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Fantasy Football: Running back handcuff index, matchup notes and Week 8 rankings

  • Jacksonville Jaguars RB Travis Etienne is locked in as an every-week RB1 with James Robinson now a member of the Jets.
  • Baltimore Ravens RB Gus Edwards could struggle to replicate his Week 7 heights due to the Ravens’ ever-crowded committee backfield.
  • The NFL’s top three running backs in expected PPR points per game feature Cincinnati Bengals RB Joe Mixon, Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler and New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara.
Estimated reading time: 30 minutes
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Week 8 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:

  • Week 8 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 7 Usage: Every team’s top-three running backs in snap rate, carries and targets from the previous week.
  • Week 8 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 8 Fantasy Rankings: Eno Benjamin (RB20), Keaontay Ingram (RB45) 
  • Week 7 Usage: Eno Benjamin (72% snaps, 12 carries, 5 targets), Keaontay Ingram (32%, 8, 2)
  • Week 8 Matchup: MIN: 17 in PPR per game to RB, 12 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: Will James Conner (ribs) be back this week?

Coach Kliff Kingsbury called Conner a game-time decision for the Cardinals’ Thursday night win over the Saints; it’d make sense if he gets back to action after having an extra long rest between games.

Conner has posted the following usage in three games not directly impacted by injury:

  • Week 1: 10-26-1 rushing, 5-29-0 receiving, 72% snaps
  • Week 3: 13-39-0 rushing, 3-18-0 receiving, 60% snaps
  • Week 4: 15-55-0 rushing, 3-22-0 receiving, 66% snaps

The Cardinals have been willing to let Eno Benjamin and Darrel Williams spell Conner a bit more than last season when Chase Edmonds missed time. This leaves Conner as more of a middling RB2 when healthy as opposed to the volume-based RB1 he worked as for chunks of 2021.

If active, Conner should have a good chance at falling into the end zone once or twice considering Cardinals-Vikings boasts the week’s third-highest game total at 48.5 points. If not, Benjamin once again shapes up as a solid volume-based RB2; the third-year back has handled a gaudy 34 touches over the past two weeks with Conner sidelined.


ATLANTA FALCONS

  • Week 8 Fantasy Rankings: Tyler Allgeier (RB33), Caleb Huntley (RB55)
  • Week 7 Usage: Tyler Allgeier (60% snaps, 16 carries, 0 targets), Caleb Huntley (24%, 6, 0), Avery Williams (16%, 1, 1)
  • Week 8 Matchup: CAR: 20 in PPR per game to RB, 19 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: Is this one of the most run-heavy offenses that we’ve seen in quite some time?

Absolutely. Through seven weeks, only the Bears (49.5%) and Falcons (46.4%) have called a pass play on fewer than 50% of their snaps in non-garbage time situations. Hell, the Falcons’ rate doesn’t even change when simply looking at the entire game: This is easily the league’s most run-heavy offense; one would have to go all the way back to the 2009 Rex Ryan-led Jets to find a more run-heavy group.

Marcus Mariota has thrown a total of 27 pass attempts over the past two weeks. Joe Flacco still had more pass attempts than Mariota (per Sam Hoppen). It’s not like the offense has been incapable of efficiently picking up yards through the air: Mariota’s average of 7.8 yards per attempt is the seventh-highest mark among 35 qualified quarterbacks.

Ultimately, it’d be a lot easier to slander head coach Arthur Smith if this wasn’t a top-12 offense in EPA per play and points per game; the usage is just too spread out across the entire offense to feel overly optimistic about anyone involved when it comes to fantasy purposes. This goes for the current backfield; I’ll continue to answer the heavy majority of close start/sit questions involving any Falcons with the other guy … until Cordarrelle Patterson (knee, IR) returns, and he is eligible to do so next week.


BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • Week 8 Fantasy Rankings: Gus Edwards (RB23), Kenyan Drake (RB57), Justice Hill (RB61)
  • Week 7 Usage: Gus Edwards (37% snaps, 16 carries, 0 targets), Justice Hill (32%, 5, 0), Kenyan Drake (25%, 11, 0)
  • Week 8 Matchup: TB: 6 in PPR per game to RB, 13 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: Is Gus Edwards suddenly a must-start fantasy option?

Not exactly. It was great to see Gus Bus find the end zone twice in his 2022 debut; he’s clearly the lead rusher in this group. Still, two key factors will make it tough for him to be more than a touchdown-dependent RB2 type moving forward:

  1. The Ravens continue to feature not one, not two, but three running backs on an every-week basis. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman historically hasn’t been willing to feature one specific running back during his time with the Ravens.
  2. The presence of dual-threat quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson historically don’t help enable super fantasy-friendly running backs because they factor into the rushing equation near the goal line and tend to scramble instead of checking the ball down in the passing game. This season Ravens running backs are tied for 19th in carries inside the 10-yard line (10) and dead last in targets (14).

The Panthers showed last week that this Buccaneers’ front-seven isn’t exactly the most fearsome unit at the moment; just realize Edwards will have to continue to make the most of about 15 carries per game in order to meet fantasy RB2 expectations.


BUFFALO BILLS

  • Week 8 Fantasy Rankings: Devin Singletary (RB17), James Cook (RB62)
  • Week 6 Usage: Devin Singletary (88% snaps, 17 carries, 4 targets), James Cook (13%, 2, 0)
  • Week 8 Matchup: GB: 24 in PPR per game to RB, 26 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Moss would most likely lead the way on early downs with Cook seeing more fantasy-friendly work in pass-first situations.

Key question: Will Devin Singletary continue to handle a near-every-down role?

Most likely, so long as the Bills don’t absolutely blow out their opponent. Overall, Singletary has handled 59%, 54% and 54% snaps in three games that the Bills won by 21, 34 and 35 points, but 73%, 88% and 86% marks when they have lost by two as well as won by three and four points.

Week 6 was the first time this season that Zack Moss was inactive, and the Bills are coming off a bye. Perhaps this could be the week that they finally push to get rookie second-rounder James Cook more consistently involved in the offense. It’s not a bad idea to scoop up Cook off the waiver wire in deeper leagues in hopes that these factors result in a bigger role during the second half of the season; just realize the current system makes Singletary a tough fade as the featured back inside of the NFL’s second-ranked scoring offense.


CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • Week 8 Fantasy Rankings: Chuba Hubbard (RB27), D'Onta Foreman (RB39)
  • Week 7 Usage: D'Onta Foreman (54% snaps, 15 carries, 2 targets), Chuba Hubbard (46%, 9, 3), Raheem Blackshear (10%, 2, 0)
  • Week 8 Matchup: ATL: 11 in PPR per game to RB, 23 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Foreman and Hubbard should continue to split things to an extent; either missing time wouldn't necessarily guarantee a CMC-esque workhorse role for the healthy back.

Key question: Who is the leader of this post-CMC backfield?

D’Onta Foremen might have finished the game with backfield-high marks in snaps and carries, but that was only because Chuba Hubbard left the game early in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Hubbard actually out-snapped Foreman 22 to 14 during the first 45 minutes of action.

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