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Fantasy Football: Running back handcuff index, matchup notes and Week 14 rankings

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders (26) carries the ball on way to an 11-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Estimated reading time: 33 minutes

Week 14 is here! It’s truly a great day to be great.

What follows is a fantasy football-themed breakdown of each and every backfield. The following five categories will be analyzed for all 26 teams playing in Week 14:

  • Week 14 Fantasy Rankings: Where the running back falls in my fantasy ranks. Updated ranks can be found throughout the week on as well as the new PFF app.
  • Week 13 Usage: Every team’s top-three running backs in snap rate, carries and targets from the previous week.
  • Week 14 Matchup: Opponent’s rank in PPR points allowed to opposing running backs as well as yards before carry allowed per rush. Higher numbers are better for running backs; “32” illustrates the worst defense in a given category, and “1” is the best.
  • Handcuff Index: Consists of four tiers:
      1. Tier 1: Workhorse handcuff who would immediately be in the RB1 conversation if the starter goes down
      2. Tier 2: Plenty solid handcuff who would get a nice usage bump and be a staple in the RB2 conversation if the starter goes down
      3. Tier 3: Usage bump won’t prevent the team from continuing to use a committee of sorts; not a guarantee these handcuffs will crack the position’s top-24 should the starter go down
      4. Tier 4: Muddled mess that would likely devolve into an annoying committee without a clear fantasy-friendly back to prioritize should the starter go down
  • Key question: One key question for every team that is on my mind.




  • Week 14 Fantasy Rankings: James Conner (RB11), Keaontay Ingram (RB48)
  • Week 12 Usage: James Conner (97% snaps, 25 carries, 3 targets), Keaontay Ingram (9%, 2, 0), Corey Clement (2%, 0, 1)
  • Week 14 Matchup: NE: 2 in PPR per game to RB, 23 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 2: Keaontay Ingram now projects as the fairly clear lead back should James Conner get sidelined after the Cardinals chose to release Eno Benjamin. Darrel Williams (hip, IR) continues to be out of the picture.
Key question: Are the Cardinals featuring James Conner as a true workhorse?

Yes, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise given head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s history of giving his starting running back a huge role. Conner has seldom left the field in his last four games since returning from injury:

  • Week 9: 7-45-0 rushing, 5-19-0 receiving, 71% snaps
  • Week 10: 21-69-2 rushing, 3-17-0 receiving, 96% snaps
  • Week 11: 14-42-1 rushing, 2-12-0 receiving, 77% snaps
  • Week 12: 25-120-0 rushing, 3-20-1 receiving, 97% snaps

The Patriots are far from an easy matchup for opposing running backs, but Conner’s role is far too big to consider putting him anywhere near the fantasy bench – especially with a whopping six teams on bye. Conner is a volume-based RB1 inside of an offense that hopefully shows more consistency during the final five weeks of the season now that their group of talented wide receivers are all finally healthy and not suspended.


  • Week 14 Fantasy Rankings: Gus Edwards (RB31), Kenyan Drake (RB34), Justice Hill (RB62)
  • Week 13 Usage: Kenyan Drake (47% snaps, 7 carries, 3 targets), Gus Edwards (24%, 6, 0), Justice Hill (23%, 1, 2)
  • Week 14 Matchup: PIT: 12 in PPR per game to RB, 14 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 3: This backfield continues to keep three members involved even with Kenyan Drake emerging as the leader when both Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins are out. Veteran additions continue to be plenty possible
Key question: Can anybody involved be overly trusted in this backfield?

Nope, and things figure to get even more muddled if/when J.K. Dobbins (knee, IR) returns to action. At least two backs figure to maintain involvement in an offense that was already struggling to consistently move the ball with a healthy Lamar Jackson (knee) under center. Now there’s a lower-scoring floor for everyone involved inside of an offense that ranks 28th and 31st in team running back carries and targets this season.

If anything, backup QB Tyler Huntley might be the safest fantasy bet on this offense outside of TE Mark Andrews. Huntley hasn’t stood out as a particularly efficient passer during his six extended appearances over the past two seasons, but his rushing production has been borderline erotic from a fantasy football perspective:

  • 7 carries-40 rush yards-0 rush TD
  • 6-45-0
  • 13-73-2
  • 6-54-0
  • 12-72-0
  • 10-41-1

Hutley has managed to average 205 pass yards per game during this stretch – slightly more than what Jackson (203) was at prior to suffering last week’s injury. Adjusting the rankings won’t be as easy as crossing out Jackson’s name and inserting Huntley’s, but just realize this backup has the profile of someone capable of being far better at fantasy football as opposed to real-life.


