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Fantasy Football: Ranking the Running Back Handcuffs

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Jul 31, 2018

Vikings running back Latavius Murray is one of the more valuable handcuffs in fantasy football

It seems like each and every year, the question arises among fantasy owners. “Should I draft my running back’s handcuff?” While it’s impossible to answer that question in a vacuum because of how many variables come into play, we’re going to assume that you’ve made up your mind already.

Truth be told, even if you don’t want to draft your running back’s handcuff, you can find value in this chart. Please don’t tell me that you’re ignoring the running back position late in drafts all together, because that would be unwise. Instead, let me help you determine which running backs best suit your team. You may want a running back who’ll have a role even without an injury in front of him, or you could just be aiming for a running back who has RB1 upside should he get the opportunity to start. When you leave this article, you’ll know which one best suits you.

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Below you’ll see all 32 handcuff running backs with a chart that has values on a scale from 1-5. The higher the number, the better for them. We’ve had to swap around the “Talent in front of him” chart to make the best available talent come up as a “1” to keep the chart color coordinated correctly. Green indicates a great score/opportunity, while red indicates a low score/opportunity. After the chart, we’ll separate the running back tiers for your drafting needs.

Handcuff Team Talent in Front of Him Production Without Injury RB1 Potential if Starting Team Scoring
Terrance West NO 1 2 4 5
Tevin Coleman ATL 1 4 5 4
Dion Lewis TEN 2 4 5 4
Chris Carson SEA 2 1 3 3
Spencer Ware KC 1 1 5 4
Cameron Artis-Payne CAR 3 1 1 3
Rod Smith DAL 1 1 5 2
Ameer Abdullah DET 3 1 3 3
Samaje Perine WAS 2 1 2 2
Peyton Barber TB 2 1 2 3
Elijah McGuire NYJ 4 2 2 1
Nick Chubb CLE 3 2 4 2
Latavius Murray MIN 2 2 5 5
Aaron Jones GB 3 3 5 5
Devontae Booker DEN 3 2 3 2
Giovani Bernard CIN 2 3 3 2
Corey Clement PHI 3 2 2 5
Chris Ivory BUF 1 2 2 1
Rex Burkhead NE 2 4 4 5
Matt Breida SF 2 3 4 4
D’Onta Foreman HOU 3 3 4 3
Jordan Wilkins IND 3 2 3 4
Doug Martin OAK 3 2 3 2
James Conner/Jaylen Samuels PIT 1 1 5 5
Tarik Cohen CHI 2 4 4 3
T.J. Yeldon JAX 1 3 4 3
Wayne Gallman NYG 1 1 3 3
Frank Gore/Kalen Ballage MIA 2 2 1 1
Justin Jackson LAC 2 1 5 5
Kenneth Dixon BAL 2 1 3 2
Chase Edmonds ARI 1 1 2 1
John Kelly LAR 1 1 5 4



The “I want someone who’ll contribute now” Tier

Tevin Coleman
Dion Lewis
Devontae Booker
Giovani Bernard
Rex Burkhead
Tarik Cohen
T.J. Yeldon

Here are the running backs who are going to be considered flex-type plays to start the year, as they have value without any injuries taking place. Some have more upside than others, but the only one who’s being severely underdrafted in this range is T.J. Yeldon, as most don’t seem to realize he racked up 41 targets and 30 receptions in just 10 games last year. He also comes with RB1 upside should Leonard Fournette miss any time. Side note: I didn’t include Chris Thompson here because he’s not really the true handcuff.

The “I’m drafting for pure upside” Tier

Spencer Ware
Rod Smith
Latavius Murray
D’Onta Foreman
Jordan Wilkins
James Conner/Jaylen Samuels
Justin Jackson
Kenneth Dixon
Chase Edmonds
John Kelly

These are the guys who should be considered “true upside” handcuff running backs, as they’re extremely unlikely to steal the starting job, but they’re one injury away from a big impact in fantasy football. While most will say that D’Onta Foreman has a chance to steal the job and should be in the next tier on this list, he’s extremely likely to start the year on the PUP list (miss the first six games), which means he’s purely an upside play that you’ll have to hold onto. The biggest sleeper on this list is Rod Smith, who would be the waiver wire addition of the year if something were to happen to Ezekiel Elliott.

The “This guy could steal the job” Tier

Chris Carson
Nick Chubb
Aaron Jones
Doug Martin

Here’s the group of players who just might have more value than being just a handcuff, as the starters in front of them may be aging, struggling, or just flat-out not as good as their backups. A few running backs who were on this list included Samaje Perine, Jamaal Williams, and Javorius Allen, who all wound up starting multiple games. If you’re going to steal a guy in the late rounds, these are the guys I’d be looking at, even if you don’t own the current starter.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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