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NFL Fantasy Week 1: running back sleepers

Running backs were last season’s most predictable position group week-to-week in NFL Fantasy. That doesn’t mean they were predictable, though. There were plenty of surprises.

Finding each week's sleepers can save a season. We think one or two of these rushers will greatly outperform their ADP in Week 1.

Best Bet: Lamar Miller, Texan (at Patriots)

Deshaun Watson passes a lot, but he doesn’t pass on every down. Lamar Miller’s NFL fantasy production trended upward in a hurry with Watson behind center last year.

With D’Onta Freeman sidelined and Houston facing a Patriots’ defense known for its slow starts, Miller could easily be a top 12 rusher, much better than his RB-21 ADP.

Good bet: Tarik Cohen, Bear (at Packers)

Chicago’s new head coach comes from one of the most creative and exciting offenses in the NFL last season. Most memorably, his Chiefs took it to the Patriots in their season opener with a variety of twists and misdirection.

Tarik Cohen is exactly the sneaky fast player we expect to be highlighted by Nagy’s play-calling. John Fox and his offensive coordinator didn’t know what to do with Cohen last year. Nagy already said Chicago’s second running back will be on the field at the same time as starter Jordan Howard. It sounds like he has plans for the player formerly known as “the Human highlight reel”.

Not the worst bet: Peyton Barber, Buccaneers (at Saints)

Peyton Barber is not just the starting running back in Tampa Bay. Head coach Dirk Koetter called him a three-down back. More neutral observers noted Peyton’s improved catching ability in the preseason. It looks like he will get the opportunity to be a workhorse for a while.

Yet he is listed as a sit ‘em on many NFL Fantasy pages because pundits expect the Buccaneers to be playing catch up with the passing game.

It is likely Barber will run early in an attempt to keep the score close. But even if Drew Brees scoffs at that idea and puts the Saints out front right away, I see Barber playing more than Jacquizz Rodgers, even in the catch-up game.

Don’t bet on it: Jordan Wilkins, Colts (vs Bengals)

Jordan Wilkins is getting a lot of mentions as a must-start if Marlon Mack does not start Week 1. Mack returned to practice in a limited capacity Thursday and is listed as questionable.

Wilkins’ fans keep citing his 6.3 yards-per-carry average at Ole’ Miss. That is because there is nothing to talk about from his preseason. He might be the Colts’ best bet, but that speaks as much to the failure of Christine Michael and Nyheim Hines to do any better.

Behind a banged up and questionable offensive line, find a better option than Wilkins. There are plenty.

Just sayin’

Jacksonville will put up some points against the Giants Sunday, but I having this nagging doubt about how many of them will be because of Leonard Fournette. If you own him, you almost have to start him. But the Giants run defense looked pretty good in the preseason.

Royce Freeman is the starter in Denver as much for his dependable pass blocking as his running ability, and he runs pretty well. Case Keenum will divert attention enough to make Freeman a worthy sleeper.

I can’t decide between Bilal Powell or Isaiah Crowell as the best sleeper against the Lions. It might be a sign to steer clear of them both as the Lions stack the box and challenge the rookie, Sam Darnold, to throw the ball.

Despite all the talk about Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, and James White sharing the load in New England, I can still see Jeremy Hill finishing with about 20 yards and three touchdowns.