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Fantasy Football: Running back handcuff index, matchup notes and Week 7 rankings

  • Jacksonville Jaguars RB Travis Etienne has outperformed teammate James Robinson in every meaningful metric this season, but don't expect the team's committee backfield to go anywhere
  • Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry leads the position in yards per route run and is poised to smash previous career-high marks in receptions and receiving yards.
  • New York Jets RB Breece Hall is one of only three running backs with six straight top-24 PPR finishes to start the season.
Estimated reading time: 30 minutes
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Week 7 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 28 teams with a game this week:

  • Week 7 Fantasy Rankings: Where the running back falls in my full-PPR (point per reception) fantasy ranks. Updated ranks can be found throughout the week on PFF.com as well as the new PFF app.
  • Week 6 Usage: Every team’s top-three running backs in snap rate, carries and targets from the previous week.
  • Week 7 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.

JUMP TO A TEAM:

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


ARIZONA CARDINALS

  • Week 7 Fantasy Ranking: Eno Benjamin (RB15), Keaontay Ingram (RB49)
  • Week 6 Usage: Eno Benjamin (87% snaps, 14 carries, 3 targets), Keaontay Ingram (13%, 3, 0)
  • Week 7 Matchup: NO: 8 in PPR per game to RB, 32 in YBC allowed per carry
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Benjamin remains locked in as a three-down back with *both* Williams and Conner sidelined. The return of either would devolve this back into a committee.

Key question: Should you trust Eno Benjamin on Thursday night if James Conner (ribs) and Darrel Williams (knee) remain sidelined?

Yes — just look at that 87% snap rate from last week! Only Dalvin Cook (88%) and Devin Singletary managed to top that in Week 6. While Benjamin’s 65 scoreless yards weren’t exactly what fantasy managers had in mind, he came up one-yard short of the end zone on one occasion and clearly worked ahead of Keaontay Ingram, who wasn’t any better with his limited touches.

This offense ranks 31st in EPA per play in the first half (-0.238) and first in the second half (+0.118); it’d be a lot easier to write them off as simply bad if they didn’t spend half their time looking pretty damn good.

Kliff Kingsbury is one of few NFL coaches truly willing to give his starting running back a workhorse role. Keep an eye on Benjamin’s (foot) health as well, but he at least was listed as a limited participant on the team’s estimated practice report while both Conner and Williams registered DNPs. Fire up one of the week’s projected touch leaders as a volume-based RB2 who should continue to be squeezed into lineups of most shapes and sizes.


ATLANTA FALCONS

  • Week 7 Fantasy Ranking: Tyler Allgeier (RB38), Caleb Huntley (RB44), Avery Williams (RB58)
  • Week 6 Usage: Tyler Allgeier (57% snaps, 15 carries, 0 targets), Caleb Huntley (36%, 16, 0), Avery Williams (11%, 2, 1)
  • Week 7 Matchup: CIN: 6 in PPR per game to RB, 31 in YBC allowed per carry
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Allgeier is expected to keep leading the way in the absence of C-Patt (knee, IR), but hardly in a workhorse manner. Three backs will likely stay involved.

Key question: Are any of these running backs viable starting options?

Not really, which is a shame considering how surprisingly good Arthur Smith’s group has been as a whole. This is true in terms of points per game (24.3, No. 9), EPA per play (+0.031, No. 7), PFF team offense grade (78.1, tied for No. 3): Atlanta has been moving the ball efficiently all season long, fantasy football aspirations be damned.

Marcus Mariota obviously deserves a ton of credit for his dual-threat excellence during the Falcons’ early-season run. Wild but true: Mariota joins Walter Payton as the only players since 1950 with at least two passing touchdowns, 50 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown and one-or-fewer incompletions in the game (per Around The NFL).

It’s awfully interesting just how unique this group has been this season:

  • Pass-play rate in non-garbage time situations: 46.9% (No. 32)
  • Play-action rate: 47.6% (No. 1)
  • Pistol formation rate: 37% (No. 1)
  • 2+ RB formation rate: 31.9% (No. 1)

Whether this Falcons offense continues to work this well for 17 games remains to be seen, but for the time being it’s tough to be anything other than impressed with the early results.

Unfortunately, the present three-back committee continues to offer a not-so-fantasy-friendly combination of sporadic goal-line usage and little target volume. Throw in the looming return of Damien Williams (ribs, IR), and none of these backs are recommended starts against a Bengals defense that has surpassed expectations through six weeks.


BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • Week 7 Fantasy Ranking: J.K. Dobbins (RB31), Kenyan Drake (RB33)
  • Week 6 Usage: Kenyan Drake (57% snaps, 10 carries, 2 targets), J.K. Dobbins (28%, 7, 0), Mike Davis (9%, 0, 0)
  • Week 7 Matchup: CLE: 29 in PPR per game to RB, 26 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 4: This backfield was unusable with Dobbins and Edwards out in Weeks 1-2; veteran additions would be plenty possible.

Key question: Why isn’t J.K. Dobbins taking over this backfield more?

The knee continues to be an issue. Head coach John Harbaugh attributed Dobbins’ limited usage to his knee tightening up. This comes a week after Drake out-snapped Dobbins 41% to 39% even without postgame knee concerns.

It’s tough to be overly optimistic about Drake or Dobbins should they both be active. This will hold twice as true should Justice Hill (hamstring) and/or Gus Edwards (knee, PUP) manage to return.

Credit to Drake on his 10-119-1 rushing performance in Week 6, but it’s not like his workload is anything to write home about, either. Drake will flirt with low-end RB2 value *if* each of Dobbins, Hill and Edwards are sidelined; otherwise neither of the Ravens’ present top-two backs will be recommended starts despite the winnable matchup due to obvious volume concerns.


CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • Week 7 Fantasy Ranking: Christian McCaffrey (RB3), D'Onta Foreman (RB54)
  • Week 6 Usage: Christian McCaffrey (86% snaps, 13 carries, 8 targets), D'Onta Foreman (23%, 5, 0), Chuba Hubbard (9%, 2, 1)
  • Week 7 Matchup: TB: 1 in PPR per game to RB, 7 in YBC allowed per carry
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Foreman would be the recommended add if CMC misses time or is traded, but Hubbard could easily be the primary third-down option. Neither would be must-starts.

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