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Running Back Handcuff Rankings: Week 1

by Jason Kamlowsky | @JasonKamlowsky | Featured Writer
Sep 7, 2020

We’ve officially made it: Welcome to Week 1 of the NFL season.

Each week I will be ranking the top-24 handcuffs in fantasy football based on both their league-winning upside and their standalone flex appeal. This list will be a living document that will help guide your waiver wire claims and FAAB bids, and it should be taken at face value for that particular week.

I have the list broken down into three tiers: Potential League Winners, Would-Be Weekly Starters, and Wait & See. The running backs who are Potential League Winners get a longer explanation than the others, though I did give a small blurb for the other two tiers as well.

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Potential League Winners

These running backs would be elite options in the event of an injury.

1. Kareem Hunt (CLE)
Hunt is easily the best handcuff in fantasy. His combination of standalone value and league-winning upside should Nick Chubb go down are unrivaled among anyone on this list. Despite playing just eight games in 2019, Hunt had 37 receptions and over 450 combined yards, giving him weekly flex appeal, especially in PPR leagues. In Hunt’s two seasons as a starter in Kansas City, he averaged over 110 total yards per game, so we are talking about an elite talent. If you roster Chubb, Hunt is almost a must-have. If you don’t, he is worth the roster spot across all formats, so correct your draft-day mistake and go grab him.

2. Latavius Murray (NO)
Alvin Kamara already had an epidural, and that should be a bigger deal than what it was reported as. In any event, if Kamara misses time, Murray becomes a shoo-in RB1. Last season, Murray racked up over 300 total yards and four touchdowns in the two weeks that Kamara missed in the middle of the year. Murray has less of a standalone weekly role than Hunt does, but should Kamara miss time, he would inherit a three-down role that includes a 30-touch ceiling. Simply put: If you roster Kamara, you should roster Murray as well.

3. J.K. Dobbins (BAL)
John Harbaugh has already stated that Dobbins will have a “significant” role in the offense, so we are off and running with the rookie hype. I will throw some cold water on that, at least temporarily, because Mark Ingram has earned the trust of the Baltimore staff and was tremendous last season. That said, I can see a path where Dobbins is the back to own in Baltimore at some point this season. He was explosive at Ohio State, and he finished 2019 as the school’s lone 2,000-yard rusher in a season. He has the draft capital going for him as well, so there is a chance that this isn’t typical coach speak. If it tells you anything, I have Dobbins rostered in a couple of places, and I have zero shares of Mark Ingram.

4. Marlon Mack/Jonathan Taylor (IND)
The Colts should be much-improved on offense this season, and their running back situation is in good shape. The Colts’ selection of Jonathan Taylor last spring muddies things a bit from a workload perspective. For now, it’s best to assume that Taylor will split carries with Marlon Mack, but an injury to one would open up a lot of work for the other. Mack was the better value on draft day considering he has back-to-back 1,000 scrimmage yard seasons, and we may need a few weeks to get clarity on who is the true handcuff.

5. Phillip Lindsay (DEN)
Denver’s signing of Melvin Gordon was puzzling, considering that Lindsay started his career with two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and averaged almost 5 YPC. It looks like Gordon will receive the bulk of the early-down work while Lindsay will be mixed in and used in the passing game. Lindsay should receive enough touches to be a weekly flex play, especially in PPR. It’s also worth noting that Gordon has only played 16 games once in his career, so we should see Lindsay in a featured role at some point this year.

6. Tony Pollard (DAL)
Tony Pollard is a supremely gifted athlete with the ceiling of a top-three running back if Zeke Elliott were to go down. He has shown the ability to break off some highlight-reel plays, and his work in the passing game would give him an immediate three-down role. He had over 500 scrimmage yards and averaged 5.3 YPC last season in very limited work, giving me a lot of confidence in this ranking. Running behind the Dallas offensive line doesn’t hurt either. If you have Zeke, Pollard makes for a nice insurance policy.

7. Alexander Mattison (MIN)
Alexander Mattison had a lot of helium earlier this summer when Dalvin Cook looked like he might hold out. Cook has battled injuries throughout his career, and the Vikings are one of the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL, so Mattison could find himself in a cherry spot at some point this year. Mattison isn’t nearly as elusive as Cook is, but he averaged 4.62 YPC in spot duty as a rookie. That should inspire confidence in his ability to produce if given the chance.

8. Tevin Coleman (SF)
Kyle Shanahan won’t shy away from a committee, though Raheem Mostert’s work down the stretch in 2019 suggests that he’ll get most of the work early on. For now, this assumes that Mostert is the starter in San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean Coleman won’t have a role. He’s had at least 700 scrimmage yards in each season since 2016, and he is familiar with Shanahan’s scheme as the two were together in Atlanta. Coleman is also adept in the passing game, so if he were to gain a stranglehold on the job in San Francisco, he would be an immediate RB1.

9. Chase Edmonds (ARI)
The Cardinals only kept three running backs on the roster coming out of camp, which suggests they think Kenyan Drake is healthy. It also is a vote of confidence in Edmonds as the backup, as they believe he would be a capable fill-in if called upon. Edmonds is a good fit for the Arizona offense as he operates well in space and can catch the ball out of the backfield. If Drake’s absence in camp is more than just a precautionary measure to limit him, Edmonds could be a savvy add ahead of Week 1.

10. Zack Moss (BUF)
Zack Moss might end up the Bills starter if you are to believe the hype coming out of Orchard Park. At worst, it sounds like he will get most of the work inside the 10-yard line, which would give him weekly flex appeal in standard leagues. As we saw last year with Frank Gore, the Bills seem to favor a back built like Moss over presumed starter Devin Singletary. If Moss does inherit Gore’s role, he was one of the best values in fantasy at his 10th round ADP.

Would-Be Weekly Starters

11. Justin Jackson (LAC)
12. Matt Breida (MIA)
13. Boston Scott (PHI)
14. Benny Snell, Jr. (PIT)
15. Duke Johnson (HOU)
16. Darrell Henderson (LAR)
17. Darrel Williams (KC)
18. Mike Davis (CAR)

These running backs may not win you your league, but they would be a solid option if they ended up the starter. Of this group, Jackson has proven to be effective, which is why he is ranked highest. Breida and Scott may not be 20-touch guys, but they only need one play to pop in a given week. Duke Johnson is better than David Johnson, but Bill O’Brien is too dense to realize what he has there. Williams and Davis would be starting options based on workload alone, though they would be a major downgrade from their respective team’s starter.

Wait & See

19. Ito Smith (ATL)
20. Giovani Bernard (CIN)
21. Jamaal Williams (GB)
22. Tarik Cohen (CHI)
23. Frank Gore (NYJ)
24. Carlos Hyde/Rashaad Penny (SEA)

This group has running backs who we will get some clarity on in Week 1. They could move up depending on their role. Everyone listed here could be an option, or they could be waiver wire fodder. Smith and Bernard don’t seem to have the trust of their coaching staffs, which makes them a tough buy. Cohen is explosive, but he doesn’t have the size to withstand a lot of traditional early-down work. Gore, Hyde, and Penny are lottery tickets I would avoid.

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Jason Kamlowsky is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JasonKamlowsky.

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