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Fantasy Football: Ranking the Running Back Handcuffs

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Jul 29, 2019

Austin Ekeler is one of the more valuable handcuffs who can provide value without injury

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One of the most popular debates among fantasy footballers every year includes the question, “Should I draft my running back’s handcuff?” That’s a difficult question to answer, as there are many variables that come into play, but that’s the reason for this article today.

This chart we’ll see today will have no bearing on which running backs you have as your starters. Why? Well, you shouldn’t be handcuffing a running back on a bottom-10 scoring offense. Even those who are against handcuffing their starters will draft running backs in the later rounds, but they don’t make it a direct point to snag ones that are tied to their starters. In the end, it all depends on what you’re looking for on your bench. 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.

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
Chase Edmonds ARI 1 2 3 3
Ito Smith ATL 1 3 4 5
Justice Hill BAL 2 2 3 3
Devin Singletary/T.J. Yeldon BUF 4 2 1 1
Jordan Scarlett CAR 1 1 2 2
Mike Davis CHI 2 2 4 4
Giovani Bernard CIN 1 2 3 2
Duke Johnson CLE 2 3 3 4
Tony Pollard DAL 1 1 4 3
Royce Freeman DEN 2 3 4 2
C.J. Anderson DET 3 3 3 2
Jamaal Williams GB 2 2 5 5
D’Onta Foreman HOU 3 2 4 4
Jordan Wilkins IND 3 1 3 5
Ryquell Armstead JAX 2 1 3 2
Carlos Hyde KC 3 1 5 5
Austin Ekeler LAC 1 4 3 4
Darrell Henderson LAR 1 3 5 5
Kalen Ballage MIA 2 2 1 1
Alexander Mattison MIN 2 2 4 4
Damien Harris NE 2 2 5 5
Latavius Murray NO 1 4 5 5
Wayne Gallman NYG 1 1 2 2
Elijah McGuire NYJ 1 1 1 2
Doug Martin OAK 3 2 3 2
Jordan Howard PHI 3 3 3 4
Benny Snell/Jaylen Samuels PIT 2 2 4 4
Rashaad Penny SEA 2 4 5 4
Matt Breida SF 3 2 3 3
Peyton Barber TB 4 2 3 3
Dion Lewis TEN 2 4 3 2
Adrian Peterson WAS 3 3 4 2

 

TIERS

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

Latavius Murray
Rashaad Penny
Austin Ekeler

These are the running backs who should be considered flex-type plays to start the year, as they don’t require an injury to the starter to hold value. Murray and Penny can actually flirt with RB2 value with how often their teams run the ball and how often they score. I don’t believe Ekeler would be the workhorse if Melvin Gordon held out or was injured, so he falls below Murray and Penny in the ranks.

The “Spot starter if needed” Tier

Dion Lewis
Darrell Henderson
Ito Smith
Royce Freeman
Adrian Peterson
Duke Johnson
C.J. Anderson
Jordan Howard

These are the players who’ll flirt with RB3/flex value at times even without an injury to the starter, but you don’t want to rely on them each week. Lewis will have much more value in the games the Titans fall behind. Henderson is a wildcard who may be involved more than I think, though he doesn’t offer weekly starting potential with Todd Gurley in the lineup. Smith will likely see 7-10 touches per game, though Freeman has been a stud in the red zone, so it’s unlikely Smith sees the high-efficiency carries. Peterson’s value depends on Derrius Guice’s health, as he’d be a starter if Guice missed time. The same can be said for Howard with Miles Sanders. It’s possible that Johnson gets traded prior to the season, so there’s some sneaky upside with his potential.

The “I’m drafting for pure upside” Tier

Latavius Murray
Rashaad Penny
Darrell Henderson
Damien Harris
Jamaal Williams
Carlos Hyde

If something were to happen to the starter in front of them, these are the handcuffs who’d have the best shot at RB1-type production. If Murray walks into the Mark Ingram role, he offers RB2 value without injury, but he offers league-winning potential should something happen to Alvin Kamara. Penny may wind-up taking the starting job considering he was a first-round pick and we know the upside Chris Carson presented down the stretch last year. Henderson has a massive ceiling should Todd Gurley miss any time, but the same can be said for Harris if Sony Michel missed time, only Harris is much cheaper. Williams would likely walk into a 15-20 touch role if something happened to Aaron Jones, while Carlos Hyde becomes an RB1 because he plays for Andy Reid.

The “This guy could steal the job” Tier

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. The running backs who were on this list last year included Chris Carson, Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones, and Doug Martin, 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.

Carlos Hyde
D’Onta Foreman
Rashaad Penny
Damien Harris
Royce Freeman
Peyton Barber

While I’m not anticipating Hyde overtaking Damien Williams, it’s possible due to Williams’ inexperience handling a big workload. He could have a shorter leash than most starters. Lamar Miller is on the last year of his contract and the Texans seem happy with Foreman’s progress. Penny was expected to start last year, though he showed up out of shape, but reports this offseason have suggested he’s in great shape, while Chris Carson had a procedure on his knee. Harris is behind Sony Michel, who also had to have another knee procedure this offseason. Freeman may have difficulty taking the job from Phillip Lindsay, but the Broncos did invest a third-round pick on him for a reason. Barber isn’t a sexy pick, but he may have a golden opportunity in Bruce Arians’ offense if Ronald Jones struggles.


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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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