Handcuffed: The Backups for the Top 13 Running Backs in Fantasy Football

Joe Rapolla Jr.Featured ColumnistAugust 4, 2011

Handcuffed: The Backups for the Top 13 Running Backs in Fantasy Football

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    Let's paint a picture—It's Sunday, September 11, 2011. You sit down your couch with a bag of chips and a freshly grilled burger to watch the Minnesota Vikings take on the San Diego Chargers. This game is important not because you are a fan of either team, but because your first overall fantasy draft pick, Adrian Peterson, is starring in the game. 

    Just when you are getting giddy to crush your opponent on the back of a 100-yard, two-touchdown performance by Peterson, he falls to the ground after taking a handoff and is carted off the field with a broken ankle. Out for the season. 

    You're sweating. What do you do? Well, you SHOULD own Peterson's backup. 

    Football is an instantaneous game, and it is for this reason that you should "handcuff" all your top fantasy running backs. A player is only good as long as they are healthy, and there is no guarantee that they will stay this way during the season. 

    Here are the 13 backups for the 13 (mostly) unanimous fantasy running backs in 2011. 

13. Jalen Parmele (Ray Rice)

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    Not much is known about Jalen Parmele, the four-year-veteran out of Toledo. 

    He will probably be the least owned backup, which makes sense giving the system that Baltimore Ravens run. Ray Rice won't be pounding it up the middle as much as say Frank Gore or Steven Jackson, so the chance of him being seriously injured is less. Also, if Rice were to go down, Parmele's role would be the most limited of all the backups. 

    Still, if you draft Rice, it can't hurt to draft Parmele with a late-round pick. 

    ***The Baltimore Ravens have reportedly been interesting in former Atlanta Falcons running back Jason Snelling. Snelling would be worth a much higher pick than Parmele as Rice's backup. 

12. Ronnie Brown (LeSean McCoy)

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    The Philadelphia Eagles continued their tear of free agency and signed former Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown. 

    LeSean McCoy is clearly the starter in Philadelphia, yet Ronnie Brown is a much better player than a backup. Brown was a starter in Miami, yet his biggest problem was always staying healthy. 

    Of all the backups on this list, Brown should be second man taken after Thomas Jones. If you draft McCoy, try to nab Brown by the ninth round. He will see regular carries and will have tremendous potential is McCoy gets injured. 

11. Jerious Norwood (Steven Jackson)

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    In his last two seasons of being healthy, Steven Jackson has taken on a huge workload in St. Louis. He had 324 rushing attempts in 2009 and 330 in 2010. 

    That's why the Rams signing of Jerious Norwood, the longtime Atlanta Falcons backup, makes so much sense. Jackson will still be their star but he won't be getting as beat up as in seasons past. Norwood has seen more playing time than most backups on this list, so he will certainly take some carries and is an absolute must to own if you draft Jackson. 

    Don't hold off on taking Norwood either. Jackson is injury prone enough that you need a second option if you own him. 

10. Montario Hardesty (Peyton Hillis)

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    Montario Hardesty was on injured reserve last season and for that, Peyton Hillis should thank him graciously. Hillis exploded last season as the Cleveland Browns' sole running back (and basically sole offensive weapon) and was one of fantasy football's most pleasant surprises. 

    Hardesty will now try to stay healthy during his sophomore effort, but he will have to work hard to play a large role on this offense after Hillis' season last year. 

    A lot of people are saying that the two will split carries—I don't buy it. Hillis is still the go to man on the offense, and while his number may not match his of last year, he is still a top-10 fantasy RB. 

    Nonetheless, if you draft him, be sure to draft Hardesty is a) Hillis gets injured or b) if Hardesty starts stealing touches from Hillis. 

9. Brian Westbrook (Frank Gore)

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    Circa 2006, Brian Westbrook was one of football's best and most feared offensive weapons. For the Philadelphia Eagles, he was a phenom. Not only rushing for over 1,000 yards but also receiving for hundreds. 

    Present day, Westbrook is nowhere near the player he once was, but he is Frank Gore's backup, and he showed last season when Gore went down that he still has some juice left in the tank. 

    Draft the 49er around the 11th round if you own Gore. 

