2009 Running Back Handcuff Index
As everyone knows, football is a brutal game and injuries are very common. You may draft an awesome duo of running backs for your fantasy football team, only to have one of them knocked out for the season in week two and if you didn’t have their backup (or were slow on the waiver wire,) you’re screwed. As I did last year, I’ve written up the Running Back Handcuff Index, listing all the starting running backs in the league, along with their primary backup(s). Also, I’ve included how important it is to draft their backup as a handcuff (if you need to draft them at all.) I’ve listed them in groups ranging in level of importance (Very High to Very Low), so you know how important it is to draft them as an insurance policy, so here you go…
Starter: Brian Westbrook
Handcuff: LeSean McCoy
Concern(s): Injury / Committee
Notes: Westbrook has never been Mr. Durable to begin with, but he’s getting up there in age and has a very talented rookie in McCoy waiting for his shot. I’d say this is a mandatory hand-cuff, but you might not be able to get McCoy without giving up one of your early picks as someone else will surely draft him with the hopes of trading him to you or of Westbrook going down.
Starter: Marshawn Lynch
Handcuff: Fred Jackson
Concern(s): Suspension / Ineffectiveness
Notes: Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season, so naturally you would like his hand-cuff on your team so it’s easy to fill the void. However, Jackson looked good in limited playing time last season and could be picked up by another team if you’re not careful in your draft.
Starter: Joseph Addai
Handcuff: Donald Brown
Notes: Similar to Westbrook’s situation, the UConn standout Donald Brown is just waiting to steal carries from Addai and any foot in the door he gives him could be a disaster to his fantasy value.
Starter: Marion Barber III
Handcuff: Felix Jones, Tashard Choice
Concern(s): Committee / Ineffectiveness
Notes: As a change of pace tailback a few years ago, the Barbarian tore things up and he was hyped to be one of the top running backs in the league. However, when given the feature role, he didn’t quite live up to expectations. Now he has a boatload of competition from the very talented Felix Jones and more recently, Tashard Choice, who will both be looking to steal any carries they can. It’s hard to recommend you draft Barber without Jones, but that’s exactly what you may be forced to do as other owners swoop him up. Go for Choice in that situation and hope he keeps up the good play.
San Diego Chargers
Starter: LaDainian Tomlinson
Handcuff: Darren Sproles
Notes: LT’s not getting any younger and Sproles will steal plenty of carries even when he is healthy. Make sure to draft Sproles if you grab LT with your first pick.
New York Giants
Starter: Brandon Jacobs
Handcuff: Ahmad Bradshaw
Concern(s): Injury/ Committee
Notes: Bradshaw could be a starter on many teams in the league and he’ll get a good amount of carries in relief of his big bruiser teammate. If Jacobs misses a game for some reason, Bradshaw has the chance to up great fantasy numbers and for Jacobs’ owners, he’s a must own if possible.
Starter: Adrian Peterson
Handcuff: Chester Taylor
Notes: Peterson is the top running back in the league, so don’t worry too much about Taylor stealing carries. However, the offense is built to run and with Favre distracting opposing defenses, any running back will put up decent numbers in Minnesota. Taylor could get enough carries alongside Peterson to be worthy of a flex spot on your roster anyways, even if A-Pete stays healthy.
San Francisco 49ers
Starter: Frank Gore
Handcuff: Glen Coffee
Notes: Gore always seems to get nicked up at some point in the season and Coffee has already looked really good in the preseason. Expect him to spell Gore a bit throughout the year just to keep him more fresh.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Starter: Earnest Graham
Handcuff: Derrick Ward
Notes: Graham is apparently the starter as of now, but there’s no saying that is how it will be when the season starts. If you take one of these guys in your draft and the other is available, you might try to snag him, because whoever gets the bulk of the carries should put up decent numbers in Tampa.
Starter: Tim Hightower
Handcuff: Chris “Beanie” Wells
Notes: Wells may have earned himself the starter job already if it wasn’t for his injury troubles. Hightower was never all that effective last year, so I’m sure Wells will get every chance to show his stuff this year once he gets on the field. Beanie could very well get drafted before Hightower if he can show something in one of these preseason games and although I don’t recommend owning two Cardinals running backs, if you’re relying on them as your RB2, you might need both of them on your team.
Starter: Ray Rice
Handcuff: Willis McGahee, LeRon McClain
Notes: It looks like we’re going to have another year of the ultimate committee running back situation in Baltimore. Rice is the starter for now and is the best in the passing game, while McClain seems to steal all the touchdowns. It might make sense to draft Rice and McClain, but I’m not a big fan of any other combination.
Starter: Jamal Lewis
Handcuff: Jerome Harrison
Notes: Lewis is getting old and there is talk of Harrison being used by Mangini in a Leon Washington type of way this year in Cleveland. Either way, if you rely on Jamal for fantasy points, grab his backup just in case.
New York Jets
Starter: Thomas Jones
Handcuff: Leon Washington, Shonn Greene
Concern(s): Age / Ineffectiveness
Notes: Jones played great last year and racked up the yards/touchdowns, but he’s 31 and had only one touchdown two years ago. The team is re-signing backup Leon Washington to a new year and the rookie Greene was brought in as the potential back of the future. I’d try to pick up at least Washington if Jones is one of your top running backs.
Starter: Willie Parker
Handcuff: Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore
Concern(s): Committee / Ineffectiveness
Notes: Parker has already had back spasm issues this preseason and as long as Mendenhall can stay healthy this year, I expect a split of carries between the two running backs. I’m not recommending any of these guys as a RB1 or RB2, but as a flex or backup spot on your team, they could be alright.
