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The Top Running Back Handcuffs for 2015: Who To Own?

Close your eyes and imagine this. You’re in the midst of a beautiful season, your studs are doing work, you hit on your sleepers, your team is firing on all cylinders. And then your RB1 crumbles into a heap. You don’t have the backup, that stupid smug schmuck Steve does.

Steve is now blowing up your phone with laughing GIFs, and offers to trade you Knile Davis for the deed to your home. I am writing here now to help you avoid facing the dreaded Steve scenario. Or you can be the Steve here, we’ve probably all done it, we just don’t want to be Steve’d is the point.


Running Back Handcuff Strategy for 2015

Briefly, the top handcuffs for 2015 are as follows: Knile Davis (KC), James Starks (GB), Ryan Mathews (PHI), Cameron Artis-Payne (CAR), and Fred Jackson (SEA). If you have the bench space and you own the player in front of these guys, get them. A good general rule is that in 10 team leagues, you’ve got these guys on your watch list, in 12 teamers, you draft them where their relative ADP suggests, and in 14+ team leagues you reach to protect your assets.

One could definitely argue the merits of including people like Giovanni Bernard (CIN), but I’m trying to look at guys who would see a gigantic jump in value should they be the next man up as well as produce for you. Gio has been relegated to B squad change of pace duties, and if Hill goes down I envision Rex Burkhead taking on quite a bit of the load rather than Cincy just turning back to Gio. If I’m burning a roster spot on a handcuff, I really don’t want to be investing that spot on a backup who is thrust into a timeshare. Ronnie Hillman (DEN) is another name that’s being talked up, but I think Juwan Thompson steals precious short yardage/goal line work. That all being said, let us dive in.


Handcuffs That Would Become Valuable Fantasy RBs

Knile Davis – RB, Kansas City Chiefs (Handcuff for Jamaal Charles)

If you have Jamaal Charles, the odds are extremely high he is your RB1. If you lose him, you will be hurting. Unless you have Knile Davis. In weeks 2-4 last year, Davis put up a 70-318-3 line. Now obviously you can’t wholly rely on a sample size of three games from last year (Week 2 had Charles go down early, and Week 4 Charles actually had mixed back in with 18 carries of his own, KC just so happened to slaughter New England that week with goodies for everyone), but it illustrates that greater point that Davis is very talented in his own right, and Kansas City utilizes their running backs very effectively. Davis will not have a committee, Charcandrick West is a smaller more agile back, who wouldn’t usurp much of the load should Charles go down. It should be noted that there is a narrative out there that Charles is injury prone, or that he’s due to break, for context SportsInjuryPredictor has both Charles (46%) and Davis (44%) in the same tier for expected injury.


James Starks – RB, Green Bay Packers (Handcuff for Eddie Lacy)

Another guy that could find himself thrust into a real bellcow role is James Starks. Eddie Lacy is a big boy who bangs in the trenches, who we’ve already seen him get dinged a few, so you’ll want Starks if you own Lacy. Lacy is graded at 74% by SportsInjuryPredictor, which I’d be thrilled with in my Calculus class, but not so much for my RB1. Green Bay’s offense is still very potent despite the loss of Jordy Nelson, and Starks doesn’t have any real competition behind him. Starks may not be as skilled as Knile Davis in a vacuum, but his role and the offense around him will help you stay competitive as you create a shrine to the injury gods for Lacy’s recovery.


Ryan Mathews – RB, Philadelphia Eagles (Handcuff for DeMarco Murray)

Ryan Mathews is in an interesting spot, because I really waver on classifying him as a “handcuff”. He may be drafted around the same vein that one might take a guy like C.J. Spiller, hoping that he sees opportunities due to the high volume all-out assault that the Eagles offense generates. I don’t see Mathews doing much of the heavy lifting though, and obviously Darren Sproles will still check in for a fair share of passing down opportunities. Mathews will spell DeMarco Murray, and it probably works out for both of their bodies better if they’re both healthy and don’t accrue “starters’ mileage” (both check in at 48% according to SportsInjuryPredictor). However, should Murray go down, then Mathews is going to have the lion’s share of work in a high scoring offense. If I own Murray, I wouldn’t even be mad at starting Mathews in a flex spot because of that offense, but I’d be furious if Murray got hurt and I didn’t have Mathews as he absorbs more snaps and the goal line work.


Cameron Artis-Payne – RB, Carolina Panthers (Handcuff for Jonathan Stewart)

If I asked you which Carolina Panthers offensive starter was going to get hurt first a month ago, I’d wager that over 75% of you would have said Jonathan Stewart. SportsInjuryPredictor pegs Stewart’s chances of injury at 67%. Not good. Enter Cameron Artis-Payne. A fifth round pick out of Auburn University, he won’t burn DBs down the sidelines, but he will bowl them over at the second level if they challenge him. His preseason play seems to have locked him into the #2 spot on the depth chart, over the likes of Fozzy Whitaker (I wish he became a superstar so badly, think of the references), and so Stewart owners will want to lock down CAP. Great part of this: he’s cheap. CAP currently has an average ADP of 12.06 in 12 team standard leagues. If you aren’t a Stewart owner, I think that drafting Artis-Payne gives you the best chance to be “Steve” in 2015.


Fred Jackson – RB, Seattle Seahawks (Handcuff for Marshawn Lynch)

Boy, Fred Jackson would have been great to round this out with as the established veteran behind the already injured LeSean McCoy. As is, I’m not keen on targeting Karlos Williams as the new #2 in Buffalo, though do note that he should be the guy who gets the first crack. As of this writing (9/4), Fred Jackson has a new starter on the other end of the handcuffs. He’s pretty good at football, and does not have any significant injury concerns - he is Marshawn Lynch. Seriously, Lynch rates out as having the lowest likelihood to get hurt according to SportsInjuryPredictor for all running backs (5%). Jackson would definitely be given the reins should Lynch go down, those with deep benches should roster him, but I’m not putting him in the same tier as the other guys.


Other players to keep tabs on: DeAngelo Williams (PIT), Damien Williams (MIA), Daniel “Boom” Herron (IND), Jerick McKinnon (MIN), Matt Jones (WAS).

It’s cuffin’ season owners.


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