Last week I came right out of the gate in midseason form when I suggested fantasy owners should sit Kareem Hunt based on a difficult matchup. I guess the good news is there’s only one way to go from here. Aside from Hunt having one of the best games we’ve ever seen from a running back in fantasy, there were several other notable takeaways from Week 1. David Johnson, fantasy’s consensus No. 1 pick, is out 2-3 months as he will be having surgery to repair a dislocated wrist. His absence and the emergence of Tarik Cohen and Javorius “Buck” Allen will have owners scurrying to the waiver ware sooner than expected. As we head into Week 2, I’ll take a look at some of this week’s games to see where fantasy owners might find some exploitable matchups.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers vs. Buffalo Bills – Jonathan Stewart was in this space a week ago and was one of the few running backs who made me look good in Week 1, finishing as the overall RB8 in standard leagues. This week he faces a Bills team that gave up just 38 rushing yards in a Week 1 victory against the New York Jets. While a victory against the Jets doesn’t come with an asterisk, we should take any performances against them with a grain of salt. Buffalo allowed the third-most rushing yards a season ago and is very susceptible up front. Stewart touched the ball 20 times in Week 1, and Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera has suggested that the team may limit Christian McCaffrey’s snaps. I expect Stewart to touch the ball a minimum of 15 times against Buffalo, and he may very well earn another RB1 performance this week.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ladies and gentlemen, Tarik Cohen is officially a thing. The rookie running back burst onto the scene in Week 1, finishing as fantasy’s overall RB4. He had 113 yards and a receiving touchdown on 13 total touches. I don’t expect him to be a weekly RB1, but I do believe a lot of his usage and success is sustainable. The Bears lost wide receiver Kevin White for the season (again), and are painfully thin at the position. Quarterback Mike Glennon is well known for dumping passes off to running backs and tight ends. He targeted running backs a whopping 17 times on Sunday, three more than a number of times he targeted wide receivers. Cohen excels in the passing game and will be the primary beneficiary of this approach. Tampa Bay was a middle of the pack matchup for running backs last year, but they did allow running backs an average of 9.93 yards per reception, good for fourth-highest in the league. I expect Cohen to approach 100 total yards in this matchup.
[the_ad id=”384″]James White, New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints – Mike Gillislee is a rather obvious start in this matchup in my opinion, but don’t sleep on James White, either. A large part of the reason the Saints finished so poorly (30th) in fantasy points allowed to running backs last season was their problems defending against running backs who catch passes. The Saints allowed the most receiving yards to opposing running backs despite allowing just the 18th most pass attempts. The Saints’ inefficiency in defending pass-catching running backs will certainly be exploited by the masterminds in New England, especially with an extra three days to prepare. White makes his living catching passes out of the backfield, and I’m expecting a big day for him. I think it’s highly feasible he leads the Patriots in receptions and sneaks in for a receiving touchdown in Sunday’s projected shootout.
Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers – Thomas Rawls practiced in full all week leading up to Week 1, but he was designated inactive for Seattle’s game against Green Bay. Chris Carson looked much better than Eddie Lacy in that game, and I would seriously consider dropping Lacy at this point. Rawls figures to get the start against San Francisco. The 49ers had one of the worst rushing defenses in NFL history last season. They started 2017 on a better note, allowing only 116 yards on 38 carries to Carolina backs. However, they are still a work in progress and just lost inside linebacker Reuben Foster to a high ankle sprain. This is hardly a matchup to fear. Rawls is a lead back in a home game against a sub-par defense. He has tremendous upside in a game Seattle should take control of early. I think Rawls has the potential to be a top-10 running back in Week 2.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens – Isaiah Crowell faces the always-daunting Baltimore Ravens this weekend. Baltimore held the Cincinnati Bengals to just 77 rushing yards on 22 carries in Week 1 on their way to a 20-0 shutout victory. Crowell faced a tough Pittsburgh Steelers defense last week and totaled only 33 rushing yards. He did finish as a fantasy RB2 last week by virtue of 33 receiving yards and a two-point conversion, but these cannot be expected. The Browns figure to be playing from behind for a majority of this contest. Taking a running back who is playing a stellar defense on the road as a significant underdog is not a recipe for fantasy success. I’d much rather take a chance on a running back with higher upside like the players mentioned above than plug Crowell into lineups this week.
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks – Carlos Hyde saw just nine carries in Week 1 as the game quickly got away from the 49ers en route to a 23-3 loss. San Francisco is likely to encounter a similar fate in Week 2 as they head to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. This game will probably not be close, and the 49ers may be forced to throw quite a bit. The good news for Hyde is that he was targeted six times in the passing game. If San Francisco is willing to feature Hyde in the passing game, it will certainly raise his weekly floor from a season-long perspective. I still don’t know if it’s enough to warrant a starting spot this week, however. Even with the seemingly increased role in the passing game, Hyde scored just 7.7 fantasy points in Week 1. I wouldn’t expect any more than that in Week 2.
Rob Kelley, Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Rams – I liked Rob Kelley’s matchup going into Week 1 and that did not work out. Kelley carried the ball just 10 times and had 30 rushing yards as Washington fell at home to Philadelphia. Kelley now prepares to take on a Rams defense that looked absolutely dominant on Sunday. The Rams’ defense on its own scored two touchdowns and recorded a safety on their way to a 46-9 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts. I don’t expect the Redskins to get clobbered in similar fashion, but I’d just as soon avoid the Rams’ defense until further notice. The Rams held the Colts to just 225 total yards last week, including a miniscule 3.1 yards per carry. Kelley is not a part of the passing game, so he could once again be rendered useless if Washington falls behind. I do not want any part of Robert Kelley this week.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions at New York Giants – The good news for Ameer Abdullah is that he received 18 total touches in Week 1, ensuring his role as the featured back in Detroit’s offense. The bad news is that he converted those touches into just 41 scoreless yards, finishing as the overall RB42 for Week 1. His prospects don’t look much better this week against a tough New York Giants’ defense. They were a top-10 defense in both rushing yards allowed and fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs in 2016. I don’t envision Abdullah getting much going in this game. I think it’s far more likely that we see Theo Riddick make a greater impact in this week’s game, as opposing running backs were targeted against the Giants at the fourth-highest rate per game last year. Abdullah’s early usage is promising, but I don’t think he will get much going on the ground on Monday night.
SLEEPER OF THE WEEK:
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints vs. New England Patriots – None of the Saints’ running backs looked particularly impressive on Monday night, but Alvin Kamara’s usage was encouraging. Despite being listed as third on the team’s depth chart, Kamara actually had more carries than either Mark Ingram or Adrian Peterson in the Saints’ Week 1 loss at Minnesota. New Orleans now heads home to take on a potent New England squad. This game will be played in a dome and features the highest implied point total of the week. New Orleans is also a large underdog. All of these factors bode well for Kamara. Kamara is the most likely of the trio of running backs to catch passes out of the backfield. As we saw in Week 1, this is an area of vulnerability for New England. Kareem Hunt just torched the Patriots not only on the ground, but through the air as well. Hunt tallied 98 receiving yards and two receiving scores in the opener. Don’t be surprised to see Alvin Kamara lead the Saints’ backfield in fantasy points in Week 2.