Throughout the off-season, fantasy analysts and owners attempted to determine which players would lead their teams to a fantasy championship. With hope in their hearts and belief in their rosters, fantasy players waited for the season to begin. Now, week one has come and gone and the fantasy football landscape has been set. Player usage from the first week has been charted and displayed for all fantasy owners to view. As always, opportunity remains dominant in fantasy football. Here are the winners at the running back position from the first week of the 2018 NFL season.
Dalvin Cook Headlines Running Back Winners of Week One
After an off-season full of concern, Dalvin Cook fantasy owners were ecstatic to see the first snap of the season to be a designed swing pass to Cook. From the first play on, it was all about the second-year running back. For the game, Cook out-gained teammate Latavius Murray 95 to 42 and Murray did not receive his first touch until the Minnesota Vikings‘ third drive of the game. Also, until 5:26 left in the fourth quarter, when the Vikings had the game in hand, Cook out-touched Murray 22 to five. While Murray received six more carries in garbage time, it was Cook early and often for Minnesota.
An exciting addition to Cook’s fantasy outlook is his receiving opportunities. In the four games Cook played in last season, he received only 16 targets for 11 catches (69% catch rate). In the opening game of the year, Cook totaled seven targets and caught six of them (86%) for 55 yards. With Jerick McKinnon no longer on the roster and Murray’s inability to be effective as a receiver, Cook becomes a receiving threat while also leading the team in carries.
While one game is a small sample, the difference in Cook and Murray’s opportunity is decisively in Cook’s favor. Of the 71 plays ran on offense for Minnesota, Cook played 57 (80%) of the snaps to Murray’s 14. Cook and Murray were also the only Vikings running backs to receive touches in Sunday’s game, meaning Cook handled 22 of 33 touches (67%) for the game. If Minnesota matches its 2017 total for running back touches of 529, Cook will be in line for a 350-touch season. Based on his week one performance, there is zero doubt that Cook will lead the Vikings’ and fantasy owners’ backfields.
After Sunday night’s performance against the Green Bay Packers, it seems unfair that Jordan Howard was never given the opportunity to be a pass catcher. In the first two seasons of Howard’s career, the Chicago Bears‘ running back saw a measly 2.6 targets a contest (82 total). In week one, Howard caught all five of his targets for 25 yards and looked like a natural in doing so. While those totals might not be game-breaking, it is a huge upgrade to Howard’s fantasy value. Not only was Howard on the field for 50 of the 70 total snaps, he also ran 12 more routes than pass-catching teammate Tarik Cohen. If new coach Matt Nagy continues to give Howard opportunities as a receiver, the Bears’ star is a lock for finishing as a top-12 running back in fantasy.
So much for a “timeshare” with Latavius Murray… In his first game back from October 2017 ACL tear, Dalvin Cook played on 81% of #Vikings snaps and handled 67% of RB touches Week 1.
Cook’s opportunities (attempts + targets) in 4 full career games with MIN: 27 > 15 > 32 > 23.
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) September 10, 2018
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
To say James Conner took advantage of Le’Veon Bell‘s absence is an understatement. In his first career start for Pittsburgh Steelers, Conner had 31 carries for 135 yards and two rushing touchdowns to go along with five catches for 57 yards. Amazingly, Conner was the only Steelers running back to see the field as he played 92% of the total snaps. The only other players to receive a carry were quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Ryan Switzer. Pittsburgh has become a factory for productive fantasy running backs, no matter what their name is. Since 2015, Le’Veon Bell’s replacements have averaged 22 points-per-game while the All-Pro has averaged 23.3. The only real threat to derail Conner from being a fantasy stud is the return of Bell. Although, it is unclear as to when that will be, if it does happen at all.
Le’Veon Bell vs. his backup pic.twitter.com/caSeYGHvyG
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) September 9, 2018
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns‘ running back Carlos Hyde is one the most underrated fantasy player in the league. During the preseason, it was clear Hyde was going to be the lead back for Cleveland in 2018. Paired with former Steelers’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Hyde is in store for a sizable workload and it showed in week one. Despite the Browns trailing most of the game, Hyde was still able to rake in 22 of 30 running back carries for 62 yards and a touchdown. Second-round pick Nick Chubb appeared for only four of 89 snaps and received three carries. Even though Cleveland was losing a majority of the time, Duke Johnson was also out-snapped by Hyde 47 to 41. Despite the inefficiency, Hyde will be the weekly leader in touches for an improving Browns squad and is a solid RB2 in fantasy.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
Despite being listed as a co-starter for week one, Miami Dolphins‘ running back Kenyan Drake was the clear leader in the backfield. Drake carried the ball 14 times for 48 yards and hauled in three catches for 18 yards on four targets. The Dolphins’ offense only totaled 62 plays, yet, Drake was on the field for 46 of them (74%) compared to the other co-starter Frank Gore‘s 19%. While it is not the 22.4 touches-per-game Drake saw at the end of 2017, it is encouraging to see Drake lead the backfield after an off-season full of concern. Several lengthy weather delays appeared to affect the game flow for the Dolphins. Look for Drake to receive more touches in the coming weeks.
Backfield touch shares, through Sunday night pic.twitter.com/rADTfqs5rw
— TJ Hernandez (@TJHernandez) September 10, 2018
Embed from Getty Images