In partnership with Roto Street Journal, The 33rd Team is presenting a series on the players every fantasy football contender needs to stash for the 2021 playoffs.
After 14 grueling weeks, the fantasy football playoffs are finally here. While most of your roster is probably already set, hitting on a savvy bench stash can make the difference between winning the title and going home empty-handed.
The primary factors that go into these running back handcuff rankings are:
- How likely is the handcuff to dominate snaps and touches if the starter is unavailable?
- What has the handcuff done in previous games the starter missed?
- How healthy is the starter currently playing in front of the handcuff?
Roster percentage based on Yahoo! leagues
TIER 1: MUST-ROSTER
Anyone in this tier is likely already owned in a 12-team league. If not, scoop them up. I would feel good about starting all five of these guys if their respective starter misses a game.
1. A.J. Dillon (92%)
A.J. Dillon is arguably the starter at this point after out-snapping teammate Aaron Jones 37-29 last week and handling 15 carries to five for Jones. When Jones missed Week 11, Dillon saw 75% of the snaps, 11 carries, and six targets. He is also by far the best starting option on this list if his teammate is healthy.
2. Sony Michel (83%)
Sony Michel has started the last two games in place of teammate Darrell Henderson Jr. He has played at least 97% of the snaps each of the past two weeks and has seen over 20 carries per game, making him a must-start if Henderson misses more time. Henderson missed Week 13 with a quad strain and Week 14 on the COVID list. Henderson may return for Week 15, but there’s a chance Michel could be the starter again.
3. Alexander Mattison (82%)
Teammate Dalvin Cook missed three games this season, and in those games, Alexander Mattison is averaging 24.3 carries and six targets. Positive game scripts have certainly aided the volume numbers, and two of those three games were against the Lions, but the Vikings clearly trust Mattison if Cook misses time. Mattison was recently placed on the COVID list and is ineligible to return until Week 16, but that doesn’t really matter for fantasy purposes. Cook will play in Week 15, so you couldn’t start Mattison anyway. However, Cook’s shoulder faces a high risk of re-injury, so Mattison is still a great stash.
4. Rhamondre Stevenson (56%)
Patriots running back Damien Harris injured his hamstring in Week 14. He briefly returned to the game before being ruled out with the injury. Harris is about 50/50 to play in Week 15, according to Dr. Jesse Morse. Everyone remembers Rhamondre Stevenson‘s 20-100-2 line on the ground along with five targets in the one game he started without Harris. He could be usable in Week 15, and I would feel good about starting him in any game Harris misses.
5. Darrel Williams (66%)
Darrel Williams is a player who saved many fantasy seasons with plug-and-play RB production. When he started Weeks 6-10, he averaged 13.8 carries, 5.4 targets, and 17.8 fantasy points per game. Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire appears to be healthy at this time, so that is the main reason why Williams is at the bottom of this tier. Still, Williams has some standalone value and would instantly re-gain elite status if Edwards-Helaire missed time in the fantasy playoffs.
TIER 2: CONSIDER STASHING
Players in this tier are still worth stashing if you have space, but they are not as high of a priority due to playing in a poor offense or uncertain role.
6. Jamaal Williams (72%)
Jamaal Williams is tough to project for many reasons. First, starter D’Andre Swift is dealing with a shoulder injury. One report suggested he was a candidate to go on IR, but coach Dan Campbell recently said the team is “hopeful” to get Swift back and that he is day-to-day. Williams also missed Week 14 on the COVID list, so there’s no guarantee he will be ready for Week 15 even if Swift doesn’t play.
Williams effectively started in place of Swift in Weeks 12 and 13. He averaged 16 carries and three targets, but only played 63% and 47% of the snaps, respectively. If you are desperate for immediate RB production, Williams probably belongs in the top tier. However, he hasn’t been used as a bell cow even in Swift’s absence. His 16-carry average came in two games that went down to the wire and could easily fall off a cliff if the Lions suffer another blowout loss.
7. Samaje Perine (18%)
The only sample we have of Samaje Perine‘s usage without Joe Mixon came in Week 5 against Green Bay. Mixon exited with an injury after playing 28% of the snaps. Perine finished with 61% of the snaps, meaning he took nearly all non-Mixon snaps and saw 11 carries and five targets for 83 total yards and a score. Over the last two weeks, Perine has played all of the non-Mixon RB snaps. Mixon is currently healthy but has had a few minor injury scares this season. Perine looks like a decent bet to see bell-cow usage if Mixon goes down, but he’s currently healthy, and Perine’s potential workload is a little more uncertain than the top-tier guys since we haven’t had a full game with Mixon out.
8. Devontae Booker (24%)
You could certainly make the argument to have Devontae Booker in the top tier based on his performance in relief of Saquon Barkley this year. In the five games where Booker played the majority of snaps, he averaged 15.6 carries and four targets and played a clear bell-cow role. Saquon doesn’t seem to be in immediate danger of missing time, but he has been on and off the injury report lately with the same ankle injury that allowed Booker to start in the first place. I have him in tier two because the Giants offer considerably fewer scoring opportunities than the tier one players.
TIER 3: LONGSHOTS
If you are in a deeper league, these players might be worth a stash, but they face uphill battles to relevance this season.
9. D’Ernest Johnson (13%)
D’Ernest Johnson lands on this list primarily because Kareem Hunt injured his ankle in Week 14. Head coach Kevin Stefanski said that Hunt will likely miss Week 15, although it sounds like he has good shot to return sometime in the fantasy playoffs. In his two starts this year, Johnson is averaging 20.5 carries for 122.5 yards on the ground and 5 targets for 40 yards through the air — insane production.
The problem is that if you’re a playoff team, you probably don’t want to start Johnson with a healthy Nick Chubb in Week 15. Hunt seems to have a decent chance to return in Week 16, which means Johnson might not even have the backup role past this week. The upside is undeniable, but Johnson’s chances of starting another game seem very low.
10. Khalil Herbert (20%)
When starter David Montgomery went down with an injury, Khalil Herbert was dominant during Weeks 6-8. He averaged 20 carries and 3.3 targets per game while operating as the clear starter during that stretch. However, I am not convinced that he would return to a similar role if Montgomery went down again. In the first game, backup Damien Williams split snaps roughly 50/50 with Herbert. Then, Williams went on the Week 6 COVID list and only played sparingly in Weeks 7-8. Williams also suffered knee and calf injuries later in the year. It’s not clear what kind of shape he was in during that stretch.
Williams now seems healthy. He out-snapped Herbert 7 to 5 in Week 14. Herbert is no longer the clear backup, and a timeshare seems likely if Montgomery goes down again.