Unlike most years, I find myself unsure which running backs to handcuff in fantasy football drafts this summer. The traditional rules in assessing handcuff options can be thrown out of the window because they do not apply to this particular class of running backs.
In the past, fantasy owners were taught to identify handcuffs as running backs who (a) are clearly No. 2 on the depth chart; (b) have the ability to provide solid fantasy totals, if given an opportunity; and (c) are affordable and/or expendable.
But looking at the top dozen backs this year, there does not appear to be a handcuff who fits in behind any of those players. For example, rookie Toby Gerhart could give the Vikings a boost in short-yardage situations, but can we expect that he’ll become a feature back should the unfortunate happen to Adrian Peterson? Is there a fantasy owner who can name Steven Jackson’s backup in St. Louis, or Maurice Jones-Drew’s understudy in Jacksonville?
To evaluate handcuff options this year, fantasy owners must ignore conventional wisdom and trust their gut. Here are a few players that my gut tells me I should consider later in the draft, assuming I have already selected the designated starter …
Chester Taylor (starter: Matt Forté), Chicago
Wherever Taylor goes, handcuffs are sure to follow. The most popular handcuff in previous years while serving as Adrian Peterson’s backup, Taylor now stands behind Matt Forté. Fantasy owners know Taylor can handle the starting lineup, when necessary, and Forté’s shaky performance in 2009 probably has more than a few fantasy owners hoping the third-year back will suffer a season-ending injury. If given the opportunity, Taylor can offer fantasy owners points on the ground and through the air. And even though his asking price is on par with a few of the league’s starting backs, it’s well worth it for anyone who gambles on Forté.
Donald Brown (Joseph Addai), Indianapolis
When the Colts used a first-round pick on Brown in 2009, it was assumed that Addai’s days were numbered. Hardly. Addai played some of his best football last season (13 touchdowns, career-high 51 catches) and Brown failed to show a glimpse of that burst that pushed him into Round 1 territory. Addai is still the guy this year, but fantasy owners can believe that if he stumbles or suffers an injury, the Colts will give Brown 15 to 20 carries per game without blinking. Though Brown struggled, he now understands the NFL and the Colts’ playbook. Therefore, to invest in Addai — a consensus mid- to low-level RB2 — warrants an investment in Brown.
Brandon Jackson (Ryan Grant), Green Bay
At present, Jackson is listed second on the depth chart behind Grant, who has produced back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons for the Packers. Meanwhile, Jackson has carried the ball just 157 times in three seasons. But Grant’s legs have endured a lot of punishment these last few years, and it’s believable that Jackson could keep the pace should he be thrust into the lineup. As a late-round insurance pick, Jackson makes a lot of sense for those fantasy owners who plan to use Grant as an RB1.
Bernard Scott (Cedric Benson), Cincinnati
In his first year in Cincinnati, Scott proved to be a more effective rusher than even the Bengals imagined. In place of Benson he rushed for 119 yards against Oakland in Week 11, then followed with an 87-yard effort the next week. Inconsistency makes Benson one of the biggest question marks at the running back position, so any fantasy owner who inherits the Cincy back should give serious thought to adding Scott later on.