Tim Hightower was a starting running back on an inordinate number of championship fantasy football rosters in 2015. Who is this year’s league winning RB handcuff?
As the season progresses, the increasing amount of data available gives us better insight into the impact that one player’s injury would have on the target/carry distribution for his team’s offense. Additionally, as players continue to wear down physically and pick up injuries/nicks, the likelihood of them suffering significant injuries in the future increases. These compounding factors make prioritizing handcuff running backs onto your roster that much more of a profitable endeavor as we enter the stretch-run of the fantasy football season.
Those who are in sure position to make the fantasy playoffs can be liberal in adding and/or trading for the following players below, as you should prioritize adding players to your roster that have high upside and can potentially be utilized in one’s playoff lineup. For those still on the playoff bubble, more discretion should be applied, and perhaps the best way to approach bench construction moving forward would be evenly mixing your bench with players that can contribute for you in the upcoming weeks (Robert Woods, for example) and high-upside bench stashes with currently negligible standalone value (see below).
Mike Gillislee is the best handcuff/bench stash in fantasy football. LeSean McCoy is among the most injury-prone running backs in football, most recently and infamously aggravating his hamstring injury against Miami in Week 7. While plenty of backup running backs play behind starters that are injury-prone, Gillislee stands out as such an attractive bench stash for several reasons:
In the event that LeSean McCoy goes down with another significant injury, the Bills appear comfortable with Mike Gillislee as their lead back, as he sported a 53.6-percent Opportunity Share of the team’s running back carries and targets in his lone start in Week 8. This workload may seem on the low-end for an NFL starter, but is valuable on a Bills squad that is No. 5 in the league in team run plays per game. Additionally, Gillislee’s proficiency in the passing game (7.3-percent College Target Share and 88.9-percent Catch Rate) raises his weekly floor and ceiling. Volume is king in fantasy football, but efficiency should certainly be considered in seeking difference-making fantasy players. Although in a smaller sample size, Gillislee is No. 4 in the league in Production Premium, No. 3 in Fantasy Points Per Opportunity, and No. 3 in Breakaway Run Rate. In his lone start against New England in Week 8, Gillislee scored an impressive 18.4 PPR points despite facing negative game script and a defense currently 5th in rush DVOA (per Football Outsiders).
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Mike Gillislee’s future fantasy prospects is his mouthwatering upcoming schedule, including home matchups against Pittsburgh (Week 14) and Cleveland (Week 15) in the fantasy playoffs, as illustrated in Rotoviz’s Buy Low App:
Add Mike Gillislee everywhere you can, and target him in trades in exchange for expendable players who do not have anything resembling his fantasy ceiling.
DuJuan Harris checks all of the boxes of impressive athletic profile (91st-percentile SPARQ-x Score), receiving chops (63rd-percentile college target share and 87.5-percent NFL catch rate), efficiency (No. 10 in Production Premium, No. 1 (!) in Juke Rate, No. 4 in Breakaway Run Rate, and No. 14 in Fantasy Points Per Opportunity), and workhouse volume projection in the event of Carlos Hyde injury (84.2-percent opportunity share in Week 9).According to the Rotoviz Buy Low App, San Francisco has the No. 4 most favorable schedule for running backs in fantasy playoff Weeks 14 and 15, including a delicious matchup against the charitable Atlanta D in Week 15 (in the image below, the higher “SOS.Target.Weeks” value, the more favorable the matchup for running backs in Weeks 14 and 15, particularly):
Carlos Hyde has been among the most injury-riddled backs in football since his rookie season. However, owners will quickly forget this based on recency bias and cut bait on DuJuan Harris. This is where you come in for sloppy seconds and potentially profit considerably.
Handcuffs With Standalone Value
For those on the playoff bubble seeking players with lower-end standalone value for the upcoming weeks with upside for much more in the case of an injury, Bilal Powell would be a top trade target with high-end fanasy RB2 potential if an injury befalls Matt Forte. Additionally, the Jets face among the easiest schedules for running backs in Weeks 14 and 15 (see DuJuan Harris above).
