Sean McVay, Week 13, Handcuffs, and the 2024 Los Angeles Rams

Some of us (the real sickos) haven’t taken time off from ball. I don’t know what that says about me as a person, but I know what it should say to you, the person reading this: get him help, but let him make me some money before he goes.

I got you. 

Part 1: RB Touch Shares 

Before we can make this omelet, let’s crack a few eggs first. The devaluation of the running back position in the league is a misnomer. While I’ll never disagree that backs are being diminished by the NFL (especially as it pertains to contracts/draft capital), it’s a framing issue. Let’s avoid the financial part of all this and look at it as it relates to usage.  

Teams have devalued all but the top handful of running backs. It’s a top-to-bottom trend of snap share/carries per season all going down. In 2005, the top 15 running backs in the NFL had an average carry total of 319 rushes. In 2006, it went to 283. It’s been on a decline ever since: in 2023, it was 234. Teams have realized it’s smarter to have a stable of backs that can do different things instead of basing their scheme around one back (and tying injury risk to one player in a position with a ton of injuries). 

When I first started playing fantasy football, RBs were king. Obviously, if you’re reading this in July you don’t need me to tell you about the transition. However, as that has changed, and as teams have changed the way they value the position, fantasy drafting strategy has changed as well. Around a decade ago, handcuffing RBs was all the rage. Now, not so much.

The change comes from the teams: if most backs were getting 250 touches (16 or so carries a game) when that RB went out, the next guy got those 16 or so carries a game. The diversification of the run game (because teams do run around the same number of rushes per game that they have been doing for 20 or so years) means several different backs would get the hypothetical vacated rush attempts from a “bell cow” back. The thing is, most coaches don’t use bell cow backs anymore, and instead of fighting for a handcuff, later-round RB fantasy picks tend to be ancillary backs who would have their roles expand in the case of an injury. 

Part 2: Kyren Williams

So, let’s turn this into actionable advice for your 2024 fantasy football team. I’m going to start part two with a confession: I liked Kyren Williams a lot coming out of college. It was the class of 2022, and of the backs I liked, I was higher on Kyren and Tyler Allgeier than consensus (let’s not talk about my Treylon Burks eval, though). This isn’t a victory lap, trust me. I know he’s not a great running back, but he is an above-average one. 

We have to give Kyren credit not only for delivering but putting up with an insane workload of power runs over and over again. In his 12 games, his 89.1% snap share was the best in the league. The dude averaged 19 carries and 4 targets a game for a truly beautiful work rate. His offensive line being top 10 in yards allowed before contact per attempt helped him grind it out. 

Williams’s elite usage was comical- he had 60 red zone carries and 11 goalline carries in 12 games. He was 4th among RBs in route participation, and 2nd in dominator rating. So, we know about the workload, how was he when he had the ball in his hands? 

Last year, 23 Running Backs carried the ball over 200 times. Of those 23, Kyren ranked: 

  • 1st in rush yards per game (95.3, 4 yards better than CMC)
  • 2nd in yards per carry (5.02) 
  • 16th in explosive run rate (3.9%) 
  • 3rd in touchdown rate (5.3%) 
  • Dead last (good) in percentage of runs that were stuffed (37.7%) 
  • 11th in missed tackles forced per attempt (0.21) 
  • 10th in yards after contact per attempt (2.75) 
  • 2nd in yards before contact per attempt (2.27) 
  • 1st in yards per carry on zone runs (88 attempts- 6.25 YPC)
  • 11th in yards per carry on man/gap runs (140 attempts, 4.24 YPC) 

So, what could this mean? We’re seeing two major things here (three, really):

  1. Elite usage. Like, absolutely top-of-the-line elite usage.
  2. A bruiser back without a lot of explosiveness who gets 5 yards and a cloud of dust on a high-scoring offense 
  3. A history of injury. 

Kyren missed 5 games with an ankle sprain last season. Let’s look at what happened for the Rams in the weeks that Kyren was out. 

Week 7 (vs Pittsburgh, L 24-17):
Royce Freeman: 12 rushes, 66 yards
Darrell Henderson: 18 rushes, 61 yards, 1TD

Week 8 (vs Dallas, L 43-20):
Darrell Henderson: 12 rush, 31 yards
Royce Freeman: 9 rushes, 44 yards, 1TD

Week 9 (vs Green Bay, L 20-3) (No Matt Stafford):
Royce Freeman: 12 rushes, 32 yards
Darrell Henderson: 10 rushes, 19 yards 

Week 11 (vs Seattle, W 17-16):
Royce Freeman: 17 carries, 73 yards
Darrell Henderson: 6 carries, 1 yard 

So, the point we’re making here is less about splitting the workload as much as we are confirming how much McVay runs the damn ball. This is what Sean McVay has done since Todd Gurley from 2017-2019. Even with Gurley, while the usage numbers weren’t obscene, the production was: Gurley was RB1 in 2017 and 2018 before completely falling off in the Rams Super Bowl run and eventual loss. I still can’t believe they suddenly found arthritis after the season, and not during the season when he was held out with inflammation in that same knee. Must be a coincidence. 

