The road to fantasy football championships are often paved by bell-cow running backs. But sometimes, you need to be ready for those plans to go sideways and move on to Plan B.
That’s where handcuffs can come into play.
If you get the chance to draft one of the best running backs early in your fantasy football draft, you should jump at that opportunity, but it doesn’t hurt to grab some insurance later in the draft. Some handcuff scenarios make more sense than others, either because of workload forecasts or injury histories.
For those fantasy football players who always want to be prepared, here are some of the top handcuff options for the 2019 season.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angels Chargers
2018 stats: 106 carries, 554 yards, 3 touchdowns — 39 receptions, 404 yards, 3 touchdowns
Well, for starters, we already know Ekeler can handle being a No. 1 running back for a legitimate NFL contender. He stepped in for Melvin Gordon when the star back went down with a knee injury, and LA didn’t miss a beat in the games he started with a 3-0 record. If Gordon’s contract situation isn’t resolved, Ekeler will become even more important with a bigger workload.
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
2018 stats: 85 rushes, 419 yards, 2 touchdowns — 9 receptions, 57 yards, 0 touchdowns
Penny, a first-round pick last year, is probably worth drafting just on his own, handcuff status be damned. But if it’s going to be Chris Carson’s backfield to lose, then ride with Penny if possible and wait for him to get his chance. He showed his spark last season, averaging nearly 5 yards per carry, and he showed a knack for the end zone when involved in the passing game with two touchdowns on just nine receptions.
Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons
2018 stats: 90 carries, 315 yards, 4 touchdowns — 27 receptions, 152 yards, 0 touchdowns
When Devonta Freeman got hurt last season, it was Tevin Coleman who was called on to carry the load. Well, Coleman is a 49er now, and the role of Freeman’s understudy falls on the shoulders of Smith. He didn’t play a ton, but he made the most of his chances — he averaged 4 yards per touch — and the early reviews this summer are positive. Freeman’s age (27) and injury history make Smith someone worth monitoring on draft day.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
2018 stats: 56 carries, 211 yards, 3 touchdowns — 35 receptions, 218 yards, 0 touchdowns
It feels like Bernard has been in the NFL for more than six years, doesn’t’ it? While he’s not getting any younger, he’s still a solid backup plan for Joe Mixon, who has missed at least two games in each of his first two seasons. Bernard remains a viable option in the passing game, too.
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers
2018 stats: 56 carries, 256 yards, 0 touchdowns — 26 receptions, 199 yards, 3 touchdowns
James Conner’s breakout season will ease the pain of Le’Veon Bell being gone for good, but don’t sleep on what Samuels can bring to the table. The Steelers have plans to use both backs this season, and Samuels’ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will give Randy Fichtner some chances to mess around. And don’t forget: Conner has suffered nagging ankle and knee injuries over the last two seasons.
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
2018 season: 140 carries, 578 yards — 22 receptions, 141 yards, 0 touchdowns
Everyone knows Alvin Kamara is one of the top fantasy running backs going right now. But this is the first season in which he won’t have Mark Ingram carrying the load with him. Enter Murray. The veteran back had a nice year in Minnesota last season, averaging just over 4 yards per carry and scoring six times. He’s dependable, too, having missed just three games in his career.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
2018 season (college): 150 carries, 876 yards, 9 touchdowns — 22 receptions, 204 yards, 0 touchdown
We’re required by law to say “it’s always hard to predict how the Patriots will use their running backs.” Now that we have that out of the way, there’s a reason New England took Harris in the third round one year after drafting Sony Michel in the first round. Michel got plenty of work in his rookie season, but we’re also required to mention his long-standing knee issues. Harris does a little bit of everything, and he’s been really good in the preseason where he’s averaged 5.7 yards per carry in limited work.
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans
2018 stats: 40 carries, 201 yards, 0 touchdowns — 47 receptions, 429 yards, 3 touchdowns
Johnson might wind up being a very shrewd pickup for Houston, who acquired the veteran back from Cleveland for a conditional fourth-round pick in early August. He’ll get plenty of work as a pass-catching back and could take on an even greater role if Lamar Miller reverts back to the player he was in 2017. Regardless, he should be a dynamic weapon for Deshaun Watson when he’s on the field.