When fantasy football managers and analysts mention handcuffs, they’re not talking about Kareem Hunt or Nyheim Hines. A proper handcuff is a player with so little standalone value that they will be a wasted roster spot unless the player above them on the depth chart misses time. Chuba Hubbard is the epitome of a running back handcuff, and his fantasy value may never be higher.
Should you start Chuba Hubbard in Week 4?
Christian McCaffrey, the starting running back for the Carolina Panthers, was the No. 1 pick in most fantasy football drafts, and with good reason. He touched the ball 30 times in the season opener and 29 times in Week 2. Through two weeks, he was the Panthers’ leading rusher and their second-most-targeted receiver, after DJ Moore. Finding a player who will be a workhorse in fantasy football is rare, and McCaffrey’s value reflects that.
Chuba Hubbard will be the starting running back
Hubbard had 10 touches in the opening two games. While it was incredibly early in his NFL career, it was fair to question Hubbard’s efficiency as a role player. He had 2 receptions for 4 yards against the New York Jets in his debut and followed that up with 8 carries for 10 rushing yards against the Saints.
McCaffrey’s hamstring injury in Week 3 left the Panthers needing another option, though, and Hubbard looked much improved. He rushed 11 times for 52 yards and reeled in 3 of 5 targets for 27 yards. He proved that he’s capable of keeping the offense moving.
Head coach Matt Rhule has made it clear that Hubbard is the next man up. He’s not the only RB on the roster, though. His primary competition for touches comes in the form of Royce Freeman. The former Denver Broncos RB has had a solid if unspectacular career and appears to have settled into a backup role. He had 5 carries for 17 yards and 1 catch for 8 yards in Week 3.
The Panthers’ offense likes to have a workhorse
Carolina’s coaches have shown they aren’t afraid of leaning on a backup running back. That’s why fantasy managers drafted Hubbard, and that’s why, in those leagues that he was still on waivers, managers spent vast percentages of their Free Agent Budget (FAB) on him. When McCaffrey was forced to miss multiple weeks with a high ankle sprain in 2020, Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady put their faith in journeyman Mike Davis.
Davis finished the season with 224 touches for 1,015 scrimmage yards and 8 touchdowns. From Week 3 to Week 8, he was the RB14 in points per game in standard scoring. McCaffrey returned for Week 9 before being shut down for the remainder of the season. From Week 10 onward, Davis was the RB25 — less impressive but still a great return on investment for a player with no preseason expectations.
Chuba Hubbard faces an untested Dallas run defense
The Panthers have an interesting Week 4 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points in standard scoring, but that stat is a little deceiving. They have only faced 30 rushing attempts from running backs in the first three weeks of the season, comfortably the lowest mark in the league. In Week 3’s NFC East rivalry game against the Philadelphia Eagles, only 3 of the team’s 12 rushing attempts came from RBs. Jalen Hurts accounted for the other 9.
Teams have also opted to use running backs heavily out of the backfield. The Cowboys have defended receiving backs well, but they have still given up 26 receptions to the position, the third-highest number in the league. Hubbard proved himself a capable pass catcher in college, and he will have value in PPR leagues.
Chuba Hubbard’s career at Oklahoma State
The Panthers selected Hubbard in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but that only tells half of the story. Hubbard’s sophomore season in 2019 was one of the best running back seasons in college football history. He rushed 328 times for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also had 23 receptions for 198 receiving yards.
Before declaring for the draft, his final season was disappointing, but he still averaged 96.7 yards from scrimmage per game and scored 6 TDs in seven games. Hubbard has the size and speed to handle an NFL workload. He’s 6-foot, 210 pounds, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds at his pro day.
Hubbard has the upside that fantasy managers are looking for at this stage of the season. His outlook may be impacted by game script, but a high-scoring back-and-forth matchup could bring out the best in him. Hubbard is currently the RB27 in our Week 4 running back rankings.
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