8. Thomas Jones (Jamaal Charles)

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    Thomas Jones is the most notable and relevant backup on this list. For owners of Jamaal Charles last season, Jones was an absolute nightmare. He vultured six touchdowns from Charles!

    I expect Jones' production, however, to go way down this season. Charles is more comfortable in his role as a starter and Jones hasn't gotten any younger. 

    That being said, if you draft Charles, (which means you had a top-four pick) draft Jones around the 8th round. He may still steal some touchdowns and could be a viable option in a flex-spot or a bye-week replacement. 

7. Isaac Redman & Melwelde Moore (Rashard Mendenhall)

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    The second spot on the Pittsburgh running back depth chart will likely be blurred between these two players. 

    Isaac Redman is younger while Melwelde Moore is a more experienced back. 

    I don't have much to say about either of them. Draft one of them very late (14th or 15th round) as a "just in case" option. Neither of them are likely to see too much of the field unless Rashard Mendenhall goes down for a long time. 

6. Rashad Jennings (Maurice Jones-Drew)

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    Rashad Jennings is a good, young runner who has the ability to be very effective is MJD goes down, which given the history of his knee, is not an outrageous scenario. 

    If you own MJD, try to get Jennings as late as possible, but don't wait too long that a fellow league member drafts him and uses him against you as trade bait if MJD gets injured!

5. Michael Bush (Darren McFadden)

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    The Oakland Raiders haven't officially re-signed Michael Bush yet, but I think they will.

    Darren McFadden blew up last season, after being a bust for two seasons, and is the clear cut starter on the Raiders and a top-10 fantasy running back. 

    Bush is a very powerful runner though and will see more action than most of the backups on this list. He had six touchdowns last season, which was only one less than McFadden's seven. 

    I'm not as high on McFadden as some people, mainly for the reason of Bush. I think he will steal a lot of carries. Don't wait to long to draft Bush. Ninth round the latest. 

4. Jacquizz Rodgers (Michael Turner)

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    With Jerious Norwood on the Rams and Jason Snelling to most likely not get re-signed, rookie Jacquizz Rodgers will backup Michael Turner in Atlanta. 

    Rodgers played college ball at Oregon State, where he was one of the best runners in the Pac-10. 

    He will only see an extended amount of action if Turner gets injured, so hold off and draft him very late. I don't think he will go before then unless you are in a fantasy league with Jacquizz's mother. 

3. Ben Tate (Arian Foster)

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    Arian Foster may have Ben Tate to thank for his breakout season last year. If Tate had not broken his ankle in preseason, him and Foster may have been sharing carries the entire year.

    As Kurt Vonnegaut says though, so it goes, and Foster is now the clear cut running back on the Houston Texans. 

    Tate has never seen professional action and won't see must this year unless Foster gets hurt for a long time. If you are lucky enough to draft Foster, draft Tate very late and happily store him on your bench. 

2. Javon Ringer (Chris Johnson)

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    You will probably hear nothing about Javon Ringer this season. I won't add to that or pretend I can evaluate his running. He went to Michigan State, was drafted in the 5th round in 2009, and backs up Chris Johnson. That's all I know. 

    If you draft Johnson, draft Ringer in the last round and hope you never have to use him. 

1. Toby Gerhart (Adrian Peterson)

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    Toby Gerhart is a really interesting case. The Minnesota Vikings have run primarily a one-back system since Adrian Peterson broke out for them in 2007.

    I think, however, this could be the year that Peterson starts to move aside a little bit to Gerhart. Don't get me wrong, Peterson is still an elite back who will carry the bulk, yet I wouldn't be surprised is the young and powerful Gerhart takes some series. 

    If you own Peterson or even if you don't, be sure to draft Gerhart. He's a sleeper in my eyes and could be way more valuable than the 13th or 14th round you draft him in. 

In Conclusion: Own the Handcuff!

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    Don't get caught in a situation where you have to trade higher than you should for your star player's backup. 

    In your draft, by the 11th or 12th round, think about nabbing the appropriate backup to your star. That way, if they should go down for a long period of time, you have a perfectly healthy starter to put in the meantime. 

    In fantasy football, it's important to hope for the best but prepare for the worst!