Even casual fantasy football players know about priority running back handcuffs like Tony Pollard and Alexander Mattison. There’s nothing wrong with investing in these elite handcuffs this year, as each could have RB1 upside in the event that Ezekiel Elliott or Dalvin Cook were to miss time.
However, these well-known handcuffs will require more draft capital to select in most leagues, often costing a 10th or 11th round pick based on their current aggregate ADP, whereas the names we’ll be discussing below can be taken far later in drafts. These less-heralded running back handcuffs are often available in the last few rounds or even going undrafted altogether in some leagues but offer similar upside.
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Under the Radar Running Back Handcuffs
Carlos Hyde – Overall ADP of 227 – RB58
Chris Carson is a pick that I like a lot in the third round of drafts being taken as the No. 17 running back. Though Seattle’s offensive line was middling last year, the Seahawks still managed to rank fifth in offensive DVOA and sixth in rushing DVOA. In an efficient scoring offense with Russell Wilson at the helm, whichever running back starts for Seattle will have plenty of opportunity for fantasy production.
Although Carson is on track to start in Week 1 after returning from a hip fracture suffered late last season in Week 16, Carlos Hyde would be the next man up were Carson to miss time in 2020, especially early on in the season. Rashaad Penny is returning from an ACL tear suffered in Week 15 and is a candidate to begin the season the PUP list, and though rookie DeeJay Dallas could mix in on passing downs, Hyde would likely assume the lead role in this offense as the primary ball-carrier.
Jerick McKinnon – Overall ADP of 235 – RB59
Kyle Shanahan has devised one of the league’s best rushing attacks in San Francisco. Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman are sure to see plenty of work after both produced at times in 2019, but don’t forget about Jerick McKinnon. The 49ers signed McKinnon to a hefty four-year, $30 million contract back in 2018 and restructured it this offseason to retain him. Since then, the drumbeat for McKinnon has been building in training camp, as he has dazzled both by breaking big runs as well as showcasing his skills as a receiver out of the backfield.
While the San Francisco backfield will be difficult to decipher with Shanahan rotating his running backs weekly, McKinnon is the back with the lowest risk for relatively equal upside compared to the other two. Mostert is being drafted as the no. 27 running back in the fifth round, and though Coleman is a relative value in the ninth round as the no. 40 running back, McKinnon is by far the best value among them being drafted in the late rounds or even going undrafted in many instances.
Benny Snell – Overall ADP of 260 – RB74
I wrote earlier this offseason about the risk of players like James Conner opting out due to his past battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While he’s chosen to play in 2020, there’s still risk that Conner could miss significant time with more severe symptoms if he contracts COVID. Even if he steers clear of the virus, Conner’s litany of shoulder and leg injuries last season make him a risky option in the third round of fantasy drafts currently being drafted as the no. 21 running back.
If Conner were to miss time this season, it sounds like Benny Snell would be the running back handcuff to own in Pittsburgh. Assuming Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, this Steelers offense could return to being a top-10 unit in the league with their ninth-ranked offensive line and trio of talented young wide receivers. It helps too that Snell shed some pounds this offseason to play at a leaner weight, not unlike Le’Veon Bell‘s similar reduction in weight in his sophomore season. While a loss of 12 pounds won’t magically turn Snell an elite talent like Bell, Snell’s conditioning and better explosiveness bodes well for his production should he need to shoulder the load in Conner’s absence.
Mike Boone – Undrafted – RB109
There doesn’t seem to be nearly enough concern about Dalvin Cook‘s dangerously high ADP given the news of a potential holdout this season. Currently being drafted sixth overall, Cook’s history of injuries compounded with the possibility of him sitting out much of the season makes him an easy fade for me at his current ADP. Though Alexander Mattison is penciled in as the no. 2 running back on Minnesota’s roster with Mike Boone behind him, it’s yet to be seen how the workload would be split between the two running back handcuffs if Cook were to miss games.
With Mattison already sidelined by an ankle injury late last year, Boone assumed lead back duties to finish out the 2019 regular season after Cook injured his shoulder against the Chargers in Week 15. And although 41 carries is a small sample size as a starter, Boone showed well, averaging 5.7 yards per carry over the final three games with three rushing scores and adding three receptions in the passing game. It’s possible that Boone could be slated for a significant role alongside Mattison in 2020 in Cook’s potential absence.
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