1. Adrian Peterson (MIN) – A week 1 match up against Cleveland should prove to be a cake walk for Peterson. The Browns ranked 28th in run defense in 2008 and do not appear to be much improved. We fully expect Peterson to carry the rock early and often en route to a big week 1 fantasy effort.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC) – He is battling a shin injury, but all indications are that he will be good to go in week 1. In 2 games against the Colts last season Jones-Drew totaled 162 and 166 yards respectively. He also had a TD in the first meeting and managed to find pay dirt twice against them in 2007 in a back up role. The Colts have not been known for their run defense in recent years, especially when it comes to Jones-Drew and they head into week 1 pretty banged up as well. He should have his usual field day against Indy.
3. LaDainian Tomlinson (SD) – It is probably fair to say that he has owned the Raiders throughout his career. Even in a down year with a turf toe injury, Tomlinson managed to total 206 yards and 3 TD’s against them in 2 games last season. In fact, he has found pay dirt against Oakland at least once the last 6 times he has faced them. This game should speak volumes about Tomlinson’s fantasy value for the rest of the season and we really like his chances for a big week 1.
4. Steven Jackson (STL) – While the Seahawks defense will certainly key in on him, we expect to see a heavy dose of Jackson in both the running and passing game in this match up. Jackson has had great success against Seattle in the past and we expect more of the same in week 1. He should be especially useful in PPR fantasy leagues this week.
5. Frank Gore (SF) – We fully expect to see Gore getting the ball early and often in the 49ers run first offense. He has enjoyed great success against the Cardinals throughout his career and we see no reason why the week 1 match up should be any different. Gore should deliver great numbers in both the running and passing game against Arizona.
6. Matt Forte (CHI) – He was not overwhelmingly successful in the running game against the Packers in his rookie season posting rushing totals of 64 and 73 yards with 1 TD respectively, but Forte did manage to make up for it in the passing game. We expect more of the same in this match up. It will be interesting to see how Forte attacks Green Bay’s newly installed 3-4 defense, but we feel that it is going to be a quality outing for him all in all. He should excel in the Bears passing game making him a must start in PPR fantasy leagues.
7. Michael Turner (ATL) – He will probably have his work cut out for him in week 1 against what looks to be one of 2009’s stingier run defenses, but we feel fairly confident that Turner will come out on top against the Dolphins. The Atlanta coaching staff will not back off in their dedication to running the football and why should they with Turner in the backfield? The Falcons will dare Miami to stop Turner and likely come out on the losing end. He is always a strong candidate to find the end zone.
8. Ryan Grant (GB) – Even in an off year with a bad hamstring Grant owned the Chicago Bears. He posted his best game of 2008 against them rushing for 145 yards and a TD. In addition he has scored a TD in each of his 3 career games against the Bears. We aren’t saying he is a lock, but the track record speaks for itself and we really like his chances for a big game being that he is 100% healthy this time around.
9. Ray Rice (BAL) – He is now officially the go to guy in the Ravens backfield (at least for now) and you couldn’t ask for a much better week 1 match up than Kansas City. The Chiefs run defense ranked as one of the worst in the NFL last season and they did little in the off-season to improve in that capacity. They also have a new head coach in Todd Haley that is very offensive minded. We would not be shocked in the least if Rice absolutely torched this defense, although the rumor is that Willis McGahee will handle goal line duties which will hurt Rice’s fantasy value a bit. The good news is that Rice probably won’t need goal line carries to find the end zone against this defense.
10. DeAngelo Williams (CAR) – No one finished the 2008 fantasy season stronger than Williams and while a week 1 meeting against a top flight Eagles run defense will not be a pushover; Williams has all the tools to overcome the difficult match up. He should get the vast majority of the carries (including goal line) as Jonathan Stewart continues to battle an achilles injury.
