Security is one of the most coveted assets in fantasy football, especially in a dynasty format. Most dynasty leagues afford you anywhere from 22-30 roster spots and every single one of those spots are precious. With that in mind, it really made sit down and think about how we as dynasty owners tend to handcuff nearly every starting running back in the league.
Is this really the best policy, or are we just wasting our roster spots?
I think it absolutely makes sense to own talented backup running backs. However, the key word there is “talented.” For instance, let’s say you own Trent Richardson. Does it make sense to own both Montario Hardesty and Dion Lewis on the chance T-Rich goes down? I don’t think so. I think it’s a waste of two perfectly good roster spots that could be providing you solid upside at other positions.
The key to handcuffing any position is if you like a player on an individual basis. Do you see this player getting a shot at a starting gig elsewhere when their rookie contract is up? Or, do you see that player producing similar statistics on weekly basis if the regular starter goes down with an injury. If not, are they really worth owning? In my opinion, they’re not.
There are a few running backs most people consider handcuffs who I think have the potential to be starters in the league either due to injury, expiring contracts or the inevitable decline of the current starters ahead of them. Here is a list of some of the players I think have future value as well as situational value in 2013.
1. Bernard Pierce, RB BAL
Pierce is probably the most coveted backup in the NFL at this point. He’s a hard nosed runner with excellent vision, speed and awareness. He runs with a reckless abandonment for his body in a similar fashion to Adrian Peterson. There is no doubt in my mind that if Ray Rice went down, Pierce could step in and fill his role more than admirably. Unfortunately for Pierce, Rice has been one of the most durable running backs since taking over the reigns in Baltimore. I also believe once Rice’s time in the NFL is over, Pierce will be the heir apparent and pick up right where Rice left off. You can currently buy Pierce as RB4/5 prices, which is very cheap considering the immense amount of talent he possesses. His price tag can only go up from here, people. It’s time to acquire him before the hype train reaches full steam.
2. Ben Tate, RB HOU
If you’ve been holding Tate patiently since his rookie season, there is no reason to let him go now. His rookie contract is up after this season and there are some teams out there who could desperately use his services. The issue with Tate has never been talent; it’s always been his inability to stay on the field. Anytime a backup can rush for nearly 1,000 yards behind the top producing running back in all of fantasy football, I’m definitely paying attention. If Tate can consistently stay on the field in 2013, he should be able to finally free himself from the shackles of Arian Foster and make a name for himself.
With that in mind, Chris Ivory has been oft injured throughout his career and still landed himself a starting gig with the Jets. Tate should be one of the most sought after commodities on the free agent market this coming offseason.
3. Mark Ingram, RB NO
Reports out of New Orleans are suggesting Ingram could be in line for a major role here in 2013. No matter how you slice it though, Darren Sproles is still considered the player to own. Knowing contract situations is of the utmost importance to me and a little bit of digging opened my eyes in a big way. In 2015, every running back currently rostered by the Saints is either a restricted or unrestricted free agent. Sproles will be nearly 32 years old at that point and while he has been performing marvelously since signing with the Saints, there shouldn’t be much left in the tank to warrant another long term contract. Pierre Thomas will also be approaching 31 years old, leaving Ingram as the last man standing. If you haven’t already jumped back on the Ingram bandwagon, this may be your last chance to acquire him at bargain basement prices.
4. Vick Ballard, RB IND
A lot of people have been kicking themselves for not flipping Ballard this off-season when they had the chance. He made it all the way through the NFL draft unscathed and then BAM – Ahmad Bradshaw gets signed by the Colts and completely took the wind out of his sails. I’m still holding out hope for him, however. Even though he is currently viewed as the handcuff to Bradshaw, I believe he will probably see somewhere around eight starts in 2013. If in fact that does happen, he should regain a lot of the value he had this off-season before the signing of Bradshaw.
Most people view Ballard as nothing more than a plodder, but I see him as a high effort guy with excellent hands out of the backfield. He is also above average in pass protection which helps his cause to be out on the field for three downs. Don’t fall asleep on Ballard – he could be one of the biggest surprises of the year.
5. Christine Michael, RB SEA
No list of handcuffs would be complete without the addition of my man crush, Christine Michael. After watching him in the preseason opener against the Chargers, he reminded me a lot of Doug Martin, only a bigger version. There is some grumbling out there in the fantasy football world suggesting Robert Turbin is still the primary backup to Marshawn Lynch, but I don’t think that’s the case. Seattle is a franchise that knows exactly what they’re doing and I’m guessing they saw something in Turbin’s game that suggested he is nothing more than a situational player. If not, why would they spend a second round pick on Michael? It doesn’t make sense.
Michael’s talent is undeniable and if you have enough patience, you should be rewarded in a big way no later than the 2015 season. I may be out in space on this one, but I firmly believe Michael has top five upside at the running back position. His price is only going to go up from here, so this may your last chance to buy him at RB4/5 prices.
6. Bryce Brown, RB PHI
The word out of Eagles camp is Chris Polk is pushing Brown for the right to backup LeSean McCoy. I’m not exactly sure how true these reports are, or if the coaching staff is simply trying to light a fire under his behind. Regardless, I fully expect Brown to win the job and be one of the most sought after handcuffs out there. He has some ball security issues and is in the habit of trying to bounce everything to the outside, but that’s what young running backs try to do. I remember reading similar reports about C.J. Spiller in his first couple of years as well. One of the hardest things for younger players to learn is patience. Once Brown figures out that aspect of the game and lets plays develop in front of him, he should get a lot of looks once he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Until then, he is still one of the more reliable backups in the league.
7. Jacquizz Rodgers RB, ATL
Raise your hand if you thought Quizz was going to get a legit shot in 2013 to prove his worth. Now put it down in disgust because he has been thrust back into handcuff status yet again. However, out of all of the players on this list, I think Quizz is most likely to reap the rewards of an injury to the primary back. Steven Jackson is entering his age 30 season and while he has been pretty darn durable over the last few years, father time catches up with everyone.
I try not to put too much stock into the preseason but SJax didn’t look like his former self in limited action. He is starting to look his age, not his shoe size. I still think he has a little gas left in the tank, but a serious SJax injury could vault Quizz into position to finish within the top 25 (especially in PPR leagues) due to his elite pass catching skills.
I feel like Quizz is one of the more forgotten about players people were very excited about last year. He’s currently being sold at RB6 prices, which is definitely worth the gamble.
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