With Week 1 of the 2020-21 regular season now officially right around the corner, fantasy football owners can finally rejoice — but not before attempting to set their lineups after quite the unique and unprecedented offseason for the NFL.
Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there was no preseason and all offseason activities were drastically different than usual with tons of testing and various procedures being put in place by the league.
Due to the fact that it has been hard to really catch a glimpse of what has been going on behind the scenes for each NFL franchise this summer, fantasy football owners need to be sure that they are not overthinking things en route to making rash decisions regarding their roster management.
There will be one simple strategy for Week 1 regardless of position, but especially at the running back position — go with what you know!
Here are the start ’em sit ’em running backs for Week 1.
RBs to Start in Week 1
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
With the Carolina Panthers slated to take on the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1, there is absolutely no reason that All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey doesn’t have one of his usual explosive outings. Whether it is in the run game or via the passing attack, look for McCaffrey to receive a ton of touches against the lowly Raiders, especially with a new head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback set to make their respective debuts in Carolina.
With McCaffrey once again slated to serve as the go-to option for the Panthers’ offense even with some fresh faces in Carolina, the new-look NFC South franchise will definitely look to move the football up and down the field with the game plan 100 percent running through the standout rusher on a weekly basis. Week 1 against the Raiders certainly won’t be any different. Simply put, McCaffrey is a yardage and scoring machine on offense no matter the fashion in which he gets his hands on the football.
The most important thing is that the Panthers continue to get him into space and into the open field, which fantasy football owners will no doubt love to see against the Raiders.
James White, New England Patriots
Even though veteran running back James White always seems to get his touches for the New England Patriots, the versatile rusher could see an increased role in Week 1 against the rival Miami Dolphins.
Although the Patriots often employ a slew of running backs with this season being no different, White could very well be the team’s most reliable presence in the backfield to open the upcoming campaign — which is a bet many should be willing to take.
Thanks to a lingering hand injury, Patriots running back Damian Harris will begin the 2020-21 regular season on injured reserve, the team recently released another veteran rusher in Lamar Miller and New England will surely feature both Rex Burkhead and J.J. Taylor but in more specialized roles. Lastly, the team’s usual starter in Sony Michel did avoid injured reserve and currently finds himself on the team’s active 53-man roster.
However, how much of a workload will he be able to take on against the Dolphins after both offseason foot surgery and a unique schedule this summer?
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Former Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon signed with the rival Denver Broncos in free agency. As a result, it is finally time for another Chargers running back in Austin Ekeler to shine in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
With the Chargers slated to match up against the up-and-coming — though still very green — Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, look for Ekeler to take full advantage of attaining all of the spotlight to begin the 2020-21 campaign.
While Ekekler has been given the opportunity to serve as the main option out of the backfield for the Chargers before as the aforementioned Gordon held out for a new contract in addition to dealing with some injury troubles, the new Los Angeles starter had absolutely no issue whatsoever handling such responsibility.
Not only that, but Ekeler has always served as a major threat as both a rusher and a receiver, so he can be a true three-down back that affects the game in more ways than one.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
While Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry will more than likely be the first-round pick of many fantasy football owners, it might be worth taking the chance on someone else to begin the 2020-21 regular season.
Although there is a legitimate chance that Henry does what he does best and strings together quite an impressive outing against the Denver Broncos, there are a few factors that should make at least some fantasy football owners rethink this decision. Coming off a new contract and playing a stout Broncos defense, Henry has never been a fast starter as another slow start could be in order for the Titans superstar, especially after a strange offseason.
Not only that, but Henry struggled mightily on the road in Denver just a season ago with former Titans and current Broncos defensive tackle now leading the AFC West franchise up front, which could create some extra motivation for the Week 1 matchup.
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
In his first season as a member of “Gang Green,” former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell probably won’t have too much of a different year in 2020-21 as Adam Gase remains the head coach of the New York Jets.
With the Jets losing wide receiver Robby Anderson to the Carolina Panthers and replacing him with the hit-or-miss Breshad Perriman and a rookie in Denzel Mims, a lot of the early workload could fall on Bell’s shoulders, which probably won’t bode well for his individual performance or the team’s as a whole. With the rival Buffalo Bills up first on the schedule for the Jets, a stout defense and a legitimate contender in the AFC and AFC East await Bell on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage in Week 1.
If the Jets have to play from behind, Bell could see some cheap touches via the passing game but don’t expect much from him as a rusher against the Bills. With future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady finally out of the AFC East, many feel as though it is the Bills’ division to lose in 2020-21 while Buffalo will more than likely come out firing in Week 1 against a team like the Jets, who are not really expected to compete at a very high level this time around.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals are once again going with former Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake as the team’s starter in the backfield after originally acquiring him midway through last season. However, the Cardinals have revamped the rest of the team’s offense as Arizona managed to acquire All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins via trade from the Houston Texans earlier in the offseason.
As a result of Hopkins’ presence, something that head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray simply won’t be able to deny, the Cardinals will more than likely be a pass-heavy team out of the gate.
With Hopkins slated to be flanked by the tandem of Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald, in addition to Murray’s ability to scramble all over the field, it may take some time for Drake to fit into this offense outside of some short-yardage gains. Although he is capable as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, there is unfortunately still only one football on the field.
Because the Cardinals will start things off with the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, who boast quite the imposing defense, it is even more possible that Drake struggles early.