Running Back Handcuff Rankings: Week 3
Week 2 in the NFL was an injury-filled disaster that was especially brutal for the running back position. Saquon Barkley’s season ended with a torn ACL, Christian McCaffery is out at least a month with an ankle injury, Raheem Mostert is likely out two-to-four weeks with a sprained MCL, and Cam Akers left the game after the Rams’ opening drive with a rib injury.
Although it’s nearly impossible to replace someone like Barkley or McCaffery from a raw production perspective, all is not necessarily lost. How we navigate injuries is almost as important as how we draft our teams, which is why the handcuff report is so important.
What to do with Devonta Freeman?
Freeman is looking like he could make his way to New York as Barkley’s replacement. Freeman is only 28 and coming off a 1,000-yard season that saw him catch 59 passes in Atlanta. The Giants only have Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman to compete with him for touches; Lewis has never been able to handle a full workload and Gallman was a healthy scratch for Week 2. If signed, it makes sense that Freeman could be a weekly RB2 once he knocks the rust off. Freeman is on less than 20 percent of rosters in most leagues, and although he won’t be cheap, he could be a lifeline for those of you looking to replace Barkley.
Here is how I would prioritize running back pickups this week:
These running backs would be elite options in the event of an injury.
1. Kareem Hunt (CLE)
The Browns featured Nick Chubb early but mixed in Hunt liberally throughout the game on Thursday night. Hunt went over 100 total yards and had two touchdowns, putting further distance between himself and the other running backs on this list. Cleveland has the look of a team that will be one of the most run-heavy in the league, so Hunt should get plenty of work. It was a little concerning to see Chubb get so much work early on, but Hunt is still a rock-solid weekly option and an elite handcuff.
2. Joshua Kelley (LAC)
Kelley moves up the list after a 25-touch performance that saw him go over 100 scrimmage yards. Justin Herbert surprisingly made his debut and the offense looked much better than it did in Week 1 as the Chargers rolled up over 480 yards of total offense. While Austin Ekeler got plenty of work, this backfield looks similar to the one in Cleveland, as it’s clear that Anthony Lynn wants to run the ball. It is hard to envision a scenario where Kelley will not be involved in the offense, although we have yet to see the Chargers in a game script where they are playing from behind. Regardless, Kelley should be a priority add this week.
3. Mike Davis (CAR)
With McCaffery looking likely to miss four-to-six weeks, Mike Davis finds himself with a 15-touch per week floor. A solid PPR target, Davis is a capable pass catcher and he showed his worth on Sunday running 17 routes and finishing with eight receptions for 74 yards. Now that we know about McCaffery’s status, it makes sense to bid aggressively on Davis as he will be a bet-on-volume option as an RB2. Whether I owned McCaffery or not, I would try to make sure Davis was on my roster by Thursday.
4. Jerick McKinnon (SF)
Tevin Coleman out-touched McKinnon 16-3 but it was McKinnon who ripped off a 55-yard run and then a 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. McKinnon has looked terrific over the first two weeks running with authority and showing good burst. Now it appears Coleman will miss a couple of weeks with a knee sprain so combined with the loss of Raheem Mostert, McKinnon finds himself in a cherry spot with the potential for 15 touches or more. Jeffrey Wilson Jr. will get some work, too, so I’m slotting McKinnon in behind Mike Davis and Devonta Freeman just based on raw projection of touches. Still, there is monster upside here if you’re willing to take on the risk.
5. Latavius Murray (NO)
The Saints offense struggled Monday with the lone bright spot being Alvin Kamara, who went over 130 scrimmage yards in looking like one of the better first-round picks on the young season. Murray only received five touches and the Saints got Ty Montgomery involved a bit, which puts a slight damper on Murray’s handcuff prospects. I still believe he would be in line for a massive workload if Kamara were to go down but he slips to #5 on the list this week with some major injuries to other starting running backs.
6. The Rams Backfield
Another week where the Rams were run-heavy, though the game flow set up well for that. One thing to note: with the score sitting at 21-16, the Rams went on a 16-play drive that ended in a field goal. On that drive, Jared Goff attempted 11 passes. Take from that what you will, but the Rams were the most pass-heavy team in football last year, and Sean McVay is sharp. We could be seeing the Rams start to throw more as they play in more competitive games. Even so, it’s hard to tell who is the true handcuff here, as Sean McVay seems intent on using multiple backs. Cam Akers went out with a rib injury after the Rams’ first drive, but before that, he had already received three carries. Henderson had the better box score on Sunday, but a lot of his production came after the game was decided. I think it makes sense to get exposure to this offense but barring a major injury, Akers would be my preferred target of the three.
