Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is likely to get light work in Week One, if any at all. There’s a chance the Vikings just say no to Peterson and shut him down another week. They will be conservative with him. He’s not a great starting option against the Jaguars.
Ahmad Bradshaw (hand, foot) is good to go for the opener. He should play and receive a steady, typical share of carries.
Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle) has yet to practice this week as of this writing, but he is traveling with the team to prepare for its Week One game against the Buccaneers. Head coach Ron Rivera has voiced optimism about Stewart’s chances of playing in the opener. He is still dealing with soreness, though, and there is no need for Carolina to rush him back given its depth at running back. The Panthers may give him a light workload if he plays, so owners ought to consider giving him the week off. DeAngelo Williams is the stronger play this week against a Bucs run defense that ranked 32nd in the league in 2011.
Dolphins RB Reggie Bush is Miami’s top fantasy player, especially coming off a career year, but find a better option for Week One. Bush had six carries for 18 yards and one catch for three yards against Houston in Week Two last season, and the Dolphins’ new offense is expected to go through some growing pains with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill at the helm.
Broncos RB Willis McGahee was a frustrating fantasy player to figure in the preseason. He had a surprising 1,199-yard season in 2011, but asking for that again is a stretch, and the offense will be pass-first — don’t expect McGahee to have many 20-plus carry games. Facing the Steelers’ defense this week is not a favorable matchup for him. He had 19 carries for 61 yards against Pittsburgh in last season’s playoff game, including a lost fumble. In eight career regular-season meetings against the Steelers, McGahee has a rushing average of 3.51 yards per carry.
The Patriots are expected to run the ball more this season with Josh McDaniels as the offensive coordinator, and that’s a good sign for RB Stevan Ridley, who is expected to start, despite the preseason hype surrounding Shane Vereen. The Titans were ranked 24th against the run last season and they have a strong secondary, so Ridley is in line to get a good amount of touches in Week One.
That Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch’s status for the regular-season opener vs. the Cardinals is in doubt due to back spasms is another reason why fantasy players who are sold on Lynch also should have drafted rookie backup Robert Turbin to provide a savvy insurance policy. Besides Lynch’s back problems, which have caused him to miss the last two weeks of practice, his July DUI offense also could result in an untimely suspension of some sort down the road. Lynch’s back issues are an unpredictable X-factor in terms of establishing his actual fantasy value. Just look at the Seahawks’ 6-3 loss to the Browns in Cleveland last season, when Lynch’s back tightened up during pregame warm-ups, forcing him to miss the game. As for Turbin, who has a similar bruising running style to Lynch, he has looked good all summer.
Even though the Cardinals will be facing Seattle's excellent run defense in their season opener in Arizona this Sunday, the team’s best shot at fantasy success might be to highlight their three-pronged ground game featuring Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Taking into account both the Cardinals’ tenuous QB situation (John Skelton is starting, but he has not looked all that great) and an offensive line that has been decimated by injuries to starting OLT Levi Brown and top backup Jeremy Bridges, the team might be a lot better off grinding out a power run game in Week One, regardless of the opponent. Neither Wells nor Williams, who missed his entire rookie season due to a knee injury, played in either of the Cardinals’ two games vs. Seattle last season.
Just in case you were wondering, new Packers RB Cedric Benson, who could be an emerging fantasy sleeper as Green Bay’s new No. 1 back — at least for the time being — had 17 carries for 64 yards (3.8 ypc) as a member of the Bengals in Cincy’s loss to the Niners last season.
Depending on when you held your fantasy draft, there is a chance you got a steal on Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who finally ended his holdout sans a new deal last Sunday. Jones-Drew is expected to suit up this weekend, but you might want to think twice before inserting him into your lineup immediately. Backup Rashad Jennings, not Jones-Drew, will be the club’s starter against Minnesota in Week One, with Jones-Drew serving as the third-down back. Given that the Jaguars installed Mike Mularkey’s new offense in the offseason, it could be a few weeks before Jones-Drew, who also must get back into football shape, is up to speed and worthy of a guaranteed start each week.
Though we’re not confident recommending owners start any Colts running backs against a stout Chicago run “D” in Week One, it will be interesting to see how new head coach Chuck Pagano assigns carries in his crowded backfield. As it currently stands, Donald Brown is listed first on the club’s depth chart and carries the greatest fantasy value of any Colts back, but rookie Vick Ballard drew high praise from the coaching staff for his strong camp. Delone Carter could also be in line for some carries near the goal line if he continues to protect the football. Overall, this is a very fluid situation and one to likely avoid until more clarity is provided.
Browns RB Trent Richardson (knee) practiced Monday and seems to be recovering well from arthroscopic surgery in August. You’ll want to monitor Richardson’s practice status throughout this week before making a call on whether to play him Sunday. However, he’ll get the bulk of the carries if he’s in the lineup. “If he’s ready to go, he will be our starter,” head coach Pat Shurmur said.
The Steelers’ RB situation has become muddled. That’s a good thing for Pittsburgh, which could have Rashard Mendenhall (knee) available for some work in the season opener at Denver. However, that’s a bad thing for fantasy owners. Though Mendenhall has returned to practice, it’s difficult to gauge his role for Week One — and whether he’ll even play whatsoever. The pecking order behind Mendenhall is a little murky, too. Isaac Redman (ankle) and Jonathan Dwyer both figure to get work. In short, it’s hard to recommend any of these backs with great gusto in Week One. If you can, tread carefully.
Bengals RB Bernard Scott (hand) has indicated he’s likely to miss Week One. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be the top option on first and second downs, with Brian Leonard serving as the pass-catching and change-of-pace option.
Lions RB Kevin Smith (ankle) is in line to play, start and get a good deal of work in the season opener vs. St. Louis. He’s a solid starting option, whether at the RB or “flex” spot, against a Rams defense that was 31st vs. the run a season ago.