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Fantasy Football: Running back handcuff index, matchup notes and Week 9 rankings

  • Dolphins RB Raheem Mostert might not have the same sort of stranglehold on the lead RB1 job with Jeff Wilson replacing Chase Edmonds.
  • Bills RB Devin Singletary and James Cook suddenly boast far lower ceilings for the rest of the season after the Bills traded for Nyheim Hines.
  • Eagles RB Miles Sanders is in the smash spot of all smash spots against a Texans defense that has allowed the week’s overall PPR RB1 or RB2 in five of seven games this season.
Estimated reading time: 30 minutes
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Week 9 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 9 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 8 Usage: Every team’s top-three running backs in snap rate, carries and targets from the previous week.
  • Week 9 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 | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYJ | PHI | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH


ARIZONA CARDINALS

  • Week 9 Fantasy Rankings: Eno Benjamin (RB17), Darrel Williams (RB45)
  • Week 8 Usage: Eno Benjamin (71% snaps, 9 carries, 5 targets), Darrel Williams (30%, 5, 3)
  • Week 9 Matchup: SEA: 30 in PPR per game to RB, 25 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Benjamin remained locked in as a three-down back even with Williams back in the picture last week, although it’s unclear if this was just a one-week phenomenon.

Key question: Can Eno Benjamin still be trusted as a fantasy RB2 with James Conner (ribs) sidelined?

The usage continues to say yes. While Benjamin split work with Darrel Williams almost right down the middle when Conner was banged up in Week 2, the third-year talent continued to see the heavy majority of snaps even with Williams back in action last week. Benjamin has posted the following numbers in his three weeks as a starter:

  • Week 6: 15-37-0 rushing, 3-28-0 receiving, 87% snaps
  • Week 7: 12-92-1 rushing, 4-21-0 receiving, 73% snaps
  • Week 8: 9-22-0 rushing, 4-23-0 receiving, 74% snaps

Of course, Conner will warrant RB2 consideration himself if healthy enough to return to action. He 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

Ultimately, Kliff Kingsbury continues to be one of the league’s few coaches consistently willing to give his starting running back something close to a true workhorse role. Fire up whoever winds up being the starter as a top-20 option at the position against the league’s third-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing running backs.


ATLANTA FALCONS

  • Week 9 Fantasy Rankings: Tyler Allgeier (RB24), Caleb Huntley (RB32), Avery Williams (RB57)
  • Week 8 Usage: Tyler Allgeier (60% snaps, 14 carries, 3 targets), Caleb Huntley (36%, 16, 0), Avery Williams (7%, 0, 2)
  • Week 9 Matchup: LAC: 31 in PPR per game to RB, 24 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 not in a workhorse manner. Three backs will likely stay involved.

Key question: What should we expect from Cordarrelle Patterson (knee, IR) if he returns to action?

C-Patt is eligible to return from injured reserve this week. Whether he does or not remains to be seen, but it at least seems the king is close to returning. All Patterson did in three healthy games was post PPR RB5, RB52 and RB6 finishes as the Falcons’ bell-cow back.

It’s not a given that Patterson returns to his same effectiveness post-injury — just look at last season’s ankle-induced second-half dropoff — that said he suddenly finds himself inside of an offense with far more scoring upside than anticipated.

I wish that Kyle Pitts and Drake London were getting force-fed the ball as much as the next desperate fantasy managers, but it’s tough to be overly critical of Falcons head coach Arthur Smith when his offense is in the top half of the league in pretty much any metric denoting overall success on that side of the ball:

  • Points per game: 25 (No. 6)
  • EPA per play: +0.025 (No. 7)
  • Yards per play: 5.5 (No. 14)
  • Scoring drive rate: 39.5% (No. 9)

This remains the NFL’s most run-heavy offense since the Rex Ryan-led 2009 Jets. Patterson will immediately be back in the top-15 conversation once healthy enough to return to action. If sidelined again, Tyler Allgeier and (to a slightly lesser extent) Caleb Huntley can be fired up as viable volume-induced FLEX options against the league’s second-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing backfields.


BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • Week 9 Fantasy Rankings: Gus Edwards (RB34), Kenyan Drake (RB36), Justice Hill (RB52)
  • Week 8 Usage: Kenyan Drake (57% snaps, 7 carries, 4 targets), Justice Hill (22%, 4, 0), Gus Edwards (22%, 11, 0)
  • Week 9 Matchup: NO: 8 in PPR per game to RB, 29 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: Can any of these running backs be trusted this week?

