Running Back Handcuff Rankings: Week 2
Week 1 saw teams split carries amongst multiple backs more than we have seen in any season-opening weekend in recent memory. The true workhorse running backs we have been accustomed to seeing did not receive anything near their typical workload. That’s primarily because there were no preseason games, but it opened the door for players like J.K. Dobbins, Joshua Kelley, and Alexander Mattison to have expanded roles.
Moving forward, we will likely see an increase in the market share of touches for backs like Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara. How quickly they are given their regular workload is up in the air, but we should expect to see them settle in at closer to 20 touches or more in the next few weeks. Some situations we need to watch moving forward include Mark Ingram and Austin Ekeler. Of those two, I’m the least concerned about Ekeler, as he earned a healthy touch share (20 total), but he just needs to be more involved in the passing game. Ingram is going to have to fend off Dobbins for most of the year, which is something I don’t think he’ll be able to do.
This week still sees Kareem Hunt as the top handcuff in fantasy football, as he had 17 total touches and has now outscored Nick Chubb in seven of his last 10 games. His involvement in all facets of the offense is making this look more and more like a committee, albeit one with two capable options. I’ve broken the handcuffs into three groups: Potential League Winners, Would-Be Weekly Starters, and Lottery Tickets.
Potential League Winners
These running backs would be elite options in the event of an injury.
1. Kareem Hunt (CLE)
The Browns’ offense looked lackluster overall on Sunday, but Hunt and Nick Chubb combined for 132 yards on the ground. Hunt had more carries (13) than Chubb (10), solidifying his spot as the top handcuff in fantasy football. Cleveland’s passing game was never in-sync, and with Baker Mayfield being so uneven, the Browns should go to a more run-heavy approach and scheme ways to get Hunt the ball. If Chubb goes down, Hunt is an elite option.
2. J.K. Dobbins (BAL)
I’m hesitant to call this is a committee because I believe that we’ll see teams use more than one running back early in the season. That said, Dobbins moves up after out-snapping Mark Ingram and scoring two touchdowns in Week 1. Although he only averaged 3.14 yards on his seven carries, Dobbins was very involved in the offense. They started sprinkling him into the game in the second quarter, and both of Dobbins’s touchdown runs came from inside the five. I think Dobbins will own this backfield at some point this season.
3. Latavius Murray (NO)
The Saints struggled to run the ball, and they averaged just 2.4 YPC in a tough matchup against Tampa Bay’s stout front-seven. The good news is that Murray had a healthy 15 carries on Sunday, and he was involved in the offense from the first series of the game. Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see how Sean Payton distributes carries because Alvin Kamara, despite scoring twice, wasn’t able to get going. If Murray is going to get 12-15 carries a week, he has obvious flex appeal.
4. Alexander Mattison (MIN)
Mattison had himself a nice day with 10 touches (four receptions) for 80 scrimmage yards on Sunday. Dalvin Cook is very much the top dog in this offense, but if he were to go down, Mattison would be a potential league winner. He is a top-20 running back who just happens to be playing behind a top-five running back. If you have Cook, Mattison should be on your roster as well.
5. Joshua Kelley (LAC)
Kelley had a big role in his debut with 12 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown. Austin Ekeler still received 20 touches, so it’s clear that the Chargers plan is to lean on the run to slow the game down. Kelley is firmly in play as a flex option this week, and if he continues to see carries inside the 10, he will be a rock-solid weekly option. The only negative here is that Kelley didn’t get a single target, so his value in PPR leagues takes a slight hit.
6. Malcolm Brown/Cam Akers (LAR)
The Rams were one of the most run-heavy teams in the league Week 1, and they gave Brown and Akers a healthy dose of touches. Brown went over 100 scrimmage yards and scored two touchdowns, but I think that Akers will emerge at some point this year. If the Rams commit to running the football like this, both will be viable options.
7. Tony Pollard (DAL)
The bad news here is that Pollard saw only four touches on Sunday night, as Zeke Elliott had a massive 86 percent market share of the opportunities for Dallas. The good news is that Pollard looked sharp, and the Cowboys will try to keep him involved despite Elliott’s presence as the alpha dog. In the event of an injury to Elliott, I think the Cowboys would go to a more aggressive downfield passing attack. I don’t know if Pollard would get 25 touches, but I also don’t think he would need that many to be a fantasy-viable RB1. He is one of the most explosive running backs I saw on Sunday, and I would keep him stashed if I had him.
8. Benny Snell/Jaylen Samuels (PIT)
James Conner sprained his left ankle Monday night against the Giants, which means that Snell might be the starter this week. It would make sense for Snell to see an increased role either way. He was much more decisive on the night than Conner was, and his downhill running style seems to fit the strength of the Steelers’ offensive line. Snell won’t get much work in the passing game — but enter Jaylen Samuels, who was on the roster bubble this preseason. Samuels has been useful over the past two years when called upon, and he would be Snell’s primary backup if Conner is out.
9. Chase Edmonds (ARI)
Edmonds operated as the clear number-two behind Kenyan Drake, who out-touched him 18-9, but it’s clear that Arizona likes what they have here. Edmonds scored on a touchdown catch off of play-action out of a full-house backfield formation. He showed off his elusiveness in catching the ball at the 10-yard line and as he beat the defense to the pylon. If Drake were to miss time, Edmonds would be a lock-and-load RB2 in a PPR.
10. Zack Moss (BUF)
Moss saved fantasy owners with a receiving touchdown where he did a nice job of finding a hole in the defense on a Josh Allen scramble. He played 44 percent of the snaps and had four targets, but I thought that he looked sluggish, and he gained just 11 yards on nine carries. The Bills jumped out to a big lead, so it would have been a good sign if Moss had ended up having a decent day. For now, we can be encouraged by his snap share, though he is a roll-the-dice flex play as long as Devin Singletary is healthy.
Would-Be Weekly Starters
These running backs may not win you your league, but they would be a solid option if they ended up the starter.
This group has some intrigue with some guys who had bigger roles than I had anticipated on Sunday. One of the first major injuries of the season was Marlon Mack’s torn Achilles. Hines had a big day on Sunday, but that’s a product of his familiarity with the offense. He will make a nice PPR pick-up this week, and he should be active in the passing game over the next few weeks.
The Barber and Gibson combination in Washington looks to be exactly what Ron Rivera had in mind. Gibson was involved early, and Barber did the heavy lifting when Washington had the lead late in the game. Of the two, I would prefer Gibson in the long term. Boston Scott had a somewhat disappointing day, although he did turn 11 touches into 54 yards. We probably should have tempered our enthusiasm for Scott, but the fantasy community loves to overstate opportunity. If he had gotten more involved in the passing game, he would have salvaged his day fantasy-wise.
Jamaal Williams out-touched A.J. Dillon 11-2 and got some work in the red zone. If Aaron Jones goes down, I think that this will be a committee to avoid, as I can envision a scenario where the Packers would go pass-heavy. Frank Gore had as many carries as Le’Veon Bell did against Buffalo, but this Jets team is really bad. Gore will be an RB2 on opportunity alone, as it looks like Bell will miss time with a hamstring injury. Even without that, Bell looked somewhat disinterested, and the Jets’ season looks lost already. Gore could continue to see an uptick in usage even without the injury.
This group has running backs who could be in for major workloads in the event of an injury. They could end up winning you a week in a pinch.
Booker looked surprisingly nimble on Sunday, but Josh Jacobs is without a doubt the lead runner in Las Vegas. I still think that Booker could be an effective back, hence the placement at No. 18 on this list. Darrel Williams ran too upright on Thursday and didn’t manage to run through contact at all. It was a tough night for him, and he probably isn’t going to be relevant barring an injury. Swift dropped the winning touchdown in the end zone against Chicago. He will learn from that, but for now, this looks like Adrian Peterson’s backfield.
Carlos Hyde is turning into Frank Gore-lite. He just refuses to go away, as he led the Seahawks in carries against Atlanta. Philip Lindsay suffered a foot injury Monday night that now places Royce Freeman as Denver’s backup. This will probably mean more work for Melvin Gordon, and I would leave Freeman on the waiver wire.
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