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Running Back Handcuff Report: Week 3 (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Jason Kamlowsky | Featured Writer
Sep 22, 2021

Week Two is in the books and we have some movement in the handcuff rankings with a certain Cowboys’ running back making a big move. But first, let’s look at some data from the first two weeks of the season. Right now we only have 12 running backs who have received at least 70% of their respective teams’ touches. Of that 12, eight have at least an 80% touch share:

Harris, Henry, CMC, and Cook were expected to be here. Mixon is a pleasant surprise on that list and we’ve finally seen the Bengals devote a full complement of touches to him. Carson is more a product of the lack of other options in the Seattle backfield while Davis and CEH are highly unlikely to be on this list at the end of Week 4. But what does this data tell us?

For starters, we are seeing is a greater devotion to timeshare backfields. Where the zero-RB strategy used to capitalize more on running back being a volatile position from a health perspective, it is now a place to identify values. We can look at backfields where players like James White, Jamaal Williams, and Tony Pollard offer more than just an insurance policy for the starter. These are true RB2/RB3 plays on a given week who possess standalone value separate from their handcuff status.

We are also seeing situations where Red Zone usage is a critical factor in our weekly decision-making process. Take Kansas City as an example. Clyde Edwards-Helaire received 13 carries on Sunday but only accounted for 46 yards and didn’t chip in anything in the passing game. He also fumbled, meaning his overall fantasy output was less than Darrel Williams who finished his night with three carries for -2 yards and a touchdown.

Gone are the days where simply accounting for volume was enough to recommend a player as a “good” play. Factoring in how much they are involved in the passing game and where their usage is coming on the field has never been more important. As we look at the backfield report for each team and the handcuff rankings, you’ll see the top-10 is heavy with players who are dual-threat at the position or have a locked-in short-yardage role on their team.

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As we work our way through the season, some of these pickups need to be seen in the context of a long-term investment in the position more than a weekly winner. Picking up Cordarrelle Patterson today may not pay dividends this week but by Week 8, you might have yourself a full-time starter. Keep that in mind as you read the article so you can use those precious FAAB dollars wisely.

Arizona – Starter: Chase Edmonds, Handcuff: James Conner
The Arizona offense is running through Kyler Murray this year so Edmonds is the back you want here. No longer a committee, I’ve moved Conner into handcuff territory but he would be low-hanging fruit. I’d drop him in shallower leagues.

Atlanta – Starter: Mike Davis, Handcuffs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
The Falcons are a mess, although they made some strides from Week 1. Davis got 16 touches (seven receptions) for 63 uninspiring yards. He got a whopping 89% of the touches so the work is there. However, Patterson (he’s being called a WR by many sites, enhancing his value) was clearly involved with 12 touches (five receptions) for 69 nice yards and a touchdown as well. I’ll be putting in decent FAAB bids on Patterson this week.

Buffalo – Starter: Devin Singletary, Handcuffs: Matt Breida, Zack Moss
Singletary once again got good usage with 15 total touches (two receptions) for 91 yards. He ripped off a 46-yard touchdown run to start the game too. Moss got two cheap touchdowns from inside the 10 in the fourth quarter but the game was well in-hand at that point. I think Moss is vastly overrated but he would be good for volume and a goal-line role if Singletary gets injured.

Carolina – Starter: Christian McCaffrey, Handcuff: Chuba Hubbard
Another week, another 30-touches for CMC. Hubbard remains nothing more than a volume-based handcuff to fantasy’s best running back.

Chicago – Starter: David Montgomery, Handcuff: Damien Williams
Montgomery got bell-cow usage on Sunday with 23 touches (three receptions). Williams was far less involved as the game stayed close throughout but he was the only other running back to get touches. Keep him stashed if you have him.

Cincinnati – Starter: Joe Mixon, Handcuff: Samaje Perine
Mixon was the only Cincinnati running back to register a carry and he finished with 22 touches (two receptions). After two weeks, he ranks second in the NFL in touch share among running backs. Perine ran as the backup and would be a volume-dependent RB2 in the case of an injury.

Cleveland – Starter: Nick Chubb, Handcuff: Kareem Hunt
Last week I wrote, “This team has two productive backs, but this is Nick Chubb’s backfield and he is a bonafide RB1 even in PPR leagues.” This week, Hunt out-touched Chubb 14-12, and some fella named Demetric Felton had a 33-yard touchdown reception out of the backfield. Chubb still managed to rush for 95 yards and a touchdown but games like this one make him maddening to roster.

Dallas – Starter: Ezekiel Elliott, Handcuff: Tony Pollard
Oh boy. Pollard had 140 scrimmage yards and a touchdown while averaging 10 yards per touch. Elliott had 97 yards and a touchdown of his own so it isn’t like he was dusty but could this be turning into a committee? It might be. Dallas used Pollard all over the formation in the absence of Michael Gallup and he should be snapped up this week if he’s available.