11. Brian Westbrook (PHI) – All indications are that his ankle is healthy and we love the week 1 match up against a mediocre Carolina run defense. We do have some concern regarding Westbrook missing preseason as his workload may be diminished to some degree and he is likely to start the game a bit rusty. That said, this match up is too good to pass up. Westbrook should do extremely well even in a more limited role than usual. Check injury report: knee (probable)
12. Cedric Benson (CIN) – The return of Carson Palmer and a much improved Bengals passing game should drastically boost Benson’s fantasy value this season. A quality passing attack will open holes and more importantly give Benson more opportunities to find the end zone. A week 1 match up against Denver should say plenty about just how much Benson’s fantasy stock is worth. Much like last season, the Broncos run defense is expected to be very poor. If Benson can’t produce a strong showing in week 1 against this defense, it could be a long season. We like his chances in spite of his history of disappointing.
13. Mike Bell (NO) – UPDATE: Pierre Thomas has been ruled out for Sunday's game. Reggie Bush is expected to start, but Bell will fill Thomas' role as the go to back on the ground. Bell makes for a solid starting option given the match up. Bell was all but forgotten in fantasy circles and many expected him to be cut by the Saints, but a huge preseason propelled Bell onto the roster. He is now sitting pretty with the tastiest match up a RB could ask for in week1 at home against Detroit. The Lions ranked dead last in the NFL last season against the run giving up a ridiculous average of 172 yards and 2 TD’s per game on the ground and they do not look to be much improved. If Bell gets his shot and can maintain his preseason form, he could be in for a monster day. Unfortunately, this may be a one shot deal for him and you. Also keep in mind that Bell will likely split time with Reggie Bush, but Bell should get the call on the majority of running downs.
14. Marion Barber (DAL) – We don’t really know what to expect from the Tampa Bay defense in the post Monte Kiffin - Derrick Brooks era, but we can not imagine that it will be improved which is good news for Barber’s fantasy value in week 1. He should give you solid production in this match up. Barber will give up some carries to Felix Jones, but he remains the go to guy in the Cowboys offense for the most part and he is the goal line back.
15. Brandon Jacobs (NYG) – Given Jacobs track record against the Redskins, we expect another very solid effort from him on Sunday. That said, it won’t be as easy as in years past with big Albert Haynesworth stuffing the middle for Washington. People often seem to underestimate just how much of an effect Haynesworth can have on opposing running games, but Jacobs isn’t your average RB and he should find his way to success.
16. Steve Slaton (HOU) – He certainly has the talent to produce strong fantasy numbers in week 1, but it will be a tough row to hoe against a stout Jets run defense led by new head coach and defensive wiz Rex Ryan. We aren’t thrilled with Slaton losing goal line duties to Chris Brown, but he should be fine regardless and it doesn’t hurt that the Jets will be without two of their best defensive players in DE Shaun Ellis and LB Calvin Pace.
17. Kevin Smith (DET) –The good news is that Smith rushed for 111 yards and a TD against New Orleans late last season. The bad news is that the Saints appear to be a much improved on defense from a year ago. Regardless, we still like Smith’s potential in this match up. We also expect to see more from him in the passing game. Our biggest concern is that Detroit will have to abandon the running game earlier than they would like in a jaded attempt at a comeback. Last season, the Lions rarely bothered to adopt that strategy because they were usually too far gone, but it may come into play under the new regime. Even so, we expect to see a heavy dose of Smith early, especially with the Lions going with rookie Matt Stafford at QB.
18. Julius Jones (SEA) – He is not typically someone we would recommend, but under the circumstances, Jones makes for a solid week 1 fantasy play. For starters, Jones is known for starting the season strong and finishing poorly, so now is probably the time to use him. Secondly, he is facing what should be one of the NFL’s worst run defenses this season; a defense he torched for 144 rushing yards and a TD in his only start against them last season. The only real concern here is that the Seahawks offensive line is pretty weak due to injuries and Edgerrin James will likely steal some carries. Even so, we believe Jones makes for a strong RB2 or flex play given the soft match up.
19. Thomas Jones (NYJ) – Steal or bust? A week 1 match up against the Texans should go a long way in filling you in on what kind of deal you got when you drafted Jones. While the Texans probably won’t be the pushover against the run that they were a year ago, they still have some glaring weaknesses for Jones to exploit. We don’t expect a monster game from Jones, but he should be solid and he is always a candidate to find pay dirt.
