Fantasy: 9 handcuffs with league-winning upside
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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 Darrell Henderson may be obvious, there are many handcuffs who aren't getting the respect they deserve in fantasy drafts.

Here's a look at nine 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 was the RB11 in PPR formats.


 Starter Handcuff
Todd Gurley Darrell Henderson

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 in one of the league's top offenses. If Gurley's knee causes him to miss time, Henderson would vault into the top 10 in my weekly fantasy rankings.


Starter Handcuff
Damien Williams Carlos Hyde

Hyde's effectiveness has declined over his last few stops, but the Chiefs' running back-friendly system is a fantasy star-maker. 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, Hyde could have a similar second-half surge.


Starter Handcuff
Joe Mixon Giovani Bernard

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


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 suggests he's under the impression that 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 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
Sony Michel Damien Harris

Harris' landing spot and draft capital make him very intriguing. An offseason knee scope kept Michel out of OTAs and has 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
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 Todd 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

  • Seahawks - Chris Carson and Rashaad 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 in 2019 as well, which could make both backs fantasy starters. Rookie Travis Homer is a sneaky name to monitor as a potential replacement if either Carson or Penny hit the trainer's table.
  • Saints - Like Penny, Latavius Murray doesn't really qualify as a handcuff since he'll have standalone value even with Alvin Kamara on the field. Murray will flirt with top-30 fantasy numbers in Mark Ingram's old role. If you're looking deeper, Javorius Allen appears to be best suited to back up Kamara, while Devine Ozigbo would step in for Murray.
  • Broncos - The gap between Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman might be closing as the former recovers from wrist surgery this offseason. 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.
  • Eagles - Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders will compete for touches in Philly. Many assumed the latter would start, but snaps might be divided fairly evenly now that Howard has gained ground after Sanders sat out OTAs with a hamstring injury. Corey Clement got his chance to shine when Jay Ajayi went down last year but did nothing with the opportunity.
  • 49ers - Tevin Coleman has taken the lead with Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida working their way back from injuries. That's likely the pecking order they'll be in to enter the season. Breida is worth a late-round fantasy pick, but he'll need another wave of injuries to strike the depth chart if he's going to be a fantasy starter again.
  • 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 keep Jordan Wilkins and Spencer Ware on your watchlist. Whoever wins that camp battle for the No. 3 job will be worth rostering.
  • Browns - Kareem Hunt is suspended for eight games, which makes him very difficult to stash unless your league has deep benches. Duke Johnson's status with the team is uncertain after he asked to be traded. So that leaves Dontrell Hilliard to potentially serve as Nick Chubb's backup for the first half of the year. Hilliard isn't worth drafting but could be a hot waiver wire pickup if something happens to Chubb.
  • Ravens - Mark Ingram is the man in Baltimore with rookie Justice Hill set to spell him. 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.
  • Chargers - Austin Ekeler might be able to sneak into your PPR lineups even when Melvin Gordon is healthy. Whether he can hold up as a feature back over an extended period remains to be seen. Justin Jackson was deployed in tandem with Ekeler when Gordon sat out a couple of games in 2018.
  • 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, Benny Cunningham, and Thomas Rawls don't offer the same upside.
  • Packers - Aaron Jones is the unquestioned starter now that Mike McCarthy is gone. The No. 2 job isn't quite as defined anymore after the Packers drafted Dexter Williams. Jamaal Williams has put in workmanlike performances when asked to start and is the favorite to handle that task yet again.
  • Dolphins - A new coaching staff in Miami means a fresh start for everyone. Kenyan Drake has never been asked to carry a full workload and it's unlikely Bill Belichick disciple Brian Flores will lean on a bell-cow back for 16 games. Kalen Ballage hasn't done much outside of a 75-yard touchdown, but he's the one to own behind Drake.
  • 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 power backs Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill.
  • Redskins - As much as you want to be excited about Derrius Guice's fantasy outlook, his ongoing rehab and the presence of 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.
  • Titans - Dion Lewis averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry in 2018. Heading into his age-29 season, his only value moving forward is as a pass-catching reliever behind Derrick Henry.
  • Texans - We continue to wait on D'Onta Foreman, who's trying to overcome an Achilles' tear suffered in 2017. Undrafted free agent Damarea Crockett's speed score is worth taking note of in a backfield that's desperate for a rusher who can complement or usurp Lamar Miller, who's in a contract year.
  • Cowboys - Rookies Tony Pollard and Mike Weber will engage in a camp fight to see who gets to back up Ezekiel Elliott. Pollard is the more intriguing of the two given his receiving skills.
  • Bills - It's possible that any of the Bills' four top backs - LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, and T.J. Yeldon - ends up as the starter this year. McCoy isn't guaranteed to make the team, Gore has outlasted his doubters at 36 years old, Yeldon was added in free agency, and Singletary was a third-round pick in April. It's best to avoid this headache until we know more.
  • Panthers - Christian McCaffrey answered any questions about his ability to be a workhorse. Even so, he still plays the position that incurs the most injuries. Normally, fantasy owners would be actively seeking out his backup in case he breaks down, but it’s a wide-open competition behind McCaffrey between Jordan Scarlett, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Elijah Holyfield.
  • Buccaneers - Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones are a poor man's version of some of the better duos we discussed above. Further down the depth chart, Bruce Anderson has garnered a little buzz but remains a best-ball dart throw.
  • Jets - Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell will battle it out for the right to be Le'Veon Bell's handcuff. McGuire should win the job, but he's not a back who can create for himself and would need the offense to prop him up.
  • Raiders - With Isaiah Crowell already on injured reserve, Jalen Richard and Doug Martin will be asked to insulate rookie starter Josh Jacobs. As we learned last year, your fantasy season is in trouble if you have to start Richard or Martin.
  • Giants - Wayne Gallman has company with the arrivals of Rod Smith and rookie Jon Hilliman. It's hard to imagine anyone from that trio excelling in the Giants' offense. Saquon Barkley's talent covers up so many holes and is impossible to replicate.
Fantasy: 9 handcuffs with league-winning upside
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