Starter: Clinton Portis
Handcuff: Ladell Betts
Notes: As long as he stays healthy, there is very little chance that Betts will see much action behind Portis, who is one of the most consistent running backs in the league. Take Ladell
with one of your last few picks if you want some comfort. (Update: Looks like Betts will play a larger role than first believed, as he’s expected to take over the third down duties from Portis this season. This announcement moves the Portis-Betts hand-cuff status up a notch.)
Starter: Michael Turner
Handcuff: Jerious Norwood
Concern(s): Over-use? Or none.
Notes: Norwood is a great pass-catcher, but this team loves to pound the ball with Turner the Burner, who is already looking great in the preseason. Grab Norwood if you can late in the draft just for insurance, but don’t expect all that much unless The Burner gets injured.
Starter: Steve Slaton
Handcuff: Chris Brown
Concern(s): Sophomore slump
Notes: Chris Brown seems to have earned the backup job in Houston and there is talk that he’ll take goal-line carries, but Slaton is an all-around fantasy star and won’t give up too many carries. Draft Brown late to help you sleep good at night I guess.
Starter: Matt Forte
Handcuff: Kevin Jones
Concern(s): Sophomore slump
Notes: See Steve Slaton…just without the fear of losing his goal-line carries too often.
Starter: Darren McFadden
Handcuff: Justin Fargas, Michael Bush
Notes: McFadden seems to be a popular break-out candidate this season and I think I’m jumping on the bandwagon. The Raiders’ passing game is less-than-stellar and they’ll be handing the ball to D-Mac all season (as long as he stays healthy.) I guess you want Fargas as your hand-cuff, but he’ll most likely only be useful if McFadden gets hurt.
Starter: Maurice Jones-Drew
Handcuff: Alvin Pearman
Concern(s): Always the injury worry I guess, but MJD isn’t Fragile Freddy
Notes: I guess you can draft Pearman with one of your last picks if you’re not sure about MJD staying healthy all year, but he’s a wildcard and you have no clue how good he’ll be when he gets in there anyways.
Starter: Ronnie Brown
Handcuff: Ricky Williams
Notes: Ricky Williams seems to just be back in the league to earn a paycheck and pay back all his debts. He’ll get some carries throughout the season in relieve of Brown, but even if he becomes the starter, he doesn’t have all that much upside to him at this point in his career.
St. Louis Rams
Starter: Steven Jackson
Handcuff: Samkon Gado, Antonio Pittman
Notes: S-Jax’s only issue is staying healthy. You might want Gado or Pittman for the game or two that Jackson can’t play, but when he’s in there, he’s not giving up a lot of touches to the much-less-talented backups.
Starter: DeAngelo Williams
Handcuff: Jonathan Stewart
Notes: These two ended up in the “Low” category primarily because there is not much chance/need of getting both on your fantasy team. If Stewart can keep healthy, both of the Panthers’ running backs will get lots of opportunities as the team tries to keep their quarterback from throwing too many interceptions.
Starter: Julius Jones
Handcuff: T.J. Duckett
Notes: Duckett will most likely poach the goal-line carries, but there’s no real threat of Jones losing his role as the primary tailback in the offense.
Green Bay Packers
Starter: Ryan Grant
Handcuff: Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn
Concern(s): Injury / Ineffectiveness
Notes: As long as he’s healthy, Grant will get the bulk of the carries. He didn’t put up big touchdown numbers last year, but there’s not much worry that his backups are going to steal any carries at the goal-line.
Kansas City Chiefs
Starter: Larry Johnson
Handcuff: Jamaal Charles, Jackie Battle
Notes: The team is not exactly sure who the primary backup to LJ will be this year, so at this point it’s probably better not to waste a roster spot on any of them.
Starter: Chris Johnson
Handcuff: LenDale White
Notes: Two of the top running backs in the league, you could almost just play both of them as your RB1 and RB2 and do fine. There is not much chance that you’ll either want to do this or be able to do this though, as they’ll both be drafted in the first few rounds.
Starter: Kevin Smith
Handcuff: Maurice Morris
Concern(s): Team is very bad
Notes: If you have Kevin Smith, don’t worry about drafting Morris. Even if Smith goes down for some reason, Maurice won’t put up great numbers.
New Orleans Saints
Starter: Pierre Thomas
Handcuff: Reggie Bush, Mike Bell
Notes: These guys make the “very low” list because they’re completely different running backs and the odds of you drafting both are very small. Thomas will get the bulk of the carries up the middle, while Bush will be used in the passing game and in other formations. Don’t worry about trying to target both. Bell is mentioned because he might be vulturing touchdowns at some point in the season.
New England Patriots
Starter: Sammy Morris
Handcuff: Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk
Concern(s): Committee / Injury
Notes: Everyone knows this is a Tom Brady passing team, with the running game just being an afterthought. Morris will be good for 80 yards and a score each game if he can stay healthy, otherwise who knows what these guys will do.
Starter: Correll Buckhalter
Handcuff: Peyton Hillis, Knowshown Moreno, LaMont Jordan
Concern(s): Injury / Denver air making coach insane
Notes: There is no way to tell who the starter will be when the season starts (Buckhalter just happens to be on top of the depth chart at this exact moment.) You might draft one of these guys, but trying to collect more than that just means wasted roster spots.
Starter: Cedric Benson
Handcuff: Brian Leonard
Concern(s): Injury / Ineffectiveness
Notes: IF you draft Benson as one of your running backs, I’m hoping you have two other solid guys at the position. In that case, don’t even think about drafting his backup.