Running Back Handcuff Report: Week 2 (2021 Fantasy Football)
Outside of San Francisco and the injuries in Baltimore, Week 1 was nondescript as handcuffs go. What we are seeing is a trend towards more committee-type backfields where touches are being split between two or three guys.
A situation I’d like to spotlight is Detroit, where D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams were both heavily involved in the offense. Swift’s role here is safe and healthy: He received 68% of the snaps and picked up a whopping 11 targets. For his part, Williams is a viable fantasy piece getting nine targets and finishing with over 100 yards. Swift is undoubtedly the starter here, but the Lions are smartly giving Williams work as well.
I like backfields where the handcuff back gets work in the passing game, so Nyheim Hines and Chase Edmonds are logical targets, but my preferred stash this week is Damien Williams, who saw five targets for the Bears. He is probably one of the lower-rostered backs on this list. This week I reviewed every backfield and where we currently stand to see the landscape from a macro-perspective. The list of top-12 handcuffs is at the bottom of the article, and it’s a long read, but it might help guide your decision-making for roster construction as you move through the season.
Arizona – RBBC: Chase Edmonds, James Conner
The Cardinals were impressive in a Week 1 rout of the Titans, jumping out to an early lead. This paved the way for Conner to get 16 carries, but Edmonds was plenty busy himself with 16 total touches (four receptions) and over 100 total yards. The distribution of work in Arizona will probably look the way it did last year with both backs getting touches. Conner will be the preferred option near the goal line, with Edmonds getting the bulk of the passing game work. Both backs are on over 80% of rosters across all platforms, and, barring injury, this will be a committee.
Atlanta – Starter: Mike Davis, Handcuffs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
Davis got the start and had 18 touches (three receptions on six targets) but was largely inefficient as the Falcons offense sputtered all day. In the event of an injury, Patterson will probably not get a 15-20 touch role, but he has enough explosiveness to turn 10 touches into a fantasy-worthy day. Gallman was a gameday inactive after being signed off waivers last week, and he could eventually be the back we want on our rosters here. That said, while I had high hopes for the Atlanta offense, this isn’t a situation to invest in heavily.
Baltimore – Starter: Ty’Son Williams, Handcuff: Latavius Murray
Williams looked solid Monday night, finishing with 94 total yards and a touchdown. He will presumably continue to get the first crack at the passing game work and also mix in on early downs, but Murray led the running backs with 10 carries. Murray has been scooped up across most leagues, and he has proven to be solid as a starter over the past few years. Baltimore is one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL, so we will want to monitor this moving forward.
Buffalo – Starter: Devin Singletary, Handcuffs: Matt Breida, Zack Moss
Singletary was left to carry most of the backfield load when Zack Moss was listed as a surprise inactive. He responded with 14 touches (three receptions) for 80 yards which were serviceable as a PPR RB3/Flex. This has the look of a pass-heavy offense that will sprinkle in runs to keep defenses honest, which keeps Breida and Moss off my radar as a current target for the Week 2 waiver run.
Carolina – Starter: Christian McCaffery, Handcuff: Chuba Hubbard
McCaffery was his normal self, garnering 30 total touches (nine receptions) and 187 yards. He is a locked and loaded workhorse who will challenge for the overall RB1 spot. The way Carolina structures its offense also makes Hubbard a must-have handcuff as he would step into an every-down role in the event of a CMC injury. He will be in the top-10 below and is probably worth a stash in leagues where you have a deeper bench.
Chicago – Starter: David Montgomery, Handcuff: Damien Williams
Montgomery was the lone bright spot for Chicago, rumbling for 41 yards on his opening carry and finishing the night with 118 yards from scrimmage. Montgomery has a comfortable role, especially with Andy Dalton under center because the Bears will need to try and control the clock, but Williams was involved in getting 10 total touches (four receptions). I am a Damien Williams’ stan, so I have him stashed on a few rosters in 12+ team leagues. The best thing for this backfield would be Justin Fields taking over under center, and it would further boost Williams’ profile as a check-down option. If Montgomery were to go down, Williams would be a must-add, especially in PPR leagues.
