Managing your fantasy football running backs this season has been challenging but if you’re playing for your league’s championship or simply looking to cash in on a DFS lineup or two in Week 18 you’re going to have your work cut out for you. There are still several teams who need a win in Week 18 to either secure or improve their spot in the NFL playoffs but there are also several playoff bound teams who’ll be resting their starters in order to eliminate the chance of them suffering an injury in a meaningless game. 

There will probably be a few running backs on your radar ahead of Week 18’s kickoff that you never thought you’d consider starting in a fantasy football lineup this season. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has already revealed that 49ers star running back Christian McCaffrey will not be playing in Week 18. On the other hand, the Lions have already clinched their division’s championship, but they’ve announced that they don’t plan on resting their starters. The Ravens, who like the 49ers have already clinched their conference’s number one seed, utilized a veteran back who hadn’t logged a carry since October in Week 17, and he scored a touchdown. Could he expect to be given a significant number of touches in the Ravens’ regular season finale? We’ll sort it all for you and identify a few running backs who could expect to see increased reps in Week 18 in this week’s RB 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

San Francisco 49ers

With Christian McCaffrey inactive in Week 18 you’d expect Elijah Mitchell, his handcuff, to be heavily used against the Rams this week. After all, with McCaffrey on the sidelines after injuring his calf in the third quarter of the 49ers’ Week 17 matchup against the Commanders, Mitchell logged 17 carries for 80 rushing yards and he scored a touchdown. However, even though the 49ers are calling McCaffrey’s right calf strain “mild”, they might consider limiting Mitchell’s reps in Week 18 in order to avoid having him injure himself just in case McCaffrey suffers any complications in his recovery. The 49ers may opt to get backup running back Jordan Mason more involved in their offense this week or they may choose to elevate Tyrion Davis-Price from their practice squad. This might even turn into a Kyle Juszcyk anytime touchdown score kind of game.

Baltimore Ravens

Melvin Gordon saw his first game action for the Ravens since Week 4 in Week 17. He played just eight snaps but managed to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ lopsided shellacking of the Miami Dolphins. With the Ravens having nothing to play for in Week 18 it would probably make sense for them to either rest or limit the snaps played by touchdown machine Gus Edwards (13 TDs) and Justice Hill, their passing down back. Gordon would be the direct beneficiary if the Ravens used that offensive strategy. Ravens running backs have a good matchup against the Steelers who have given up 4.81 yards per carry to running backs over the past three weeks.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns are another playoff team that might be resting some of their starters in Week 18. You wouldn’t think it based on their overall average YPC but Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt have done a good job since they’ve had to replace Nick Chubb after Week 2. Ford has scored nine total touchdowns and averaged just over 12 carries per game and 3.91 YPC, and Hunt has averaged just under 10 carries per game, 3.04 YPC and also scored nine rushing touchdowns since Chubb suffered his season ending injury. As a team that relies heavily on the run, the Browns’ offense would be heavily compromised if Ford or Hunt were unavailable for their playoff run which means that we might see a heavier dose than normal of Pierre Strong in Week 18. Strong has only 49 carries on the season but he’s averaging 4.61 YPC. The Bengals, his week 18 opponent, have given up 4.50 YPC to running backs over the past three weeks.

Kansas City Chiefs

With the Chiefs firmly entrenched as the number three seed in the AFC they may opt to rest some of their starters as well. Isiah Pacheco, who was questionable leading up to Week 17’s kickoff (concussion, shoulder), is coming off a huge performance in which he had 18 carries for 130 yards (7.2 YPC) and added seven catches for 35 yards and a receiving touchdown. He’s been a big part of the Chiefs’ offense, scoring nine total touchdowns in 14 games but with his recent injury history, his snaps may be limited if he even plays at all. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was inactive in Week 17 due to an illness and if he’s not at full strength in Week 18 the Chiefs may end using La’Mical Perine as their lead back against the Chargers.

New Orleans Saints

With Alvin Kamara’s Week 18 status in doubt as this article is being written (high ankle sprain), Jamaal Williams could find himself leading the Saints’ backfield against a suddenly porous Falcons run defense. Williams, who led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns last season, has only 92 carries and has yet to score a touchdown this season. With Kendre Miller (ankle) inactive since Week 9, the Saints may be forced to activate Jordan Mims or James Robinson from their practice squad ahead of their Week 18 matchup.

Buffalo Bills

Latavius Murray has logged just one carry over the past two weeks despite being active for both games. Through Week 14 Murray played an average of just under 35% of the Bills’ offensive snaps. That average dropped to just under 21% over the past three weeks. Ty Johnson seems to have leapfrogged over Murray on the Bills’ depth chart. Johnson was inactive in Week 16 but had five carries in Week 17 and is averaging just over six carries in his last four games. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tank Bigsby had a career high 10 carries in Week 17 against the Panthers and tied his season high with 17 snaps played. Bigsby, who started the season as Travis Etienne’s handcuff, hadn’t had more than one carry in a game since Week 11. D’Ernest Johnson, who appeared to have moved ahead of Bigsby on the Jaguars’ depth chart earlier in the season, recorded his lowest offensive snaps played percentage (19) since Week 10 and had just three carries in Week 17.