Running Back Handcuff Rankings: Week 5
We saw some injuries in Cleveland and Los Angeles that will open up some opportunities for a few guys, including Kareem Hunt, who will hopefully be unleashed. This week we only have nine running backs in Tier 1, as we have some messy developments with the Rams and Patriots. We also move J.K. Dobbins down to Tier 2 based on Baltimore’s shared workload and their unwillingness to commit to a feature back.
These running backs would be elite options in the event of an injury.
1. Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson (CLE)
Nick Chubb went down with a knee injury Sunday and is headed for the injured reserve. Kareem is over 90% rostered, so he probably isn’t available to you, but D’Ernest Johnson almost certainly is. Johnson came in and rushed for 95 yards out-touching Hunt 13-11 as the Browns ran the ball a whopping 40 times in what is becoming their offensive identity. Johnson could very well see double-digit touches, so while Dontrell Hilliard will soak up some usage in the passing game (I wouldn’t jump to add him), Johnson is more of a non-PPR play. He is flex-worthy in that format and the priority add of the week.
2. Latavius Murray (NO)
Everyone was on the Alvin Kamara train this week (and rightfully so), but it was Latavius Murray who did damage in Detroit with two short touchdown runs and 84 total yards. Murray has now had at least 12 carries in three games this year, and he is proving to be a nice standalone flex option. The floor here can be low (Week 2 he had just 33 total yards and two receptions) but even with Kamara active, the ceiling is a game like yesterday where he had almost 20 fantasy points. In the event of an injury, Murray is a shoo-in RB1.
3. Mike Davis (CAR)
After garnering a 72% snap share and racking up over 22 points in PPR, it’s fair to wonder if Davis is the most underpaid running back in the league. Through two starts, Davis has over 200 total yards and two touchdowns with 13 receptions (he has 21 receptions if you include the game he relieved an injured Christian McCaffery) making him a bona fide RB1 in PPR. It looks like McCaffery will be out at least one more week, so ride the wave while you can and keep him stashed in case McCaffery suffers a setback.
4. Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson (LAC)
Austin Ekeler is likely to miss multiple weeks with a hyperextended knee and a hamstring pull. Joshua Kelley has been the presumed handcuff and is available in roughly 40-50% of leagues, but Jackson might be my preferred target of the two. Although neither back looked good Sunday, it was a tough matchup against Tampa Bay. Jackson has been a capable fill-in over the past two seasons when given the chance, and he’s averaging over five yards per carry and chipping in as a pass-catcher. The masses will flock to Kelley, but Jackson will be the one I spend my FAAB on.
5. Jerick McKinnon (SF)
McKinnon dominated snaps (91%) and touches Sunday night with 14 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. He added seven receptions for an additional 43 yards as he broke through as the clear handcuff to Raheem Mostert. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers handle this situation moving forward, as Kyle Shanahan has shown a proclivity for leaning on Mostert. With the defense ravaged by injuries and Jimmy Garappolo looking iffy for Week 5, it would make sense for the 49ers to commit to a run-first offensive attack. Even when Garappolo is back to 100%, San Francisco will need to protect its defense so running the football will remain a priority so McKinnon could be relevant even when Mostert is back from his injury.
6. Chase Edmonds (ARI)
Although it looks like Kenyan Drake just got the wind knocked out of him on Sunday, Edmonds might be a strong pickup based on performance. He outgained Drake (40-35) and scored a two-yard touchdown late in the game after Drake had gone out. Edmonds looks more decisive than Drake and has garnered a much larger share of the pass game work so far. Considering Drake was a major disappointment in such a cream cheese matchup, it would not surprise me if Edmonds starts to cut into the workload. I am bumping Edmonds up as a speculative add so try to get in on the ground floor this week.
7. Alexander Mattison (MIN)
Let’s be clear: Dalvin Cook is an elite running back and he can do things that only a handful of backs in the league can do. He is a workhorse who should get 30 touches a game. However, in the event of an injury to Cook, Alexander Mattison would be on par with Mike Davis in terms of production. Mattison had a nice touchdown run on Sunday that capped a drive where Cook did most of the heavy lifting and it seems he is involved just enough to warrant some flex consideration from week to week. Either way, if you have Cook, you should have Mattison rostered as well.
