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Running Back Handcuff Rankings: Week 4

by Jason Kamlowsky | Featured Writer
Sep 29, 2020

This week wasn’t nearly as brutal as Week 2, and Chris Carson appears to have escaped major injury. There are some situations to monitor (Patriots, Falcons, Rams) that present some interesting angles we can play this week. Rex Burkhead, Brian Hill, and Cam Akers all represent players who could be nice targets, though the range of outcomes is wide. Before getting into the tiers, let’s briefly discuss New England’s situation.

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What to do with the Patriots’ backfield?

Just as we all predicted, Rex Burkhead scored three touchdowns Sunday and had a massive fantasy day.

Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are masters of creating a game plan that is opponent specific, so it is hard to predict who the Patriots flavor of the week running back will be. James White should return this week, which throws a further wrench into things. I am approaching Rex Burkhead with caution this week, though I will be putting in modest bids on him. In the event he has earned a bigger role than we believe (even with White coming back), he could be a nice source of touchdowns and receptions. The floor with Burkhead, and any Patriots running back, is low in a given week, but as we have seen, the ceiling is high. If you can stomach that, going after Burkhead makes a lot of sense. I, myself, am just a little more risk-averse.

Tier 1

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

1. Kareem Hunt (CLE)
Different week, the same story atop the handcuff rankings. The Browns’ running back split this week was almost 50/50, with Hunt receiving 47 percent of the snaps and 18 touches. He managed to find the end zone again this week, keeping himself firmly in the RB2/Flex conversation. Although Nick Chubb went off again, it is clear the Browns’ plan is to run the ball, and Hunt received a whopping seven carries inside the Red Zone. He should be 100 percent owned in every format.

2. Carlos Hyde (SEA)
I’m putting Hyde here because Carson went down after a dirty play by the Cowboys Trysten Hill. Early reports are that Carson’s ligaments are intact, and he escaped without serious injury, but for the mid-week waiver run, it would be wise to put in a bid on Hyde. Carson has been a workhorse for the Seahawks, but Hyde has played close to 30 percent of the snaps. So if he is the starter this week, there is 15-touch potential here in a great spot against Miami. The Seahawks should be playing with a lead, and the Dolphins just got gashed by James Robinson. Fire up your bids for Hyde this week as the top priority add among running backs who are less than 30 percent rostered.

3. Mike Davis (CAR)
After recommending Davis as an aggressive pickup for Week 3, I’m going to take a victory lap. He dominated the Carolina backfield with a 76 percent snap share and 21 total touches that included eight receptions. He led the Panthers with nine targets and racked up 91 total yards and a touchdown in a brutal matchup against the Chargers. Davis produced like a bonafide RB1 and, as we have seen in past seasons, proved to be effective in all phases of the offense. The Panthers lined him up all over the formation and didn’t look like they altered their gameplan much in the absence of Christian McCaffery. If, for some reason, Davis is still available, bid aggressively again this week. He is a lock-and-load RB2 with upside for as long as McCaffery is out.

4. Latavius Murray (NO)
Despite Alvin Kamara’s monster game, the Saints once again got Murray involved by giving him 13 touches. It was a positive development that Murray was given carries in the shootout, as he has far less game-breaking ability than the more gifted Kamara. The reality in New Orleans is that this offense runs through Kamara and Michael Thomas, as the peripheral pieces just aren’t quite as effective. In the event of a Kamara injury, Murray would likely step into a 20-plus touch role, which he has handled well in the past. He is a touchdown-dependent Flex play and one of the more prominent handcuffs in fantasy.

5. Joshua Kelley (LAC)
Kelley disappointed in a dream matchup against Carolina with just a 27 percent snap share. He was out-touched 23-10 by Austin Ekeler, and Kelley’s standalone value might be taking a hit with Justin Herbert at quarterback. The opportunity here is undeniable should Ekeler miss time with any kind of injury, but I am sliding Kelley down the rankings this week. If I rostered him, I wouldn’t drop him, but I would lower my expectations in the short term.

6. Jerick McKinnon and Jeffrey Wilson Jr. (SF)
McKinnon had a 60 percent snap share on Sunday, leading the 49ers with 17 touches and 77 yards. He hit paydirt on a tough 11-yard run where he bounced off a defender and beat two others to the pylon in the second quarter. It is hard to envision a scenario where McKinnon gets 20-plus touches, but because of his big-play ability, he doesn’t need the raw volume to produce like an RB2. McKinnon was the hot pickup last week, but this week it might be wise to spend some FAAB on Wilson, who had 15 touches and two touchdowns. Both backs should be in consideration as RB2/RB3 or flex plays against an Eagles team that struggles defensively.

7. Rams Backfield (LAR)
Darrell Henderson owned the day for the Rams with 21 touches for 120 yards and a touchdown. If you just looked at the box score, you would assume Henderson has leapfrogged Malcolm Brown, but the snap share was almost identical (50 percent for Henderson, 48 percent for Brown) despite the former getting the bulk of the workload. Most owners are going to flock to Henderson this week, but I believe this is a great time to buy low on Cam Akers. He is probably the forgotten man, and he could be had at quite the discount. If he eventually takes over, he should be an RB2 with upside.