20. Ronnie Brown (MIA) – We aren’t super high on Brown’s fantasy value this season following a lackluster close to the ’08 season, but a week 1 match up against Atlanta definitely holds promise. The Falcons are very inexperienced on defense and ranked just 25th in the NFL last season against the run which bodes well for Brown. It also bodes well that the Falcons may be without their best defensive player in DE John Abraham who is suffering from a knee injury. Brown typically gets off to a fast start and will need a strong performance in week 1 to gain the trust of fantasy owners. We just hope that he doesn’t fade down the stretch again. Here’s to the wildcat!
21. Reggie Bush (NO) – As it stands now, Bush will likely start against the Lions in week 1 with Pierre Thomas battling injury. However, Mike Bell, who has been dominant in preseason will probably fill the vacated role left by Thomas and get the majority of the carries. As you probably already know, this doesn’t really hurt Bush, as his fantasy value primarily lies in the passing game anyway. Obviously, Bush is best suited for PPR fantasy leagues, but he should prove valuable in any format seeing as how the opponent is Detroit. Bush is capable of doing some damage this week. Let’s just hope the damage is done against the Lions and not his knee for a change.
22. Joseph Addai (IND) – What we don’t like about Addai’s week 1 match up with Jacksonville is the fact that he has never rushed for 100 yards against them in any of the 5 career games in which he has faced them. We do however like the fact that he rushed for 2 TD’s in his only start against them last season. The jury is still kind of out on Addai and we should learn a lot from this game. The biggest mystery being how the Colts will divvy up carries between himself and Donald Brown. At the very least, Addai should be motivated to keep his starting job and the Jaguars run defense is not exactly a juggernaut.
23. Clinton Portis (WAS) – While Portis had some huge performances in 2008, they certainly did not come in his two meetings against the Giants. When healthy, Portis is still one of the best fantasy backs in the NFL and in spite of the difficult match up; we would not be surprised if he had a productive week 1. Unfortunately, we also wouldn’t be surprised if he struggles. Hope for the best as it could happen, but expectations should be lowered given the opponent and his recent track record against them.
24. Fred Jackson (BUF) – With Marshawn Lynch out on suspension and Dominic Rhodes now making copies at Kinkos, the Bills will look to ride the magic legs of Fred Jackson in week 1. The good news is that Jackson rushed for a season high 136 yards against a middle of the road New England run defense last season. Also, the Patriots have since traded one of their better run defenders, DT Richard Seymour, to Oakland. The bad news is that the Bills overhauled offensive line has looked terrible in the preseason and this offense has played poorly in general, hence the untimely firing of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. Check injury report: hand
25. Chris Johnson (TEN) - Don’t worry, we still love him and he will be a top 10 back most weeks. We just don’t like his chances for a big game in week 1 against a very ticked off Steelers defense on the road in Pittsburgh. Here’s to hoping we are wrong, but Johnson should be considered little more than a shaky RB2 or flex play under the circumstances.
26. Willie Parker (PIT) – The often injured fast Willie Parker will resume his duties as the go to back in Pittsburgh, but Haynesworth or no Haynesworth, the Titans defense is still stout and Tennessee flat out embarrassed Parker last season. While we expect him to better his totals from last season, that isn’t saying much. He is a risky RB2 or flex play at best given the match up.
27. Darren McFadden (OAK) – He appears to be the most likely starter when the Raiders face San Diego on Monday night, but it also appears as though Oakland will go with a RB by committee approach incorporating Michael Bush and Justin Fargas. McFadden is by far the best option of the three and should see the most action. That said, he is probably not one of your better fantasy options this week against a very stingy Chargers run defense featuring Shawne Merriman’s return.
28. Tim Hightower (ARI) – At this point, no one really knows how the Hightower-“Beanie” Wells situation will play out. We do think Hightower has the edge in getting the goal line carries, but either way, both players are risky fantasy options in a pass heavy offense.
