The NFL is like the WWE in many ways. Big personalities flex their muscles and engage in physical combat for the amusement of us, the fans, on a nationally televised broadcast. Likewise, in both the WWE and the NFL injuries can happen in an instant. For fantasy players, these injuries can often lead to the complete derailment of our teams if we are left with no options to replace the injured player. Enter the “handcuff”, a player that is set to take the touches vacated by the injured star. Quite often these handcuffs are left to rot on the waiver wire until they become relevant due to a star player’s injury. At this point it could be too late to grab the “handcuff” from the waiver wire, as they have now received the mainstream attention that will drive fellow owners to grab them before you. Once your handcuff is gone, any hopes you had of replacing the production vacated by your injured star go directly out the window. But we here at 3cosports don’t want you to suffer, as we hope this article provides you with the information necessary to recover from any injury to your stud running backs.
AFC East RB Handcuffs
New England Patriots
Sony Michel → Damian Harris/Rex Burkhead
James White → Rex Burkhead/Damian Harris
The Patriots backfield is an extremely even split on passing and running downs between White and Michel. If Michel’s knee were to act up at any point this year it is likely that most of his workload would be given to Harris, a naturally gifted power runner with a very high upside. Likewise, if White were to go down, Burkhead would likely be first in line to take his touches in the passing game, as the Patriots tend to trust their veterans more often than not on ever so important passing downs. However, because this is the Patriots backfield it’s hard to predict exactly what they will do in the case of injury.
Devin Singletary/Frank Gore → T.J Yeldon
While it’s still unclear whether Singletary or Gore are in a committee for the lead back role or not, Yeldon will almost surely take either player’s touches were an injury to occur.
New York Jets
Le’Veon Bell → Bilal Powell, Ty Montgomery → Josh Adams
The Jets backfield could become an absolute mess if Bell is forced to miss time, as his backups are all very capable of being the lead back in his stead. Knowing Adam Gase, the dreaded committee approach would likely be employed in the wake of Bell’s absence. Due to their upside in the passing game, Montgomery and Powell are the handcuffs to own for those of you that invested in Bell.
Kenyan Drake/Kalen Ballage → Mark Walton
The Dolphins offense is a mess so relying on any of these backs this season is a mistake. Neither Ballage or Drake have much upside in this offense outside of random big plays, so handcuffing them with a less explosive back like Walton might be a futile effort for your fantasy lineup.
AFC South RB Handcuffs
Marlon Mack → Nyheim Hines → Jordan Wilkins/Jonathan Williams
Mack has distinguished himself as a three-down back in Indy’s offense which makes his handcuff situation rather complex. Were an injury to occur, Nyheim Hines would almost surely take Mack’s touches on passing downs. However, due to Hines’s undersized frame, short yardage and red-zone work would likely be reallocated to a bigger back like Wilkins. It is more likely that the team would make a move to bring in a more accomplished back (Jay Ajayi perhaps) in this scenario.
Leonard Fournette → Ryquell Armstead → Devine Ozigbo
It’s a well-known fact that Fournette is a fragile running back, so handcuffing him with Armstead is a must. It’s possible that the team would resort to a committee approach but it seems likely that they would entrust Armstead with a majority of reps due to his experience in the offense compared to Ozigbo. If Alfred Blue ever returns this season, there is a decent chance that he takes on the primary handcuff role.
Duke Johnson → Taiwan Jones
Carlos Hyde → Taiwan Jones/Buddy Howell
Hey I’ve seen this episode before. While there is no Nick Chubb laying in wait behind Johnson and Hyde this time, Jones and Howell are more than capable of filling in were an injury to occur.
Derrick Henry → David Fluellen
Dion Lewis → David Fluellen
Yeah, I’m good on this one.
AFC North RB Handcuffs
Mark Ingram → Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
An Ingram injury makes both Hill and Edwards tremendously valuable, so go grab them now. Baltimore will likely employ a very high-volume running offense, especially as the weather gets colder. If Ingram was to go down, I believe that the Ravens offense could sustain both of them from a fantasy perspective, with Hill filling a lot of the vacated touches on passing downs and Edwards soaking up many of the red zone and short yardage carries.
James Conner → Jaylen Samuels → Benny Snell
As we saw last year, the lead back in Pittsburgh’s offense will always be a great fantasy asset. Handcuff your studs!
Nick Chubb → Kareem Hunt (after week 8) → Dontrell Hilliard/D’Ernest Johnson
The Browns running game should be a tale of two backfields this year. Until Hunt returns, Chubb should be a three down back in this offense, with Hilliard or Johnson spelling him every once in a while. Once Hunt returns, there is a good chance that this backfield becomes a 50/50 split between Chubb and Hunt.
Joe Mixon → Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
Gio Bernard → Trayveon Williams
It seems like the Bengals can never manage to keep both Mixon and Bernard healthy at the same time, so in the case that either suffers an injury the other should benefit from a fantasy perspective. Williams should be the primary handcuff to both players, as the explosive Texas A&M product has big play potential especially with a decent volume of touches.