Kyren Williams will most likely be another back that McVay runs completely into the dirt because he refuses to divvy up the workload in a meaningful way to keep his runners fresh. Looking into snap and work shares this offseason pointed me towards something that I’m calling “The McVay Week 13 Effect.” 

Part 3: The McVay Week 13 Effect 

In 2023, Kyren Williams came back in week 12 and was a top 12 running back every week except one for the rest of the season, with a snap share of 82.1% and carrying the ball 21.8 times a game. 

However, looking back, Sean McVay RBs get hurt later on in the season due to the workload, and oddly, the back that takes over in week 13 is a startable fantasy play. 

2022: Cam Akers’ snap share didn’t hit over 50% until week 13. From week 13 to week 18, Akers had 17.3 carries a game and averaged RB13. He was overdrafted in 2023 as a result. 

2021: Sony Michel hit 97% snap share in week 13 after going over 40% one time previously. For the rest of the regular season, he averaged 20.3 carries a game and averaged RB23. He would never have over 10 rushes in a game after this stretch. 

2020: Cam Akers’ snap share never hit 32% until, you guessed it, week 13 when his usage shot up. In his final four games, he averaged 21.5 carries and an average fantasy finish of RB24. 

Part 4: Appropriate Handcuffing/Conclusion 

I was not a huge Blake Corum guy. I remain in that same camp to this day. You see where this is going though, right? Blake Corum has a 5’9”, 194lb back between him and league-winning usage behind a strong offensive line. Over his career, Kyren has had multiple ankle sprains that have kept him out for extended periods, and whatever lead back is in that room has the easy potential for 14-22 carries a game. 

Les Snead has already come out and suggested the Rams using pick 83 on Corum was to help keep Kyren fresh and move towards a rotation. This means Corum could have more than just handcuff upside, but let’s call it like it is- if Kyren goes down, Corum could be the NFL’s leader in rush attempts per game for the weeks he’s in there. 

Does the skill of the player matter? I don’t think so. Every fantasy account on Earth has spent the last year telling you that Rachaad White sucks, and maybe he does, but I’d take a guy that sucks and gets 25 opportunities a game over a guy who is great and gets 10. Corum might suck and still be a league winner if Williams goes down. 

As of this writing, Kyren Williams is RB8, going around pick 30. Blake Corum is RB35, going around pick 117. Is it time to bring back the antiquated handcuff strategy, and even so, a high value handcuff strategy? If you’re going to draft Isiah Pacheco, grabbing CEH in your last round makes sense, but this is round 11. You’re taking him over Trevor Lawrence, Dontayveon Wicks, and Mike Williams. There’s a lot of upside you’re leaving on the board to take a backup running back. It’s not just a handcuff, it’s a handcuff of questionable appropriateness. 

Part 5: Conclusion 

I need to stress to you that I am a Blake Corum denier. You have to believe me, otherwise I might look like some kind of idiot to tell you what I’m about to say: 

If I draft Kyren Williams this year, I’m taking Blake Corum a round ahead of ADP just to ensure I have the handcuff. That means Corum over Tyjae Spears, Devin Singletary, Javonte Williams, and Khalil Shakir. The workload is too much to pass up on, and the path to a top-24 finish every single week is easier with Corum than any of those guys in round 10 or round 9. 

Yes, I am suggesting taking a handcuff in round 8 of your 12-team league (if you drafted Kyren). If you’re one of those people who likes to take other people’s handcuffs for future trade cap, first off I fucking hate you, but secondly it’s a risky proposition. If the McVay Week 13 RB trend continues, you’re risking your trade deadline passing before you can maximize his value. 

If you think Kyren sucks, take Corum. If you think Kyren is going to get hurt early, take Corum. Corum is currently being valued around Jerome Ford and Chase Brown, but his potential value puts him closer to Najee Harris/Jaylen Warren/Zack Moss. If he gets the McVay workload, especially come fantasy playoffs, he’s a set-and-forget RB2 who could win you weeks. 

If I don’t have Kyren, I’m only angling for a portion of this insane backfield production, and to me, that’s a -EV move, especially if you’re in a league with minimal bench spots. However, if I have Kyren, presumably I’ve drafted him to be my RB1 or 2, and it’s reassuring to know that workload won’t change even if the guy I drafted goes down, typically an injury that craters a fantasy season if you went hero RB (as is the style of the time). 

Time will tell if the production of a filling in Blake Corum is the same as Kyren, as I pointed out earlier he’s actually a better back than he gets credit for. However, the work rate is there, and that’s what we hunt in fantasy football. 

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