Nope. Consistent touches have already been hard enough to come by in this three-pronged committee; now fantasy managers need to handle the delicate balance between Gus Edwards (knee) being healthy enough to suit up and the Ravens playing on Monday Night Football.

Head coach John Harbaugh said the injury is minor and dubbed Edwards as questionable; it’s plenty possible that fantasy managers don’t know who is available until Monday evening. I would rank Edwards in low-end RB2 territory with the assurance of full health; he’s this low to dissuade fantasy managers from risking that over similar options playing on Thursday or Sunday.

Kenyan Drake would receive a nice 10-plus spot bump if Gus is ultimately ruled out; even then he wouldn’t be a must-start commodity inside an offense always willing to keep multiple backfield parties plenty involved.


BUFFALO BILLS

  • Week 9 Fantasy Rankings: Devin Singletary (RB19), James Cook (RB41)
  • Week 8 Usage: Devin Singletary (72% snaps, 14 carries, 1 target), James Cook (28%, 5, 1)
  • Week 9 Matchup: NYJ: 12 in PPR per game to RB, 2 in YBC allowed per carry 
  • Handcuff Index: 4: The decision to trade for Nyheim Hines muddles things up more than before. Neither Hines nor James Cook profile as the sort of early-down option capable of handling a true three-down role. It’s very possible a free agent addition would be signed should Devin Singletary miss any time, while we’ll need to see some game usage before knowing what Hines and Cook’s split might look like.

Key question: Is this Devin Singletary week?

The Bills’ status as 12.5-point favorites would point to the answer being no. Football is a game of inches and Singletary was just a few of those away from finding the end zone in Week 8. That said: Singletary has handled 72%, 59%, 54% and 54% snaps in four games that the Bills won by 10, 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.

The Bills boast the league’s second-most pass-happy offense, so big leads won’t necessarily involve a heavy dosage of Singletary. They’ve also shown a willingness to simply hand the game over to James Cook once things get out of hand, meaning Singletary needs a fairly neutral or negative game script in order to really meet his fantasy upside.

The Jets’ second-ranked run defense in yards before contact per carry doesn’t help matters, nor does the recent addition of Nyheim Hines. Singletary is still a top-20 running back by virtue of six teams having a bye week; just don’t expect him to flirt with an upper-end outcome in a spot not expected to yield elite volume or efficiency.

The newfound presence of Hines is more of a detriment to the upside of everyone involved as opposed to a major boost to his own value. Expect more of a three-back committee than usual in future weeks and there’s a chance Cook’s already slim usage dwindles even more. The Bills’ near offseason signing of J.D. McKissic, the decision to draft Cook in the second round and now this move demonstrates how serious they are about having a pass-catching back in this offense; just realize they still rank just 20th in targets to the position on the season. Historically, high-usage dual-threat quarterbacks like Josh Allen don’t make a habit of enabling elite fantasy backs due to their tendencies to 1.) factor into the rushing equation near the goal line, and 2.) scramble instead of checking down.


CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • Week 9 Fantasy Rankings: D'Onta Foreman (RB18), Raheem Blackshear (RB54)
  • Week 8 Usage: D'Onta Foreman (66% snaps, 26 carries, 1 target), Spencer Brown (25%, 6, 1), Raheem Blackshear (8%, 2, 0)
  • Week 9 Matchup: CIN: 6 in PPR per game to RB, 30 in YBC allowed per carry
  • Handcuff Index: 3: Either Forman or Hubbard can be expected to see something close to a three-down role in the absence of the other. Together, it's much more of an evenly split backfield.

Key question: Is D’Onta Foreman suddenly a must-start fantasy asset?

Not necessarily. Chuba Hubbard (ankle) actually out-snapped Foreman 22 to 14 during the first 45 minutes of action of Week 7 before being sidelined. Clearly, the issue was bigger than initially thought; ESPN’s Adam Schefter had reported the injury was considered a “minor sprain” and he “could have come back in if needed.” This led to Foreman racking up carries last week, even if something named Spencer Brown quietly took plenty of pass-down work.

Credit to Foreman for being the best example of a running back recovering from an Achilles injury in a meaningful way; just realize last week’s 34-point explosion marked the first time all year that this offense eclipsed even 24 points in a game. A more negative game script certainly seems to be on the way given the Panthers’ status as 7.5-point underdogs to the Bengals. 

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