Top 12 Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs for 2019 NFL Season

Jason Schandl
Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams
Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams / Alika Jenner/Getty Images
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The running back position is a highly volatile position in fantasy football. Every season we see early-round picks flop, either due to injuries or simply underwhelming play while other RBs seem to come out of nowhere to turn in huge seasons.

With such high bust rates, it's no surprise that handcuffing top backs — drafting backups whose value could explode if the starter ahead of them flops — is such a popular strategy.

Here are the 12 best handcuff running backs for 2019 fantasy football.

12. Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

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Kenyan Drake has already returned to practice following an injury that temporarily boosted Kalen Ballage's fantasy value. Still, a banged up Drake is no lock to dominate this backfield, and even without any other injuries Ballage should get plenty of opportunity to earn an increased role in the Miami Dolphins' offense.

11. Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins

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Derrius Guice is officially back in action, pushing Adrian Peterson to the No. 2 RB spot for the Washington Redskins. Guice, even assuming he's fully healthy, is still completely unproven at the NFL level though, and he's far from a lock to hang onto the team's top-RB role. Peterson ranked top five in the NFL in carries in 2018, but losing receiving work to Chris Thompson in what projects to be one of the worst fantasy offenses in 2019 limits AP's ceiling.

10. Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans

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Dion Lewis sits behind Derrick Henry on the Tennessee Titans' depth chart, but he could still be in for reasonable volume in the passing game. Henry is also already dealing with a strained calf, possibly opening an opportunity for Lewis to reclaim the top spot. Henry has flashed serious upside, but it's been over a tiny sample. He dominated over the final quarter of the 2018 season, but Henry's first 12 games saw him rush for a very pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry. Lewis averaged 11.3 attempts and 4.3 targets per game in those 12 contests, so he should soak up a ton of volume if Henry's injury lingers.

9. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers

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Austin Ekeler is no longer a handcuff. Melvin Gordon's holdout is expected to last into the regular season, and Ekeler's draft cost has exploded. Justin Jackson is still available on the cheap though, and he profiles as a capable three-down back and potential fantasy sleeper if Ekeler stumbles out of the blocks in 2019.

8. Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers

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Jerick McKinnon will likely start the season on the PUP list, giving Matt Breida's fantasy stock a boost already. Ahead of him on the San Francisco 49ers' depth chart, Tevin Coleman is relatively unproven in a potential workhorse role, having never eclipsed 200 touches in a season, and only serving as the Atlanta Falcons' lead back for one season. The 49ers showed some confidence in Breida in 2018, giving him 180 touches over 14 games, making him well worth a late-round flier.

7. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints

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Latavius Murray's only so far down the list because he's not entirely a handcuff, with an average draft position (ADP) of RB32. He could already be offering some great fantasy value at this cost. If Alvin Kamara gets hurt, that would leave Murray as the top back in the most RB-friendly offense in fantasy football, lifting his upside to elite levels.

6. Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Nyheim Hines may not reach workhorse levels even if Marlon Mack goes down, having run the ball only 85 times as a rookie, but his passing game involvement (81 targets) is hard to ignore. He actually outsnapped Mack in games the Indianapolis Colts lost last season and, with no Andrew Luck in 2019, the Colts will likely find themselves playing from behind more often this year. Hines could find himself leading the Colts backfield, even if Mack stays healthy.

5. Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers

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Jaylen Samuels' value comes more from the way the Pittsburgh Steelers use running backs than his ability on the football field. After Le'Veon Bell held out, James Conner emerged from nowhere to become one of the top backs in fantasy football. We saw the same thing happen with DeAngelo Williams in 2015-16, too. If anything happens to Conner, we can expect Samuels to immediately step in and receive elite volume. Samuels averaged 16.9 fantasy points per game in three starts in 2018, making him a top handcuff in 2019.

4. Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs

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Darwin Thompson has reportedly passed Carlos Hyde on the Kansas City Chiefs depth chart already. That means he's the No. 2 RB in one of the best offenses in NFL history, behind Damien Williams, who only has 340 career touches (regular season and playoffs) in five seasons. Williams has only eclipsed 50 carries in a season once (with 85), and he's far from a safe bet to hold up as the Chiefs' top RB for the entire year. There is almost no back in the NFL that wouldn't offer huge upside if they had a chance at the starting job in KC.

3. Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons

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With Devonta Freeman missing the 2018 season, Ito Smith stepped into the team's passing-down role and saw 117 touches in 14 games. Freeman is returning from a season-long groin injury in 2018, and if he suffers any setbacks then Smith would be in line to lead an offense that has given its lead back an average of 262.5 touches per season since 2015. Smith should be selected by anyone who drafts Freeman this coming season.

2. Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Todd Gurley's knee is a huge question mark right now. The uncertainty makes the Los Angeles Rams' backup RB role very valuable, especially because they're one of the best offenses in the league. Darrell Henderson is already projected for solid volume and, if Gurley misses any time, he will have a great chance to vault into the top tier of fantasy backs. Henderson should be rostered in all leagues until there's some clarity about Gurley's health.

1. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

Tony Pollard is the only Dallas Cowboys running back getting any first-team reps with Ezekiel Elliott sitting out the preseason. A holdout for Elliott doesn't look as likely at this point, but until a contract is signed, Pollard's upside will be tough to ignore. He isn't likely to lead the NFL in carries and rushing yards like Zeke did last year, but preseason usage indicates Pollard would be one of the league's few true bell-cow backs if Elliott holds out. All of this adds up to Pollard being the No. 1 handcuff in 2019 fantasy football leagues.


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Jason Schandl is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Jason Schandl also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username Jaymun. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.

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