7. Tony Pollard (DAL)
Pollard is the clear number two in Dallas with Zeke Elliott getting over 90 percent of the snaps and 95 percent of the touches. Still, in the event of a catastrophic injury to Elliott, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t be a borderline RB1 on volume, talent, and scheme. The thing working against Pollard is Elliott’s remarkable durability, as he has yet to miss a game due to injury since entering the league. Still, as we saw on Sunday, the NFL is brutal on the body and Pollard is one misstep away from having a feature role.
8. Alexander Mattison (MIN)
Mattison didn’t get much work on Sunday, and the Vikings got embarrassed in Indianapolis. He received just four touches, but there are still a couple of silver linings here. If Dalvin Cook were to go down, Mattison would become an elite option based on volume alone. The Vikings don’t have many weapons on offense so there is a pretty narrow distribution of touches among the skill players. Mattison is serviceable in the passing game so with the Vikings likely playing from behind a lot this year, he would immediately step into a three-down role. If you own Cook, you should own Mattison.
9. Chase Edmonds (ARI)
Kenyan Drake again dominated touches this week, and that enhances my obsession with Edmonds as a handcuff. The best backups to target are the ones who will have minimal competition for carries, and Edmonds would own that backfield in the event of an injury. He has the trust of the Arizona coaching staff too, as Edmonds has a larger target share (9) than Drake (4) through two weeks, only furthering my conviction in him as a potential league-winner.
10. J.K. Dobbins (BAL)
Dobbins’ usage in Week 2 looks surprising on the surface, but the Ravens were largely disappointing on offense despite scoring 33 points. With Houston being listless offensively, the Ravens jumped out to a big lead and gave Gus Edwards 10 carries so it was the worst-case scenario for Dobbins. This backfield could be a messy situation, but I still believe that Dobbins is by far the most explosive back they have, and, at some point, John Harbaugh will unleash him.
11. Zack Moss (BUF)
The Buffalo running game has yet to get going but when Josh Allen is playing as well as he is, there is no reason to try and force that issue. Still, Moss got eight carries yesterday and closed the gap with Devin Singletary (12 touches) in terms of raw opportunities. I see no reason to think Moss wouldn’t get 15-20 touches every week if Singletary were to go down. For now, he slots in at the lowest end of this group as he doesn’t possess the weekly ceiling of those ahead of him.
These running backs may not win you your league, but they would be a solid option if they ended up the starter.
12. Jamaal Williams (GB)
Aaron Jones had a monster day that overshadowed Williams’ running through the Lions for almost eight yards per tote. If I thought the Packers would give Williams 80 percent of the carries if Jones were to go down, I would have him easily inside my top-five.
13. Myles Gaskin (MIA)
I egregiously overlooked Gaskin last week, but after he dominated the snap share and touches through two weeks, it’s time to give him his due. I am still presuming Jordan Howard is the official starter, but Gaskin has 88 snaps to Howard’s 17, and he’s been a serviceable PPR option. He’s less than 20 percent owned, so Gaskin is a sneaky strong add as a potential flex play.
14. Dion Lewis/Wayne Gallman (NYG)
Dion Lewis played 50 snaps on Sunday after Barkley went down, as he was the only active option available. He ended up with 14 total touches and four receptions, and he salvaged his day with 36 yards receiving. I don’t see Lewis being a feature back, and there were whispers back in the summer that the Giants believe that Gallman could be the guy if need be. In the event Freeman isn’t signed, I would prioritize Gallman over Lewis.
15. D’Andre Swift (DET)
D’Andre Swift has quietly led the Detroit backfield in snaps the first two weeks. With the Lions going nowhere fast, look for them to give the rookie plenty of extended playing time once the calendar rolls to October. If you have a roster spot, he’s a good speculative add.
16. Benny Snell/Jaylen Samuels (PIT)
Benny Snell fumbled again on Sunday, this time giving the ball back to the Broncos with the Steelers up 26-14 and in control of the game. James Conner played 50 snaps and ran for over 100 yards and a touchdown, which threw some cold water on Snell taking over the backfield. Snell is a drop unless you own Conner.
17. Giovani Bernard (CIN)
Giovani Bernard is getting too many snaps to ignore right now, and that makes him a nice buy-low in leagues where you have Joe Mixon rostered. Somehow, I think Zac Taylor has plans on keeping Bernard relevant.
18. Peyton Barber/J.D. McKissic (WAS)
Antonio Gibson seized control of the Washington backfield, and it looks like Barber will be largely phased out with the WFT facing negative game scripts most weeks. McKissic got some surprising work but with Washington falling behind early, that played to his strength.
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.
There’s not much to see here other than Darwin Thompson out-snapping Darrel Williams, which should come as no surprise after Williams’s Week 1 flop. Hyde ceded the majority of the work to Chris Carson, which makes sense since Carson is a monster. Hines was a bust, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given the game flow and Jonathan Thomas getting 25 carries. None of these guys are priority adds at this point but I want to mention them to keep their names fresh.
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