Denver – RBBC: Melvin Gordon III, Javonte Williams
This is still a committee but it’s easy to see a path where Williams is getting most of the touches by midseason. Gordon averaged just 2.4 YPC yesterday while Williams piled up 74 total yards. Be patient here.

Detroit – Starter: D’Andre Swift, Handcuff: Jamaal Williams
Swift and Williams were both heavily involved and this would appear to be the game plan for Detroit. Swift is the starter and has a high weekly ceiling but Williams will almost certainly get 10+ touches each week. I’d be fine rostering either one.

Green Bay – Starter: Aaron Jones, Handcuff: A.J. Dillon
Jones had a huge bounce back this week with four touchdowns and over 100 scrimmage yards Monday night. Dillon is still getting sprinkled in so don’t give up on him yet. If Jones misses time, Dillon would be a shoo-in RB2.

Houston – Starter: Mark Ingram II, Handcuffs: Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson
Last week I said Lindsay was the back I wanted here and while he managed to hit paydirt, Ingram received the bulk of the work. If Tyrod Taylor is out and Davis Mills ends up starting, Ingram may be leaned on quite a bit. If you have him, hold onto him but just know it will take him falling into the end zone to make an impact.

Indianapolis – Starter: Jonathan Taylor, Handcuff: Nyheim Hines
This offense is a mess right now but Taylor received 15 carries so at least he’s getting the workload. Problem is, Hines only touched the ball twice while Marlon Mack got five carries. I’d keep Hines rostered but it’s hard to tell what Frank Reich is up to on a week-to-week basis.

Jacksonville – Starter: James Robinson, Handcuff: Carlos Hyde
Robinson had 14 touches (three receptions) for 64 listless yards. The best thing I can say here is that we know who the clear-cut starter is as he was given 88% of the touches. Hyde as the handcuff is only interesting if you enjoy stat lines that include 12 carries for 38 yards and no touchdowns.

Kansas City – Starter: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Handcuff: Darrel Williams
Edwards-Helaire out-touched Williams 13-3, so if you are looking for upside, there it is. The downside is CEH lost a crucial fumble late in the game and got vultured on a short-yardage touchdown. Williams makes for an intriguing stash this week who might see an uptick in usage.

Las Vegas Raiders – Starter: Josh Jacobs, Handcuffs: Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
Jacobs was out Sunday and the backfield was fairly predictable: Barber was the early-down preference (Drake was largely ineffective here) while Drake was the passing down back. The Raiders offense has been running through Derek Carr so Drake is the upside play for sure and the one I’d want.

Los Angeles Chargers – Starter: Austin Ekeler, Handcuff: Justin Jackson
Ekeler got 18 touches with 9 receptions so we are moving in the right direction there. Jackson would be the primary handcuff and I think he is worth a stash as a 12-15 touch RB2, although he needs to his paydirt to truly pay off.

Los Angeles Rams – Starter: Darrell Henderson, Jr., Handcuff: Sony Michel
Henderson has handled himself well early on but he got banged up on Sunday and Michel saw 10 carries. I think Michel is a bad fit for the Rams’ offense and he will be a touchdown-dependent RB2 if Henderson misses time. Still, he could pop for a couple of scores so if you have him, keep him.

Miami – Starter: Miles Gaskin, Handcuffs: Malcolm Brown, Salvon Ahmed
The Dolphins were shut out and with Tua Tagovailoa getting hurt, they never got untracked Sunday. All three running backs saw at least five carries but nothing has changed in the pecking order. I’d knock Gaskin down my rankings if Tua misses time.

Minnesota – Starter: Dalvin Cook, Handcuff: Alexander Mattison
Another monster day for Cook who finished with 148 total yards. I managed to add Mattison to a couple of rosters but Cook is a bonafide stud who gets 90% of the work.

New England – Starter: Damien Harris, Handcuffs: James White, Rhamondre Stevenson (Inactive Week 2)
Harris led the way again with 17 touches and a touchdown but in PPR formats, James White is carving out a nice role as a potential RB2/RB3 play. He had 11 touches including six receptions, putting him on pace to have 100 catches this year.

New Orleans – Starter: Alvin Kamara, Handcuff: Tony Jones, Jr.
This was a rough week for the Saints, particularly on the ground. Kamara got 12 total touches in a disappointing performance that I am going to hope is an anomaly. The touch percentage (75%) is healthy. Jones remains a top handcuff option based on volume alone.

New York Giants – Starter: Saquon Barkley, Handcuffs: Devontae Booker
Barkley got more work than I thought he would on Thursday with 15 touches (two receptions). It’s clear he is not yet 100% but he is getting there and he showed flashes, especially on his 41-yard run in the 1st half. Booker will crack the top-15 handcuffs this week.

New York Jets – RBBC: Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman
Carter and Johnson combined for 25 touches as the Jets fell behind early which severely limits Coleman’s usage. I’m still betting on Carter emerging as the go-to back here, hopefully, sooner than later. He saw his touch percentage jump to 43% this week. I’m encouraged.

