A quartet of must-have backup running backs heading into the fantasy season
The running back, or spina currure as it is known in the wild, is one of fantasy football’s most essential, yet delicate creatures. Equal parts hunger, power, mass, and eggshells, the running back can just as easily lead you to fantasy glory as it can put you staring at the bottom of a bottle of Ireland’s finest. Draft a top rusher and have him stay healthy, and you are most assuredly the envy of your league. But have that player’s hamstring snap like Mississippi’s collective waistband, and you will soon be wallowing in a mixture of self-pity, fear, and, ultimately, last place.
It’s too bad Geico doesn’t sell insurance policies to protect your investment in these fragile beings, because there would certainly be takers.
Alas, have no fear. I have the next best thing to lizards, cavemen, and ugly pigs.
I present to you the handcuff.
To novice and veteran fantasy participants alike, the handcuff can be a tricky concept. In short, it requires spending a draft pick on an insurance policy — a player who backs up your star starter, but who may never even touch the playing field all season. For this reason, some might find it useless; why draft a potentially meaningless player with one of your precious draft picks? Talk to any owners of Jamaal Charles in 2011, though, and you will hear a tale of despair after Charles blew out his knee in the opening week of the season. With no viable backup, these owners were left to hopelessly seek alternatives.
As a result, a handcuff can be a valuable asset to your team, but it all comes down to picking your spot. Generally, you’ll only need to insure a high round draft pick who is going to shoulder the bulk of your fantasy team’s load. So, before you go drafting or scouring the waiver wires for your main understudy, think about the value being placed upon your starter. If you drafted Frank Gore in the seventh round, Kendall Hunter in the 10th isn’t exactly worth it. LeSean McCoy with the number two overall pick? That’s a different story.
As an aside to the handcuff being used as insurance, it can also be used as ammunition. Jump on Arian Foster’s backup (Ben Tate) before his fantasy owner does, and you can use him as trade bait in the event of a Foster injury or, better yet, place him in your lineup when the big dog goes down. In the world of fantasy football, the owners have to be aware of their surroundings, and if you want to take advantage of their lazy planning, go for it.
So, without further ado, I give you my four must-have handcuffs for this fantasy season. A couple are obvious, and a couple may still be available in your league. If you have a spot on your bench to stash at least one of these players for the time being, you may be swimming in fantasy points, Scrooge McDuck-style, when the injury plague wreaks havoc on the NFL.
Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville (Maurice Jones-Drew) With Jones-Drew’s holdout looking more and more like it’s on a direct line to divorce court, the time has come to try and replace last year’s NFL rushing king on your roster. Enter Jennings, a 2009 seventh round pick out of Liberty University. Standing six inches taller and weighing 20 pounds more than MJD, Jennings is built to take a licking and keep on ticking. While he hasn’t seen much game action with Pocket Hercules being the epitome of durability, this handcuff has taken advantage of his opportunities, with a 5.4 yards per carry average and five touchdowns on 123 career carries. Combine these stats with the fact that the Jags’ quarterback is still Blaine Gabbert – meaning a heavy dose of the rushing game will be in order – and Jennings is looking like an attractive late-round pick.
Beware, though: Jennings’ asking price is creeping higher and higher as the season draws near. Especially with Jags head coach Mike Mularkey anointing Jennings the week one starter, it might prove difficult to sneak this one through past round 10. That might be a small price to pay, though, for a non-committee starter in the backfield.
Michael Bush, Chicago (Matt Forte) Did anyone watch Bush’s end-of-season performance in Oakland after Darren McFadden went down with a Lisfranc injury? Chicago brass was impressed, and when Forte held out early this year, the Bears threw a $14 million contract Bush’s way.
On the surface, Bush looks like an ordinary, bruising back. Indeed, his 3.6 yards per carry in games 9-16 last season were fairly pedestrian, but throw in 4 touchdowns and 274 yards receiving over that stretch, and he becomes appealing. San Diego Chargers fans will also remember the hurt Bush put on their team in Week 10, netting almost 250 yards from scrimmage.
But where Bush will really shine is at the goal line. He has already been vulturing touchdowns from Forte this preseason, making him a solid late round pick even if the starting back remains unbroken. If Forte does succumb to injury, Bush will be an easy RB1 plug-in, especially with Chicago’s new receiving weapons spreading defenses out and away from the front line. Snag him in round 9 or later and stash him for a rainy day.
Robert Turbin, Seattle (Marshawn Lynch) While a suspension for Lynch is looking less likely as we draw closer to the season, I am picking Turbin as an insurance policy not because of Johnny Law, but because of Father Time. Lynch has been troubled by back spasms and has missed time in camp recently. Lynch also missed a Week 7 tilt against Cleveland in 2011 with the same ailment, so it seems prudent to have a protection plan in place.
Besides, Turbin is the one who should truly be referred to as “Beast Mode.” The kid is as wide as he is tall, seemingly, and the former Utah State standout impressed in the preseason dress rehearsal (14 carries, 93 yards, 1 TD) running behind offensive line coach Tom Cable’s zone blocking scheme.
I just picked up Turbin in my big money league, and if there is ever a power outage at the Skittles factory, I am good to go.
Dion Lewis, Philadelphia (LeSean McCoy) McCoy is Philly’s swing-for-the-fences back, and Lewis is your swing-for-the-fences handcuff.
For his lighter build, number of career touches, and goal line carries, McCoy has stayed surprisingly healthy heading into his fourth professional season. Maybe he just hands off all his injuries to his quarterback, or maybe he is lucky. Either way, if I am investing a top-three pick in him this season – and banking on a repeat of his 17 touchdowns from last year – I see no sense in not having a solid backup plan.
With a current average draft position somewhere in the gazillions (OK, it’s higher than that), Lewis is the sneakiest insurance policy on this list. The Pittsburgh product is the next man up if Shady gets hobbled, and if his college numbers are any indication (2,860 yards and 30 TDs in two seasons), he will shine in the Eagles’ high-speed attack. You may even be able to get away with picking Lewis up off of waivers, but the smarter play is to burn a useless late-round pick and store him on your bench. If you need the roster space later and McCoy is healthy, you can set Lewis free. But if McCoy gets hurt, you’ll be looking like the smartest player in your league. Good luck, and handcuff well.
David Wilson, New York Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw) The rookie out of Boise State has lit up the game film with his burst this preseason, but you probably aren’t burning a high pick on Bradshaw in the first place. He will be a nice waiver pickup if Bradshaw crumbles.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo (Fred Jackson) Spiller spurred a run to many fantasy championships (mine included) late last season with his emergence after Jackson broke his leg. He doesn’t always show his potential in the preseason, but when it counts, he brings his game. Versatility in the receiving game is also a plus for the former Clemson standout.
Left off the List
Ben Tate, Houston (Arian Foster) Tate is already a viable weapon in Houston’s power rushing scheme, so his price is pretty steep. He isn’t in the sleeper category anymore.
Taiwan Jones, Oakland (Darren McFadden) If McFadden’s track record stands pat, he’ll fail to play a full season, and Jones will benefit. The tiny speedster from Hawaii, though, is not an every down back, and a committee approach with Mike Goodson will likely be employed if Run-DMC retires early.
Javon Ringer, Tennessee (Chris Johnson) Ringer has failed to impress with his past opportunities for carries. If CJ2K comes up lame, it just gives the Titans an excuse to bring Jake Locker and the passing game along faster.