2020 Running Back Fantasy Handcuffs: Backups You Need to Keep an Eye On

The workhorse back is becoming a thing of the past in the NFL and 300-carry rushers are pretty rare in the league these days. Most teams now use what is called a Running Back by Committee (RBBC) approach with multiple players serving various roles. The increased RBBC usage leads to fantasy value from multiple rushers on several teams, which means that backup running backs or “handcuffs” can actually have a strong standalone value. However, a great handcuff can make or break your fantasy football season if your top running back suffers a major injury. This season presents extra importance for running back handcuffs as COVID-19 could present additional challenges in terms of player availability. We have you covered with a full breakdown of all of the relevant handcuffs for the upcoming season, including some players who could actually take the starting job when all is said and done.

TeamRB1ADPAuction Value ($200)RB2ADPAuction Value ($200)RB3ADPAuction Value ($200)
Arizona CardinalsKenyan Drake1.10$38Chase Edmonds10.09$2Eno BenjaminUndrafted$0
Atlanta FalconsTodd Gurley2.10$27Brian HillUndrafted$1Qadree OllisonUndrafted$0
Baltimore RavensMark Ingram4.10$24JK Dobbins7.03$4Gus EdwardsUndrafted$0
Buffalo BillsDevin Singletary4.05$24Zack Moss10.02$3T.J. YeldonUndrafted$0
Carolina PanthersChristian McCaffrey1.01$62Reggie BonnafonUndrafted$1Jordan ScarlettUndrafted$0
Chicago BearsDavid Montrgomery4.07$26Tarik Cohen8.09$8Ryan NallUndrafted$0
Cincinnati BengalsJoe Mixon1.11$38Giovani BernardUndrafted$1Trayveon WilliamsUndrafted$0
Cleveland BrownsNick Chubb2.01$38Kareem Hunt5.06$12Dontrell HilliardUndrafted$0
Dallas CowboysEzekiel Elliot1.04$55Tony Pollard10.09$1Jordan ChunnUndrafted$0
Denver BroncosMelvin Gordon3.10$29Philip Lindsay9.03$8Royce FreemanUndrafted$0
Detroit LionsKerryon Johnson9.06$8D'Andre Swift5.12$14Bo ScarbroughUndrafted$0
Green Bay PackersAaron Jones2.06$39AJ Dillon13.05$1Jamaal Williams13.03$3
Houston TexansDavid Johnson3.08$31Duke Johnson11.10$2Buddy HowellUndrafted$0
Indianapolis ColtsMarlon Mack8.03$4Jonathan Taylor4.04$17Nyheim Hines12.11$3
Jacksonville JaguarsLeonard Fournette3.03$25Chris ThompsonUndrafted$3Ryquell Armstead14.05$1
Kansas City ChiefsClyde Edwards-Helaire2.10$31Damien Williams6.05$6Darwin ThompsonUndrafted$0
Los Angeles ChargersAustin Ekeler2.03$36Justin Jackson11.02$3Joshua Kelley13.12$1
Los Angeles RamsCam Akers5.09$17Darrell Henderson11.01$1Malcolm BrownUndrafted$0
Miami DolphinsJordan Howard7.10$14Matt Breida9.01$3Kalen BallageUndrafted$0
Minnesota VikingsDalvin Cook1.06$44Alexander Mattison8.07$3Mike BooneUndrafted$0
New England PatriotsSony Michel8.03$16James White7.01$7Damien Harris13.09$0
New Orleans SaintsAlvin Kamara1.05$47Latavius Murray9.06$6Ty MontgomeryUndrafted$1
New York GiantsSaquon Barkley1.02$54Dion LewisUndrafted$0Wayne GallmanUndrafted$0
New York JetsLe’Veon Bell3.07$32Frank GoreUndrafted$1Lamical PerineUndrafted$0
Oakland RaidersJosh Jacobs1.11$39Jalen RichardUndrafted$1Lynn Bowden Jr.Undrafted$1
Philadelphia EaglesMiles Sanders2.03$34Boston Scott11.11$5Corey ClementUndrafted$0
Pittsburgh SteelersJames Conner3.05$26Jaylen SamuelsUndrafted$1Anthony McFarland12.05$1
San Francisco 49ersRaheem Mostert5.04$23Tevin Coleman7.12$9Jerick McKinnon14.07$1
Seattle SeahawksChris Carson3.12$29Carlos Hyde13.10$1Rashaad Penny14.09$1
Tampa Bay BuccaneersRonald Jones7.06$17Ke'Shawn Vaughn7.11$6Dare OgunbowaleUndrafted$0
Tennessee TitansDerrick Henry1.08$47Darrynton Evans13.09$1Dalyn DawkinsUndrafted$0
Washington RedskinsAdrian Peterson14.06$1Derrius Guice6.11$5Antonio Gibson10.08$2

