playoffs

If you are reading this, congratulations. And I don’t say that just because you are fortunate enough to be reading one of my articles. If you are reading a fantasy football article in Week 14, it is likely because you are in the playoffs and still have a reason to care about your team and your lineup. So, congratulations. I mean it. To those of you who didn’t make the playoffs: see you in hell, candy boys! This is, unfortunately, the last Handcuff Report of the year. It has been a great ride, but we are wrapping things up as the fantasy playoffs begin!

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markingram

It’s Week 13, which means we are heading into the fantasy playoffs soon. I know that because my readership has dwindled the last two weeks, as many fantasy owners have been eliminated from the playoffs and are throwing in the towel. But that’s OKAY. That just means we can be more serious and a bit more intimate now. It’s just me and you, playoff hopefuls.

Heading into this week, Tim Hightower was a name to watch because Mark Ingram was still in the concussion protocol and was questionable to play. If Ingram couldn’t go, Hightower was going to be a high-end flex/RB2 to throw into lineups before they locked on Sunday. But word came out on Sunday morning that Ingram was going to play, so many likely left Hightower on the bench or on the waiver wire.

But something funny happened. It didn’t matter that Ingram played. Ingram and Hightower combined for three touchdowns and almost 300 yards, with Hightower accounting for 51 rushing yards, 54 receiving yards, and one of the touchdowns. Although, Hightower’s final stat line would look a bit different if not for the late 50-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Willie Snead. If Hightower can keep producing even with a healthy Ingram, he can help out some of the needier fantasy owners come playoff time.

To the report…

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rawls

If you are like me and drafted Thomas Rawls in August but managed to stay patient and hang onto him until now, take a bow. I’ll bow with you. September and October were some dark times, my friends, but here we are. Rawls is the top dog in Seattle, and it looks like it will stay that way for the rest of the season now that Christine Michael got shipped out of town and C.J. Prosise is hurt. We did it, guys.

Prosise ran for a 72-yard touchdown in the first quarter on Sunday, but he left the game in the second quarter. It was pretty much all Rawls for the rest of the game, with a little bit of Troymaine Pope (who also got hurt). The Seahawks getting rid of Christine Michael meant they were ready to roll with Prosise and Rawls as their top guys and that they were confident Rawls would be healthy and effective. Now that Prosise is out of the picture, it’s all Rawls, baby.

Rawls rushed 14 times for 57 yards (4.1 YPC) and added three catches for 31 yards, giving him 88 total yards on the day. Heading into the fantasy playoffs, getting an every down back like Rawls into your lineup could be just what your team needs to get that extra edge (I know my team, where I went zero RB and took Rawls as my RB1 LATE, is sitting pretty now that I have him back). The best part about the Prosise injury* is that it means Rawls will see more action on passing downs. They will find a way to spell him here and there, but Rawls should be an every down back going forward and should catch his fair share of passes.

Things change quickly in the NFL, and it seems like just last week we were excited about the idea of a Prosise-Rawls backfield combination. But this week was about much more than Thomas Rawls and how happy we all are to have him back.

To the report. . .

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C.J. Prosise rushes against the New England Patriots

If you played your cards right, 2016 may have been one of the best seasons ever to roll with a zero RB strategy in your draft. Not only have there been a litany of running back committees utilized across the league, but legitimate RB1s and RB2s have been emerging all year. Take a look at this list: Jordan Howard, Devontae Booker, Spencer Ware, C.J. Prosise, Robert Kelley. Those guys were all either not drafted at all or were taken later in drafts as a handcuff or dice roll option (I actually drafted Booker in one league but dropped him after a few weeks because I need the roster spot. D’oh!).

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Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) is stopped short of the end zone by Denver Broncos safety Darian Stewart (26) in the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, everyone. I apologize for missing last week, but I had a bunch of running around to do and was never able to settle down and hammer out the Week 9 Handcuff Report. Let’s just assume that I gave you great advice last week and that you’re back this week for more. Ok? Ok. Good. Great. Now, about those running backs.

The Oakland Raiders have been really fun to watch this year unless you have been trying to predict running back touches all year. While Latavius Murray was frustrating earlier in the year and then got hurt, but one thing he has done all year is find his way into the end zone. And in a week when a ton of people probably benched him because he was going up against the defense of the Denver Broncos, he decided to get into the end zone three times. Hopefully, you rolled the dice or were forced to start him because of bye weeks and injuries, but I know that many of you didn’t start him. I probably wouldn’t have.