8. Alexander Mattison (MIN)
Dalvin Cook had a big game Sunday in a shootout loss against the Titans, but Mattison was still given eight carries, three of which came inside the red zone. The Vikings are a bit of a mess on both sides of the ball, but offensively, they looked like they were beginning to figure things out. Cook will continue to be the bell cow back who dominates touches, but that bodes well for Mattison, who should have very little competition for touches in the event that Cook is injured.

9. Chase Edmonds (ARI)
Edmonds only handled 30 percent of the snaps and received five touches on Sunday. However, the story here is that Kenyan Drake disappointed in a cake matchup with Detroit. With that, we can approach Edmonds from a couple of angles: if we believe Drake is going to continue to be ineffective, it would make sense to roster Edmonds in the event he gets more work. On the other hand, it could also mean the Arizona offense will be wholly ineffective running the ball no matter who the starter is. For now, I am betting on volume (Drake had a healthy 19 touches Sunday) and believing in Edmond’s ability. He should be a solid RB2 with room for more if he inherits the Arizona backfield.

10. Tony Pollard (DAL)
Pollard had an ugly fumble on a kickoff return that pinned Dallas inside their two-yard line and eventually ended up as a safety. That might have contributed to him not getting a single carry and only one reception, but either way, he is strictly a high-ceiling handcuff at this point with very little value outside of that. I would not be betting on Pollard getting much work unless Zeke Elliott ends up with a catastrophic injury.

11. Brian Hill (ATL)
Hill played a season-high 35 percent of the snaps on Sunday and received 10 touches, scoring on a nifty 35-yard run. It was hard to nail down this situation at the beginning of the year, but it looks like Hill is emerging as the true handcuff. Hill is a bigger back (6’1/218), but he looked explosive in outrunning the Chicago secondary on Sunday, and if (when?) Gurley goes down, he would be an RB2. Make the add this week as his price is still reasonable.

12. Jamaal Williams (GB)
I am bumping Williams up this week because I believe he would be the feature back for Green Bay in the event of an injury to Aaron Jones. Williams continues to be involved on a weekly basis, and we have yet to see A.J. Dillon get a carry.

13. Zack Moss (BUF)
Sunday’s game gave us some clarity on Moss as a handcuff, because with him out with his own injury, we were able to see what the backfield distribution would like. Devin Singletary got 17 touches and played 88 percent of snaps, which put him in bell-cow territory. The issue here is that Josh Allen soaks up almost 90 percent of the red zone usage right now, which caps the backfield’s upside. Still, Moss should do no worse than RB2 numbers should Singletary go down.

14. J.K. Dobbins (BAL)
Dobbins is still sharing the backfield with Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, though he did lead the trio with 22 snaps on Monday night. I don’t want to overreact to a bad night for the Ravens offense, but for right now, he is nothing more than a speculative add as a handcuff who would form a committee with Edwards if Ingram goes down.

Tier 2

These running backs may not win you your league, but they would be a solid option if they ended up the starter.

15. D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson (DET)
Swift played just 8 percent of the snaps on Sunday, which was odd, given his usage the first two weeks, but this is Matt Patricia we are talking about. Adrian Peterson has managed to stay relevant, but it is criminal that Swift and Johnson aren’t being used more in this offense. Your guess is as good as mine as to the distribution of touches should Peterson go down.

16. Steelers Backfield (PIT)
As if the Steelers didn’t distribute touches enough, they added Anthony McFarland to the mix on Sunday, and he responded with seven touches for 49 yards. Despite only playing 12 percent of the snaps, McFarland had as many touches as Benny Snell, so it’s clear that when he is in the game, they want to get him the ball. McFarland ran a 4.44 at the combine, so he brings a fun new element to the Steelers run game. Still, this is a messy committee that may be game script dependent for the workload.

17. Giovani Bernard (CIN)
Bernard only played 27 percent of the snaps Sunday as Joe Mixon got all 17 carries for the Bengals. Bernard did have three catches for 55 yards, but the offensive line woes continue in Cincinnati. Bernard would be a back-end RB2 in a PPR should Mixon go down, but I don’t know if I’d want to put him in my lineup.

18. Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic (WAS)
McKissic was in on 53 percent of the snaps on Sunday, and with the Washington Football Team likely playing from behind, McKissic would be preferred handcuff.

Tier 3

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.

19. Jordan Howard (MIA)
20. Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman (NYG)
21. Devontae Booker (LV)
22. Darwin Thompson (KC)
23. Boston Scott (PHI)
24. Nyheim Hines (IND)
25. Royce Freeman (DEN)

This group is filled with guys who would need an injury to be relevant. I’m not sure any of them are worth a roster spot in 10 or 12-team leagues at this point.

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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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