AFC West RB Handcuffs
Kansas City Chiefs
Damien Williams/Lesean McCoy → Darwin Thompson
This is a super weird timeshare, so projecting anything in this backfield is a shot in the dark. However, if Williams or McCoy were to go down, Thompson would immediately become a fantasy factor given the explosive nature of the offense.
Phil Lindsay/Royce Freeman → Devontae Booker
We’ve seen what Booker can do when given significant reps…not much. I wouldn’t worry about handcuffing either Freeman or Lindsay if they were to get hurt.
Josh Jacobs → Jalen Richard
Jacobs is the Raiders’ definitive three-down bellcow back, but Richard was the lead back following Marshawn Lynch’s injury last season and performed very well. If you own Jacobs, you should invest in Richard as a backup regardless of format.
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon (holdout) → Austin Ekeler → Justin Jackson → Troymaine Pope
Until Melvin Gordon returns (if he returns) this is going to be The Austin Ekeler Show. Ekeler is a borderline RB1 until further notice and if he were to go down Jackson might have a chance to replicate his production.
NFC East RB Handcuffs
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley → Paul Perkins/Wayne Galman
If Barkley gets hurt you’re f*cked. Sorry..
Ezekiel Elliott → Tony Pollard/Alfred Morris
An Elliott injury (or suspension) would mean immediate work for the rookie Pollard, but don’t be surprised if the veteran Morris gets some work as well.
Derrius Guice/Adrian Peterson → Wendell Smallwood
Chris Thompson → Bryce Love (injured)
Washington’s backfield really makes my skin crawl. There are so many mouths to feed and not nearly enough touches to make any of them a worthwhile investment. While Guice is out with his latest knee injury, the Peterson/Thompson split should be about as predictable as this backfield is going to get.
Miles Sanders → Darren Sproles/Corey Clement
Jordan Howard → Corey Clement
The classic Eagles committee approach appears to be going strong, with nobody breaching the coveted RB1 territory in fantasy. In the case of any injury, you could pick up any back on their roster and you would have an equal chance of being disappointed or elated on any given week.
NFC South RB Handcuffs
Devonta Freeman → Ito Smith → Brian Hill/Quadree Ollison
A Freeman injury would bring “Ito Szn” to the forefront in fantasy, as Smith has the potential to be a very productive lead back in this offense.
Christian McCaffrey → Reggie Bonafon/Jordan Scarlett
This drop-off could be the end of the Panthers season but Scarlett has the higher upside if Run CMC were to be run into the ground.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones/Peyton Barber → Dare Ogunbowale → T.J Logan
(closes google doc, throws computer in trash can).
New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara → Dwayne Washington
Latavius Murray → Dwayne Washington
Washington is a good stash in deeper formats but it’s likely that the team would make a move for a more proven back in the case of an injury to Murray or Kamara, given their SUper Bowl hopes.
NFC North RB Handcuffs
Tarik Cohen → David Montgomery/Mike Davis → Kerrith Whyte
David Montgomery/Mike Davis → Kerrith Whyte
Cohen and Montgomery Owners keep an eye on Mike Davis, he will be effective in the case of an injury to either of his backfield mates.
Kerryon Johnson → C.J Anderson/Ty Johnson/J.D McKissic
This looks more like a committee every day but if K.J was to miss time I do like Ty Johnson’s upside, as the speedster has shown enough to the Lions coaching staff that he made the roster ahead of accomplished veterans Zach Zenner and Theo Riddick.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones/Jamaal Williams → Dexter Williams
In a shallow backfield that is one injury away from discovering a three down back, everyone from this team should be owned.
Dalvin Cook → Alexander Mattison → Mike Boone
Mattison has proved to be an ideal understudy for Cook, a player who has missed nearly 75% of his career games so far. Handcuff Cook ASAP.
NFC West RB Handcuffs
David Johnson → Chase Edmonds
Edmonds will be the lead back if Johnson gets hurt, handcuff him ASAP as well.
San Francisco 49ers
Matt Breida → Raheem Mostert/Jeff Wilson
Tevin Coleman → Raheem Mostert
Invest in Mostert if you’re sold on SF’s running game, but keep an eye on Wilson as he looked really good towards the end of last season.
Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley → Darrell Henderson
Malcolm Brown → John Kelly
Gurley owners should be very afraid of this backfield. Brown has seemingly moved into a co-starter role, usurping much of the goal-line work. Henderson will become a factor down the stretch so rostering him is essential.
Chris Carson → Rashad Penny → C.J Prosise
The hierarchy in Seattle’s offense in apparent, Carson is the guy from here on out so if you own him pick up Penny as insurance for he could usurp the bellcow role in one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league should Carson suffer an injury.