Fantasy RB Rankings Week 1: Who to start, sit at running back in fantasy football


James Robinson at No. 6? Raheem Mostert at No. 11? That's right -- it's not preseason anymore. All those rankings and sleeper lists you carefully studied throughout August are out the window. Now, it's about touches and matchups. Our Week 1 fantasy RB rankings reflect that, though there's a giant caveat: We don't know for sure how a team will divvy up running back carries and snaps, nor do we know the strengths of offensive lines and defenses. 

So, why try to play matchups at all then? Well, we have to base these rankings on something, and historical performance mixed with season outlooks is the best way to do it. Perhaps the Lions and Texans, who were tied for the most fantasy points allowed to RBs last year, have improved, but based on offseason moves and projections, they still won't be particularly strong. That's why Robinson and Mostert are ranked where they are. Whether you think they should be as high as they're ranked is a matter of debate, but it's tough to argue that they should be safe starters in 10- and 12-team leagues this week.

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That's why you shouldn't get too hung up on the order here, at least for the top few tiers. Guys like Ezekiel Elliott (@ Bucs), Saquon Barkley (vs. Broncos), and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (vs. Browns) are lower than where you drafted them, but we're still recommending they be in your lineups. We're not getting too crazy.

QuarterbackWide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker

It's the guys in the 24-45 range, as it is every week, who fantasy owners will have questions about. Given how little we know about some of these committee situations (Broncos, Jets, Buccaneers, Texans, Cardinals, Bills, Dolphins), it's tough to feel overly confident about any of their backs this week, but chances are, you'll be taking some chances on at least one RB in your lineup. Our rankings give an approximation of who we think will have the most value. Some are so close that it's not even worth trying to guess if you don't have to, especially in a situation like the Bills (vs. Steelers) where they're playing a stout defense.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker

We'll learn a lot more about these committees after Week 1, but even then we won't know everything. The first weeks of the season are a feeling out process, both for fantasy owners and the teams themselves. You can bet on talent or perceived matchups, or try to find a combination of both. That's why we're still recommending both Broncos backs (@ Giants) be used as at least flexes, but have no love for any Jets backs (@ Panthers). The matchup isn't expected to be bad, but we have no idea who will get an appreciable amount of touches, if anyone. 

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You never want to bench a good performance, and it's especially painful in Week 1. You don't need to totally ditch a guy you drafted high (unless there are worries about his workload), but you also shouldn't just play the guys you drafted in the order you drafted them. It's never too early to consider other factors, especially at a position as important as running back.

WEEK 1 FANTASY: Sleepers | Busts | Start 'em, Sit 'em

Note: We'll be updating these RB rankings as needed throughout the week. so check back for the latest changes and analysis.

Fantasy RB Rankings Week 1: Who to start at running back

Rankings are based on standard, non-PPR scoring.

Individual analysis will be added early next week and updated throughout the week to reflect any changes to the rankings.

UPDATE: Trey Sermon and Zack Moss were surprise inactives. Raheem Mostert gets a bump up, and Elijah Mitchell is in play as a flex back (especially in PPR). Devin Singletary also gets a nice bump up, making him a solid flex back. Joshua Kelley was also declared inactive, which helps Justin Jackson's value edge close to flex territory.

