Fantasy football has changed a lot over the last decade as the NFL as grown more into a passing league. But one thing that has remained constant, and likely will always be a factor when it comes to draft strategy — handcuffing running backs.
The backfield is the most demanding position in one of the toughest sports on this planet. Injuries happen all the time, and the last thing any owner needs is to lose a first or second round running back to injury and not have his backup. It’s hard to overcome the loss of any top pick, but with his handcuff, there’s hope of recovery.
Now, it’s important to remember that not all backup running backs are handcuffs. When LeGarrette Blount went down with an injury last year, the many players shared the running back role, so none of them were worthy owning in standard leagues.
With teams that have running backs by committee, there isn’t a handcuff either because the players equally share the backfield load. So guys such as T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory didn’t make the list.
Also keep in mind that not every running back needs to be handcuffed. Reserve the strategy for the elite backs that have truly capable backups ready to explode if needed. No need to handcuff Ameer Abdullah with Theo Riddick.
And lastly, as important as it is to grab a handcuff, do it within reason. Derrick Henry is a very important handcuff to DeMarco Murray, but Henry’s seventh-round ADP makes it hard to justify his selection. That’s about the time we recommend owners to take a starting quarterback.
Draft all of the following running backs in a reasonable round. Without further ado, here are the five most “must-have” running back handcuffs for the 2016 season.
Spencer Ware, Kansas City
There are other guys on this list ranked ahead of Ware, but the 24-year-old proved to be a very capable back if given the opportunity. Plus, he is a great value pick up, as Fantasy Pros reports his overall ADP is 186.0.
Ware received more than 10 carries in three games last season and averaged at least 4.75 yards per rush in each of those contests. In weeks where he had at least seven attempts, Ware averaged 13.28 fantasy points.
Once Jamaal Charles went down last season, Ware had to share the backfield with Charcandrick West and Knile Davis. That probably won’t be the case this season, and with Charles still not 100 percent healthy, anyone drafting the Chiefs No. 1 back has to also grab Ware late.
Christine Michael, Seattle
With Thomas Rawls banged up this preseason, Michael received his chance to shine, and he took advantage. Michael rushed for 157 yards on 24 attempts this month, which was good enough for an average of 6.5 yards per carry.
Michael only has 106 attempts in his career, but he has averaged 4.7 yards per rush, and by all indications, the 25-year-old should have a role in the Seahawks offense despite Rawls expecting to return for Week 1.
If he suffers a setback, Michael would have a lot of value. Owners can get the Seahawks backup running back in the 16th round of 10-team leagues.
DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh
To start the year, Williams won’t be a handcuff because he will be the Steelers starter for three weeks while Le’Veon Bell is out with his suspension. But, nobody is drafting Williams expecting him to touch the ball 20 times a game all season long.
At 33 years old, Pittsburgh probably would like to even cut back on the 15 touches per contest he received last year. But should Bell miss more than just three games due to another injury or heck another suspension, Williams’ value will go through the roof.
As a starter last year, excluding the final game where he suffered an injury in the first half, Williams averaged 14.53 fantasy points per week.
Be careful not to reach too soon for Williams. According to Fantasy Pros, he’s going a round and a half before experts project he should in 10-team leagues. But at the same time, Bell owners really should do everything they can to grab him.
James Starks, Green Bay
When Eddie Lacy was going through his issues last year, Starks had a golden opportunity to grab the Packers No. 1 running back spot. Unfortunately, he didn’t, but with uncertainty still surrounding Lacy, and Starks’ pedigree, he’s worth a roster spot in all standard leagues.
There were six games last season where Starks reached at least 80 yards from scrimmage, and he scored five touchdowns. That’s not bad for a backup. Although he rushed for just 4.1 yards per carry, Starks is coming off a career-high of 993 yards from scrimmage, including 601 rushing yards. His 43 catches, which was also a career-best, obviously helped that total.
Grab the Packers No. 2 back in the 15th round of 10-team leagues.
Tevin Coleman, Atlanta
Remember our Devonta Freeman versus Tevin Coleman debate last season? Well, turns our Freeman was the much better choice.
Last season, Coleman had 392 rushing yards and just 14 yards receiving. Somehow, he only caught 18.2 percent of his 11 targets, incredibly low for a running back, and scored just one rushing touchdown.
Atlanta has repeatedly said this summer that they want Coleman to be a bigger part of the offense. Definitely use the wait-and-see approach for that, but he’s still a value pickup in the 14th round of 10-team formats.