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Fantasy Football: Running back handcuff index, matchup notes and Week 15 rankings

Houston, Texas, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

• Robinson set for a big Week 15: Washington Commanders RB Brian Robinson Jr. is set up to smash against a New York Giants defense that ranks 32nd in the league in rush yards before contact allowed per carry.

• Knight taking hold of the Jets backfield: New York Jets rookie RB Zonovan Knight leads the NFL in missed tackles forced per carry.

• Montgomery still an asset: Chicago Bears RB David Montgomery continues to warrant volume-based RB2 treatment as long as Khalil Herbert (hip, IR) remains sidelined.

Estimated reading time: 41 minutes


Week 15 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 32 teams playing in Week 15:

  • Week 15 Fantasy Rankings: Where the running back falls in my fantasy ranks. Updated ranks can be found throughout the week on PFF.com as well as the new PFF app.
  • Week 14 Usage: Every team’s top-three running backs in snap rate, carries and targets from the previous week.
  • Week 15 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.

JUMP TO A TEAM:

ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

ARIZONA CARDINALS

  • Week 15 Fantasy Rankings: James Conner (RB6), Keaontay Ingram (RB62), Corey Clement (RB66)
  • Week 14 Usage: James Conner (96% snaps, 15 carries, 7 targets), Keaontay Ingram (12%, 1, 0), Corey Clement (3%, 0, 1)
  • Week 15 Matchup (DEN): 18 in PPR per game to RB, 20 in yards before contact (YBC) allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 2: After the Cardinals chose to release Eno Benjamin, Keaontay Ingram now projects as the fairly clear lead back should James Conner get sidelined. Darrel Williams (hip, IR) remains out of the picture.
Key question: Is James Conner a weekly must-start option with this sort of workhorse role?

Unless your fantasy squad is beyond stacked, yes. The role 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
  • Week 14: 15-85-1 rushing, 6-29-0 receiving, 96% snaps

The Colt McCoy-led Cardinals are unlikely to strike much fear into the soul of a truly great Broncos defense, but they have been weaker against the run compared to the past and Conner’s workload falls under the matchup-proof category. Fire up Conner as a volume-based RB1 — he’s posted PPR RB2, RB15 and RB6 finishes in McCoy’s three extended appearances under center.


ATLANTA FALCONS

  • Week 15 Fantasy Rankings: Cordarrelle Patterson (RB31), Tyler Allgeier (RB40)
  • Week 13 Usage: Tyler Allgeier (53% snaps, 10 carries, 0 targets), Cordarrelle Patterson (45%, 11, 0), Caleb Huntley (9%, 4, 0)
  • Week 15 Matchup (NO): 13 in PPR per game to RB, 18 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Allgeier is the lead back when C-Patt is sidelined, but not in a workhorse manner. Three backs will seemingly stay involved no matter what.
Key question: Can Cordarrelle Patterson be overly counted on during the fantasy playoffs?

Unfortunately not. And you should know this is especially painful for me to admit as longtime President of the Cordarrelle Patterson fan club.

The problem is simple: Volume. Patterson is a safe bet for double-digit touches per game inside the league’s most run-heavy offense in non-garbage time situations, but so is Tyler Allgeier. Hell, Caleb Huntley and occasionally Avery Williams find a way to get involved.

This strategy has worked just fine in real life for a Falcons offense that ranks third league-wide in expected points added (EPA) per run play, but it’s been a pain in the behind for fantasy managers.

C-Patt's two-touchdown-aided  PPR RB7 finish in his first game back from injury has been followed up by four straight finishes well outside the position’s top-24. He’s a touchdown-dependent RB2 inside an offense hardly guaranteed to spend all that much time in opposing red zones with rookie Desmond Ridder under center.

Vegas seems skeptical: The Falcons are one of 10 teams implied to score fewer than 20 points in Week 15.


BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • Week 15 Fantasy Rankings: J.K. Dobbins (RB26), Gus Edwards (RB42), Kenyan Drake (RB50)
  • Week 14 Usage: J.K. Dobbins (43% snaps, 15 carries, 0 targets), Gus Edwards (34%, 13, 0), Kenyan Drake (18%, 1, 2)
  • Week 15 Matchup (CLV): 30 in PPR per game to RB, 30 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 4: 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: Should J.K. Dobbins be jammed into fantasy lineups of all shapes and sizes after Week 14’s overall PPR RB10 performance?

