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Fantasy Football: Running back handcuff index, matchup notes and Week 12 rankings

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) runs the ball as Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) looks to make a tackle during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

  • Cowboys RB Tony Pollard is a must-start option thanks to his status as one of the league's single-most efficient players at the position.
  • Dolphins RB Jeff Wilson is a recommended start this week against the Texans' league-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields.
  • The Buccaneers backfield remains a bit murky despite rookie Rachaad White earning the start in Week 10 prior to their bye.
Estimated reading time: 30 minutes

Week 12 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 12 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 11 Usage: Every team’s top-three running backs in snap rate, carries and targets from the previous week.
  • Week 12 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 | 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 12 Fantasy Rankings: James Conner (RB17), Keaontay Ingram (RB59)
  • Week 11 Usage: James Conner (77% snaps, 14 carries, 5 targets), Keaontay Ingram (25%, 5, 0)
  • Week 12 Matchup: LAC: 30 in PPR per game to RB, 29 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: Can James Conner take advantage of this faulty Chargers run defense?

Most of the Chargers’ opponents have at this point. Overall, this group has allowed 150-plus rushing yards in six of their last eight games, struggling to post even average efficiency marks in most run defense metrics:

  • EPA allowed per run play: +0.026 (No. 29)
  • Yards allowed per carry: 5.5 (No. 32)
  • Yards before contact allowed per carry: 1.71 (No. 29)
  • Explosive run-play rate allowed: 12.3% (No. 14)
  • PPR points per game allowed to running backs: 29.9 (No. 30)

Conner has handled 24 and 19 combined carries and targets in his past two games on elite 96% and 77% snap rates; the latter mark would have been even higher had the Cardinals not pulled their starters early during their Week 11 loss to the 49ers.

It’d certainly be nice if Kyler Murray (hamstring) is healthy enough to return and give this group some semblance of scoring upside; either way, Conner is a tough sit in fantasy land thanks to his weekly potential to see 20-plus touches. He’s a recommended start regardless of who is under center thanks to this workload and cozy Week 12 matchup.

ATLANTA FALCONS

  • Week 12 Fantasy Rankings: Cordarrelle Patterson (RB27), Tyler Allgeier (RB38)
  • Week 11 Usage: Tyler Allgeier (53% snaps, 8 carries, 1 target), Cordarrelle Patterson (51%, 10, 2), Caleb Huntley (4%, 1, 1)
  • Week 12 Matchup: WSH: 4 in PPR per game to RB, 16 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 fantasy managers go back to trusting our one true king Cordarrelle Patterson?

Not fully, but at least this backfield has seemingly condensed to two backs after keeping three to four parties involved throughout the season. Still, C-Patt has just 14, six and 12 touches in three games since injury; it’s probably wishful thinking to expect the GOAT kick returner of all time to add many more special teams touchdowns to his tally this season.

Further complicating matters is a matchup against a beastly Commanders front seven that should have Chase Young (knee, PUP) sooner rather than later. Treat Patterson as a touchdown-dependent RB3 in this less-than-ideal spot; he’s not getting enough consistent volume on the ground to make up for the utter lack of a featured pass-game role (similar to every other receiving talent in this offense).

Meanwhile, Tyler Allgeier has 11, 11 and nine touches in his last three games with Patterson back in the lineup; he’s a meh RB4 option capable of occasionally producing a start-worthy performance when able to flirt with upper-end efficiency, something that shouldn’t be expected against a Commanders defense that has allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards in four of their last five games.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • Week 12 Fantasy Rankings: Kenyan Drake (RB31), Justice Hill (RB54)
  • Week 11 Usage: Kenyan Drake (50% snaps, 10 carries, 4 targets), Justice Hill (41%, 7, 3), Mike Davis (2%, 0, 1)
  • Week 12 Matchup: JAX: 24 in PPR per game to RB, 6 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 in this backfield be trusted as more than a mid-range RB3 despite the winnable matchup?

Not really; at least two running backs will stay fairly evenly involved no matter what. Gus Edwards (hamstring) seemed close to returning in Week 11, but both Kenyan Drake and (to a lesser extent) Justice Hill will also most likely maintain decent-sized roles inside of an offense averaging just 21.3 points in Weeks 4 to 11 after going for 24, 38 and 37 points in their first three games.

The Lamar Jackson experience has certainly been a net positive for the Ravens over the years; just realize the presence of a high-volume dual-threat quarterback has historically been bad news for the fantasy relevance of the offense’s running backs. Overall, Ravens running backs rank just 28th in total carries (192) and dead last in targets (30); I’ll be answering most close start/sit questions involving any Baltimore running backs with the other guy.

BUFFALO BILLS

  • Week 12 Fantasy Rankings: Devin Singletary (RB21), James Cook (RB44)
  • Week 11 Usage: Devin Singletary (73% snaps, 18 carries, 2 targets), James Cook (26%, 11, 2), Nyheim Hines (16%, 1, 1)
  • Week 12 Matchup: DET: 19 in PPR per game to RB, 28 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 3: An injury to Devin Singletary would likely lead to a fairly evenly split committee between James Cook and Nyheim Hines; there hasn't been a large enough sample size with Hines on the team to feel good about who might lead the way. Hell, Duke Johnson could mix in on early downs. Fun fact: Duke is The U's all-time leading rusher.

Key question: Just how fantasy-friendly has Devin Singletary’s workload been this season?

Not too shabby; he’s the RB22 in expected PPR points per game through 11 weeks. Still, he’s maintained something close to a consistent every-down role since the Bills’ Week 7 bye despite the team’s decision to trade for Nyheim Hines:

  • Week 8: 14-67-0 rushing, 1-16-0 receiving, 75% snaps
  • Week 9: 8-24-0 rushing, 4-24-0 receiving, 74% snaps
  • Week 10: 13-47-2 rushing, 1-0-0 receiving, 72% snaps
  • Week 11: 18-86-1 rushing, 2-11-0 receiving, 73% snaps

Up next is a rather tasty matchup against the Lions’ league-worst scoring defense. Singletary is a rock solid RB2 as the lead back of a Bills offense implied to score a week-high 31.75 points.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • Week 12 Fantasy Rankings: D'Onta Foreman (RB28), Chuba Hubbard (RB58), Raheem Blackshear (RB65)
  • Week 11 Usage: D'Onta Foreman (41% snaps, 11 carries, 0 targets), Chuba Hubbard (37%, 4, 3), Raheem Blackshear (20%, 0, 3)
  • Week 12 Matchup: DEN: 14 in PPR per game to RB, 13 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 D’Onta Foreman an every-week must-start option?

From last week:

“Not quite, although it’s hard to be anything but impressed with the 26-year-old’s 15-118-0, 26-118-3 and 31-130-1 performances on the ground this season. The problem is that the former and latter rushing lines came in double-digit wins, while the three-touchdown masterpiece came in a back-and-forth overtime loss to the Falcons. Foreman received just nine total touches while playing only 43% of the offense’s snaps in Week 9 when the Panthers were blown out against the Bengals. Vegas certainly seems to think this week’s matchup against the Ravens could more closely resemble Week 9’s dud given the Pathers’ status as 12.5-point underdogs.”

Foreman is a game-script-dependent RB3 capable of booming on the rare occasions when the Panthers manage to play with a lead, but there’s a low weekly floor for anyone involved with the league’s 25th-ranked scoring offense. The Broncos haven’t been quite as dominant against the run as they have against the pass; just realize this defense has allowed fewer than 20 points in all but two games this season.

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