We all know that there are several reasons to want to protect yourself when you draft a running back by drafting his “handcuff.” Maybe it’s risk of injuries, or maybe it’s fear of inability.
Whatever the reason, let’s take a look at the current top five handcuffs for the coming season.
1. Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars
By now you have probably read this in about a dozen other places, and hopefully it has hammered the point home. Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the elite running backs in the game, but a surgically repaired knee certainly gives you reason to be skeptical.
Throw in the fact that he has had a heavy workload in recent years (808 carries over the past three seasons, eighth-most in the league), and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.
Jennings showed what he was capable of last season, rushing for 459 yards and four TDs on just 84 carries. Throw in 26 catches for 223 yards, and it is easy to imagine the Jaguars utilizing him more in 2011, even if Jones-Drew remained healthy.
If he should go down, Jennings clearly is prepared to step in and produce. If you draft Jones-Drew, you almost need to protect yourself by grabbing Jennings as well.
2. Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings
There’s only one player who has carried the ball at least 280 times each of the past three seasons, and that is Adrian Peterson.
Football is an incredibly physical sport, and sooner or later that type of wear and tear is going to have an impact. That’s not to say that it is a forgone conclusion that Peterson goes down due to injury, but it also isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and that is something that cannot be discounted.
The Vikings may be prepared to move forward with Chris Ponder as their starting quarterback, barring importing someone else in via free agency. If that was the case, you would have to believe that they are going to come to the table with a run-heavy attack.
Enter 2010 second-round draft pick Toby Gerhart.
In his rookie campaign he got 81 rushes for 322 yards and one TD (as well as 21 receptions for 167 yards). The team should look to continue to develop him, meaning more carries and more responsibility.
Should an issue develop with Peterson, he’ll be primed to step in and roll with it.
3. Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders
In 2010, injuries to Darren McFadden gave Bush a few opportunities to get the bulk of the carries, and he certainly ran with it.
He was given 20-plus carries four times, yielding three games of at least 95 yards (including going off for 137 yards and a touchdown in the final game of the season). In fact, over the past three seasons he’s gotten at least 16 carries seven times, rushing for 90-plus yards in six of them.
It certainly has become obvious over the past few years that McFadden is extremely injury prone, missing a handful of games every year since being drafted.
Does anyone actually expect him to stay healthy for the full season?
That makes grabbing Bush—and his potential to step in and produce—as a safety net an absolute no- brainer if you opt to utilize an early pick on McFadden.
4. Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions
We ranked him as our third-best rookie running back for 2011 (click here to view the list) thanks to the injury threat of Jahvid Best.
That certainly makes him applicable here as well, doesn’t it?
While Best did play in all 16 games in 2010, he was limited to just 171 carries (for 555 yards). If he should go down (or fail to produce), Leshoure, who was drafted in the second round, will certainly step in. As it is, would it surprise anyone if he simply beat out Best for the starting role?
If you are going to gamble on Best, make sure you protect yourself later in the draft.
5. Mike Tolbert, San Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews was expected to be the man in the San Diego backfield in 2010, but injuries limited him to just 12 games and 158 carries in his rookie season (as well as having wrist surgery in the offseason).
Enter Tolbert, who had 182 carries for 735 yards and 11 TD in 2010.
The Chargers are a team who are built to win now, so if Mathews struggles or once again goes down to injury, you can be sure that Tolbert will step in and thrive once again.
Honorable Mention: Whoever ends up the backup to Chris Johnson
We may not know who the handcuff for Johnson will be for a while, but there are two reasons to be concerned. One is the possibility of a Johnson holdout. The other is the fact that Johnson has the second-most carries over the past three years (925).
That type of beating builds up, so you certainly should look to protect yourself. Once we know who will fill this role, we certainly will have a better idea of how to rank him.
What are your thoughts on these handcuffs? Which do you feel is the most important to draft? Who else are you looking towards as an option on draft day?
Make sure to check out the rest of the early rankings from Rotoprofessor: