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Running Back Handcuffs Rankings & Draft Targets (2023 Fantasy Football)

Running Back Handcuffs Rankings & Draft Targets (2023 Fantasy Football)

We are working our way through the end of June, which means it is time to prepare for the upcoming NFL season. We have rolled out our redraft kit here at FantasyPros, and as part of that, we are going to look at handcuffs for the running back position.

In fantasy football, handcuffing can be a viable strategy. Handcuffing is an insurance policy that allows you to mitigate the risk of losing valuable points due to an injury. It requires staying up to date with player news and anticipating potential injuries, which can be a difficult task. By identifying and rostering the backup player to your star player, you can ensure a smoother transition and maintain a competitive edge even if disaster strikes. That is where I come in, and this year, I will have a weekly article on handcuffs to keep you out in front of things at the position.

These rankings are done with a PPR-scoring mindset, and I’ve added individual blurbs on the top 10 with a sentence or two for the rest. This list will be a working document throughout the season, and once Week 1 gets here, it will be updated weekly. With that explanation in mind, let’s dive in.

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

Potential League Winners

These running backs would be elite options in the event of an injury.

1. Alexander Mattison (RB – MIN)
Dalvin Cook has been released, but we are leaving Mattison here as a PSA since you can likely capitalize on Mattison’s ADP for a little while longer. While Cook was still with the team, Mattison was one of the top handcuffs in the league. Now that Cook was released, he should rise even further in ADP, even though the writing has been on the wall regarding Cook. Mattison has averaged over 23 PPR points per game when he’s operated in a lead-back role. His eighth-round ADP is going to look like a bargain in a couple of weeks, as he should be a top 50 pick. DeWayne McBride makes for a good sleeper pick. With the release of Cook, McBride slots into the top-12 handcuffs without hesitation.

2. Tyler Allgeier (RB – ATL)
Tyler Allgeier finished 2022 with a 1,000-yard season and was graded as PPF’s top-ranked rookie running back. So it only makes sense that the Falcons went out and took Bijan Robinson with the #8 overall pick in this year’s draft. This relegates Allgeier to being a pure backup, but he checks every box for an elite handcuff. He will almost certainly settle into a 15-touch role if Robinson goes down, and Allgeier has proven himself to be quite capable of handling such a role. His 10th Round ADP makes him a feasible target as well. Sign me up.

3. A.J. Dillon (RB – GB)
Green Bay is a borderline running back by committee (RBBC) as A.J. Dillon is a near lock for 200+ touches even if Aaron Jones plays a full 17 games. This makes him a difficult handcuff target because of his seventh-round ADP. His cost is a bit depressed compared to 2022, but that is a lot of capital to invest in one backfield, making a Jones-Dillon pairing a better best-ball strategy. Still, an injury to Aaron Jones would make Dillon an RB1, as he’s amassed over 2,000 total yards and 14 touchdowns combined in the last two seasons.

4. Devon Achane (RB – MIA)
Devon Achane is arguably the most exciting back in the 2022 Rookie Class, not named Bijan Robinson. The 5’8, 188-pound speedster from Texas A&M offers Mike McDaniel another weapon to use in Miami’s high-octane offense. Achane is coming off a season where he rushed for 1,100 yards and caught 36 passes for the Aggies, and he should be the third down back for the Dolphins early on. He’s behind two aging and injury-prone veterans to boot, making Achane the preferred Dolphins running back to roster.

5. Zach Charbonnet (RB – SEA)
I may regret putting Charbonnet this low, as he could end up relegating Kenneth Walker to the backup role. Charbonnet’s second-round draft position, combined with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, make him well-suited to be a fantasy asset. There is also a chance Seattle doesn’t change a thing, and Charbonnet is nothing more than Walker’s understudy. There is precedence for this in the Pacific Northwest, as Chris Carson led the team in rushing for three straight seasons despite Seattle drafting Rashaad Penny in the first round in 2018.

6. David Montgomery (RB – DET)
Will David Montgomery be the 2023 version of Jamaal Williams in Detroit? That is probably a top-five percent outcome, but there is still plenty of value in drafting him four rounds later than presumptive starter Jahmyr Gibbs. Montgomery logged four straight seasons off 200+ carries for Chicago, so he is built in the mold of your classic between-the-tackles grinder. As we saw last year with Williams, however, that can be a profitable position in Detroit for fantasy. Montgomery isn’t the sexiest handcuff, but he is a Gibbs injury away from being on the RB1 radar.

7. Samaje Perine (RB – DEN)
With Javonte Williams coming back from an ACL injury, I would expect Samaje Perine to get additional work early on. Perine was a late-season revelation for the Bengals in 2022, averaging 23.6 PPR points per game from Weeks 11-13. If Denver eases Williams back into action (or he has a setback), Perine will make a nice insurance policy. His ninth-round ADP isn’t quite as low as you’d want, but if you’re taking Williams in the third round, you need to protect that investment.