Philadelphia – Starter: Miles Sanders, Handcuff: Kenneth Gainwell
Sanders got the bulk of the early-down work Sunday but the real story here is that Gainwell continues to get touches. He has made Boston Scott irrelevant which is a positive sign for his prospects if Sanders goes down. I’d be scooping Gainwell everywhere this week.

Pittsburgh – Starter: Najee Harris, Handcuffs: Benny Snell, Jr., Kalen Ballage
Harris didn’t play 100% of the snaps but he has a 94% touch share through two weeks. I wouldn’t consider another back on this roster even as a handcuff. Harris has had a hard time getting going behind Pittsburgh’s mediocre line and he’s significantly more talented than Snell or Ballage. Those two would be unusable for fantasy even if they were starting.

Seattle – Starter: Chris Carson, Handcuff: DeeJay Dallas, Rashaad Penny, Alex Collins? Travis Homer?
Seattle is highly efficient but it is one of the most low-volume offenses in the NFL. Carson was once again the workhorse with 13 carries and two touchdowns so he came through. Behind him though? It’s hard to say. Alex Collins saw some carries and Travis Homer plays on passing downs. I’d avoid it altogether.

San Francisco – RBBC: Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty, Trey Sermon
It’s hard to envision a worse outcome for Trey Sermon than a fumble on his first NFL carry. He registered just one carry against the Eagles after that. Elijah Mitchell was clearly the lead dawg here and should continue to serve in that capacity. Whether or not he was worth the FAAB money is a Twitter argument waiting to happen but he’s the guy for now.

Tampa Bay – Starter: Leonard Fournette, Handcuff: Ronald Jones
Ronald Jones played on just 41% of the snaps Sunday as Fournette was the lead back with 15 touches (four receptions). I’d be comfortable dropping Jones – who I moved into handcuff territory – if I needed a roster spot.

Tennessee – Starter: Derrick Henry, Handcuff: Jeremy McNichols
Henry was awesome on Sunday with 35 carries for 182 yards and three touchdowns in carrying the Titans to victory. What’s most exciting is his involvement in the passing game as he caught six passes for 55 yards. If that keeps up, he will challenge CMC as the RB1 in PPR. McNichols is, at best, a volume-based stash.

Washington – Starter: Antonio Gibson, Handcuff: J.D. McKissic
Week 2 in the NFL and we know nothing. Gibson was vultured at the goal-line by J.D. McKissic and had virtually no passing game role. Was this a byproduct of a short week? Is McKissic still going to be involved? Is Ron Rivera full of it? I’m inclined to believe it is a combination of the three so I’m not panicking yet. I still think Gibson can be a workhorse.

Handcuff Rankings

1. Tony Pollard (DAL) – Moving Pollard way up after his performance Sunday. Will consistently be part of a strong offensive environment, especially with Michael Gallup out.
2. Jamaal Williams (DET) – Remains one of the top handcuffs in fantasy. Detroit offense is devoid of playmakers and Williams has a secure role as a standalone piece.
3. Kareem Hunt (CLE) – Hunt is a reliable backup who has a proven track record of production when given starter’s reps. Cleveland’s offense remains run-heavy, boosting his stock.
4. A.J. Dillon (GB) – Big bounce back for the Packers this week. Dillon is the top backup option in Green Bay which makes him a top-5 option as a handcuff.
5. Kenneth Gainwell (PHI) – Another big mover this week, Gainwell is quickly becoming one of my favorites on this list. He is a target in redraft for sure but I’d be looking to get him in dynasty as well.
6. James White (NE) – PPR-special as his passing game role is secure as a standalone option. As steady as they come.
7. Cordarelle Patterson (ATL) – Not entirely sure what to make of his usage but I’m intrigued. Has always had explosive upside. If he has WR-eligibility, could be a home run.
8. Sony Michel (LAR) – If he’s available, pick him up. Could be the starter this week.
9. Alexander Mattison (MIN) – Dalvin Cook insurance but Vikings might put the offense in the hands of Kirk Cousins if that happens.
10. Chuba Hubbard (CAR) – Mid-tier option based on volume but CMC is still king at running back.
11. Tony Jones, Jr. (NO) – Potential for increased touches makes him a top-10 option. Need to see more out of the Saints’ offense with Jameis at the controls.
12. Darrel Williams (KC) – High touch count hasn’t been there yet but CEH’s fumble on Sunday night might open the door.
13. Nyheim Hines (IND) – Moves down a bit after only getting two touches Sunday. Slight bump in PPR leagues.
14. Kenyan Drake (LV) – Ceded early-down work to Peyton Barber but had a solid PPR week. Probably more projection than production.
15. Justin Jackson (LAC) – Would be nice Ekeler insurance who has been productive in the past. Less of a receiver but can stack up fantasy points if given a Red Zone role.

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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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