Cincinnati – Starter: Joe Mixon, Handcuff: Samaje Perine
Things you love to see in Week 1: Mixon getting 33 touches (four receptions) and 150 total yards with a 77% snap rate. The coach-speak out of Cincinnati looks real, and Zac Taylor seems intent on getting Mixon a massive weekly workload. Perine isn’t nearly the athlete that Mixon is, but, like Carolina, we could bet on volume in the event of an injury.
Cleveland – Starter: Nick Chubb, Handcuff: Kareem Hunt
This backfield has two productive backs, but this is Nick Chubb’s backfield, and he is a bonafide RB1 even in PPR leagues. Chubb will continue to get the lion’s share of the early-down work while Kareem hunt will be sprinkled in on passing downs and situational series. I am going to tentatively rank Hunt as my #1 handcuff, but he is probably rostered in over 95% of leagues, and it would be difficult to acquire him if Chubb gets hurt.
Dallas – Starter: Ezekiel Elliott, Handcuff: Tony Pollard
Depending on your perspective, Pollard outplayed Elliott on opening night. He looked more decisive and explosive, leading Twitter to declare him as the best running back on the Dallas roster. While I wasn’t bullish on Elliott’s outlook this year, the Cowboys can’t sustain a pace where Dak Prescott throws the ball 50+ times a game. Coming out of a tough matchup, I’m not ready to move on from Elliott finishing as a top-12 running back.
Denver – RBBC: Melvin Gordon III, Javonte Williams
Gordon had the bigger box score, but a 70-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run aided that. Williams out-touched Gordon 15-14, and though his output was more modest, it was a healthy dose of touches for the rookie. I believe it is just a matter of time before Williams takes control of this backfield, so he is a definite stash for me. Gordon, for the most part, is dust.
Detroit – Starter: D’Andre Swift, Handcuff: Jamaal Williams
This game played out in a tricky fashion, with both backs producing a fantasy-relevant day. Swift was rumored to be limited heading into Week 1 but ended up with 19 touches (eight receptions) and 104 total yards. Williams almost duplicated the exact stat line with 17 touches (eight receptions) for 110 yards. Could this turn into a committee? Perhaps, but Swift played on 68% of the snaps. As we move forward, I am still betting on him getting most of the work, with Williams being a solid handcuff.
Green Bay – Starter: Aaron Jones, Handcuff: A.J. Dillon
In a surprise, the entire Packers offense was putrid on Sunday. Green Bay looked out of sync from the opening snap, and Aaron Rodgers looked uninterested. Aaron Jones had seven total touches (two receptions) for a measly 22 yards and was never a factor. He is still a top-tier option and should get right this week at home against the Lions. Dillon is purely a handcuff who would be a less explosive version of Jones.
Houston – Starter: Mark Ingram II, Handcuffs: Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson
If you had Mark Ingram getting 26 carries on your Week 1 bingo card, congratulations. I am not getting too excited here because (1) the Jaguars are dreadful, and (2) all three Texans running backs scored. Maybe Ingram will find the fountain of youth and turn in a 1,000-yard season, but I would expect a tampered-down workload moving forward. Lindsay is the running back I would most be interested in here.
Indianapolis – Starter: Jonathan Taylor, Handcuff: Nyheim Hines
The Colts played from behind all day which led to some interesting usage for their backfield. Taylor was the primary ball-carrier but led the team with six receptions, which is worth getting excited about. The wet blanket here is that Hines was still heavily involved with 15 touches (six receptions) himself. If the Colts play with a lead, Taylor will have a monster week. If they play from behind, all bets are off. This isn’t quite Josh Jacobs level stuff, but it’s worth monitoring, and Hines could be a nice PPR play.
Jacksonville – Starter: James Robinson, Handcuff: Carlos Hyde
After Travis Etienne went down, Robinson inherited the feature role he held as a league winner in 2020. However, Week 1 wasn’t kind to the Jaguars’ offense, and Robinson threw up a major dud in what should have been a smash spot. Theoretically, an Urban Meyer offense will lean heavily on the ground game, but Jackson only played 62% of the snaps Sunday. It might be tough sledding if Jacksonville is playing from behind most of the year, regardless of who is toting the ball.
Kansas City – Starter: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Handcuff: Darrel Williams
The good news for Edwards-Helaire is that he out-touched Williams 17-1 and played on 74% of the snaps. While he wasn’t ultra-productive (72 scrimmage yards), he had borderline bell-cow usage. Andy Reid has historically been a running back-friendly coach, so if you have CEH rostered, you should be encouraged by what you saw. Williams would be one of the better handcuffs in fantasy in the event of an injury as he would step into a 15-touch role immediately.
