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Fantasy Football: Running back handcuff index, matchup notes and Week 2 rankings

  • New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley as back in the upside RB1 picture thanks to his elite workload and renewed explosiveness.
  • Los Angeles Rams RB Darrell Henderson and San Francisco 49ers RB Jeff Wilson stand out as the top waiver wire additions of the week.
  • Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey once again tops Ian’s full-PPR fantasy football rankings.
Estimated reading time: 30 minutes
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Despite what the overlords at PFF might think: Running backs are people too, and we care about them very deeply in fantasy football land.

Of course, a player can only do so much without, you know, actually getting to touch the football. The following table denotes the top-three running backs from every offense in Week 1 alongside their snap rate, carries, targets and route rate; this will help fuel the following anecdotes and rankings.

Takeaways

Ten running backs played at least 70% of their offense’s snaps: Saquon Barkley (83%), Darrell Henderson (82%), Christian McCaffrey (80%), Dalvin Cook (77%), Leonard Fournette (76%), Jonathan Taylor (76%), Joe Mixon (76%), Rex Burkhead (72%), James Conner (71%) and Derrick Henry (70%). Only Henry also didn’t possess a route rate of at least 58%.

Henderson and Burkhead are the obvious two outliers in the above group. Both are two of the week’s top options off the waiver wire regardless of position. Check out the Tuesday edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for full thoughts on this week’s waiver wire.

The likes of Rashaad Penny, David Montgomery, D’Andre Swift, Chase Edmonds, Antonio Gibson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Alvin Kamara (ribs) are also definitive lead backs in all areas of the game despite having to at least somewhat share their respective backfields.

Aaron Jones wasn’t quite as productive as A.J. Dillon in Week 1, although the underlying usage still favored A-aron as the starter. Green Bay was without their starting tackles; don’t count on Aaron Rodgers and company being held to just 7 points too often in 2022.

The Jets went ahead and stayed true to their word by starting Michael Carter ahead of second-round rookie Breece Hall. Both wound up posting borderline erotic totals with Joe Flacco throwing to his heart’s delight; keep your expectations a bit more in check down the road in that department. Still, Carter in particular is firmly on the upside RB3 map in full-PPR scoring. His Sunday afternoon would have looked even better if he hadn’t dropped a sure-thing 6-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

The good news: Josh Jacobs, Devin Singletary and Kenyan Drake (as long as J.K. Dobbins (knee) is out) are their offense’s lead backs. Bad news: They are being forced to share the backfield with not one, but two additional parties. While each is in the sort of high-scoring offense that could still warrant exposure in the right matchup, this sort of usage will prevent each from soaring too high in the weekly ranks.

Jeff Wilson took every running back snap once Elijah Mitchell (knee, IR) was ruled out; he’s my No. 2 waiver wire addition at the position behind only Darrell Henderson. While Deebo Samuel will always be involved, and third-round rookie Tyrion Davis-Price figures to be active next week, Wilson slides in as an immediate borderline RB2 as Kyle Shanahan’s lead back.

Ezekiel Elliott (58% snaps) and Tony Pollard (55%) were used rather evenly. Note that someone named Dennis Houston played 57% of the offense's snaps. This will be awfully problematic for Zeke moving forward if it persists, especially now that the league’s reigning No. 1-ranked scoring offense will be without Dak Prescott for four to eight weeks depending on who you ask.

Javonte Williams’ PPR-induced RB16 finish in Week 1 didn’t exactly include as elite of a route participation rate (62%) as one might have expected given the gaudy target total (12). Don’t expect Melvin Gordon to go anywhere, but each should see better days if/when Russell Wilson leads the offense to more overall scoring production.

Najee Harris (foot) seems awfully questionable for Week 2. Look for Jaylen Warren to work as the lead back in his absence, although Benny Snell (and potentially others) could also be involved.

Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb figure to keep on keeping on with their split usage. Each is objectively an excellent real-life back. The problem for Chubb managers is the reality that even an injury to Hunt would simply elevate D’Ernest Johnson to the active roster and into the pass-down role.

Austin Ekeler’s Week 1 usage wasn’t ideal — especially the 38% route rate. I’ll be more worried if it persists another week.

James Robinson immediately returned to the starting job, although Travis Etienne is the primary pass-down back. Expect both to rotate plenty, with Etienne likely seeing more fantasy-friendly targets more weeks than not.

The Eagles, Chiefs and Patriots are featuring three running backs with seemingly no plans to do otherwise, although New England’s hand might be forced at this point with Ty Montgomery (ankle, IR) now out of the picture. Good matchups and offensive scoring upside helped Miles Sanders and Clyde Edwards-Helaire produce just fine in Week 1, but their ceiling is limited in this sort of committee system.

Handcuff index

The following teams would be expected to hand their backup running back something pretty close to a fantasy-friendly three-down role should their team’s starter be forced out of action:

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