Who are the top 2013 running back handcuffs? A great question indeed, but with all the running back committees in the league, perhaps the real question is who exactly is a true handcuff these days? You know, the type Michael Turner was in his Lightning Bolt days, or Maurice Morris was behind Shaun Alexander before ‘Mr. Touchdown’ started running with cement blocks on his feet instead of cleats.
I am going to avoid crowded backfields like the Rams, Packers, Broncos, Giants, Patriots, Saints, to name just a few, or 7!
And while Stevan Ridley is the man to own in Pats Land, we all know that Shane Vereen is going to get his touches too. The New England duo could produce numbers like the 06/07 Jaguars combo of Freddy Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Both of those Jaguars posted top 20 fantasy seasons among running backs in both 2006 and 2007. I am also not going to discuss any Patriot tight ends, I’ll let the doctors and lawyers cover that.
Back to business, although, the backfield approach of many teams has changed in recent years the strategy of handcuffing your top running back in case of injury really hasn’t.
Top 2013 Running Back Handcuffs
Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
Since the addition of Ahmed Bradshaw, Ballard’s ADP has dropped 3 rounds. Ballard was shaping up to be a solid mid-round selection and excellent flex option. Now he is going to play 2nd banjo to Bradshaw, but that banjo can’t stay in tune and the reality is that you’re going to still get productive weeks from Ballard. If, or perhaps more like when Bradshaw misses time, Ballard will produce those flex option numbers which were being attributed to him in the beginning.
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys
It is no secret that DeMarco Murray hasn’t been the poster ‘back of health and durability, so Randle makes sense, so much sense, that he is almost a must own at this point. Drafters are buying this logic too, as Randle is getting gobbled up in the 11th round on average. It is tough to project what to expect though, to begin with, Randle is a rookie and the Cowboys offensive line struggles are no secret either. With all that being said, any back with a chance to start in the high-powered Cowboys offense should be owned, especially one that can catch the ball out of the backfield. Murray is currently being drafted in the early 3rd round, which isn’t low enough to not invest in a backup plan based on his unreliability.
Michael Bush, Chicago Bears
He has flashed the ability to carry the load in the past, but Bush also boasts the evil ‘TD Vulture’ title too. Matt Forte has got nicked up in the past 2 seasons, but he also hasn’t been given the red zone opportunities you’d like to see if you’re a fantasy owner. All that just leads to Bush maintaining value even if Forte is healthy. With all the optimism surrounding the Bears offense heading into the 2013 season there is no reason not to consider Bush a great handcuff option for those who invest in Forte in the 1st or early 2nd round. One more, if the QB Guru gets this offense rolling, Bush could even have a 2008 LenDale White type season.
Shonn Greene, Tennessee Titans
Speaking of LenDale White, with back-to-back top 20 fake football seasons amongst running backs in the books, Greene now finds himself in Tennessee behind Chris Johnson. The Hawkeyes alum has to be thrilled to be freed from the Big Apple. Although, it isn’t a move to a prolific offense, or an increased role, Greene should be targeted if you get Johnson in the first 2 rounds on draft day. He has limited upside and until we know for certain that he’ll get the goal line touches this is more of an example of those true handcuffs. The alternative is the LenDale White type season mentioned with Bush, or in the event of a Johnson injury, Greene could have another respectable fantasy campaign.
Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
It is now Spiller’s show in Buffalo, but Jackson’s play has proven to be solid in the past and isn’t why he lost the job. Unless there is a Spiller injury, Jackson’s biggest fantasy impact will be cutting into Spiller’s touches. However, if you’re looking for a backup plan, this is a reliable one. Spiller is currently a first round lock, so ensuring you’re covered is critical and Jackson is your guy!
Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
The Wildcard game against the Colts pushed Pierce’s stock through the roof. Many will point to his ability to break tackles and there is no questioning his big play ability and explosiveness in the open field. But, unlike some of the previous discussed players, we don’t know if Pierce has the goal line abilities and worse, Ray Rice is a beast inside the 20. My take is that Pierce will post 3 big weeks and largely disappoint unless Rice goes down to injury. Furthermore, it’ll be 2014 before he makes a significant impact.
Ben Tate, Houston Texans
Sorry Mr. Pierce, it is Benny Tate that everyone thinks of when they’re talking handcuffs entering the 2013 season, especially with Foster already nursing a calf injury. Tate has been hampered by his own injury issues, which have both stalled his career and have him entering 2013 with only 240 career carries. Tate is going to get an opportunity this season, what he does with it will determine his value if Foster stays healthy. If Foster goes down, Tate could be the bell cow back of your fantasy squad.
Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
There is the fumbling issue, which is a mandatory mention in every Brown snippet, but it is being addressed this off-season and Brown has serious upside in 2013. If Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense gets Brown on the field enough he could become a near weekly flex option even if LeSean McCoy stays healthy all season. It was a small sample size, but we saw superstar potential and the reason for the pedigree that has followed Brown around the past half dozen years. If McCoy misses any time, Brown is almost a lock for a week-to-week top 10 ranking.
Drafting one of the top 2013 running back handcuffs is the easy part though, it is the standing by them when they only get 12 fantasy points through the first 4 weeks that is tough. But remember why you drafted them and that their potential to become fantasy superstars could be a single unfortunate event away and more unfortunate, those events occur all the time. Good Luck, I just drafted Bryce Brown in a #DasBoot League and I feel awesome about it.
I’m a Loyal Leafs, Cubs, and Cowboys fan for decades. I wear the C for The Fake Hockey, in addition to contributing to The Fake Baseball and The Fake Football in more of a Timmy Try Hard role. You can also find my work here on davidgonos.com and can reach me on Twitter @naparker77.