  • Week 14 Fantasy Rankings: Devin Singletary (RB25), James Cook (RB27), Nyheim Hines (RB55)
  • Week 13 Usage: Devin Singletary (44% snaps, 13 carries, 2 targets), James Cook (44%, 14, 6), Nyheim Hines (29%, 2, 2)
  • Week 14 Matchup: NYJ: 14 in PPR per game to RB, 5 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 2: It seems likely that James Cook would take over as a middle-class man's Austin Ekeler of sorts should Devin Singletary miss any time. Nyheim Hines could stay plenty involved as well, but he hasn't carved out a significant offensive role since being traded
Key question: Did we witness a James Cook takeover last Thursday night?

Don’t get too carried away, but Cook’s season-high marks in snap rate, carries and targets alike were certainly a massive step in the right direction. Further helping matters is the reality that Nyheim Hines continues to be a rather distant third option. Another week of this sort of usage will be needed before being able to confidently start Cook while Devin Singletary is a shakier start than ever with his usual three-down role seriously in jeopardy.

Cook deserves to be Week 14’s top waiver wire addition at the position. PFF’s Nathan Jahnke said the following on Cook (rostered in 25.4% of leagues on ESPN) in his weekly waiver wire roundup:

“The Bills used much more of a running back rotation this week compared to weeks past. 

  • Singletary started the game, but Cook finished with more carries, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards.
  • Cook has a higher PFF rushing, receiving and pass-blocking grade this season, so it isn’t surprising that he is getting more opportunities.
  • Three of the Bills' next four opponents are in the league's top half at preventing fantasy points to running backs.
  • It might not be safe to trust Cook next week in case this game plan was a one-time thing, but if he keeps this role, he could be safe to start in the fantasy playoffs.”

You can hear Nathan and I discuss the week’s top waiver wire options on the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast.


  • Week 14 Fantasy Rankings: D'Onta Foreman (RB24), Chuba Hubbard (RB36)
  • Week 12 Usage: D'Onta Foreman (51% snaps, 24 carries, 0 targets), Chuba Hubbard (45%, 17, 0), Raheem Blackshear (5%, 0, 2)
  • Week 14 Matchup: SEA: 32 in PPR per game to RB, 25 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Foreman is the pretty clear lead back at this point, but his absence might lead to a similarly robust role for Hubbard, who did seem to start the post-CMC experience as the lead back before getting injured himself
Key question: Is this a smash spot for D’Onta Foreman?

It’s certainly looking good. The Seahawks have had all sorts of struggles stopping running backs of all shapes and sizes on the ground this season:

Foreman's biggest potential concern is an extremely negative game script that forces the Panthers to largely abandon the run game. This happened in Week 9 (9 touches for 21 yards) and to a lesser extent in Week 11 (11 touches for 24 yards); Foreman has racked up 100-plus rushing yards in his other four games since Christian McCaffrey was traded to the 49ers. The Seahawks are relatively modest 3.5-point favorites, so fire up Foreman as a low-floor and touchdown-dependent RB2 who is a far better play in non-PPR formats.


  • Week 14 Fantasy Rankings: Joe Mixon (RB7), Samaje Perine (RB40), Trayveon Williams (RB56)
  • Week 13 Usage: Samaje Perine (83% snaps, 21 carries, 7 targets), Trayveon Williams (15%, 1, 0), Chris Evans (3%, 0, 1)
  • Week 14 Matchup: CLE: 29 in PPR per game to RB, 31 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 1: Perine is a top-15 option whenever Mixon misses any action
Key question: Just how good has Samaje Perine been in Joe Mixon‘s place?

Pretty awesome: He’s posted PPR RB2, RB10 and RB4 finishes over the past three weeks of action. This means Perine (three) officially has more top-10 finishes than Mixon (two) this season.

The eye test certainly indicates that Mixon generally has more juice than Perine; just realize the Bengals” “backup” running back has been the superior rusher in just about any efficiency metric that one wants to look at:

  • PFF rushing grade: Mixon (74.9), Perine (78.6)
  • Yards per carry: Mixon (3.8), Perine (4.4)
  • Yards after contact per carry: Mixon (2.4), Perine (3.2)
  • Missed tackles forced per carry: Mixon (0.11), Perine (0.16)

Mixon has been the better receiver in terms of PFF receiving grade (79.6 vs. 69.4), but Perine continues to get plenty of third-down work thanks to his far superior pass-protection ability (65.5 vs. 26.9 PFF pass-blocking grade).

Don’t expect the Bengals to take Mixon’s job away anytime soon once healthy enough to return to action; just realize Perine is a tier-one handcuff with far too much best-case upside to be on many waiver wires.



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