Running Back Handcuff Rankings (2022 Fantasy Football)
We are working our way through the end of June, which means it is time to prepare for the upcoming NFL season. We have rolled out our redraft kit here at FantasyPros, and as part of that, I am unveiling my running back handcuff rankings for June.
Handcuffs are an essential part of draft day strategy in redraft leagues. As the NFL has shifted towards favoring committee backfields, securing running backs who get a dominant touch share has become more critical. Gone are the days on most teams with true 20+ touch bell-cow backs. Identifying the handcuffs who would inherit those roles can mean the difference between drafting someone who can save your season and one that disappoints, leaving you on the outside looking in come December’s playoffs.
These rankings are done with a PPR scoring mindset, and I’ve added individual blurbs on the top-10 with a sentence or two for 11-32. This list will be a working document throughout the season, and once Week 1 gets here, it will be updated weekly. With that explanation in mind, let’s dive in.
The Top-10: Potential League Winners
After finishing as the RB29 in fantasy with over 1,000 total yards in 2021, AJ Dillon sits atop the handcuff rankings heading into this season. Dillon is built more in the mold of a downhill runner, complimenting presumed starter and big-play threat Aaron Jones quite well. Dillon should have no trouble getting double-digit touches every week with a reasonable red zone role. We can safely draft him as a flex play with upside for plenty more, but with a fifth-round ADP, he isn’t going to come at a discount.
Melvin Gordon resigned with the Broncos, which will make this a timeshare situation again. He is coming off a season where he amassed 231 total touches and scored 10 touchdowns. Unlike Dillon, Gordon is coming at a nice discount this year with an ADP just outside the top 100. Russell Wilson is a massive upgrade at quarterback, so this offense should take a giant leap forward. That should mean good things for Gordon, who will be firmly in the flex conversation weekly.
Tony Pollard was a sexy breakout pick last year, but then Ezekiel Elliott played in all 17 games and went over 1,000 yards rushing. Bad news for Pollard, right? Not so fast.
He finished as the RB30 and set career highs in carries, touches, yards and yards per carry. It was revealed in the offseason that Elliott dealt with a partially torn PCL most of last year, and I believe we might have been a year too early on predicting his demise. This offense will be on Dak Prescott‘s shoulders moving forward, which should signal good things for Pollard’s outlook.
Kareem Hunt might be the most challenging back in the top 10 to rank. He is coming off a calf injury that landed him on Injured Reserve (IR) and eventually ended his season. Hunt had a career-low 22 receptions, and the Browns saw enough out of D’Ernest Johnson to give him $1.2 million this offseason. So why does Hunt land in the top-5 of handcuffs?
Let’s start with the fact he was a top-10 back through Week 6 last year, averaging over 17 fantasy points per game. While Johnson threatens to take some touches, Hunt is the best pass-catching back the Browns have. Despite his overall upside being capped by the presence of Nick Chubb, Hunt has weekly appeal as an RB2 in this offense. He is worth the gamble in the seventh round – especially if the Browns end up trading him before Week 1.
Death, taxes and Alexander Mattison smashing in weeks when Dalvin Cook is injured. Since 2020, Mattison has played in four games where his touch share has been greater than 60%. He averages over 148 total yards in those games, and his worst weekly finish was as the RB8. The issue here is that when Cook is active, he is a true bell-cow back, so Mattison has less flex appeal than the four backs ranked ahead of him. That said, Mattison is one of the true top handcuffs in football and should continue to smash when given the opportunity.
Michael Carter had a productive rookie year, so it was disappointing to see the Jets draft Breece Hall in the second round. That move relegates Carter to the backup role, but all is not lost here. Carter rushed for 639 yards as a rookie and added 325 receiving yards in just 14 games in 2021. He is the superior receiving back of the two, which means he will see the field on third down. Carter was more than capable of handling a starter’s workload. His ADP sits just inside the top 100. So while I don’t love the price tag, he makes for an intriguing RB3 if you go WR-heavy in the early rounds.