Not exactly. It’s great that Dobbins is healthy enough to work as the Ravens’ lead back again, but even he said postgame, “It’s still not me all the way yet. … I’m still not in the shape that I need to be in because I would have never gotten caught.”

It’s going to be tough for any running back to disappoint when they fall into the end zone twice — remember Gus Edwards’ PPR RB10 season debut in Week 7?  However, it’s a dangerous game relying on touchdown-dependent run-heavy backs in half- or full-PPR scoring. Just look at Edwards’ PPR RB47, RB29, RB68 and RB32 finishes in his last four games of action.

Ultimately, this remains a three-back committee with Dobbins as the clear leader, but his lack of picture-perfect health could continue to lead to instances like Week 14 when Edwards and Kenyan Drake wind up combining for more total targets and carries. The expected absence of Lamar Jackson (knee) and potentially Tyler Huntley (concussion) is another variable working against this backfield ahead of Week 15’s smashable spot against the Browns’ shoddy run defense.

Dobbins is borderline RB2 thanks to the matchup, but there’s a low floor for any committee running back involved in the league’s 31st-ranked offense in total targets to the position. Gus Bus is nothing more than a desperate FLEX dart despite the cozy matchup against the Browns’ 30th-ranked defense in both PPR points per game allowed to running backs and yards allowed before contact per carry.


BUFFALO BILLS

  • Week 15 Fantasy Rankings: Devin Singletary (RB35), James Cook (RB38) 
  • Week 14 Usage: Devin Singletary (50% snaps, 8 carries, 2 targets), James Cook (41%, 4, 1), Nyheim Hines (17%, 1, 1)
  • Week 15 Matchup (MIA): 17 in PPR per game to RB, 10 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: Should any running back involved be prioritized in this three-man committee? James Cook didn’t take a step forward after a great Week 14, it’s clear that Devin Singletary isn’t going anywhere and Nyheim Hines is even carving out a small little role for himself on offense. Singletary had a near-every-down role for a while, but suddenly this profiles as a low-volume three-man committee ahead of a matchup with a Dolphins defense that the Bills threw 63 passes against back in Week 3. Hey, it’s the Bills’ fourth-ranked scoring offense, maybe one of the running backs falls into the end zone at some point, but neither Singletary nor Cook are anything more than FLEX options far superior in full-PPR formats, right?

Right.


CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • Week 15 Fantasy Rankings: D'Onta Foreman (RB27), Chuba Hubbard (RB41), Raheem Blackshear (RB59)
  • Week 14 Usage: D'Onta Foreman (47% snaps, 21 carries, 1 targets), Chuba Hubbard (32%, 14, 3), Raheem Blackshear (19%, 4, 1)
  • Week 15 Matchup (PIT): 14 in PPR per game to RB, 23 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 still the D’Onta Foreman show?

Not exactly. While Foreman is the projected touch leader during any given week, Chuba Hubbard has racked up a combined 31 carries over the past two weeks. Raheem Blackshear is also somewhat involved because why not.

The good news for both Foreman and Hubbard is that each should continue to see double-digit weekly carries inside an offense that doesn’t pretend to trust Sam Darnold. Overall, the Panthers have posted a 37.7% pass-play rate in two games with Darnold under center, nearly 10 percentage points under the Falcons’ season-long mark of 47.4%, which is the lowest single-season mark since Rex Ryan’s 2009 New York Jets.

The Steelers struggled to slow down the Falcons (146 rushing yards) and Ravens (215) on the ground in consecutive weeks. The Panthers (-2.5 favorites) sure seem capable of hanging with, if not building a lead against, a Steelers team that could be without starting QB Kenny Pickett (concussion).

Don’t get carried away here, but Foreman deserves borderline RB2 treatment alongside fellow early-down grinders Brian Robinson and J.K. Dobbins. I would start Foreman over guys like D’Andre Swift, Antonio Gibson, Jamaal Williams and Cordarrelle Patterson, who all seem to have a less clear weekly path to 20-plus touches. Hubbard is more of a FLEX superior in standard leagues.


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