8. Tank Bigsby (RB – JAC)
I am not going to tout Tank Bigsby as a threat to Travis Etienne, but his potential as a handcuff is undeniable. Bigsby has Day 2 draft capital and an obvious path to playing time if Etienne were to get injured. His current ADP is in the 12th Round, so he is another back who checks every box we are looking for in a handcuff. At 6’0, 213 pounds, Bigsby has the prototypical size to handle an every down role which makes the Auburn product an attractive target in the later stages of drafts.

9. Jaylen Warren (RB – PIT)
Jaylen Warren is going to gain more steam than any handcuff in the top 10 by the time Week 1 is here. He earned himself the RB2 role in Pittsburgh last year and ended up with 100 touches. His 45.5 percent rushing success rate ranked third among all running backs, and he was heavily involved for Pittsburgh down the stretch, logging 20 or more snaps in each of their last five games. If you believe Najee Harris is just a league-average back, grabbing Warren at his 15th Round ADP is an easy decision, whether it be as a handcuff or bench stash.

10. Zach Evans (RB – LAR)
The Rams have minimal depth behind Cam Akers, making Zach Evans a strong handcuff option by default. Evans is an explosive playmaker with good speed (4.45 40) who would seem to be the type of playmaker Sean McVay would make proper use of. The biggest concern here is that Evans never amassed more than 144 carries in a collegiate season, but his 6.9 YPC for his career is certainly a positive sign in the event of an Akers injury.

Weekly Starters

These running backs may not win you your league, but they would be a solid option if they ended up the starter.

11. Rashaad Penny (PHI) – Assuming D’Andre Swift starts, Penny makes for an intriguing handcuff. Without Kenneth Gainwell looming, he is in the top 10.
12. Damien Harris (BUF) – I am higher on James Cook than some, but Harris scored 15 touchdowns in 2021 for New England.
13. Elijah Mitchell (SF) – Mitchell has produced for the 49ers before, rushing for 900 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2021.
14. Antonio Gibson (WAS) – With Eric Bienemy running the offense, Gibson might end up out-snapping Brian Robinson.
15. Chuba Hubbard (CAR) – Hubbard has been useful as a backup during his first two years in Carolina.
16. Jerome Ford (CLE) – Unless the Browns bring back Kareem Hunt, Ford would step into a potentially big role as Nick Chubbs’ primary handcuff.
17. Keaontay Ingram (ARI) – Not flashy, but he’s basically free in drafts, and James Conner has an extensive injury history.
18. Jerick McKinnon (KC) – Will be heavily involved in the passing game regardless of anything else, but I’m not sure he can handle 15+ touches per game.
19. Zamir White (LV) – Like a few others in this range, he won’t have much competition for touches if Josh Jacobs goes down.
20. Jamaal Williams (NO) – I want to rank him higher, but Kendre Miller will factor in, and Taysom Hill is going to vulture touchdowns.

Desperation Plays

These are a combination of committee backfields and bad offenses that would need a lot to break right.

21. D’Onta Foreman (CHI) – There are three backs in Chicago who might get touches. I don’t know that a true handcuff exists.
22. Tyjae Spears (TEN) – Spears has some injury concerns, but he is also the handcuff in one of the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL.
23. Michael Carter (NYJ)/Zonovan Knight (NYJ) – Carter ran behind Knight last year after Hall’s injury. The Jets also added Israel Abanikanda.
24. James Robinson (NE) – The Patriots might end up being a bottom-10 team in the NFL. Robinson would need massive volume to make a difference.
25. Chase Edmonds (TB) – We all want Edmonds to be much better than he actually is.
26. Isaiah Spiller (LAC) – If he gets the volume, he could be on the RB2 radar. The Chargers could also throw the ball 50 times a game if Ekeler gets hurt and eschew the running game altogether.
27. Gus Edwards (BAL) – I would be higher on Gus Bus if it didn’t look like the Ravens are going to be throwing the ball more this year.
28. Devin Singletary (HOU) – Singletary gets a significant downgrade offensively, although Houston’s offensive line is well above average.
29. Matt Breida (NYG) – The good news is that the handcuff for the Giants should get a lot of work. The bad news is that Breida is washed. Eric Gray is a name to keep in mind.
30. Chase Brown (CIN) – Perine was a very capable backup. I’m not sure Brown will be.
31. Zack Moss (IND) – I can’t imagine a scenario where he would be someone I would want to start.
32. Ronald Jones II (DAL) – The same explanation for Moss would apply here. I would be surprised if Zeke Elliott isn’t back.

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Jason Kamlowsky is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JasonKamlowsky.

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