Furthermore, Bilal Powell has enough underwhelming weeks on his 2016 game log to be relatively straightforward to acquire from his current owner. Like Tim Hightower in 2015, Powell was also featured on a number of 2015 championship rosters and has produced enough to be considered low-end flex option in full PPR leagues, which can be useful for those on the playoff bubble seeking injury and/or bye week relief. Ultimately, Powell requires an injury or suspension to Matt Forte to be a weekly difference maker.
Similar to Bilal Powell, Duke Johnson has produced just enough to be considered a low-end flex-option in full PPR leagues, yet has a clear path to workhorse RB2 status in the event of a Isaiah Crowell injury. With that being said, one may be able to acquire The Duke at a slightly discounted price from those other two backs because of whom Johnson plays for and his lower name recognition. Even more intriguing is the possibility that Duke is more capable of handling a full workload of touches for his team than Powell, as he sported a 71st-percentile College Dominator Rating and has a Playerprofiler’s Best Comparable to LeSean McCoy (I am remembering now why I had an excessive amount of shares of Johnson in MFL10 drafts this season).
The Browns having a below average schedule for running backs in Weeks 14 (Cincinnati) and 15 (Buffalo) is a slight buzzkill, but in the situation that Duke Johnson Sr.’s son becomes starter, he should be able to overcome these bad matchups with volume and efficiency. Johnson is currently No. 4 in Yards Per Touch, No. 11 in Breakaway Run Rate, No. 12 in Total Evaded Tackles, No. 2 in Juke Rate and No. 13 in Fantasy Points Per Opportunity.
Deep League Handcuffs
As a hard running compiler, Jay Ajayi‘s 2016 track record correlates strongly with the playing status of key offensive lineman: Brandon Albert and Mike Pouncey. When Miami’s starting 5 offensive lineman are healthy, few run blocking units compare.
Damien Williams has established himself as Jay Ajayi‘s clear backup. As Ray Marzarella noted, Williams scored four TDs in the four games immediately after Miami shifted to a run-heavy team in Week 6. If Ajayi were to to miss time, the more versatile Williams would step in and could be even more productive due in large part to his involvement in the passing game.
Akeem Hunt was an impressive athletic prospect coming out of Purdue college, sporting a 90th-percentile forty-yard dash (4.44 seconds), 79th-percentile Burst Score (124.8) and 96th-percentile Agility Score (10.78). Even more impressive was his college production, with a 94th-percentile College Target Share (!) and 52nd-percentile College Dominator Rating. Hunt was waived by the Texans on September 3, but was added back to their active roster from the practice squad on November 12. In his first game on the active roster in Week 10 against the Jaguars, Hunt had an impressive 8 carries for 52 yards and an additional 1 catch for 1 yard, supposedly looking explosive on several plays (I wouldn’t know myself, as I refuse to watch any game that features Brock Osweiler).
On November 17, Bill O’Brien indicated Akeem Hunt would be “part of the game plan” in Week 11 against the Raiders, at least indicating that Coach O’Brien is open to the idea of using Hunt more heavily.
Bill O’Brien says Akeem Hunt will be part of the game plan
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) November 17, 2016
Lamar Miller is experiencing first-hand the brutal physical grind for an every-down NFL running back as he continues to pick up various injuries, and Alfred Blue is god-damn *awful* and dealing with a calf injury.
Once again referring to Rotoviz’s Buy Low App (see chart and table above), Houston has some yummy matchups for running backs down the stretch, including Indianapolis in Week 14 and at home against Jacksonville in Week 15:
Please keep in mind that Akeem Hunt is primarily a deeper league handcuff, but an intriguing one at that, as his value can skyrocket this week with a strong performance against the Raiders.