Running Back Handcuff Rankings: Week 7 (2019 Fantasy Football)
Every week, I’ll be reviewing the league’s top 15 running back handcuffs and providing a ranking, an explanation for that ranking, and Yahoo ownership. These rankings are based on the league-winning upside that each of these guys possesses should the starter ahead of them miss time.
With Melvin Gordon back in the fold, Austin Ekeler is technically a handcuff, though he’s likely to remain involved enough to provide starter-caliber value some weeks, so he won’t be included here. The same goes for Ito Smith, who has played in a fairly-even timeshare with Devonta Freeman. Ditto Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber. Latavius Murray (who has been out-touched 119-41 by Alvin Kamara) qualifies as a handcuff and makes the list near the top. Guys like Chris Thompson and James White, who occupy the receiving-back role, will also not be included, as they carry value independent of the starter. Let’s kick off the first edition of the article with 15 guys who could win you your league if given the right opportunity.
1. Alexander Mattison (MIN): 22% owned
Mattison is among the few backs in the league who warrants flex consideration even with the starter on his team healthy. Dalvin Cook has been absolutely phenomenal this season, but Mattison has also been impressive with far less work. This past week, he even led the Vikings in rushing yards in a tough matchup and has accumulated a 48/252/1 rushing line through six games. If Cook was forced to miss time, expect Mattison to be plugged in right away as an RB1.
2. Latavius Murray (NO): 47% owned
Murray is widely owned and may not be regarded as a backup, but this isn’t the same Saints rushing game as it was last season with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara working in tandem. Kamara is the clear starter and Murray the backup. He’s a last-ditch flex option right now with only 205 total yards and one touchdown to his name, but he’d be a clear RB2 if given the starting nod. Murray averaged eight rushing touchdowns per season from 2015-18.
3. Tony Pollard (DAL): 19% owned
The Cowboys currently feature one of the best backs in the game in Ezekiel Elliott, but waiting in the wings is a very capable backup in Pollard. The fourth-round rookie from Memphis has put together some quality production this season in relief of Zeke, and he gets the benefit of playing behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. His highlight was a 16-touch, 128-yard outburst in Week 3 against Miami, showcasing his explosive playmaking abilities.
4. Rashaad Penny (SEA): 46% owned
The 2018 first-rounder has been largely a disappointment thus far into his young career, but his upside remains tremendous. In 17 games, he’s only been given 107 carries but sports a healthy 4.8 yards per carry average. Chris Carson is the lead back for now, but if ball security issues continue to be a problem or he misses time due to injury, Penny could see his value skyrocket.
5. Jaylen Samuels (PIT) and Benny Snell (PIT): 20% owned and 2% owned
James Conner has battled injuries all season, and he’s been noticeably in-and-out of the lineup over the last two weeks. In Week 5, Jaylen Samuels split work and totaled 114 yards and a touchdown, while Benny Snell totaled 89 yards on 18 touches in Week 6 with Samuels on the shelf with a knee injury. Snell is the backup to own for now, while Samuels is the better of the pair once healthy.
6. Chase Edmonds (ARI): 34% owned
Edmonds has actually been deployed fairly regularly over the last two weeks, even with David Johnson getting in his typical workload. In those games, Edmonds has compiled 153 yards, a rushing touchdown, and a receiving touchdown. He could be a league-winner if Johnson missed time. Edmonds’ involvement as a receiver out of the backfield in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense only sweetens the deal.
7. Wayne Gallman (NYG): 27% owned
Gallman has only had one crack at a full game as the Giants’ starter this season, but he turned that opportunity into a huge performance. In Week 4 against Washington, he piled up 118 scrimmage yards and two total touchdowns on 24 total touches. He wouldn’t have a problem seeing a similar workload moving forward if Saquon Barkley (ankle) continues to miss time or goes out with another injury.
8. Reggie Bonnafon (CAR): 12% owned
Christian McCaffrey has made a legitimate case for fantasy MVP and league MVP behind some otherworldly performances. His backup, Bonnafon, deserves some love as a highly-valued handcuff. He was given five carries in Week 5 and turned them into 80 yards, including a 59-yard score. Bonnafon would be a huge difference-maker on fantasy rosters if McCaffrey misses time for any reason.
9. Jamaal Williams (GB): 16% owned
Williams has stayed involved in the Packers’ offense, despite the incredible breakout of Aaron Jones. Williams struggled at times last year, but he’s looked much-improved in 2019. A starting role would make him a weekly RB2/3, especially given Green Bay’s reliance on the running game this season.
10. Darrel Williams (KC): 15% owned
Darrel Williams went for 165 yards and two touchdowns from Weeks 3-4 with Damien Williams out due to a knee injury, showing his ability to catch out of the backfield and run the ball between the tackles. If Damien Williams or LeSean McCoy are forced to miss any time, Darrel Williams will see an increased role once again.
11. Raheem Mostert (SF): 15% owned
We’ve already seen Mostert’s abilities this year in the absence of Tevin Coleman. In Weeks 2-3, Mostert totaled 230 total yards and touchdown on 28 touches while splitting time with Matt Breida. Having missed time due to injury already, Coleman isn’t a lock to be healthy for the rest of the season. Mostert has definite appeal as a high-end handcuff.
12. Malcolm Brown (LAR) and Darrell Henderson (LAR): 66% owned and 28% owned
Todd Gurley surprisingly missed last week after springing up late in the week on the injury report with a quad issue. His arthritic knee and other lower-body injuries are well-documented, and it’s entirely possible he misses more time. Brown has operated as the lead back in Gurley’s absence, but the rookie Henderson was hyped in the preseason for a reason. He’s got a ton of upside. Both backs need to be rostered, and it’s entirely possible they form a committee without Gurley, limiting the value of both.
13. Gus Edwards (BAL) and Justice Hill (BAL): 6% owned and 7% owned
The Ravens are among the most fun-heavy teams in the league, with 37.2 attempts per game. Edwards provided flex value as Baltimore’s starter last season, but he’s a one-dimensional guy, operating as a bruiser with limited involvement as a receiver. Hill is the more complete back with a higher ceiling, though both players need to be owned as handcuffs to Mark Ingram. There’s plenty of work to go around in this backfield.
14. Giovani Bernard (CIN): 8% owned
Bernard has been one of the most consistently great backups in the league since he was drafted by the Bengals in 2013. From 2013-2017, he averaged 992 yards from scrimmage. He’s been a flex play as a backup and delivered some excellent performances when given a starter’s workload over the years. Bernard would be higher on this list if not for the sputtering Bengals offense and patchwork offensive line.
15. Ryquell Armstead (JAX): 1% owned
The talented rookie out of Temple would step into a 23-touch per game role in the event Leonard Fournette is forced out of action. That role would give him plenty of upside and makes him a quality handcuff.