The fantasy football season is mere days away. Preseason Week Four games have concluded and the fantasy football draft season is coming to an end. It’s time to start lining up the Week One fantasy rankings. Regardless of the format, determining the optimal Week One starting lineup should now be the primary focus. After examining wide receivers last week, here are the top fifteen fantasy football running back plays in standard scoring leagues for Week One.
Top 15 Fantasy Running Back Rankings for Week One
15. Jeremy Langford (Chicago Bears)
The Bears open the season in Houston against a tough Texans defense. Houston ranked third against the pass in 2015 (210 passing yards allowed per game), and tenth against the run (99.8 rushing yards allowed per game). The Bears ranked 11th in the league with 115.7 rushing yards per game. The key here is game script. The Bears will not win big in Houston. It will either be a close game or Houston will win big. Either way, Langford will get the majority of the work just as he has in the preseason. A very comfortable running back play for Week One.
14. Eddie Lacy (Green Bay Packers)
The Packers travel to Jacksonville to start the season. Lacy enters the season in a contract year and this the first chance to see the results of his much discussed off-season workout regimen. Jacksonville was middle of the pack in run defense last season, ranking 15th overall (106.8 rushing yards allowed per game). Lacy was a dominant fantasy running back in 2014. That season he ranked third at the position in evaded tackles (103), and fourth in juke rate (35.8 percent). When in shape, Lacy is a perfect balance of strength and quickness. Temper expectations on the road, but Lacy still should produce solid running back fantasy production. (PlayerProfiler.com)
13. Ryan Mathews (Philadelphia Eagles)
When Mathews gets work, he produces. Last season, when he received at least six carries, Mathews averaged 75.1 total yards and 12.7 fantasy points per game. The problem historically has been lack of workload caused by injuries. Mathews is healthy and is the undisputed number one running back in Philadelphia. He gets to open against a Cleveland Browns defense that was 30th against the run in 2015. Philadelphia may not be a top overall team, but Mathews will have a quality week one fantasy line.
12. Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The number three running back in rushing yards per game (87.6) has a very favorable Week One match-up in Atlanta. The Falcons only ranked 14th overall last season against the run. Martin finished with the second most rushing yards in the league with 1,402. However, the emergence of fellow running back Charles Sims, particularly in the passing game, keeps him as a low-end RB1 this week. This will be another game script dependent pick, but Tampa should keep the game close (or win) in Atlanta.
11. Spencer Ware (Kansas City Chiefs)
As soon as this news broke, Ware became a must start as a top-twelve running back. The San Diego Chargers were 27th against the run last season, and Ware gets them at home in Week One. Little known statistic: Ware ranked fourth among all running backs in 2015 with a 5.6 yards per carry average. He will split time with Charcandrick West, but Ware is the definitive goal line running back. This is an easy top-twelve running back play.
10. Frank Gore (Indianapolis Colts)
Gore is a solid fantasy football running back play for Week One. Many critics doubt his production potential based solely on Gore’s age (33 years old). Ironically, Gore’s streak of four consecutive 1,000 yards rushing seasons ended by just 33 yards last season. His work ethic is only matched by his offensive situation, which is that of the primary and goal line running back in a high powered offense. Gore is a lock for roughly 100 total yards and a touchdown.
9. Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys)
Elliott was very impressive in preseason Week Three against the first-string Seattle Seahawks defense. The NFL’s top offensive line will line up at home against a New York Giants run defense that ranked 24th last season. Las Vegas has this game at a robust 47.5 over/under total. There will be good fantasy production, and Elliott can get it on the ground or through the air. Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar will still play a role, but Elliott will get the lion’s share of touches week one. Expect a double-digit fantasy point floor for Elliott against New York.
8. Devonta Freeman (Atlanta Falcons)
The number one fantasy football running back from 2015 opens the season at home against the Buccaneers. This should be a prime spot for great fantasy production. The concern here is that Tevin Coleman will not only steal touches, but also goal line work. Freeman is an outstanding pass-catching running back, and that should carry him in Week One. He is still a top-twelve running back play, but the Coleman presence pushes him further down the list.
7. Mark Ingram (New Orleans Saints)
Ingram was a top-three fantasy running back before his injury last season during Week Twelve. He saw a huge increase in passing game production, with 50 receptions in his abbreviated season. The Saints have an incredibly explosive offense, especially at home where Ingram scored four of his six touchdowns. Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio brings in a solid run defense (13th last season), but expect Ingram to have a strong first game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
6. Thomas Rawls (Seattle Seahawks)
It’s easier to read Phil Ivey in a poker game than figure out who will be the lead running back in Seattle. The Christine Michael hype is coming fast and furious. The guess here is that Pete Carroll goes back to the guy who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season. Rawls impressed as an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan. His broken ankle is fully healed and there should be several goal line touches in a big week one win over the Miami Dolphins. This game will leave no doubt as to who the top running back option in Seattle is.
5. DeAngelo Williams (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Williams wasn’t just good when he played last year; he was great. He averaged 110 yards and 1.1 touchdowns in games he started. Opening the season on the road is always difficult, but not against a Washington team that finished 26th in the NFL in rushing defense. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Williams ranked first among running backs with an 89.1 percent snap share. He will be on the field constantly, and that will directly correlate to production. Williams is a no doubt starting fantasy running back for Week One.
4. Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams)
Inter-divisional games are always tough on the road. The Rams will open the season on Monday Night Football in San Francisco. A short trip however, and one that allows Gurley to face the 29th ranked run defense in the league last year. Starting quarterback Case Keenum may encourage San Francisco to stack the box, but the NFL’s third leading rusher in 2015 (1,108 yards in just thirteen games) should finish the week among the top-five fantasy running backs.
3. David Johnson (Arizona Cardinals)
The Cardinals get the New England Patriots in the “Birds Nest” on Sunday Night Football. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will have difficulty containing a skilled and aggressive Cardinals offense. Johnson is the featured running back, reception vacuum, and gets all the goal-line touches. He scored 12 touchdowns despite only having a 44.1 percent snap share (PlayerProfiler.com). That percentage will rise significantly, and so will Johnson’s production. A Week One top-three running back lock.
2. Latavius Murray (Oakland Raiders)
Murray is in great position to have a huge fantasy Week One. Besides finishing third among all running backs with 267 carries, Murray also grabbed 41 receptions. He is one of the few “three down” running backs in the NFL. Similar to Eddie Lacy, he is the primary running back on a team with a good passing attack. The running lanes will be wide open against a New Orleans run defense that finished 31st last season. There is a significant argument to be made that Murray should be the top Week One fantasy running back
1. Lamar Miller (Houston Texans)
Miller finished ninth among all running backs with 14.9 fantasy points per game in 2015, despite playing on a team (Miami) that attempted the fewest rushes (342) in the league. He is now in Houston, behind a conservative Bill O’Brien offense, and should feast on the Chicago Bears, who finished 22nd against the run last season. Miller is the prime free agent acquisition of the Texans off-season. A true multi-down threat, Lamar Miller will be the number one fantasy football running back in Week One.