Rank Player
1 Derrick Henry, TEN vs. ARI
2 Christian McCaffrey CAR vs. NYJ
3 Dalvin Cook, MIN @ CIN
4 Nick Chubb, CLE @ KC
5 Alvin Kamara, NO vs. GB
6 James Robinson, JAX @ HOU. Robinson won't always be this high, but he should be in line for 15-plus touches against a Houston defense that was tied for most fantasy points per game (FPPG) allowed to RBs last season and seemingly got worse in the offseason. Robinson should go off. 
7 Aaron Jones, GB vs. NO
8 Jonathan Taylor, IND vs. SEA
9 Antonio Gibson, WAS vs. LAC
10 Raheem Mostert, SF @ DET. As long as Mostert is healthy, he'll be a viable starter, and this week against a Lions defense that tied for most FPPG allowed to RBs last year, we see him as an RB1. Workload will always be an issue, but Mostert, who averages 5.6 yards/carry for his career, can do a lot with a little. Trey Sermon might eat into Mostert's second-half workload if San Francisco jumps out to a big lead (giving the rookie plenty of flex value), but Mostert will likely have already done a good bit of damage if that's the case.
11 Joe Mixon, CIN vs. MIN
12 Miles Sanders, PHI @ ATL
13 Austin Ekeler, LAC @ WAS
14 Najee Harris, PIT @ BUF
15 Saquon Barkley, NYG vs. DEN. It sounds like Barkley (knee) will pla y, but it remains to be seen just how many touches he'll get. Chances, he'll get a "reduced" workload, but is that 10 touches? 15? It's always tough to guess. Barkley is the kind of player who can make an impact anytime he's on the field, so if you drafted him in the first or second round, you have to play him if he's active. We're clearly not too worried about him despite a matchup with a good-but-not-great Denver defense, so you shouldn't be either. 
16 Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC vs. CLE. CEH (ankle) is another guy who might see a reduced workload, but the bigger worry about him -- that will extend all season -- is his usage around the goal line. For now, we're penciling him in for 12-15 touches and a decent all-around day against a Browns defense that held up well against RBs last year but allowed over 5.0 yards/carry to Chiefs RBs in the divisional round playoff game.
17 Damien Harris, NE vs. MIA
18 David Montgomery, CHI @ LAR
19 Mike Davis, ATL vs. PHI
20 Chris Carson, SEA vs. IND
21 Ty'Son Williams, BAL @ LV. With Gus Edwards (knee) out for the year, Williams should get first crack at filling the void. It might not last long, as Le'Veon Bell and Latavius Murray figure to get up to speed quickly, but for at least one game, Williams should see the bulk of the carries against a suspect run defense. That's enough to make him an RB2 in standard and high-end flex in PPR.
22 Ezekiel Elliott, DAL @ TB. You can make a strong case for Zeke to be even lower, as both Zack Martin (COVID) and La'el Collins (neck) figure to be out. Tampa was the stingiest team in the league against fantasy RBs last season, so Elliott will have to rely on volume and a TD in order to pay off. (Update: Collins will play but Martin is out.)
23 Darrell Henderson, LAR vs. CHI. It's entirely possible that Sony Michel gets as many (or more) touches as Henderson, who's been dealing with a thumb injury for the latter part of training camp. For now, we're projecting Henderson as the lead back, and he's shown more pass-catching ability than Michel, too (though not much). The Bears are no longer the fearsome defense they once were, ranking largely middle of the pack against the run (113.4 yards/game, 4.1 yards/carry) and fantasy RBs last year (16.4 FPPG). Henderson is probably better served as a flex, but in a week with a lot of question marks at RB, he's a slightly better-than-average play. Michel is more of a borderline flex until we see him in action.
24 Josh Jacobs, LV vs. BAL. We'd like to rank Jacobs higher, perhaps solely on his short-touchdown potential alone, but the Ravens are a solid run defense and Kenyan Drake figures to steal more touches than Jacobs owners will like. Jacobs wasn't particularly efficient last year (3.9 yards/carry) after a solid all-around rookie season (4.8), so it's tough to know exactly what to expect. He did up his receiving numbers, but Drake should take back a fair amount of those. Jacobs isn't a complete write-off, but in a tough matchup, he's no more than a borderline RB2. 
25 Kareem Hunt, CLE @ KC. The "Revenge Game" narrative might have worn off for Hunt, but he's still a crucial part of the Browns offense even when Nick Chubb is healthy. Expect 10-12 touches and a fair amount of catches, giving Hunt RB2 value in PPR leagues and flex value in standard leagues. For what it's worth, he had just seven touches (one catch) for 33 total yards in the playoff game against the Chiefs, but he did manage a short touchdown.
26 Javonte Williams, DEN @ NYG. It's anyone's guess as to who will get more touches, Williams or Melvin Gordon, but we favor the explosive rookie for more overall production. The key will be who's used near the goal line more. We're expecting a fairly even split, so this might come down to who gets the touchdowns, which is a complete coin flip. Both should have at least flex value against a Giants defense that was below average against RBs last year, largely because of the pass game, but there are risks with both.
