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2023 Fantasy Football: Must-Have Running Back Handcuffs

So you drafted the perfect team. You have a stud running back, a very good RB2, and some great wide receivers. You look at your bench and you are happy with the players you have there. Most of your bench players will be just fine with the occasional match-up and bye-week rostering. And then it happens. Your stud running back gets hurt during the first week. You look at your bench and realize you waited too long to get a decent third back that you feel comfortable starting for the rest of the season and there is no one on the waiver wire you want. To make a trade, you will have to overpay. What would happen though if you had drafted your stud running back’s backup? If he is a good running back that had some standalone value there won’t be a catastrophic drop-off in points. This is why running back handcuffs can be so important in fantasy football.

Before we get into the running back handcuffs that I think make the most sense to target, let’s talk about who is not a handcuff.

The Rams’ lead running back, by default is Cam Akers. He is currently ranked somewhere around RB18. It looks like his backup will be Zack Evans, ranked RB70 or higher. Anyone ranked RB18 is not a stud RB. If you need his backup he will be on the waiver wire. Do not ever consider someone like Evans as a handcuff.

Next, you will notice that Alexander Mattison is not listed as one of my must-have running back handcuffs. It is looking more and more like Dalvin Cook will be traded, making Mattison the starter. I am not sure who will be the backup at this time. There are a couple of other teams that are in this same situation.

Others I won’t list are on teams like the Saints. Alvin Kamara will probably be suspended for a significant amount of time and the usual handcuff will probably be the starter on day one. The same idea for me is with projected starters that are injured.

Miami and other teams that have a running back by committee will not have any names on this list. I can’t really suggest a handcuff if the starter is getting half the snaps of a starter on another team. You will notice all of the handcuffs I list are backing up a clear No. 1.

Here are my top six running back handcuffs for the 2023 fantasy football season.

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Top Running Back Handcuffs for 2023 Fantasy Football

Atlanta Falcons – Bijan Robinson/Tyler Allgeier

This is the perfect example of how to handcuff. The Falcons drafted Robinson in the first round and it’s a pretty good guess he will be their starter. He is being drafted in the second or third rounds in Fantasy drafts. Atlanta is a very good running team. Algeier ran for over 1,000 yards last year as a rookie so we know what we are getting if he has to take over for any length of time. His current ADP is somewhere near 118 so grab him in the 9th round as insurance if you drafted Robinson.

Carolina Panthers – Miles Sanders/Chuba Hubbard

Sanders was signed by the Panthers as a free agent this off-season. Carolina was a nice landing spot for him. He has worked with some of the new caching staff before and will probably step right into the No. 1 spot on day one. He played every game last year and ended the season as the 10th-best running back. Chuba Hubbard also had a nice season and has shown in the past he is quite capable of being the lead back. There is one more reason that you need to handcuff Sanders. Even though he managed to play in 17 games last year, in each of the two previous years he only played twelve games each season. The need for a good backup is a must. Hubbard’s ADP is about the 15th round. If I have Sanders I am not waiting. I will be grabbing him earlier than that.

Cleveland Browns – Nick Chubb/Jerome Ford

Nick Chubb has been a top-ten rusher for the last four years. Last year he ran for over 1500 yards. This year he is at that magic age of 27 which is the year you start to look at backs just a little differently. For now, Ford is clearly the No. 2 back on this team with Kareem Hunt no longer on the roster. Hunt as the No. 2 last year was a bit off. But in the four years prior to that, his average yards per carry was 4.6, 4.2, 4.2, and 4.9. Obviously, this team does just fine when the No. 2 running back is in there. If Hunt does not come back to the Browns, go get Ford. His ADP is around 200 so you can wait on him. Just make sure you don’t miss out on this one.

Houston Texans – Dameon Pierce/Devin Singletary

This pair almost didn’t make it but I still believe that Pierce is the better back and will remain the No. 1 back for the Texans. Singletary had been splitting carries in the past so he should be fine with the backup role. Singletary’s experience and Houston’s improved line and a better coaching staff, he will slide in just fine if Pierce gets hurt. The tenth round is where you find him drafted.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Najee Haris/Jaylen Warren

This is another no-brainer for me. I am expecting Harris to jump back up to being a top-ten running back this year with a chance to get inside the top five. Warren filled in nicely last year and with an improved offensive line and the ball-control mentality of the coach, Warren should be on your radar in the later rounds.

San Francisco 49ers – Christian McCafferey/Elijah Mitchell

You can make a case that when healthy, McCaffrey is the No. 1 player to draft in Fantasy Football. He is definitely the No. 1 running back. When healthy is the key phrase. In 2018 and 2019 he played in all 16 games. In 2018 he was RB3 and in 2019 he was RB1. Last year playing 17 games he was RB3. In 2020 he played only three games and in 2021 only 7 games.

Mitchell had injury problems of his own but is the clear No. 2 in this offense. In 2021 he proved to me he can be a very productive player. He only played in 11 games but ran for 963 yards and still ended up being the RB23 that year. His ADP is around 125 which is round 10 or 12 depending on the size of your league. I am not the one to take many chances so I would grab him earlier.

Other Running Back Handcuffs to Consider

There are others that would have made my list except for my belief that if the No. 1 goes down there will be a significant drop-off in production and there may be better options on the waiver wire that are starting for other teams. These would definitely be viable draft choices though if you are in a league that has a large bench.

These alternative running back handcuffs would be:

  • Arizona Cardinals – James Conner/Keaontay Ingram
  • Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Mixon/Chris Evans
  • Indianapolis Colts – Jonathan Taylor/Zack Moss
  • New York Giants – Saquon Barkley/ Matt Breida

One more thing for you to think about when rostering your team is that  Kareem Hunt is a wild card that still hasn’t signed with anyone. There is too much noise out there to be able to predict where he will end up.

Not sure who the running back handcuffs are? Check out our 2023 fantasy football team previews to check out the depth charts for every team.

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