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NFL Training Camp Notes: Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs (2023)

NFL Training Camp Notes: Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs (2023)

Fantasy football handcuffs, for the uninitiated, are essentially backup players who are poised to take over for a team’s starter in the event of an injury. This approach, considered an insurance policy, helps you mitigate the risk of losing valuable points due to unexpected injuries. This strategy has been a popular move on draft day, where fantasy managers stash the backups of the prominent running backs they’ve drafted.

The focus on running back handcuffs has gained more significance in recent years. The NFL has gradually shifted away from bellcow running backs while leaning more on running back committees, making these handcuffs even more valuable because they might end up being more than a backup. They might be a 1B starter with a semi-prominent role already.

Here is a look at our updated Fantasy Football Handcuff Report, with some recent player notes breaking down some of the developing situations.

For more fantasy football draft advice, check our Andrew Erickson’s Fantasy Football Draft Strategy & Advice: Targeting Good Offenses article.

Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs

Arizona Cardinals James Conner

23 Keaontay Ingram

89 24th round
Atlanta Falcons Bijan Robinson

3 Tyler Allgeier

42 11th round
Baltimore Ravens J.K. Dobbins

19 Gus Edwards

53 16th round
Buffalo Bills James Cook

30 Damien Harris

37 9th round
Carolina Panthers Miles Sanders

18 Chuba Hubbard

52 14th round
Chicago Bears Khalil Herbert

34 Roschon Johnson

54 13th round
Cincinnati Bengals Joe Mixon

13 Chris Evans

Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb

4 Jerome Ford

56 17th round
Dallas Cowboys Tony Pollard

7 Malik Davis

85 25th round
Denver Broncos Javonte Williams

29 Samaje Perine

36 9th round
Detroit Lions Jahmyr Gibbs

16 David Montgomery

25 6th round
Green Bay Packers Aaron Jones

15 AJ Dillon

32 7th round
Houston Texans Dameon Pierce

21 Devin Singletary

45 12th round
Indianapolis Colts Jonathan Taylor

5 Zack Moss

69 25th round
Jacksonville Jaguars Travis Etienne Jr.

14 Tank Bigsby

51 13th round
Kansas City Chiefs Isiah Pacheco

26 Clyde Edwards-Helaire

57 14th round
Los Angeles Chargers Austin Ekeler

2 Joshua Kelley

61 20th round
Los Angeles Rams Cam Akers

20 Sony Michel

Las Vegas Raiders Josh Jacobs

9 Zamir White

59 21st round
Miami Dolphins Jeff Wilson Jr.

43 De’Von Achane

44 9th round
Minnesota Vikings Alexander Mattison

22 Ty Chandler

80 21st round
New England Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson

10 Pierre Strong Jr.

60 21st round
New Orleans Saints Alvin Kamara

28 Jamaal Williams

38 8th round
New York Giants Saquon Barkley

6 Eric Gray

88 25th round
New York Jets Breece Hall

11 Michael Carter

58 16th round
Philadelphia Eagles D’Andre Swift

27 Rashaad Penny

35 9th round
Pittsburgh Steelers Najee Harris

12 Jaylen Warren

46 12th round
Seattle Seahawks Kenneth Walker III

17 Zach Charbonnet

39 9th round
San Francisco 49ers Christian McCaffrey

1 Elijah Mitchell

40 10th round
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rachaad White

24 Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Tennessee Titans Derrick Henry

8 Tyjae Spears

63 16th round
Washington Commanders Brian Robinson Jr.

33 Antonio Gibson

31 8th round

Fantasy Football Running Back Updates

Starter: James Cook (RB – BUF)

James Cook was used in a limited fashion during his rookie season, topping out at just a 56% snap share in Week 18 versus the Patriots. However, it should be noted that Cook forced a 60-40 split from Week 13 onward with veteran Devin Singletary. The first-year rusher averaged a 40% snap share over the team’s final seven games, matching Singletary point-for-point (RB25 in points per game). Cook was also the superior rusher in the season’s totality capping off his year by averaging 5.3 yards per carry (5th).

He earned PFF’s No. 1 ranking in breakaway run rate (44%). The spurts of explosiveness and receiving ability will work in Cook’s favor as he enters Year 2 with the potential to emerge as Buffalo’s Day 1 starter, with Damien Harris as his main competition. The Harris signing signifies that the second-year pro is locked-in to the elite pass-catching role vacated in the backfield. In 2022, Singletary finished third among all running backs in route participation (57%).

Considering Cook’s 27% target rate per route run – equal or better than Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara in 2022, 5th among all RBs with at least 30 targets – I fully expect him to take on a much larger role as a receiver in a Bills passing attack that is shrouded with question marks behind Stefon Diggs. Nyheim Hines‘ season-ending injury further solidifies Cook as the No. 1 pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Starter: Saquon Barkley (RB – NYG)

Saquon Barkley was finally healthy in 2022 and reaped the rewards of playing in a much better offensive environment. The Giants RB finished as the RB5 overall and in points per game, as he was able to recapture his explosive upside as both a rusher and receiver. Barkley finished second in overall touches (352) and backfield opportunity share (80%) behind only Josh Jacobs through 17 weeks. He also scored 10 rushing TDs with 23 carries inside the 10-yard line.