Los Angeles Chargers – Starter: Austin Ekeler, Handcuff: Justin Jackson
One of the biggest fantasy surprises of the weekend was Ekeler not getting a single target in the passing game. That he received 15 carries and the goal line work was a nice surprise, and with his hamstring injury last week, the Chargers might have been easing him into things. I am a little concerned he only played 59% of the snaps but assuming they had him on a snap count, Ekeler will be a stud. If he doesn’t, Justin Jackson has been fantasy viable in a spot-starter role before, and he would be a bet-on-volume play only.
Miami – Starter: Myles Gaskin, Handcuffs: Malcolm Brown, Salvon Ahmed
Gaskin looks like he is going to get by on volume more than efficiency, which makes sense because the Dolphins aren’t built to run the football. He only played on 54% of the snaps on Sunday, which will be something to monitor moving forward. Should we need to dive into the handcuff situation here, I’d probably lean Malcolm Brown over Salvon Ahmed, but in reality, they would probably split time, and neither would be fantasy viable.
Minnesota – Starter: Dalvin Cook, Handcuff: Alexander Mattison
One of the more clear-cut situations in fantasy, Cook is a true bell-cow back who saw 26 touches on Sunday. If he goes down with an injury, Mattison will become a must-start, but we have seen him fail in cherry situations in the past. I am personally not a fan of handcuffing Cook with Mattison and would much rather target a handcuff from another team with more upside.
New England – Starter: Damien Harris, Handcuffs: James White, Rhamondre Stevenson
Harris has a bell-cow workload Sunday with 22 total touches (with 2 receptions!) and 117 scrimmage yards. I typically have a hard and fast rule to avoid the New England backfield, but I did manage to grab a Harris on a couple of my rosters this year. With Mac Jones at quarterback and a stout defense, I’d imagine Belichick will continue to use Harris liberally. Stevenson makes for an intriguing stash as he flashed in the preseason but old friend James White would probably see an increased role in the event of an injury. This might be where my hard and fast rule in regards to the Patriots’ running backs would need to apply.
New Orleans – Starter: Alvin Kamara, Handcuff: Tony Jones Jr.
That Kamara got 23 touches on Sunday is about as good a result as you could want if you drafted him in the top-3 this offseason. He looks like he is going to have an insane usage rate, and it is probably just a matter of time until he gets more involved in the passing game. Jones also looked terrific, showing a good quick burst, and was a nice complimentary piece in the running game. He could be fantasy viable even if Kamara is healthy but would be a must-add if he got the chance to start.
New York Giants – Starter: Saquon Barkley, Handcuffs: Devontae Booker
Barkley was eased into action Sunday, only getting 11 touches, but he should see an increase in carries as soon as this week. I’m not enamored enough with the Giants’ offense to recommend stashing Booker or even picking him up as a handcuff should the need arise. The schedule is also a deterrent as they will see the Eagles and Redskins twice as well as the Buccaneers, Rams, Saints, and Chargers.
New York Jets – RBBC: Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman
Coleman led the team in carries Sunday, but this is an ugly committee at the moment. Ty Johnson is probably the back who is most available, but the one I’d bet on would be Michael Carter. He out-snapped Coleman, and by mid-season, he could end up the starter if the Jets decide to play their young guys and see what they have. Generally speaking, I’d only roster a Jets running back in 12+ team leagues.
Philadelphia – Starter: Miles Sanders, Handcuff: Kenneth Gainwell
The Eagles looked good offensively Sunday, with Jalen Hurts effectively using zone-read concepts to free up Sanders on the outside. Sanders had 19 touches (four receptions) for 113 total yards on Sunday, getting borderline elite usage for the week. Underappreciated coming into the season, he could be one of the better running back values this year. Gainwell also looked terrific on his 8-yard touchdown run, knifing through the defense into the end zone. If Gainwell gets the chance as the starter, he would be a must-start.
Pittsburgh – Starter: Najee Harris, Handcuffs: Benny Snell Jr., Kalen Ballage
Harris played all 55 snaps for the Steelers on Sunday, so while the production wasn’t there, the usage was. Give it time, Steeler fans. He’s going to pop and probably this week. As for the handcuff situation in Pittsburgh, Snell or Ballage would be a massive downgrade from Harris. So much so that I wouldn’t recommend either as they would eat into each other’s workload and are a low ceiling/low floor combination anyway. Roster Harris, forget the rest.