27 Chase Edmonds, ARI @ TEN. As with Williams and Gordon, Edmonds and James Conner are a coin flip. At least with this situation, we know Edmonds will have more PPR value, but it seems likely Conner will be the preferred option around the goal line. Either way, if Edmonds is handling 70-plus percent of the touches, he should produce enough yards to be a flex, and the Cardinals offense is explosive enough for him to score from 10-plus yards out. Tennessee was seventh in FPPG allowed to RBs last year, so if that carries over, both Edmonds and Conner can have flex value in standard and PPR leagues.
28 Melvin Gordon, DEN @ NYG. See Javonte Williams.
29 Ronald Jones II, TB vs. DAL. We're not really wild about this situation either, but Tampa figures to put up points relatively easily against Dallas on Thursday, and that means scoring opportunities. Fournette was dominant in the playoffs last year for the Bucs, but Jones was their go-to guy in the regular season. We'll bank on that happening again now that he's healthy, giving him the edge in value in standard leagues. Fournette has a slight edge in PPR, but consider both of these guys flex backs in both formats until we see some distinction between them in terms of overall touches and goal-line carries.
30 Myles Gaskin, MIA @ NE. There are some questions as to how Miami will divvy up touches between Gaskin, Malcolm Brown, and Salvon Ahmed, but we have to think Gaskin will get the bulk of the touches in Week 1. He proved to be a workhorse at times last year (19-plus touches in six games), steadily producing when given volume. The Pats defense is stacked, so Gaskin is a better PPR play than standard, but 100 total yards is doable. 
31 Leonard Fournette, TB vs. DAL. See Ronald Jones II.
32 D'Andre Swift, DET vs. SF. A groin injury figures to limit Swift even if he's active, making a risky play against a decent San Francisco defense. Of course, players like Swift are tough to sit if they're on the field, and even if he's limited, he can still rack up catches, giving him more PPR appeal. We'd like to rank him lower, but with so many question marks this week, he's still a decent flex play. That's also true of Williams, though, who could easily see more touches.
33 James Conner, ARI @ TEN. See Chase Edmonds.
34 Jamaal Williams, DET vs. SF. See D'Andre Swift.
35 Trey Sermon, SF @ DET. See Raheem Mostert.
36 Phillip Lindsay, HOU vs. JAX. Lindsay might get four touches. He might get 12. We really have no idea what the Texans are going to do with their backfield trio. What's most likely is David Johnson plays on passing downs and Mark Ingram gets goal-line carries, but we're betting on Lindsay's youth, talent, and upside winning out. He's also a capable goal-line runner and pass-catchers, if the Texans want to use him in those roles. Ultimately, he's the most versatile, which is why we're ranking him the highest, but this situation is probably a stay away unless you're really in a bind.
37 Devin Singletary, BUF vs. PIT. Most would rank Moss ahead of Singletary in standard (and vice/versa in PPR), but we like Singletary in both formats because we see him as the more explosive back. Plus, with Pittsburgh's stout line figuring to shut down Buffalo's running game (if it even tries to run, that is), then Singletary could see more touches thanks to receptions. This is another situation to stay away from if possible, but both backs are no more than flexes regardless of your format.
38 Tevin Coleman, NYJ @ CAR. This RB situation might somehow be the worst of all. No choices are inspiring, and it's totally unclear if Coleman, Ty Johnson, or rookie Michael Carter will get the most touches. The Panthers weren't a great run defense last year, so it would be nice to have an idea of who to play, but we simply don't. Coleman figures to be the most likely to at least get goal-line touches, for what it's worth, but that's really all we know.
39 Sony Michel, LAR vs. CHI. See Darrell Henderson.
40 Zack Moss, BUF vs. PIT. See Devin Singletary.
41 JD McKissic, WAS vs. LAC
42 Michael Carter, NYJ @ CAR. See Tevin Coleman.
43 Kenneth Gainwell, PHI @ ATL
44 Ty Johnson, NYJ @ CAR. See Tevin Coleman.
45 Le'Veon Bell, BAL @ LV
46 AJ Dillon, GB vs. NO
47 James White, NE vs. MIA
48 David Johnson, HOU vs JAX
49 Mark Ingram, HOU vs. JAX
50 Nyheim Hines, IND vs, SEA
51 Tony Jones Jr., Saints vs. Packers
52 Darrel Williams, KC vs. CLE
53 Damien Williams, CHI @ LAR
54 Rhamondre Stevenson, NE vs. MIA
55 Devontae Booker, NYG vs. DEN
56 Justin Jackson, LAC @ WAS
57 Malcolm Brown, MIA @ NE
58 Kenyan Drake, LV vs. BAL
59 Giovani Bernard, TB vs. DAL
60 Alexander Mattison, MIN @ CIN
61 Tony Pollard, DAL @ TB
62 Elijah Mitchell, SF @ DET
63 Salvon Ahmed, MIA @ NE
64 Wayne Gallman, ATL vs. PHI
65 Rashaad Penny, SEA @ IND
66 Marlon Mack, IND vs. SEA
67 Joshua Kelley, LAC @ WAS
68 Benny Snell Jr., PIT @ BUF
69 Cordarrelle Patterson, ATL vs. PHI
70 Samaje Perine, CIN vs. MIN
71 Chuba Hubbard, CAR vs. NYJ
72 Jeremy McNichols, TEN vs. ARI