The running back position reigns supreme in Fantasy Football due to them being able to produce through the air and on the ground. You have the usual suspects like Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara being taken with the first picks of drafts. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to see any one of the names listed above finish as a top performer at the running back position in Week 1.
But finding value at the running back position — whether it be in season-long or daily fantasy — can lead to plenty of success in Fantasy Football. Finding the players who could emerge as a threat in their respective backfield, despite competition from other players, is one certain way to get a leg up in your leagues.
Ahead of the start of the 2021 NFL season, here are five major sleepers in Fantasy Football at the running back position for Week 1.
Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions were active this offseason, trading Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in a trade that sent Jared Goff to Detroit. Aside from the trade for Goff, the Lions signed Jamaal Williams from the Green Bay Packers. Williams is expected to operate as a change-of-pace option behind D’Andre Swift. Swift is slated to handle a heavy workload, but with him dealing with a minor injury, Detroit could ease him back by splitting his touches with Williams.
During his career with the Packers, Williams showed that he’s a capable No. 2 option in the backfield and he’s a talented pass-catcher out of the backfield. There could be weeks where Williams is heavily involved in the offense for the Lions, and Week 1 could definitely be one of those weeks versus the San Francisco 49ers.
Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
Speaking of the 49ers, they have a loaded backfield with multiple guys that could see touches this season. Raheem Mostert is projected to be the starter in Week 1, but rookie Trey Sermon is sitting right behind him on the depth chart. San Francisco traded up to get Sermon in the 2021 NFL Draft, which goes to show how much they loved him in the pre-draft process.
I don’t believe it will be long before Sermon unseats Mostert as the starter and it could be as soon as Week 1 when it happens. While facing a team like the Lions in Week 1, Sermon should have plenty of opportunities to be a productive performer in Fantasy Football.
Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles
Mobile quarterbacks can cap the ceiling of running backs in Fantasy Football due to them running it themselves. It’s one reason why I’m not a fan of Miles Sanders at his current ADP. Another reason why I’m out on Sanders this season is the reports of him splitting touches with Boston Scott throughout training camp and the preseason.
Scott is a better receiver, which could lead to him seeing the field more often in certain situations. With Sanders struggling in his first two seasons as a pass-catcher, I expect Scott to have a decent-sized role, beginning in Week 1 versus the Atlanta Falcons. If the Eagles fall behind at any point, Scott should be the running back that is deployed alongside Hurts.
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
Another rookie running back that could make a name for himself in Week 1 is Javonte Williams of the Denver Broncos. Melvin Gordon is slated to begin the season as the starter, but Williams could easily earn the starting job with a strong showing to kickstart the season. We already know what type of player Gordon is and he’s not a running back that should be forced to see the field as a three-down back. The decision to make Williams a healthy scratch in Denver’s preseason finale could be a sign of how they feel about the first-year rusher.
Seeing that Gordon isn’t one of the premier backs in the NFL, Williams may be able to surpass his backfield mate in Week 1 against the New York Giants. In the event that Williams ends up taking the majority of the touches early in the season, he could be a massive value at his current ADP.
Ty Johnson, New York Jets
Trying to determine the starting running back of the New York Jets could cause a headache to ensue. Altogether, Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, and rookie Michael Carter are expected to share touches to begin the season. Coleman has looked like a shell of his former self in recent years, which could lead to either Johnson or Carter stealing the starting job early in the season.
Given the fact that Carter may need time to adjust to the NFL, Johnson may have a better chance to see the field more often in Week 1. Johnson showed glimpses of what he can do at the end of the 2020 season. While he likely won’t be a viable option on a week-to-week basis in Fantasy Football, Johnson could be a surprise performer in Week 1 versus the Carolina Panthers.