As the season wears on and the nagging injuries that so many running backs suffer through begin to nag a bit more, we fantasy football managers should expect to see some slight changes in running back usage as well as minor tweaks to NFL backfield depth charts. We’ll point out a few running backs whose offensive snaps played percentage has been trending upward over the past few weeks and who should be on your radar as we head into the last two bye weeks of the NFL season. A couple of the running backs we’ll talk about may even be their team’s lead back moving forward. Six teams on a bye and a new head coach for the Carolina Panthers (former Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor) will keep us on our toes in Week 13, but we’ve got you covered in this week’s Running Back Handcuff Report.

Handcuffing Your Running Backs

When you handcuff your RBs in many instances you’re:

  • Protecting your early round investment
  • Buying into and trusting that your RB’s team will continue to make running the football a priority 
  • Figuratively taking out insurance against an injury prone RB or one who has a good chance of losing his job if he doesn’t perform well

Indianapolis Colts

With Jonathan Taylor missing up to three weeks due to a thumb injury requiring surgery, Zack Moss will almost certainly replace him as the Colts’ primary back until he’s ready to return to action. From Week 2 through 5 Moss averaged just over 22 carries and 111.3 rushing yards per game (5.0 YPC). He scored three rushing TDs and also caught eight passes for 42 yards including a receiving TD. Trey Sermon will likely function as Moss’ handcuff, giving him some fantasy value while Taylor is recuperating from his surgery. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

D’Ernest Johnson has emerged as Travis Etienne’s handcuff over the past few weeks, surpassing Tank Bigsby on the Jaguars’ depth chart. In his first eight games of the season Etienne’s average percentage of offensive snaps played was 81. That average decreased to 63% in his last three games. Johnson’s average offensive snaps played percentage has steadily increased over those same three games from 21% in Week 10 to 39% in Week 12. Johnson has a history of being a very capable backup running back. In three games as the Browns’ lead back during the 2021 season, Johnson rushed for 368 yards on 66 carries for a 5.57 average YPC and he also scored two TDs. Unfortunately, Bigsby has gotten off to a slow start to his career. His pass protection skills were called into question earlier this season, and he’s fumbled twice and averaged just 2.4 YPC in limited play. Fantasy football managers rostering Etienne may want to make it a point to roster his backup just in case the chest injury that caused him to miss some of his Week 12 matchup against the Texans forces him to miss time in Week 13.

Arizona Cardinals

Former Jets running back Michael Carter made his Cardinals debut in Week 12 and he played the second most snaps (27) among the team’s active backs. James Conner led Cardinals running backs with 30 total snaps played and Emari Demercado played 14 snaps. Conner also led the team with six carries. Carter had four and Demercado had three. Both Conner and Carter were targeted five times, and each had four receptions. The futile performance from the Cardinals running backs in Week 12 could be explained away because of their tough matchup against a Rams defense that has given up the seventh fewest PPR fantasy points per game to the position. However, with Carter added to the mix it’s going to be hard to imagine that any Cardinals running back will play enough snaps to maintain a high level of fantasy productivity. 

Chicago Bears

With D’Onta Foreman inactive due to ankle and shin injuries there were fewer mouths to feed in the Bears’ backfield in Week 12. Perennial lead back Khalil Herbert got the start as usual, but Roschon Johnson played a season high 74% of the Bears’ offensive snaps in Week 12 and led all Bears backs with 50 total snaps played. The Bears have a bye in Week 13, but after Week 14 we should better understand if the Bears will permanently employ a new offensive strategy featuring Johnson as their lead back or if Herbert was limited in Week 12 due to the lingering effect from his early season ankle injury or a new undisclosed injury. We’ll also have a better understanding of what Foreman’s role will look like moving forward.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens’ backfield is still a three-headed monster but with Keaton Mitchell starting to distance himself from Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, it’s not as scary of a monster as it was just a few short weeks ago. Mitchell led the trio with 33 snaps played and 14 routes run, and his offensive snaps played percentage increased for a third straight week. He played 18% of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in Week 9 and in Week 12 he played a season high 46%. He ran the ball nine times against the Chargers last week (the most of any Ravens running back) for 64 yards (7.1 YPC) and added two receptions for 25 yards. The Ravens are on a bye in Week 13 but based on his recent usage trends Mitchell looks like the Ravens’ lead back moving forward.