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If you were to define the 2016 fantasy football season in one sentence, I challenge you to do better than this: Jay Ajayi has more rushing yards in the last two weeks than Todd Gurley has all season. It has been that bad, and that sentence describes both how surprisingly good Ajayi has been the last two weeks and how disappointing Todd Gurley has been all year. It’s tough to say if those two backs will continue going in different directions, but they are currently following the same paths as their respective offenses. The Rams aren’t giving Gurley any space, while the Dolphins, with their front five finally healthy and playing together, are dropping bodies for Ajayi. Ajayi’s stock has never been higher, now that he is officially the top man in Miami. Which brings us to…

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When I saw that Jay Ajayi (28 CAR, 214 YDS, 7.6 AVG, 1 TD, 53 LONG and 1 REC, 2 YDS, 2.0 AVG, 2 LONG, 1 TGTS) broke the 200-yard rushing barrier yesterday, I assumed it was a career-total type of thing… I mean, what kind of timeline have we been transported to where something like this could happen? We went from:s: It’s Arian Foster, it’s Jay Ajayi, it’s I think I’ll take a pass, to whatever we call this. Arian Foster (3 CAR, 5 YDS, 1.7 AVG, 3 LONG and 1 REC, 4 YDS, 4.0 AVG, 4 LONG, 3 TGTS) is probably safe to ignore now (though I might hold if possible, just because the Dolphins are a weird team that does weird things whenever they can). So now, one has to tackle (see what I did there?) the possibility that we’re seeing Devonta Freeman 2.0. True, the Bills probably wouldn’t be able to tackle Rex Ryan standing still if they tried yesterday, and yeah, the Steelers run defense has somehow morphed into the Colts run defense from the 00’s (zeroes or oh’s?… I have no idea), and that shows up in the numbers: Ajayi has broken as many tackles on 54 handoffs over the last two weeks (13) as Ezekiel Elliott has on 148 touches this entire season. But it’s hard to ignore two 200-yard games in a row, even with caveats. Only three other players have done that: O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, and Ricky Williams. Granted, you probably want to most be like Cambell here, in terms of the law (Simpson) and career longevity (Williams). Don’t kill people and get high, maaaaan… But how do we really know that this is legitimate? Well, since the majority of us didn’t see Freeman’s 2015, we can certainly see some similar parallels with Ajayi forming. In 2014, Freeman was one of the top running backs in the draft (like Ajayi was in 2015), and as a rookie for the Falcons, he was relegated to third string duty, totaling just 65 rushes and 30 catches the entire year. He was unspectacular, and his potential finally forgotten en masse when Tevin Coleman was drafted. The exact same could be said with Ajayi last year, as Lamar Miller’s presence limited him to just 187 total rushing yards and 11 catches. And then, Kenyan Drake was drafted and Arian Foster was signed. While it’s hard to say if Ajayi can sustain RB1 numbers for an Adam Gase and Clyde Christensen run offense that has never drawn up a sh*tty play that they didn’t love and do over and over again, it’s certainly apparent that when you make the lazy comparison that Jay Ajayi is the next Devonta Freeman, it might actually turn out to be right. And then you find yourself wondering, can Devonta effing Freeman be the next Jay Ajayi?… And then you wonder how the NFC West didn’t win a game yesterday, even though the Seahawks and Cardinals played against each other… and then you wonder why your head hurts so much.

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I’d like to dedicate this week’s Beyond the Numbers to Week 6’s fantasy darling: Jay Ajayi. His 204 yard explosion versus Pittsburgh goes against every data point you could have on the guy, and gives a little bit of credit to a “beyond the numbers” mentality. Everyone seems to be flip flopping more than Ajayi’s mascot about whether he or Arian Foster will be the main man (myself included), and hopefully now we’ve found our answer. That joke would’ve probably landed better if Miami’s mascot was a fish, but hey, you got to work with what you got. This week, I’m on the lookout for the next monster performance, so let’s get to it…

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Oct 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) carries the ball against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we all saw that coming. We all knew the Miami Dolphins were going to smash the Pittsburgh Steelers, and we all knew that they were going to do so by riding Jay Ajayi and his 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns. We all knew that, even with Arian Foster coming back, Ajayi would get 25 carries and, oh, you know, rattle off 8.2 YPC on the day. We all knew Jay Ajayi, sent down from above by his Heavenly father to be the savior of the Dolphins in the fifth round of the NFL draft last year, was going to get more touches than any running back not named Terrance West, Ezekiel Elliott, Lamar Miller, or Melvin Gordon.

And, of course, we all knew that Spencer Ware was going to get 26 touches on 40 snaps to Jamaal Charles’s 11 on 15. This was the first time all year that many Jamaal Charles owners started him, as he was finally considered healthy enough for a full workload. So, of course, Ware dominated the snaps and touches. But we all knew that was going to happen. That’s what makes this so easy!

Now, if you are this far into the article and haven’t been able to detect the sarcasm, please stop reading. We cannot help you here. You have bigger problems than fantasy football, and you will not find the answers here. You will likely only find more questions and a Simpsons referenced forced into here somewhere (this one doesn’t count).

For the rest of you, we have work to do. This was another strange week for running backs, as I so subtly alluded to above, and we have a number of question marks at running back going forward.

And now, to the report…

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Ahh, it’s that refreshing time of year when the scorching heat is finally dying down, and the weather is turning cold enough to completely forget about the summer. With the middle of the season approaching, the fantasy outlook, like the weather, is rapidly changing.  Sure you may have had one of the best teams in the league when Eric Decker and DeAngelo Williams were still producing, but those days are gone and their positions have been filled. This is true for many of the players you drafted, whether they were once putting up great numbers or not, and it’s about time to adapt to the changes. Get ready to trust in players you never thought you would, in this week’s Beyond the Numbers.

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