Top-End Handcuffs

These are the guys who would have top-ten weekly potential if the starting running back ahead of them were to miss any significant amount of time whether due to contract issues or injuries. These are the guys who would be league-winning players if the right scenario arises.

Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings

alexander mattison

Mattison’s ADP has seen a significant spike to this point in the offseason, and it makes sense as to why. The Vikings‘ presumed starting running back Dalvin Cook is in the process of renegotiating a contract extension with Minnesota and he may look to hold out in the beginning of the season if agreeable terms are not met. There hasn’t been any toxicity in the situation like we have seen in recent years with Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers as well as Melvin Gordon and the Chargers, but it’s not a bad idea to grab Mattison in the middle rounds of your draft if you spend a first-round pick on Cook. Mattison was a rookie last season and had 100 carries for 462 yards and a touchdown. He would likely be a workhorse back if Cook misses any time, although Mike Boone is worth keeping an eye on. Dalvin Cooks also has a history of injuries with shoulder issues and a prior ACL tear, so there’s some chance he misses time due to injury this season.

Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

tony pollard

Unlike with the Vikings, there’s no risk of the Cowboys‘ starting running back holding out this season. Ezekiel Elliott has agreed to a long-term deal with Dallas and is signed through the 2026 season. However, if he were to miss any significant chunk of time, Pollard would have top-five fantasy potential. It’s hard to find a better situation than the one in Dallas for top-end fantasy production from the running back position as the Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in the league and a passing game featuring Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb which means essentially no stacked boxes against the run. Pollard had 455 yards on just 86 carries, a 5.3 yards-per-carry clip, in 2019, his rookie season. The Cowboys have given Zeke 300+ carries in each of his full seasons, and Pollard doesn’t have strong standalone value but would have all kinds of upside in the event of an Elliott injury.

Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints

latavius murray

Murray is an interesting case here. Alvin Kamara, the team’s starter, is one of the best running backs in the NFL. However, the Saints have used an RBBC approach for several seasons and will likely do so again this year. Latavius Murray has averaged 607.5 yards rushing and 5.5 touchdowns in his two seasons with New Orleans. He finished as the RB28 in PPR leagues last season. He’s worth mentioning in the handcuff territory, though, due to his elite upside if Kamara were to miss any time. Murray wouldn’t be a workhorse, as Ty Montgomery and Dwayne Washington would likely pick up some extra work. He would definitely be the lead guy, though, and Murray has previously been an elite red-zone threat as he rushed for 12 touchdowns back in the 2016 season. Kamara is a gritty player and fought through knee and ankle injuries last season. He’s said he’s now fully healthy and doesn’t have any kind of extensive injury history. Murray’s ADP is going to be higher than a traditional handcuff, so he’s not my favorite target for that role, and I don’t think you have to have Murray if you draft Kamara by any means.

Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt doesn’t fit into the traditional definition of a handcuff at all, as he’s currently ranked at RB23 in my rankings. He only got on the field for nine games in 2019 with the Browns and was more of a nuisance than anything for Nick Chubb owners, but the arrival of new head coach Kevin Stefanski should change that. The Vikings ran the ball the fifth-most times in the NFL last season with Stefanski as the offensive coordinator, an approach he should carry with him to Cleveland. Hunt should also be very involved in the receiving game as the Browns’ wide receiver depth is sparse behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry – I have Hunt down for 56 receptions. The Browns may even get Hunt involved as a slot receiver this season. While his standalone value is better than any other backup running back, he’s also an elite “handcuff” as he would have potential top-five upside if Nick Chubb were to suffer any kind of a long-term injury. Kareem Hunt finished as the RB12 in PPR scoring in just 11 games with the Chiefs in 2018 and was the RB8 in per-game scoring. He’s going to be a high-upside RB2 regardless of what happens to Chubb, but he earns a nod here as the most talented backup in the game.

Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals

chase edmondsChase Edmonds has produced 120 carries for 511 yards and 6 touchdowns as well as 32 receptions for 208 yards through the air in his two professional seasons to date. The Cardinals‘ starting running back is set to be Kenyan Drake, an undeniable talent who the team has invested in through trade. However, Arizona has yet to sign Drake to a long-term contract as he is a free agent following this season. It’s worth noting that this Cardinals regime drafted Edmonds with a fourth-round pick in 2018 and he could be more involved in the offense than Drake’s fantasy owners project. Drake has never seen more than 170 carries in a season and it’s unclear if he’s built to be a workhorse back. There’s going to be fantasy points to be had in an offense that loves to throw to the running back and should be a high-octane unit after adding All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins. If Edmonds finds himself with more touched than expected, he could be a league-winning guy.

Other Handcuffs to Keep an Eye On

Carlos HydeCarlos Hyde is coming off his first career 1,000+ yard season in 2019 with the Texans, and the Seahawks‘ top two running backs from 2019, Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, are coming off major injuries. Penny isn’t likely to contribute at all after suffering a particularly bad ACL tear last year. The Seahawks ran the ball the fourth-most times per game last season, and while Hyde isn’t an elite talent, he would be in for a major workload if Carson and Penny are unavailable.

Miles SandersBoston Scott only had 61 carries for 245 yards as a second-year pro in 2019, but he currently stands as the only notable backup running back on the Eagles‘ roster behind Miles Sanders. Doug Pederson has historically preferred to use an RBBC approach, but Sanders is the most talented running back he has ever coached and will likely see the highest usage of any Pederson-coached back. Sanders doesn’t have a significant injury history and is entering his second season in the NFL, but if something were to happen to him Scott would be the next man up.

Jamaal WilliamsJamaal Williams isn’t currently listed as the backup on the Packers‘ roster, as 2nd-round pick AJ Dillon is listed as the second-string guy behind Aaron Jones. However, if Aaron Jones were to miss time this season, Williams would likely get the starting nod over Dillon as the more experienced player. Williams is coming off a solid season with 713 yards from scrimmage and 6 total touchdowns and would likely be a high-floor, solid RB2 in the absence of Aaron Jones.

DION LEWISDion Lewis is currently listed as the Giants’ backup running back behind Saquon Barkley, but the veteran rusher has only had two seasons with 100+ carries in his five-year career and profiles as more of a change-of-pace, receiving back. Barkley missed three games in 2019, one of which led to Wayne Gallman being the team’s starter before he was also injured. Gallman had 18 carries for 63 yards in that game and would serve the early-down role if Barkley misses time. It’s unlikely Lewis or Gallman would have starting-level fantasy value if Barkley misses games this season.

Duke JohnsonDuke Johnson is the second D. Johnson at running back on the Texans‘ roster, which will likely lead to some comical draft-day mistakes this year. Beyond the potential mix-ups between the two players, Duke’s potential for fantasy value should not be written off. David Johnson does have the ability to play a full three-down role, with pass-catching one of his biggest strengths. However, he’s now 28 years old and didn’t look like the same player we’ve grown accustomed to seeing next season. If David can’t get back to a high level of play, Duke could take over in the backfield and would likely be a solid weekly RB2 play as the starter in Houston. Duke finished as the RB29 in PPR leagues last season.

Rookie Running Backs – Backups or Studs?

The 2020 season is going to be an interesting one with the influx of talent at the running back position. It’s rare to see a running back be a top-ten draft pick these days unless they’re a generational talent like Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey. Still, there was a talented and deep group of running backs in the draft this season who are going to be met with starry eyes from fantasy owners. However, for several of these guys, it is going to be an uphill battle to earn true starting-level snaps. Does that make the veteran incumbent on the roster a value?

Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs

Damien Williams

The Chiefs surprised some people when they drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the last pick of the first round this year, as it was a luxury pick for the highest-octane offense in football and a KC team that suffered several significant defensive losses in free agency. However, the starting running back in the Andy Reid offense is always a fantasy goldmine and CEH is an incredibly talented player who was hand-picked by quarterback Patrick Mahomes. If the former LSU back wins the starting job, there’s no doubt he could be a fantasy superstar, but his ADP reflects that upside as he’s now being drafted in the back of the 2nd round. Meanwhile, Damien Williams is being drafted six rounds later, and will still likely see significant playing time this season. The Chiefs may be hesitant to make CEH a full-time workhorse back this season and may want to preserve the long-term viability of a player they spent first-round capital on. There’s no reason why Williams can’t still be productive this season and I anticipate this being more of a timeshare than CEH drafters will want to accept. Andy Reid has historically preferred to go with a workhorse back, but this is a unique situation and I expect both players to be involved. Damien Williams is a value in the 6th round and I’m staying away from CEH in the 2nd.

D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions

Kerryon Johnson

Detroit head coach Matt Patricia has spoken to his desire to use multiple running backs this season, an approach he watched work wonders when he was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots. Beyond D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson, the Lions also have Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, and Wes Hills on the roster. However, D’Andre Swift is by far the highest-upside player of the bunch, which is reflected in his lofty 5th-round ADP. Swift was a stud at Georgia with a 6.6 yards-per-carry average, and he also flashed high-level receiving ability. However, the presence of Kerryon Johnson could hamper any kind of elite fantasy scoring from Swift. Johnson missed eight games in 2019 after missing six games in his rookie season, but he’s still a talented player, and not having to handle the full starting workload should keep him from being injured. It’s been a while since the Lions have had a high-end rushing offense, but that could change this season. I’m bullish on Swift’s long-term potential and he certainly has some solid upside for this season, but I’m staying away from both Swift and Johnson at their current ADPs.

Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack, and Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts

marlon mack

The Colts didn’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft, but they wasted little time in taking Jonathan Taylor early in the second round, even trading up to secure him. Taylor was one of the most productive collegiate running backs of all time with 6,174 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons at Wisconsin. He’ll find himself running behind PFF’s top-rated offensive line heading into the 2020 season in Indy, which is a match made in heaven for his physical, downhill rushing style. However, Marlon Mack may be the starter at the beginning of the season after a 1,000-yard campaign in 2019. Mack is a free agent following this season, and there’s little doubt that Taylor is the future of the running back position in Indianapolis, but this may be more of a time-share in Year One. Additionally, Nyheim Hines is a dynamic pass-catcher at the running back position and should see the bulk of the third-down work this season. If Marlon Mack were not in the picture, I would likely buy into Taylor as a first-round pick, but the presence of Mack in the backfield complicates things for this season. I actually have Hines as the most productive of the bunch for PPR leagues with 66 catches as Philip Rivers loves to throw to his running backs.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ronald Jones

The Buccaneers had perhaps the biggest offseason for any team in recent memory with the free-agency addition of the 6-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady. Tampa already had the 3rd-highest-scoring offense in 2019, but Brady will be a major boon to the team’s overall efficiency. Ronald Jones was the team’s leading rusher last season with 724 yards on the ground, but he and Peyton Barber did not get it done. The Bucs drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn out of Vanderbilt in the third round, who is perhaps the most underrated rookie running back in his class. Ronald Jones will likely begin the season as the starter, but he was drafted by a prior regime in Tampa and he was given a short leash by Arians last year due to his issues with pass-blocking and receiving. Those are even more important attributes now with Brady on the team, a player who has historically utilized his running backs in the passing game. Both Vaughn and Jones are likely to be involved this season and have significant fantasy upside. I’m giving Vaughn the slight edge at the moment, but I would consider drafting either at their current ADP.

Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, and Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams

darrell hendersonThe Rams‘ former starting running back Todd Gurley went from a unanimous first overall pick in fantasy to a cap casualty this offseason as he was cut. The Rams drafted Cam Akers in the second round to help replace that lost production, but Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown are likely to be involved as well. The 2nd-round draft capital invested in Akers suggests the team would like him to become the starter in short order. His production last season at Florida State was incredibly impressive, especially on an offense with little in the way of talent around him – he rushed for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns behind a terrible offensive line. He’ll be running behind a similarly challenged offensive line in Los Angeles, but I believe he has an immense upside for this season. Malcolm Brown isn’t a true threat to be the starter, and Darrell Henderson, while a former third-round pick, is better-served as a change-of-pace back. Henderson received a ton of hype prior to last season with Todd Gurley’s knee issues opening the door for him, and while he didn’t live up to the hype, I’d take a late-round flier on him as a post-hype sleeper. Akers is going to be the workhorse by the end of the season, though, and has top-20 upside.

Zack Moss and Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

Devin SingletaryDevin Singletary is going to be listed with Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders as a second-year breakout candidate, but I’m less bullish on the Bills‘ running back than most. Why? I believe that Zack Moss, likely the most underappreciated running back in his class, is going to be a real difference-maker in his rookie season. Moss had a career 5.7 yards-per-carry average at Utah and rushed for 15 touchdowns in 2019. Moss was brought in to replace Frank Gore in the Buffalo offense, who had 166 carries in 2019. I’m not thrilled about Singletary’s current fourth-round draft price as he’s ranked at #29 among my running backs in PPR scoring at the moment. I do have some interest in Zack Moss in the 10th round, though, as I think he has the kind of three-down upside that Singletary doesn’t possess at just 5’7″, 203 lbs. Moss has about 3 inches and 20 pounds on Singletary and is the more physical runner. There’s a strong chance he sees the early-down work and he also had 66 college receptions with a 10.4 yards per reception average, so Moss could end up with more receptions than expected as well.

Notable Running Back Injuries in the Past Three Years

Sony Michel – offseason knee surgery (2019), ankle surgery (2020): should be ready for Week 1

Chris Carson – hip fracture (2019), minor knee surgery (2019): should be ready for Week 1

Mark Ingram – strained calf (2019): should be ready for Week 1

James Conner – quadriceps strain (2019), AC joint strain (2019), high ankle sprain (2018): should be ready for Week 1, the high ankle sprain and ensuing issues from it is the real cause for concern; Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, and Anthony McFarland would be next in line if Conner misses time again this season

Jordan Howard – shoulder/neck injuries (2019): should be ready for Week 1

Rashaad Penny – torn ACL (2019): will start the season on PUP, may not contribute much this season

Matt Breida – torn pectoral (2019): should be ready for Week 1

Carlos Hyde – torn labrum (2019): should be ready for Week 1

Todd Gurley – offseason knee surgery (2019): will be ready for Week 1 after passing physical

Philip Lindsay – offseason wrist surgery (2019): will be ready for Week 1

Jerick McKinnon – torn ACL (2018): should be ready for Week 1

Derrius Guice – torn ACL (2018): should be ready for Week 1, may miss more time this season

Dalvin Cook – torn ACL (2017), shoulder injuries (2019, 2017, 2014): should be ready for Week 1, pay attention to potential holdout

My Backup RB Standalone Value Rankings

  1. Kareem Hunt
  2. Ke’Shawn Vaughn
  3. D’Andre Swift
  4. Matt Breida
  5. Tarik Cohen
  6. Nyheim Hines
  7. Boston Scott
  8. James White
  9. Zack Moss
  10. Jerick McKinnon

My Handcuff RB Rankings

  1. Kareem Hunt
  2. Alexander Mattison
  3. Tony Pollard
  4. Latavius Murray
  5. Damien Williams
  6. JK Dobbins
  7. Carlos Hyde
  8. Chase Edmonds
  9. Tevin Coleman
  10. Duke Johnson
  
There are few things I love more in this world than the sweet glory of fantasy football. It's a year round sport and championships are won and lost well before the draft. When I was 15 I put together my first fantasy league and I was hooked for life.

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