When you go and spend an early-round draft pick on a running back, you want to protect that investment, don’t you? There are definitely situations where it makes sense to draft your backs’ understudy, whether it is because you fear an injury or the possibility of simply losing time. Let’s take a look at some of the top handcuffs in the league:
Ben Tate—Houston Texans
Can Tate really be considered a handcuff at this point? He’s almost like a starter, at least as a FLEX option, because he has the potential to explode in any game. As it is, despite starting just 2 games in 2011, he posted 942 yards (5.4 yards/carry) including five games of at least 95 yards.
If Arian Foster were to go down for an extended period of time, does anyone really believe that Tate couldn’t just step in and post gaudy numbers? If you are going to use one of the first few picks on Foster, you would be smart to protect yourself just in case.
Mike Goodson—Oakland Raiders
Does anyone believe that Darren McFadden can stay healthy for an entire season? He has never played more than 13 games in a year, meaning if you are going to draft him early you have to have a backup plan. With Michael Bush (who we will talk about shortly) now in Chicago, Goodson will likely work as McFadden’s backup and step into the starting role if/when McFadden misses a handful of games.
Goodson showed what type of talent he has back in 2010, with 452 rushing yards and 310 receiving yards (40 receptions) for the Carolina Panthers, but he missed the 2011 season due to a hamstring injury. You should be able to get him at the tail end of your draft.
Peyton Hillis—Kansas City Chiefs
There has always been questions if Jamaal Charles can handle RB1 duties due to his size (5′ 11″, 199 lbs). Throw in his serious injury in 2011, ending his season in Week 2, and you have to wonder exactly how the Chiefs will split carries. While you would think Charles would operate as the No. 1 back, would it be a complete surprise if Hillis started stealing carries and playing on non-passing downs? Despite what Charles showed from 2009-2010, you have to think the Chiefs are going to do what is necessary to keep him on the field for all 16 games.
If you select Charles, make sure you protect yourself by taking Hillis as well. It’s important, just in case Kansas City pulls a fast one on us and uses Charles more as a third-down/change-of-pace back (though one that receives 15-20 touches a game) instead of a pure RB1.
Michael Bush—Chicago Bears
Matt Forte got his contract worked out, which will definitely help his case as he will avoid missing training camp. That said, he did miss time at the end of 2011 due to a sprained MCL and has had over 250 touches in each of his fours seasons in the NFL.
The Bears obviously realized that the needed a viable option behind him, and it is important that you do too. Hopefully I’m wrong, but last season's injury could be a sign of things to come (though it is impossible to predict).
Daniel Thomas—Miami Dolphins
Reggie Bush has played a full 16-game season once in his six-year career (and that came in his rookie season). That statement alone should give you all the reason you need to protect your investment. Many thought Thomas would be the main back last season, though injuries of his own helped to derail him. That said, he rushed for 202 yards in his first two games, and if Bush were to go down, he would be a perfect fill-in to excel.
Toby Gerhart—Minnesota Vikings
Is Adrian Peterson healthy? No one knows for sure at this point, so if you take the risk and draft him early (something I wouldn’t recommend), you will want to be prepared. Gerhart had over 10 carries four times at the end of the season and rushed for over 90 yards in three of those contests. If given the opportunity, he has proved he has the ability to excel.
Rashad Jennings—Jacksonville Jaguars
There is always concern about Maurice Jones-Drew, and, while he stayed healthy last year, he has accumulated a lot of touches over the past six seasons (1,762 to be exact). It’s hard for a running back to stay healthy year after year, yet Jones-Drew has played at least 14 games each year and all 16 games four times. This could be the year it finally gives, and you don’t want to take it for granted.
David Wilson—New York Giants
There is a reason the Giants took Wilson in the first round. Yes, they needed a replacement for Brandon Jacobs, but they also needed to protect themselves from the chronically banged up Ahmad Bradshaw. I would recommend that you take a similar stance when drafting him.
What are your thoughts of these handcuffs? Which ones are you targeting? What other handcuffs are you eying?
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: