This column typically focuses on fantasy football running back handcuffs, NFL team running back depth, and it also highlights emerging running back utilization trends. Rostering the back who is likely to fill in for your starting running back if he’s forced to miss time, can be extremely important due to position volatility especially if you believe that his team is committed to prioritizing their run game. Sometimes identifying your starting running back’s handcuff is easy. For instance, if you roster Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry and he’s inactive for a game, you know that Tyjae Spears will be the back who’ll take his place. However, if your starting fantasy running back plays for the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, or the Arizona Cardinals (who we’ll cover later in this article), sometimes it’s not too easy to determine who the next man (or running back) up will be. As for running back utilization trends, they’re important to take note of but as we’ll show you, running back opportunity doesn’t always translate into fantasy football production.

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

Houston Texans

There seems to be a slight changing of the guard in the Texans’ backfield but that doesn’t mean that Dameon Pierce or Devin Singletary deserve to be in your fantasy lineups on a regular basis. In his first five games of the season Pierce’s average percentage of snaps played was 52.8% and he was averaging 16.8 carries per game. He only gained 2.94 yards per carry during that time frame. In Pierce’s last two games his offensive snaps played percentage has dropped to 38% and he’s only averaging 12.5 carries per game. His 3.20 yards per carry during that time span continues to be underwhelming. Conversely, Singletary’s usage has been ticking up lately. He was averaging 32% offensive snaps played, 5.4 carries per game and 3.52 yards per carry in his first five games of the season. In his last two games his snaps played percentage has increased to 47% and his average carries per game (11) and yards per carry (4.0) have also improved. Unfortunately, neither player has been providing fantasy football managers with much fantasy production. Pierce is only averaging four fantasy PPR points per game and Singletary is only averaging a slightly better 6.8 fantasy PPR points per game over their last two games. Mike Boone would be the next man up should Pierce or Singletary be unavailable, and the Texans recently added additional running back depth by signing J.J. Taylor to their practice squad.  

Carolina Panthers

Chuba Hubbard is another running back who has seen an increase in playing time over the past few weeks. With Miles Sanders dealing with a shoulder injury which caused him to be inactive in Week 6, Hubbard has seen his average offensive snaps played percentage increase from just over 35 percent in the first three weeks of the season to 61.5% in his last four games. Hubbard still played 67% of the Panthers’ offensive snaps in Week 8 even though Sanders had been a full participant in practice leading up to their matchup against the Texans this past Sunday. Sanders had just two carries on Sunday compared to 15 for Hubbard. Hubbard was unable to take advantage of his high usage. He gained just 1.87 yards per attempt, but he did take five of the Panthers’ six red zone carries including all three from inside the five-yard line. Raheem Blacksheer was the only other Panthers running back to take a red zone carry in Week 8.

Los Angeles Rams

Zach Evans went from being one of fantasy football’s top waiver wire picks leading up to Week 7, to an active bystander in Week 7 and he finally ended up being inactive in Week 8. Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson took turns running the ball in Week 8 each basically being used in alternating drives. Freeman played 53% of the Rams’ offensive snaps (he played 43% in Week 7) and Henderson played 47% of the team’s offensive snaps after having played 57% in Week 7. Henderson had one red zone carry in Week 8 compared to two for Freeman who converted one of those carries into a touchdown. Rams running backs have two more games before Kyren Williams is eligible to return from IR including a favorable Week 9 matchup against the Packers who give up the seventh most PPR fantasy points per game to the running back position. Freeman has been the more effective Rams running back over the past two weeks averaging 5.24 yards per carry compared to 3.07 yards per carry for Henderson, but the Rams will likely continue to split their backfield work fairly evenly over their next two games. 

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have been keeping fantasy football managers on their toes with the way they’ve been using their running backs with James Conner on IR. It looks like Emari Demercado is the back they like best overall but a week after he didn’t play an offensive snap Keaontay Ingram seems to be back in the mix. Demercado played the majority of offensive snaps among Cardinals running backs for a second week in a row in Week 8, but he virtually disappeared in the fourth quarter of last week’s matchup against the Ravens. Ingram had only two carries in Week 8, but both coincided with Demercado’s absence. Ingram had one carry in the third quarter and one in the fourth quarter and he also had a reception in the fourth quarter as well. Demercado’s last carry of the game came in the third quarter, and he also had one reception at the start of the fourth quarter. He wasn’t used again for the rest of the game. It’s unclear if this was due to game strategy or if Demercado suffered an injury that the Cardinals have yet to disclose. However, with 33 carries in his last two games if he’s healthy Demercado should be the Cardinals running back that fantasy football managers put in their lineups in Week 9. Conner is eligible to return from IR in Week 10 and barring any setbacks he should reclaim his lead back status. 

Chicago Bears

Roschon Johnson was cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol prior to Week 8’s matchup against the Chargers and his return to action turned the Bears’ backfield into a red-hot mess for fantasy football managers to deal with. Johnson led Bears running backs in snaps played and routes run but D’onta Foreman led the team in carries with nine. Johnson carried the ball six times and Darrynton Evans had four carries in Week 8. Evans, who led Bears running backs in PPR scoring in Week 8 with 13 fantasy points, took both of the Bears’ carries from inside the 15-yard line and converted one of them into a touchdown. Khalil Herbert who was placed on short term IR, is eligible to be reinstated in Week 10, but he suffered a high ankle sprain and may need additional time before he is fully healthy. Until Herbert can return to action the Bears’ backfield looks like a three headed monster that should be avoided if possible.