In 2021, Barkley totaled just 13 red-zone touches all season. Let Barkley’s return to glory show that you want to target young impending FA RBs in improved offensive situations that project to earn high volume with proven records of production. Without a long-term contract in place – even after agreeing to a new one-year incentive-based deal worth up to $11 million – expect the Giants to run Barkley hard in 2023. They have no long commitment to him, and Barkley likely will want to maximize his financial gains from his on-field play.

Per Spotrac, If Barkley earns all the incentives and earns the $11 million, his franchise tag value will increase to up to $13.2 million in 2024 or a $24.2 million payout over two years. His incentives are each $303,000 (1,350 yards rushing, 65 catches, 11 total touchdowns) and are also tied to the Giants making the playoffs based on a report from the NY Post.

Handcuff: Eric Gray (RB – NYG)

Eric Gray first burst onto the college football scene at Tennessee in 2020, rushing for 758 yards and four TDs with 31 catches for 262 yards en route to a 26% dominator rating as a sophomore. After the season, Gray transferred to Oklahoma for his last two years of college ball. His numbers fell after he lost his starting job in 2021, but he regained RB1 duties the following year. And he made his final year count, posting a 26% dominator rating with Kennedy Brooks off to the NFL.Gray finished the 2022 season third in the class in PFF receiving grade and fifth in PFF rushing grade.

The 5-foot-9 and 207-pound rusher finished the year third in positive rushing EPA and fourth in boom rate (rushes generating an EPA of one-plus). And per Sports Info Solutions, Gray posted the highest missed tackle rate per 100 touches in the class.It’s also entirely possible that Gray could have been selected earlier by the Giants if they had more picks available to them. Big Blue didn’t have any other picks after 73rd overall until they selected Gray with the 172nd pick. Considering New York’s RB depth chart is barren behind Barkley, Gray is a player worth monitoring. Could easily see this Giants coaching staff falling in love with Gray. He totaled 549 carries in college and never fumbled.

Starter: Josh Jacobs (RB – LV)

Josh Jacobs was arguably the most valuable fantasy asset during the fantasy football regular season based on his finish as the RB2 overall in relation to his super cheap draft-day ADP. The market was convinced that Jacobs would become part of a dreaded RB-by-committee under new head coach Josh McDaniels, but that was hardly the case. He was a full-blown bellcow for the Raiders leading the NFL in touches through 17 weeks.

The 24-year-old will have to play on the franchise tag after leading the NFL with 1,653 rushing yards. With a similar cast of characters returning as depth behind him, it’s hard to envision the Raiders not heavily leaning on him again as a true featured back. But there’s a lot of risk involved considering Jacobs is threatening to hold out into the regular season. He is not going to report to training camp. Furthermore, only 2 RBs finished as RB1s the following year after leading the NFL in touches since 2013.

Handcuff: Zamir White (RB – LV)

Zamir White could see a larger role after a redshirt rookie season with Josh Jacobs‘ touches having nowhere to go but down and him threatening to hold out by missing training camp. Josh McDaniels is notorious for never featuring rookie RBs, so White’s lack of playing time in Year 1 is not shocking. White was a polarizing prospect in last year’s draft process before he was selected in the 4th round by the Raiders. He runs with strong intent and decisiveness at the line of scrimmage. Knows where to go and how to hit the hole. Solid explosiveness and burst; constantly gets yardage after first contact. Elusive in space as a receiver.

The former Georgia Bulldog is built like a three-down back and posted Great testing measurables from the NFL Combine: 4.40 40-yard dash (93rd percentile) and 128 in the broad jump (94th percentile). White’s overall counting stats are not particularly great, but that’s because he split work with James Cook and Kenny McIntosh, like most Georgia backs often do.What matters more is White’s career three yards per snap – a mark that stacks up with the likes of Michael Carter, Rachaad White, James Cook, and Tyler Allgeier.

Handcuff: Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB – TB)

Ke’Shawn Vaughn is viewed as the Buccaneers No. 2 RB heading into the 2023 season, over free agent addition Chase Edmonds. It’s high praise coming directly from TB’s new OC Dave Canales.

Starter: Tony Pollard (RB – DAL)

Tony Pollard will play for the Cowboys on the franchise tag in 2023. Dallas has all the incentives in the world to run him into the ground, in what should be a solid rushing attack in 2023. Ezekiel Elliott has been released after showing a major lack of juice as a rusher in 2022, averaging a career-low 3.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Pollard finished the season as the fantasy RB7 – despite ranking outside the top 25 in touches per game – as PFF’s 3rd-highest graded running back.

Pollard scored more fantasy points than any other running back (19.3 per game) from Weeks 7-16 when he was consistently playing 53% or more of the snaps as the team’s featured back. The team added Ronald Jones in free agency and drafted Deuce Vaughn late on Day 3, but neither are threats to a healthy Pollard’s touch volume. He’s slated to be a locked-and-loaded fantasy RB1 pending any FA addition to the backfield.

Handcuff: Malik Davis (RB – DAL)

As PFF’s 4th-highest graded rookie running back last season (80.6), Malik Davis could see an expanded role as the No. 2 RB behind Tony Pollard. His main competition for backup duties includes NFL journeymen Ronald Jones and Rico Dowdle plus rookie Deuce Vaughn.

What is a fantasy football handcuff?
A fantasy handcuff is a backup that will likely take over for a team’s starter in the event of an injury. A common strategy on draft day is to stash the backups of the prominent RBs you’ve drafted. Below is a chart of each team’s handcuff along with their Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR) and current ADP.

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