Fantasy: 14 handcuffs with league-winning upside (Updated)
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Given the rate at which injuries strike the running back position, knowing who's next in line for carries is critical for fantasy owners.

Not all backups are created equal, and while the league-winning potential for players like Jaylen Samuels and Latavius Murray may be obvious, there are many handcuffs who aren't getting the respect they deserve in fantasy drafts.

Here's a look at 14 backups who have top-15 upside if their team's starter is sidelined, with notes on all 32 backfields below.


Starter Handcuff
James Conner Jaylen Samuels

While the Steelers have talked up a committee approach, beat writers aren't buying it. That makes Samuels an overqualified backup. In the three games where Samuels saw at least 15 touches last season, he placed as the RB11 in PPR formats.


 Starter Handcuff
Alvin Kamara Latavius Murray

Murray doesn't really qualify as a handcuff since he'll have standalone value even with Kamara on the field. He'll flirt with top-30 fantasy numbers in Mark Ingram's old role and would instantly vault into the top 12 if Kamara has to sit for any reason.


Starter Handcuff
Damien Williams Darwin Thompson

The Chiefs' running back-friendly system produces fantasy stars. It transformed Williams from career backup to late-season hero. Now, Williams enters the year as the clear starter, but if he struggles or is sidelined, Thompson could have a similar second-half surge. The rookie boasts a versatile skill set, which he's displayed in the preseason while catching passes, running between tackles, and powerfully taking on would-be tacklers.


Starter Handcuff
Sony Michel Damien Harris

Harris' landing spot and draft capital make him a very intriguing option. Michel's previous injuries have the fantasy community questioning his durability. It also might explain why New England used a third-round pick on Harris, just one year after drafting Michel in Round 1. The Patriots will continue to lean on the run as Tom Brady's career winds down, creating significant touchdown upside on the ground. Harris will be the next man up if Michel can't stay on the field, with James White handling passing-down duties.


Starter Handcuff
Dalvin Cook Alexander Mattison

The Vikings' shift toward a run-heavy approach began late last year and was further choreographed by offensive adviser Gary Kubiak upon his arrival. With Cook's injury history - he missed 17 games over two seasons - fantasy owners need to become familiar with his new backup. Mattison, a surprise pick at the end of the third round, stood out against weaker competition in college, and while he doesn't offer elite talent, he has enough in his toolbox to produce in this scheme.


Starter Handcuff
Chris Carson Rashaad Penny

Carson and Penny are more of a one-two punch heading into their second season together. The Seahawks led the league in rushing attempts last year and will challenge for that honor again in 2019, which could make both backs fantasy starters. However, an injury to Carson would turn Penny into a top-10 option.


Starter Handcuff
Tevin Coleman Matt Breida

Coleman is the lead back in Kyle Shanahan's system, but with Jerick McKinnon's availability up in the air, Breida is now entrenched as the immediate backup. Like Penny, Breida will offer weekly value while also providing massive upside if Coleman goes down. Though his ADP is rising, Breida is still a steal in the ninth or 10th rounds.


Starter Handcuff
Mark Ingram Justice Hill

Ingram is the man in Baltimore with the Hill set to spell him. The rookie has flashed in the preseason, showing a propensity to break tackles. No team rushed the ball more than the Ravens once Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, so Hill will be in consideration as a flex. Last year's fantasy darling Gus Edwards will need an injury to Ingram to get back into the lineup.


Starter Handcuff
Ezekiel Elliott Tony Pollard

If Elliott ends his holdout, Pollard is clearly the immediate backup in Dallas. Pollard has been the Cowboys' best bargaining chip with Zeke, as the rookie has racked up yards with the first-team offense all preseason. If Elliott continues to sit out, Pollard will be in the conversation as an RB2 in fantasy.


Starter Handcuffs
Todd Gurley Darrell Henderson
Malcolm Brown

Gurley's workload will be reduced in 2019, turning him into more of a low-end RB1 in fantasy while instantly creating a role for Henderson. If Gurley's knee causes him to miss time, Henderson and Brown would share duties in one of the league's top rushing attacks. Don't be afraid to draft either just to see how this situation plays out.


Starter Handcuff
Joe Mixon Giovani Bernard

Bernard is one of the league's most reliable replacements, delivering borderline RB1 numbers whenever Cincy's lead back has missed time. Bernard racked up 182 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in his two starts last season. This could be his final run with the Bengals as he heads into a contract year.


Starter Handcuff
David Johnson Chase Edmonds

Edmonds has impressed head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who said he expects a "really nice role" for the sophomore back. Still, it's unlikely Edmonds makes any real impact on Johnson's touches. Edmonds did show enough as a rookie for fantasy owners to stash him with confidence in the event he's thrust into a bigger role due to an injury. The Cardinals' new high-volume attack should benefit their running backs just as much as their receivers.


Starter Handcuff
David Montgomery Mike Davis

Davis' comments since signing in Chicago suggest he believes he'll get regular work with his new club. However, the Bears used a third-round selection on Montgomery, who profiles as a three-down option, and dynamic pass-catching threat Tarik Cohen isn't going to be completely phased out anytime soon. On the plus side for Davis, his all-around skill set allows him to serve as the backup to both Montgomery and Cohen, giving him two paths to fantasy relevance in 2019.


