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Best running back handcuffs for fantasy football

Which running backs will have the most fantasy football upside if the starter goes down with an injury?

Running back Kareem Hunt blocks for running back Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

An old trope in fantasy football is to draft your running back’s “handcuff” later in drafts in case your back goes down with an injury. The problem is, we often end up dropping that player for the latest hot commodity on the waiver wire or that player ends up sharing time with another back and isn’t that useful even after your starter is injured. So, we need to be a bit more diligent in selecting backups and draft them for their upside instead of link them to the starters we roster.

Top targets

Starter: Nick Chubb
Handcuff: Kareem Hunt

Hunt is one of the few backup running backs to have stand alone value, as he gets good usage as a receiver in the Browns offense. But, if Chubb were to go down, Hunt would quickly become a top fantasy running back, surpassing even Chubb’s high upside. The Browns added run blocking offensive linemen this offseason, giving the Browns running game a boost after a successful 2019 season as it was. Give Hunt the lead back duties along with strong receiving numbers and he’s got Christian McCaffrey upside.

Starter: Ezekiel Elliott
Handcuff: Tony Pollard

Unlike Hunt, Pollard doesn’t have a big enough role to have stand alone value in most leagues, but if Elliott were to go down, Pollard moves up into RB1 territory in the Cowboys offense. He isn’t as proven as other backups due to limited opportunities but Dallas didn’t draft any competition for him and he showed well in his limited work.

Starter: Dalvin Cook
Handcuff: Alexander Mattison

The Vikings offense will continue to be a good one for running backs this season and Alexander Mattison proved last year that he could handle himself in the NFL. He rushed 100 times for 462 yards and one touchdown and caught ten passes for 82 yards while backing up Cook last season and would quickly become a strong fantasy starter if Cook were to miss time, which he has done throughout his career.

Starter: Alvin Kamara
Handcuff: Latavius Murray

Last year when Kamara went down with a high-ankle sprain, Murray took over for two games, rushing 48 times for 221 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears and Cardinals tough run defenses, adding a whopping 14 receptions for 86 yards and another touchdown. He likely wouldn’t see those kind of touch numbers in a prolonged stint as the starter, but we know the team trusts him to be the every down back and the Saints offense is always a plus for running backs.

Starter: Mark Ingram
Handcuff: J.K. Dobbins

Dobbins is somewhat unique in that he could find his way into the starting role despite Ingram, who is a plus starter, ahead of him on the depth chart. But, he will likely be a backup to start, making his average draft position better than if he were the nominal starter going into the season, but worse than if he were only viewed as a strict backup. Whoever starts for the Ravens will lose carries and touchdowns to Lamar Jackson, but also will have trouble not putting up big efficiency numbers in their awesome rushing attack. Dobbins would be in the RB1 conversation with the starting job.