Should you start Leonard Fournette vs. the Cowboys in Week 1?

Leonard Fournette helped the Buccaneers win a Super Bowl, but should you start him in fantasy football Week 1 vs. the Cowboys?

Leonard Fournette took the playoffs by storm and spearheaded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rushing attack to a Super Bowl victory. How confident should you be in Fournette as a fantasy football running back in Week 1 when the Bucs open the season against the Dallas Cowboys?

Should you start Leonard Fournette in Week 1?

The Jacksonville Jaguars released Fournette just over a year ago, and he looked consigned to being a fantasy football afterthought at times during the 2020 season. In the Bucs’ postseason run, Fournette really showed his value, however, as the legend of Playoff Lenny (and Super Bowl Lenny) was born.

Fournette registered 82 touches for 448 yards and 4 touchdowns, showing why Tom Brady quickly reached out to him when he was cut before the season. After watching his performances, the question on the mind of all fantasy football managers was, “where was this guy when I needed him?”

Postseason stats are great and could point to a momentum shift, but Fournette’s fantasy value in 2021 will hinge on what he can do in the regular season.

Is Fournette the RB1 for Tampa Bay?

The Buccaneers are one of the teams in the league likely to turn to the dreaded running back by committee (RBBC). Ronald Jones led the team in rushing attempts, with 192 of the 325 running back carries. Fournette had just 97 in 13 games. He did catch 36 of his 47 targets for 233 yards. Jones, meanwhile, had 42 targets but only 28 receptions.

Trust goes a long way with Brady. If Fournette can become the primary pass-catching back and continue to be a reliable option out of the backfield, he’ll have a much higher ceiling.

On the depth chart, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is still on the roster. He looked capable when given the opportunity, and the expectation is that head coach Bruce Arians will want to see if he has more to offer than he showed last season. However, he still appears to have some work to do to earn a noteworthy role in the offense.

Giovani Bernard, who the Buccaneers signed in free agency, is a valuable depth piece. He had a large role behind a poor Cincinnati Bengals offensive line last season. Still, he is unlikely to be more than insurance given the talent he is competing with.

The Dallas Cowboys are a mouthwatering opponent for fantasy football

NFL odds have the Buccaneers as 8-point favorites currently for their opening home game against the Cowboys. The Bucs will be looking to kick off their title defense with a win. If they’re leading in the fourth quarter, Fournette could be the player to burn clock and seal the game.

The Cowboys’ run defense was the second-worst unit in the league in 2020, surrendering 2,541 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in 16 games. Only the Houston Texans were worse. The Cowboys also allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs.

New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defenses consistently allowed among the most receptions in the league to running backs during his time as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Arians will be familiar with his zone-heavy defense, playing against the Falcons twice a year as a divisional rival. If he employs a running back in the passing game, Fournette could be the beneficiary.

The line currently sits at 51.5, indicating that the expectation is a high-scoring game. If that’s the case, the Buccaneers and Fournette will have plenty of opportunities to score points.

Jones was the primary option in the red zone in 2020 with 47.6% of the team’s rushing attempts, but Fournette had 30.2% and scored 5 touchdowns — just one fewer than Jones. Fournette also had 8 red-zone targets, catching all of them, although he and Jones lagged behind Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, and Chris Godwin.

Fournette Week 1 RB ranking

As it stands, Fournette sits at RB33 in our Week 1 running back rankings, just behind teammate Jones, who is 29th. Fournette’s ceiling could be higher than many of the players above him, but the uncertainty around his workload makes him a risky proposition. He will likely continue to be ranked in the RB3/flex range until he can take a more substantial role.

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