Week 1 Running Back Sleepers: Roll with Royce
It’s Week 1, everybody! We finally made it! While there have been notable injuries in Washington and San Francisco, most starting running backs should begin Week 1 in relatively good health. Despite the abundance of options, there are still sleepers to be had. There are plenty of running backs who were drafted as bench depth, but who figure to perform at a level much higher than that in Week 1. Here are my Week 1 running back sleepers.
Week 1 Running Back Sleepers
Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens v. Buffalo Bills
Alex Collins burst onto the scene last season, going from waiver wire pickup to season-long RB2. But many fantasy owners are still hesitant to trust what we saw out of the former Arkansas Razorback. Those season-long concerns should be tempered against a Buffalo Bills defense that was routinely gashed on the ground last season. Buffalo allowed the most rushing yards and the most touchdowns to opposing running backs last year. Things don’t figure to be much better for Buffalo in Week 1. This should be a game that Baltimore controls from start to finish. The expected game script is another feather in the cap for Collins, who scored double-digit fantasy points in six of his final nine games during his 2017 breakout campaign. Collins has RB1 upside in this matchup.
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks
You probably have not considered a running back in his first career NFL game against the Seattle Seahawks’ defense in quite a while. But times, they are a-changin’.
Seattle is no longer a defense you should go out of your way to avoid in fantasy. They allowed 13 rushing touchdowns to enemy running backs last year and are now without Sheldon Richardson, Michael Bennett, and Cliff Avril. While linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright return, this should no longer be considered an elite defensive unit. As for Freeman, he is listed atop the Broncos’ depth chart after an impressive preseason. The rookie totaled 84 yards on 15 carries and scored three touchdowns. I have no issue starting Freeman as my RB2 in this game.
Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns v. Pittsburgh Steelers
The lone Fantasy bright spot for the 2017 Cleveland Browns was running back Duke Johnson. The fourth-year back out of the University of Miami finished last season as the overall RB11 in PPR leagues. Johnson was also a factor in standard leagues, where he ended the year as an RB2. While Cleveland added plenty of weapons in the offseason, Johnson will still have an important role in the offense. He offers a lower floor than many running backs in his range, but also a higher ceiling. He scored at least 10 Fantasy points in half of his games last year, including his final four games. Drafted as an RB4, Johnson is one of the more low key Week 1 running back sleepers in a game where Cleveland will need its full complement of running backs to pull off the upset against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bilal Powell, New York Jets at Detroit Lions
The Jets will enter Week 1 as a heavy underdog with a 21-year old quarterback making his first career NFL start. I would expect a heavy dose of runs and high-percentage throws. Both of these areas figure to see an increased workload for Bilal Powell. Despite a down year last season, Powell figures to be a prominent part of the backfield once again in 2018. The Lions ranked in the bottom-10 in the NFL in both fantasy points allowed and receptions allowed to opposing running backs. I think Powell has a pretty bankable floor in PPR leagues considering the likelihood of a conservative approach and negative game script. It would not surprise me to see him finish the week as a top-30 running back regardless of format, making him an ideal running back sleeper in Week 1.
Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals
People seem to forget how good Chris Thompson was before breaking his leg last season. He averaged over 11 Fantasy points per game in standard leagues and over 15 points per game in PPR leagues. Both of those numbers would have put him on an RB1 pace over the course of a full season. While some natural regression is to be expected, Thompson should still be a factor provided he is close to 100 percent. Washington just signed Adrian Peterson off the street a couple of weeks ago, and it is not realistic in my opinion to expect him or Rob Kelley to do much against what should be a stout Arizona Cardinals defense. Arizona allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards to opposing running backs last season but permitted the fifth-most receptions to the position. Coach Jay Gruden said Thompson was “ready to go” last week, and I would not hesitate to plug him into Week 1 lineups. He could be a very nice sleeper this week.
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