Seattle – Starter: Chris Carson, Handcuff: DeeJay Dallas, Rashaad Penny
Carson is another back who had borderline elite usage on Sunday, playing 77% of the snaps and getting 19 touches (three receptions). I’ve long been a Carson believer, and if he continues to get this kind of workload, he is going to blow past his ADP. Carson has been prone to injury in the past, so Penny would probably get the first crack at replacing him. Penny, if you recall, was a 1st Round selection back in 2018. I’d be willing to give him a chance, especially in PPR leagues.
San Francisco – RBBC: Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty, Trey Sermon
Trey Sermon was a surprise inactive Sunday, which left Raheem Mostert as the feature back in a plum matchup. Unfortunately, Mostert’s injury woes popped up after two carries, and he will now be out for the season. Enter Elijah Mitchell, who set the 49ers record for most rushing yards (104) in a debut performance. According to Kyle Shanahan, Mitchell simply beat out Sermon on the depth chart, so he is the priority add this week. If you have Sermon on your roster, don’t give up on him yet, but the picture may not get clear any time soon.
Tampa Bay – RBBC: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones
Jones had a crucial fumble against Dallas and never got back on the field. Fournette ended the night with 14 touches (five receptions), but Tampa elected to attack Dallas through the air, so he wasn’t needed to shoulder much of the load. There is a compelling argument to made for rostering either Jones or Fournette, but it hinges more on an injury than anything. I believe they would both be in line for 15+ touches if the other wasn’t available, but I’d avoid them outside of that scenario.
Tennessee – Starter: Derrick Henry, Handcuff: Jeremy McNichols
Here’s all you need to know here: Tennessee got behind 24-6 in the first half, and Henry still saw 17 carries. He also added three catches, which was a positive sign. In short, Henry is one of the best bell cow backs in football. McNichols would get the volume to be viable, but I think we are all smart enough to understand how big of a downgrade he would be here.
Washington – Starter: Antonio Gibson, Handcuff: J.D. McKissic
It’s happening. Gibson got bell-cow usage and was given 23 touches (three receptions) Sunday, a refreshing turn of events after a dicey preseason. With Taylor Heinicke taking over at quarterback, it would stand to reason that Ron Rivera will let Gibson shoulder a lot of the load. Jaret Patterson might get the first crack at early down work as J.D. McKissic only received one touch, which relegates him to a bench stash at best.
1. Jamaal Williams (DET) – Should be rostered as a Flex play, especially in PPR.
2. Kareem Hunt (KC) – Hasn’t lived up to the hype when used as a starter. Still in one of the top rushing offenses in football.
3. A.J. Dillon (GB) – We’ve seen what Dillon can do in limited action as he averaged more than five yards per carry in 2020. Less passing game involvement than we might like but tough between the tackles and near the goal-line.
4. Alexander Mattison (MIN) – Has flashed as a feature back when Dalvin Cook is injured. Manage expectations but would have a solid workload.
5. Tony Pollard (DAL) – Looked explosive last Thursday. Solid in the passing game, so he would have a big-time role.
6. Chuba Hubbard (CAR) – Volume-based projection makes him a top-tier option, especially in a PPR. Would almost certainly get 15-20 touches.
7. Kenyan Drake (LV) – Potential for monster upside if Jacobs goes down. PPR-worthy even as a standalone flex consideration.
8. Kenneth Gainwell (PHI) – Loved his burst on Sunday. Philadelphia getting him carries in the Red Zone is an added plus.
9. Nyheim Hines (IND) – PPR special, but it looks like he will have a role even with Jonathan Taylor getting his.
10. Tony Jones, Jr. (NO) – Looked sharp on Sunday. Saints traditionally made Latavius Murray fantasy-worthy even when Kamara was healthy. Would be an RB2 with a starter’s workload.
11. Darrel Williams (KC) – Always bet on Andy Reid’s running backs to produce. Williams makes for a sneaky stash.
12. Latavius Murrary (BAL) – Signed just last week and still got 10 carries Monday night. Could see his workload increase as he gets more comfortable in the offense.
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