29. Felix Jones (DAL) – If he can stay healthy, Jones could be in for a breakout season. It is unclear how much of a role he will play in the Cowboys offense in week 1, but we suspect it will be dramatically increased over last season. Even so, Marion Barber remains the feature back and Jones remains a bit risky as a fantasy option until we have a better idea of how much Dallas plans to use him.
30. Knowshon Moreno (DEN) – Moreno is expected to play in week1 when the Broncos head to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. Unfortunately, no one knows exactly how much he will be on the field. Our best guess is that the Broncos will use a 3 man rotation with Correll Buckhalter and Peyton Hillis. Moreno could put up some quality numbers if he sees extensive action given the promising match up, but there are no guarantees and we’d imagine the Denver coaches will want to bring him along slowly. If you can afford to do so, we suggest taking a wait and see approach this week. Check injury report: knee
31. Cadillac Williams (TB) – He will get the start, but a three man RB rotation and a semi-tough match up against Dallas limits his fantasy potential in week 1.
32. Larry Johnson (KC) – He should get the ball early and often in week 1, but the match up against the Ravens is brutal.
33. Donald Brown (IND) – He has plenty of upside and we expect to see him in week1 against the Jaguars. Unfortunately, no one knows how much of him we will see. A wait and see approach is recommended.
34. Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) – We love his potential, but carries might be tough to come by playing behind Brandon Jacobs and the match up isn’t ideal.
35. Fred Taylor (NE) – He is expected to start, but no Patriots RB is ever a safe bet with a multitude of backs on the roster that all play.
36. Chris “Beanie” Wells (ARI) – The rookie RB should be on the field against the Niners, but it is impossible to say to what extent. Week 1 should tell us more on the Cardinals plans for him. Until we know for sure, Wells is not a very safe fantasy option.
37. Willis McGahee (BAL) – He is a candidate to find the end zone against a weak Kansas City run defense, but there is no guarantee and his role may be limited playing behind Ray Rice.
38. Chester Taylor (MIN) – He could do some damage against a weak Cleveland run defense, but Taylor is limited in his back up role behind Adrian Peterson.
39. Derrick Ward (TB) – He could be useful in PPR leagues, but the Bucs three man RB rotation really hurts Ward’s fantasy value overall in week 1.
40. LeSean McCoy (PHI) – He should steal some carries in week 1 and the match up is promising, but anything more than a few points from him this week would come as a surprise playing behind Westbrook.
41. Darren Sproles (SD) – Sproles is dangerous and expected to see an increased role this season, but the Chargers said that last season too and he rarely saw the field. He could be handy in fantasy leagues that account for return yards.
42. LenDale White (TEN) – White is always a candidate to find the end zone, but the odds go way down against Pittsburgh and his fantasy value is limited otherwise.
43. Jamal Lewis (CLE) – He has seen better days and a brutal match up against the Vikings probably won’t help matters.
44. Chris Brown (HOU) – He will be playing the LenDale White role as the Texans goal line back this season which makes him a candidate to find pay dirt, but TD’s may not be easy to come by against the Jets on the ground this week and Brown has little fantasy value otherwise.
45. Leon Washington (NYJ) – Always a decent play in leagues that account for return yards, but his value in standard leagues is unpredictable most weeks playing second fiddle to Thomas Jones.
46. Peyton Hillis (DEN) – We have a sneaking suspicion that he will be the Broncos goal line back in week 1, but starting a guy based on speculation is hardly a wise thing to do.
47. Correll Buckhalter (DEN) – He seems likely to start in week 1 and we like his potential in this match up against the Bengals, but there are too many unknowns to feel confident with him in your starting fantasy line up.
48. Edgerrin James (SEA) – He should get some carries against a weak Rams run defense, but James is limited by his back up role to Julius Jones.
49. Earnest Graham (TB) – Regardless of what the Tampa coaches say, we can’t imagine Graham not getting the goal line touches. That said, he holds little value otherwise in the Bucs RB rotation.
50. Laurence Maroney (NE) – We suspect he will see the field, but so will the gazillion other RB’s the Patriots have on the roster.