8. Tony Pollard (DAL)
Pollard saw almost 27% of the snaps on Sunday, which was easily a season-high. It was also a product of the Cowboys being down by three scores for most of the game so his true usage was a bit skewed. Still, Pollard turned in a highlight reel run on a pass from Dak Prescott that he caught on his knees behind the line of scrimmage. He managed to get up and scamper for a first down. He also tacked on a short touchdown run late in the game where he drove the pile into the end zone. Plays like this showcase how special of a player Pollard can be if he eventually gets an opportunity.
9. Jamaal Williams (GB)
The Packers kept rolling on Monday night despite not having Davante Adams or Allen Lazard. Jamaal Williams was heavily involved, and he played 28 snaps (Aaron Jones played 31) and caught all eight of his targets for 95 yards. He also had multiple carries inside the 20, as the Packers leaned on all of their offensive pieces. Williams is the clear handcuff to Aaron Jones and he has weekly flex appeal across all formats. Fire him up as a waiver wire add this week if he happens to be available.
These running backs may not win you your league but they would be a solid option if they ended up the starter.
10. Rams Backfield (LAR)
Just when we think he will enter the circle of trust, Darrell Henderson becomes one of the most tilting players on the weekend. Despite gaining 241 scrimmage yards the past two weeks, Henderson was in on just 39% of the snaps and lost playing time for most of the game to Malcolm Brown. It’s obvious that the Rams are going to be tough to predict, and the return of Cam Akers will only make things murkier. I am avoiding all Rams running backs for now.
11. Patriots Backfield (NE)
Damien Harris emerged as the lead back in Sony Michel’s absence this week, and he carried the ball 17 times for 100 yards. Rex Burkhead still saw 12 touches and James White had 10 (with seven receptions), so the distribution of work was spread out. This is what we have come to expect out of the Patriots, and hitting the moving target each week will be tough to figure out. Harris should be the most popular waiver add of the week in most leagues, but I will be looking elsewhere for backfield help.
11. Brian Hill (ATL)
Hill was a disappointment last night, as he only received seven touches and failed to score from inside the five late in the game. The Falcons gave the next carry to Todd Gurley, and he finished the drive. The Falcons got Ito Smith involved last night which clouds Hill’s role in the backfield in the event of a Gurley injury.
13. Zack Moss (BUF)
Moss continues to battle back from an injury, making his role in Buffalo tough to nail down right now. Devin Singletary has played well in getting over 88% of the snaps the last two weeks. There is a chance that Moss will struggle to get on the field once he is healthy, but if you have him rostered, it is probably best to hold unless you are desperate for a roster spot.
14. J.K. Dobbins (BAL)
The Ravens’ backfield is a committee that has Dobbins, Mark Ingram, and Gus Edwards all involved. For fantasy purposes, it’s hard to recommend any of the three. I keep listing Dobbins because he has the most upside, and he’s had the most consistent snap share. It will take an injury to make one of the three relevant.
15. D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson (DET)
Swift played 23 snaps this week after seeing just eight in Week 3, so spin the wheel of Lions Running Backs to determine who is the true handcuff. Swift is the most talented back on the roster, but Matt Patricia seems intent on playing Adrian Peterson in the same way that a toddler seems intent on dragging his favorite blanket to a restaurant. There is a sliver of hope for Swift if Patricia gets fired, so hang on to him for now if you have him.
16. Pittsburgh Backfield (PIT)
The Steelers had a surprise bye week due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Tennessee, so we will be in a holding pattern. They get the Eagles in a game where they should get the lead so it could be a Benny Snell week.
17. Giovani Bernard (CIN)
Bernard once again saw his snap share fall (17% this week, a season-low) as Joe Mixon went off. Bernard would be in line for a heavy workload in the event of an injury so he stays in Tier 2 but his usage at this point will be too low to consider as even a low-end RB3/Flex play.
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.
18. Nyheim Hines (IND)
19. Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic (WAS)
20. Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman (NYG)
21. Devontae Booker (LV)
22. Darwin Thompson (KC)
23. Boston Scott (PHI)
24. Jordan Howard and Matt Breida (MIA)
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, although McKissic got eight targets and should continue to see that level of usage since Washington will play from behind almost exclusively.
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