NFL Fantasy Football: 10 Best Running Back Handcuffs for Your Later Rounds

Dave StoesselAnalyst IIAugust 22, 2011

NFL Fantasy Football: 10 Best Running Back Handcuffs for Your Later Rounds

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    Many fantasy football players that invest their first-round pick in a running back may look at trying to snag his back-up later in the draft.  That's a good philosophy in general, but I don't necessarily follow that logic.

    What I do is try to identify what back-up running backs have the best chance of seeing the most playing time over the course of the season.  This means that I take several things into consideration, but most notably how good and/or injury prone the starter is.

    Drafting running backs gets trickier every year.  The ever-so-popular "running back by committee" is all the rage in the NFL these days.

    The true workhorse 'backs are seemingly becoming more scarce every year.  Though just about every team has the starter, the secondary running back will get a decent amount of touches as well.

    In some cases, that player is a "touchdown vulture," in that they come in for the goal line carries.

    With all that said, there are still some good handcuff options you can find in the later rounds of your draft, but they don't necessarily have to be your particular player's handcuff.

    Here is my list of 10 back-up running backs whom I think will see a good amount of playing time, and/or possibly become the starter at some point.

Javon Ringer, Titans

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    The big question right now is if and when Chris Johnson will end his hold out.  Javon Ringer is actually the current starter, but I am writing this under the assumption that Johnson will be playing come week one.

    Assuming that is correct, Ringer will be a valuable handcuff.  Many times players that hold out and miss all of training camp and preseason tend to be more prone to injuries during the season.

    Johnson has been a durable player so far in his career, but I would seriously question if he'll make it through this year unscathed.

    It is for that reason that Ringer moves up the draft boards for me.  You may not be able to land him too late in your draft, but it's doubtful that anyone takes him before at least the seventh or eighth round.

    Unless, of course, Johnson is not in Tennessee by opening day.

Kendall Hunter, 49ers

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    Rookie Kendall Hunter is making a strong case to be Frank Gore's primary handcuff.  In last Saturday's preseason game he rushed for 105 yards on nine carries, including a 53-yard score.

    Hunter is impressing the coaches with his quick and elusive style of running, as well as how quickly he's picking up the offense. 

    Some people may still view Anthony Dixon as the primary back-up, but right now it is an open competition.  I believe Hunter has the edge and would ultimately see more touches than Dixon should Gore go down with an injury.

    While you watch someone else select Dixon in the late rounds, feel free to select Hunter even later—and then boast about it afterwards.

LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals

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    LaRod Stephens-Howling just moved up the depth chart without doing a thing.  Unfortunately for the Cardinals, rookie running back Ryan Williams just suffered a knee injury that will force him to miss the entire 2011 season.

    With the fragile Beanie Wells as the starter, there is a very good chance that the Cardinals' back-up running back will see extensive playing time this year.

    Right now that player is the guy they call "Hyphen" in Arizona.

    While it is entirely feasible that whomever the Cardinals bring in to replace Williams will actually become the secondary running back, Stephens-Howling certainly deserves a look in the later rounds. 

    Keep a close eye on this situation.  If the Cardinals don't bring in anyone of consequence, I wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on Howling when the time is right.

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

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    DeMarco Murray was the Cowboys' third-round selection in April's draft.  With Felix Jones seemingly wrapping up the starting role, Murray will find himself ahead of Tashard Choice on the depth chart and will be Jones' primary handcuff.

    Both Choice and Murray have been dealing with preseason injuries, but Dallas coach Jason Garrett loves Murray's abilities.  And for whatever reason, Choice always seems to not be the choice down in the Lone Star State.

    Plus, Felix Jones is another starter who has proven to be fragile, so that increases the amount of touches Murray will likely see.  He's a solid option later in the draft and may be overlooked by many fantasy players.

Roy Helu, Jr., Redskins

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    Roy Helu, Jr is currently listed as third on the Redskins' depth chart.  However, he has two injury prone running backs in front of him in Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain.

    Mike Shanahan is known for producing effective running backs, compliments of his renowned zone blocking scheme his offenses utilize.  Shanahan also says that Helu reminds him of a young Clinton Portis.

    Those are encouraging words and it does appear Helu will get some playing time this year, regardless of injuries to Torain or Hightower.  Shanahan almost always employs a running back by committee and sometimes will stick with the hot-hand.

    Helu's hand has a pretty decent shot at getting hot because he has two players made of glass playing in front of him.  In all actuality, Helu may very well end up being the secondary back on the depth chart before long anyway.

Marion Barber III, Bears

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    Matt Forte is the unquestioned starter in Chicago.  However, the hard-running Marion Barber will certainly see some action and could even see a good amount of goal-line carries.

    Both Forte and Barber have had some injuries in the past.  Last season Forte had his fair share, which opens up the possibility that he could be a little more fragile than we think.

    Forte is also concerned right now with getting a new contract and depending on how things go, could find himself seeing less touches because of it.

    Barber is definitely worth a look in the later rounds and could be used as a third running back if you find yourself in a pinch.

Willis McGahee, Broncos

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    Knowshon Moreno is a talented runner, but unfortunately he always seems to have injury issues.  If you draft Moreno (or even if you don't), getting Willis McGahee is almost a must.

    Some people actually think McGahee could end up supplanting Moreno in the starting lineup.  At the very least, he will see his share of touches and will probably serve as the primary goal line 'back as well.

    McGahee is sometimes the forgotten player.  It's easy to forget he's put up good numbers in his career when he's been the starter.  And he's also only two years removed from a 12 touchdown season.

    If you remember this forgotten man come draft day, he could make the difference for your fantasy team.

Michael Bush, Raiders

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    Darren McFadden finally had the type of season that the Raiders had been waiting for last year. 

    But even during McFadden's breakout year, Michael Bush still managed to put up 655 rushing yards and eight TDs.

    It seems that under head coach Hue Jackson, the Raiders have re-committed to the run game. 

    McFadden is the poster child for tantalizing skills but serious injury risk.  He's another solid pick up in the later rounds of your draft and could also be a viable third running back on a weekly basis.

    If McFadden suffers a serious injury, look for Bush to put up excellent numbers this season.

Thomas Jones, Chiefs

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    Jamaal Charles has taken over as the fantasy stud in Kansas City after last year's break out performance.

    However, Thomas Jones is like the Little Engine That Could.  Every time we think he's just about washed up, he shows that he can still put up the numbers.

    Last year with Charles racking up the big numbers, Jones still managed to rush for 896 yards and six TDs.  Not bad for a 32-year-old player.

    The Chiefs are primarily a running team, so Jones will still get his touches.  Just like McGahee and Bush, Jones is a decent option to start as a third running back in a pinch and you'll be able to land him in later rounds this year.

    If you draft Charles, drafting Jones as his handcuff is a no-brainer.

Jerome Harrison, Lions

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    Jerome Harrison could prove to be this year's most valuable handcuff. 

    That's because of two things: Jahvid Best is seriously injury prone and the player who was supposed to be his backup, Mikel LeShoure, suffered a season-ending injury.

    Right now the Lions list Maurice Morris as the primary back up.  But after the preseason is over, that will change.

    Harrison will take over as Best's backup and may end up with just as many carries.  Plus, he'll likely get the majority of the goal line carries.

    If I was a gambling man, I'd say that the odds are definitely in favor of Best missing a good amount of time this year.  In fact, he just sustained a mild concussion in the last preseason game.  Best has a history of concussions, so that is certainly an ominous sign.

    Harrison has shown he is a good running back when he's been given a chance and you will see that this year. 

    Don't wait too long in your draft to take him because he could be this year's Peyton Hillis!