DeAngelo Williams, Rashard Mendenhall
Bad Matchups You Can Sit: Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews
Handcuffs Not Useful as Flex Options This Week: Ben Tate, Bryce Brown