It’s been a wild fantasy football season so far with injuries forcing fantasy managers to insert backup running backs (or handcuffs as we like to call them in this column) like D’Onta Foreman, Keaontay Ingram and Chuba Hubbard into their starting lineups in Week 6. With four of fantasy football’s top 10 scoring running backs (PPR scoring) potentially missing time due to injuries and six teams on a bye in Week 7, setting fantasy football lineups isn’t going to be any easier for fantasy managers this week. With Hubbard on a bye and Foreman possibly losing reps to Roschon Johnson this week, there could be several fantasy managers who’ll have no choice but to start running backs like Zach Evans or Craig Reynolds in Week 7. In this week’s RB Handcuff Report we’ll identify several NFL backfields potentially in flux due to injury concerns and focus on running backs who have seen their usage change over the past couple of weeks.
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
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan tried to put a positive spin on Christian McCaffrey’s (oblique) availability for Week 7 using the word “hopefully” when asked if he could play against the Vikings. It’s probably just coach speak and gamesmanship on Shanahan’s part but if you roster McCaffrey you need to have a backup plan. Entering the season, it appeared that Elijah Mitchell was the obvious choice to be McCaffrey’s handcuff but when McCaffrey exited Sunday’s game against the Browns it was Jordan Mason who got the majority of reps out of the 49ers’ backfield. He was effective, rushing for 27 yards on five carries, and he also scored a touchdown. Mitchell had been inactive in Weeks 4 and 5 due to a knee injury which might explain why he only played two snaps compared to Mason’s 15 after McCaffrey exited Sunday’s game. It’s probably going to take two running backs to try to replicate the fantasy production that McCaffrey was providing this season but with Mitchell still a bit banged up Mason is probably the safer play for fantasy managers in Week 7. It doesn’t sound like McCaffrey will be out for very long but if he is look for Mason to be the better short term fantasy option with Mitchell increasing his workload as he gets healthier in the coming weeks.
As this article is being written it’s looking like Kyren Williams (ankle) will be out in Week 7. With Ronnie Rivers nursing a knee injury, rookie RB Zach Evans, who made his season debut in Week 6, could be the Rams’ primary back this Sunday. The Rams made a flurry of moves on Tuesday including elevating Royce Freeman from their practice squad. He’ll likely backup Evans. The Rams also signed Myles Gaskin who will add some depth to the 53-man roster. The Rams weren’t done yet. They reunited with Darrell Henderson and signed him to their practice squad. Henderson spent four seasons with the Rams and his familiarity with their offense could give him some fantasy viability in the coming weeks, but for Week 7 Evans is probably the only Rams RB you should consider starting. He’s got a good matchup against a Steelers defense that has allowed opposing running backs to rush for 4.75 YPC this season.
With David Montgomery expected to miss multiple weeks due to a rib injury the Lions are hoping that Jahmyr Gibbs, who allegedly is trending towards playing in Week 7, can play against the Ravens on Sunday. If Gibbs is inactive this week, Craig Reynolds will likely be the Lions lead back with Devine Ozigbo backing him up. Reynolds has been a backup throughout his NFL career but in three games in which he had at least 11 carries back in the 2021 season he averaged 4.67 YPC and caught six passes for 43 yards. Reynolds might not be an exciting running back but man, can he throw a block!!! The Lions also re-signed RB Mohamed Ibrahim and added him to their practice squad ahead of Week 7.
D’Onta Foreman was clearly the lead back with both Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson out in Week 6. He played well, but Darrynton Evans played a larger role than some expected. Evans had nine carries and a catch and played 36% of the Bears’ offensive snaps. Johnson has a good chance to be active in Week 7 and if he is, some expect that he’ll be the Bears’ lead back against the Raiders. Starting any Bears RB in Week 7 seems like a risky proposition.
Jerome Ford is the Browns’ lead back but Kareem Hunt’s snaps played percentage has increased significantly over the past few weeks. In Week 4 he played just 20% of the team’s offensive snaps. That percentage increased to 22% in Week 5 and 37% in Week 6. Hunt rushed 12 times for 47 yards, scored a touchdown and added three receptions for 24 yards last Sunday and that made him RB 12 in Week 6. By contrast Ford was RB 24 last week. If QB Deshaun Watson continues to miss time the Browns will likely make running the ball a priority and that could mean that both Ford and Hunt could have at least some fantasy value moving forward.
Hunt isn’t the only veteran RB whose usage has been trending up lately. Latavius Murray played a season high 49% of the Bills’ offensive snaps in Week 6. James Cook and Murray each played 30 snaps, but even more eye opening was the fact that Murray was seeing a lot of action in the red zone on Sunday. With Damien Harris in the league’s concussion protocol Murray is clearly Cook’s handcuff for the short term.