This isn’t a bold prediction article, but if I had one, it would be that Rhamondre Stevenson is the lead back in New England by November. The trouble is that figuring out Bill Belichick’s backfield usage can be tricky. That said, after climbing out of Belichick’s doghouse in Week 9, he had 117 touches over his final eight games. With his ball security issues cleared up, Stevenson offers more athletically than the presumed starter Damien Harris. Stevenson could end up being one of the best values in fantasy this year.
Darrell Henderson is being disrespected in redraft leagues with an 11th-round ADP. That is primarily a function of his uncertain workload, but he has some important factors working in his favor. He is coming off a season where he was an RB1 for the first 12 weeks of the year. Despite his remarkable comeback last year from an Achilles injury, Cam Akers averaged just 2.4 yards per carry after his return. If he isn’t 100% or suffers another injury, Henderson steps into a spot where Sean McVay loves to feed his feature back. This ranking is betting on some things falling into place, but call me skeptical that Akers magically gets back to his old ways.
You might be surprised to see Kenneth Walker III here because some outlets believe he will be the starter. I don’t see it. The Seahawks have five million reasons to ride Rashaad Penny this year, while Walker gets acclimated to the rigors of the NFL. However, the Wilson trade, combined with Seattle’s desire to establish the run, should mean plenty of touches to go around. The question here is what type of caliber those touches will be. If Penny misses time (a plausible scenario given his injury history), Walker would likely see 20 carries a week.
Isaiah Spiller in the top-10 over James Cook? Yes. Yes, indeed. Over the past two seasons, the Chargers haven’t been wary of saddling up the backup when Austin Ekeler misses time. That alone makes Spiller an enticing target because the opportunity is all we are really looking for in a running back. The fact that Spiller had over 600 touches in three years at Texas A&M is just a bonus here. In the event of an Ekeler injury, he would inherit a 15+ touch role. I don’t think there is another back in this range that you can say that about.
No. 11-20: Should Be Rostered
On the one hand, James Cook never had more than 140 touches in a season at Georgia. On the other, there is a lot of tread left on the tires.
Jamaal Williams is steady and contributes in all phases when called upon. He doesn’t have huge upside, but he is a guaranteed 10 points in PPR if he starts.
Khalil Herbert could see more action this year with David Montgomery heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Herbert showed well last year when he got the chance to start.
Rachaad White could be a league-winner if Leonard Fournette goes down. He is the best pass-catching running back in the rookie class.
James Robinson is coming off an injury of his own which bumps him dow
Samaje Perine is Jamaal Williams-lite. The Bengals clearly trust him to shoulder the load if need be.
Matt Breida’s ceiling is as high as anyone’s in this range aside from White.
Darrel Williams could see a reasonable touch share even without James Conner getting injured. I have always been a fan of his game.
No. 21-32: Could Pop, Could Bust
Of this group, Hassan Haskins, Jeff Wilson Jr., Ronald Jones, and Benny Snell have the clearest path to 15+ touches in the event of an injury to their starter.
Gus Edwards could push J.K. Dobbins, and John Harbaugh seems to like him. He will be worked in slowly to begin the year, though.
Haskins, in particular, would get a sizable workload because there wouldn’t be anyone else to take touches away from him.
Mostert’s outlook was a lot better before the Dolphins signed Sony Michel. If Michel gets cut, Mostert would immediately be a top-15 handcuff.
I want to like Jones more, but he was so bad last year in Tampa Bay. He’s never been able to take a starting role and run with it.
If Najee Harris goes down, Snell will get all the carries, but they won’t amount to much. Pittsburgh’s offense would be a pass-heavy disaster.
I’m not sure the bottom-five backs on this list are worth rostering in anything but 16+ team leagues. Even then, I would rather take a shot on players like Chuba Hubbard, D’Ernest Johnson and Damien Williams over them.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Trade Analyzer – which allows you to instantly find out if a trade offer benefits you or your opponent – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.