Starter Handcuff
Kerryon Johnson C.J. Anderson

Similar to the division rival Vikings, Detroit has announced its intention to power the offense with the run, which started last season and progressed with the hiring of coordinator Darrell Bevell. Anderson proved he can still make a difference after the Rams signed him as Gurley insurance in December. The veteran had at least 123 rushing yards and a score in three straight games before Gurley returned to the lineup. The Lions' attack isn't nearly as prolific as Los Angeles' and their offensive line won't be opening the same kind of holes, but Anderson needs to be owned in case he's called upon again as an emergency starter.

Other handcuffs to consider

  • Chargers - With Melvin Gordon looking like a player willing to hold out well into the season, Austin Ekeler isn't a handcuff - he's the interim Chargers starter. Whether Ekeler can hold up as a feature back over an extended period remains to be seen, but you should definitely be drafting him as well as Justin Jackson.
  • Texans - We keep waiting for a Lamar Miller replacement to show up in Houston but, so far, it hasn't happened. Duke Johnson is the next in line to back up Miller and potentially usurp him, though his pass-catching skills will need to make up for a weak offensive line. He's an interesting pick for fantasy owners looking to get a piece of the Texans' offense.
  • Eagles - Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard are heading toward an RBBC, with veteran Darren Sproles working in as a part-time third-down back. Howard will eventually become the handcuff when he cedes the starting job to Sanders, but we're not there yet.
  • Broncos - The gap between Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman is closing. Lindsay is still the better fantasy option, but with Freeman better suited to the new offense, this could be more of a committee approach than previously envisioned. This means there's no real handcuff in Denver.
  • Dolphins - A new coaching staff in Miami means a fresh start for everyone. Unfortunately, this backfield appears to be headed toward another committee approach. Kenyan Drake will likely miss time at the start of the season due to a foot issue, leaving Kalen Ballage as the temporary starter. The offense will spend a lot of time in comeback mode, so your best move here might be to avoid the situation altogether.
  • Browns - Kareem Hunt is suspended for eight games, which makes him very difficult to stash unless your league has deep benches. So that leaves Dontrell Hilliard to serve as Nick Chubb's backup for the first half of the year. Hilliard is worth drafting in the late rounds.
  • Colts - Indy's offensive line has reached a point where it might turn any ball carrier into a fantasy star. Marlon Mack is the starter with Nyheim Hines as his change-of-pace back, but the team is still searching for its No. 3. Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams, and Charcandrick West are competing, and whoever wins that camp battle will be worth rostering in fantasy.
  • Packers - Aaron Jones is the unquestioned starter now that Mike McCarthy is gone. Jamaal Williams has put in workmanlike performances when asked to start and is the favorite to handle that task yet again.
  • Bills - It's possible that any of the Bills' top three backs - LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, or Devin Singletary - ends up as the starter this year. McCoy isn't guaranteed to make the team, Gore is 36 years old, and Singletary was a third-round pick in April. Singletary is the only member of this backfield I'd be willing to roster.
  • Falcons - Considering Devonta Freeman's recent injury history and the upgrades to the Falcons' offensive line, it's worth considering who can step up in the backfield. Ito Smith's versatility earned him a complementary role last season and gives him the advantage over Brian Hill and rookie Qadree Ollison.
  • Jaguars - It's only a matter of time before Leonard Fournette gets hurt, so get ahead of the pack and invest in rookie Ryquell Armstead. Veterans Alfred Blue and Thomas Rawls don't offer the same upside.
  • Titans - Dion Lewis averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry in 2018. Heading into his age-29 season, his main value moving forward is as a pass-catching reliever behind Derrick Henry.
  • Panthers - Christian McCaffrey answered any questions about his ability to be a workhorse last season. Even so, he still plays the position that incurs the most injuries. Fantasy owners should be actively seeking out his backup in case he breaks down, making rookie Jordan Scarlett an interesting late-round selection.
  • Jets - Ty Montgomery has emerged as Le'Veon Bell's handcuff, and according to the coaching staff, he'll have a role as a regular pass-catching weapon. Montgomery's another deep stash in fantasy.
  • Redskins - As much as you want to be excited about Derrius Guice's fantasy outlook, his ongoing rehab and the presence of both Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson should cap the enthusiasm. Even at 34 years old, Peterson can still get it done and his fantasy value can't be discounted until we know Guice is healthy.
  • Buccaneers - Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones are a poor man's version of some of the duos we discussed above. Jones' recent knee injury could put his early-season status in doubt, so keep an eye on third-stringer Dare Ogunbowale.
  • Giants - Wayne Gallman has company with the return of Paul Perkins and the arrival of Rod Smith. Gallman's also missed time with a foot strain, but he's still the back to own behind Saquon Barkley. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Barkley excelling in the Giants' backfield.
  • Raiders - With Isaiah Crowell already on injured reserve, Jalen Richard and Doug Martin will be asked to insulate rookie starter Josh Jacobs. As was proven last year, your fantasy season is in trouble if you have to start Richard or Martin.
Fantasy: 14 handcuffs with league-winning upside (Updated)
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