DFS players will surely clamor over David Johnson and LeVeon Bell, the two consensus top players in fantasy football, in Week 1. It makes sense - they boast the highest ceilings in the land, and their absurdly high receiving usage gives him the strongest floors as well. Given the sky-high projected ownership, at least one will be a massive part of most shrewd players' cash-game portfolios. But they never come discounted, and in Week 1, either will tie up at least 15% of your salary cap. And Ezekiel Elliott's mid-week availability threw a wrench into all of these plans. Are you fading either Johnson or Bell in cash games? If not, which are you targeting more enthusiastically? How feasible are you finding it to fit in both? And how does Elliott's presence factor into your blueprint?
James Brimacombe: Why not both? With Week 1 salaries being released so early, there is always value to be found at the other positions. And if you can lock in both Johnson and Bell, you not only have an extremely high floor, but your ceiling on these two is also as high as any duo. Both running backs will be highly-owned, but it's likely a lot of people constructing lineups will choose one or the other. I would be interested to see the ownership number on owning both running backs in the same lineup.
I would not recommend fading either one in cash games. Sure, in GPP you would fade just to get away from the heavy ownership percentage, but in cash games these two are a lock.
David Dodds: In pure cash games (H2H, Double Up, and 50/50), I am playing both in Week 1. I feel there are enough bargains elsewhere that getting cute here does not make a lot of sense. I expect both backs to get a large number of touches in very favorable situations. If I do decide to fade these players with a percentage of rosters, I will be looking at these RB/DEF stacks:
Todd Gurley/L.A. Rams
Jason Wood: I'm not brave enough or smart enough to follow David's advice on this one. I'm going to have one or the other in 90%-100% of my cash games, but can't see having both in lineups. I'm far less willing to go cheap at quarterback in Week 1, even in cash games, which precludes me from taking both stud running backs. I have a slight preference for David Johnson because there are fewer ways the Cardinals can dominate; Pittsburgh could easily keep Bell's workload light and win the game with a combination of Ben Roethlisberger/Antonio Brown/Martavis Bryant.
Justin Howe: I'm encouraged that Bell isn't coming off injury or anything - his absence from the team was contract-related, so we're not sweating rehab or recovery from surgery. But he's still not quite as strong a play as Johnson. That Cardinals offense should be dominated thoroughly in Week 1 (and probably beyond) by Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, so as Jason points out, their avenues to success are fewer. Vegas has that game as Arizona -2, and it's frankly hard to imagine that game staying competitive without a big game from Johnson. When the Cardinals succeed, it's usually because Johnson racked up 150+ scrimmage yards and found the end zone at least once. The Steelers could open an early lead on the Browns with a barrage of Ben Roethlisberger touchdown passes and severely ding the second-half script.
Alex Miglio: On the one hand, putting an expensive running back who hasn't put in any preseason work into your Week 1 lineup seems like a huge risk. On the other hand, this is LeVeon Bell going up against the Cleveland Browns defense. You know that famous home/road split Ben Roethlisberger benefits/suffers from? Bell has no such issue, at least in Cleveland where his production is on par with everywhere else.
I just cannot get past the fact he hasn't been with the team until now. Sure, he's been presumably working out and staying ready, but what if all that time off has put some rust on him or made him more prone to an injury? At least with David Johnson we know we can count on similar production without the risk. All things being equal, I much prefer Johnson this weekend, even if he is a chalk play.
John Mamula: I will be playing both David Johnson and LeVeon Bell in cash games this week. I was burned a couple of times last season choosing the wrong RB (Johnson or Bell) to start my cash core. Johnson will be higher-owned, as many will take a wait and see approach with Bell. Reports out of Pittsburgh are that Bell is in great shape, and I do expect him to dominate Cleveland. There is more than enough value at the other positions to easily fit both Johnson and Bell into your cash lineups this week. In tournaments, it makes sense to play only one of them in your lineup and pair him with a high-priced WR.
Moderator: What about in GPP play? Are you guys approaching them differently there?
Dan Hindery: In tournaments, I am not completely fading Bell or Johnson, but I will have less than the field. Even if one of the two puts up 25-30 points, it doesn't knock you out of tournament contention if you don't have them in your lineup. The calculated is gamble is that one of the mid-priced backs equals or exceeds the production of Bell/Johnson and then you can put the extra $2,000-$4,000 of cap space to good use to separate from the tournament rosters with Bell or Johnson. There are enough strong candidates (Devonta Freeman, Jordan Howard, DeMarco Murray, Todd Gurley, Carlos Hyde, etc.) that at least one or two should end up having big days.
[at this point, the news breaks of Elliott's Week 1 availability]
Moderator: OK, now Ezekiel Elliott is in the Week 1 mix. That makes for one more volume-dominant back with a studly floor. Does that change anyone's plans?
James Brimacombe: Definitely. Now that Elliott looks good to play in Week 1, I think you can mix and match all three of these top running backs. I almost prefer the Johnson/Elliott duo.
Jason Wood: Yeah, with Elliott in the fold, I'm fading Bell even more. I think Dallas is going to make Elliott the centerpiece in an early division battle, particularly with the idea he could miss the next two months.
Chris Feery: There are plenty of viable mid-priced options at wide receiver this week, so it’s not all that challenging to fit either Bell or Johnson into your lineups. You can easily fit in both as well, but I’m leaning towards choosing one and pairing them with the other options David mentioned: McCoy, Miller, and Gurley. Johnson is my top choice of the pair, as I’m a little nervous about the fact that Bell completely missed camp. All signs point to him being in phenomenal shape, but I’d hate to see the first Sunday of the season go up in flames due to a tweaked hammy.
Now that Elliott’s officially in the mix, he’s another viable wrinkle to consider, but I’ll stick with Johnson plus a lower-priced workhorse in a great spot for the majority of my cash lineups.
John Mamula: I still prefer Johnson and Bell in cash, but will have a good bit of Elliott in GPP. Their respective matchups and reception opportunities put them ahead of Elliott for me in cash.
Justin Howe: On the narrative plain, I'm on board with what Jason is pushing. The Cowboys know how crucial this divisional matchup is, and I seriously doubt they consider it the time to prioritize Dak Prescott's arm. On the strength of that, I could also a mega-productive, 30-touch game. After all, this isn't an injury issue at play - Elliott has been conditioning and practicing with the team.
That makes me wonder whether Elliott is the strongest cash play of the bunch, considering he comes at a discount near 10%. However, if I'm paying up, I'm still more apt to plug in Johnson or Bell. Those two carry similar floors to Elliott, but even stronger ceilings. Elliott doesn't boast the dual-threat capabilities of those two, both of whom could easily tack on a WR2's worth of receiving production.