This one is for the handcuffs.
As fantasy owners everywhere know, handcuffs are an absolute must when a first-round pick is used on a fantasy bellcow. In this segment of my running back rankings, eight of the
12 discussed are, in my opinion, the best insurance policies to the running backs you will most likely be targeting early in your drafts. Backs like Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy, LeSean McCoy, Justin Forsett, Alfred Morris, and C.J. Anderson all need to have an insurance policy.
So, I’ll do my best impression of Jake from State Farm, the Geico Gecko, and Flo from the Progressive ads, and give my opinions on which insurance policies to target at the tail-end of your drafts.
For running backs 71-61, click here.
60) Dri Archer, Pittsburgh Steelers
To say that this kid is quick is a major understatement. He might be one of the fastest runners in the game. I’m talking blazing track speed. Do not blink when Archer has the ball. I repeat, do not blink.
Now, he is expected to primarily be a kick return specialist. I believe that he is too talented to be limited to special teams. In my opinion, it would be a mistake not to give Archer the ball in Le’Veon Bell’s absence.
Now, I’m not saying he could be a bellcow back that can take on 20+ carries. At 5′-8″, 173lbs, he simply is not built for that. But, to not use him for something to the extent of 10-12 carries would be an injustice. He is just too talented.
He could also be used as a target in the passing game, much like a Percy Harvin-type gadget player. The Steelers need to get this guy the ball, one way or another, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley is well aware of this. Here is what he told profootballtalk.nbcsports.com in regards to Dri Archer:
“He’s a smart guy that is working hard, and he understands the process. He has been biding his time. I am sure if he gets more opportunities, he will take advantage.” Said Haley.
“I think that he is developing no different than any other young guy that has came into the mix… His (downfall) has been a lack of opportunity as much as anything else.” Continued Haley.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. And, yes I am aware that DeAngelo Williams is in the fold as well. Simply put, I just don’t believe in him. I think he’s done. He’s 32 and spent more time on the training table than on the gridiron last season. Sure, he signed a 2 year, $4 million contract in the offseason, but only about a quarter of that money is guaranteed. I won’t go on too much more on DeAngelo, given that I discussed him in a previous article, but I’m not totally sold on the idea of him even making the team. I believe that the back who will fill this role is, more than likely, on someone else’s roster.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like Archer has a real clear-path to playing time, but what if he were to snag 10-12 carries, catch a few balls, and return kicks (a skill that has decent value in our MLFS leagues). The culmination of finding him limited work in three areas, mixed with his blazing speed, really makes Archer an enticing upside play.
59) Denard Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
“Shoelace”, as he is affectionately referred to by the Jaguar faithful, had one hell of a month last season. If you were like me and grabbed Shoelace before week seven last year, you were treated to a real treat. If you don’t remember what he did, here’s a quick peak:
Week 7: 22/127/1 versus Cleveland
Week 8: 18/108/0 versus Miami
Week 9: 17/94/1 @ Cincinnati
Week 10: 15/60/2 versus Dallas
For a solid month, he put up number that you would expect from a RB1. But, that’s all he really did. After that, he combined for 35/99/0 before ending the season on IR. Simply put, he’s not a feature back despite playing like one for four weeks.
This is why the Jaguars invested an early second-round pick on T.J. Yeldon out of Alabama. Ever since Yeldon was drafted, they anointed him the feature back, essentially giving him the keys to the Jaguar (get it? I’m so funny).
Just because Yeldon is a three-down back, does not mean that our boy Shoelace won’t see the field. The Florida Times Union reports that Robinson should see four-seven touches in a change-of-pace role behind Yeldon. The publication also reported that Robinson would be the team’s primary kick returner.
So, if you believe in Yeldon’s ability, grab Robinson as the handcuff. Or, if you don’t believe that the rookie can handle the workload, grab Robinson. Either way, Shoelace has value.
58) Darren McFadden, Dallas Cowboys
I am not a Run-DMC believer…anymore. I’m just not.
It’s July 19th, and he’s already dealt with hamstring issues. He also hasn’t averaged more than 3.4 YPC since 2011. He is a back that, at one point, showed flashes of talent. Those days went away just around the time that LMFAO stopped being cool (if they ever were is a debate for another day, I personally was never much of a fan).
Again, like DeAngelo Williams, I touched on McFadden in an earlier article. So, I won’t spend too much time explaining why I’m not a fan. It may puzzle you as to why I have McFadden ranked above his teammate Lance Dunbar if I don’t buy what he’s selling. The answer is this: I’m not convinced that Jerry Jones has the same views on this guy that I do. We all know what a circus Jerry’s world can be, and now that Jones finally has the former Razorback (Jones’ alma mater), I believe that he will make sure he has given him every opportunity to succeed in the run-friendly environment he has built over the last few years.
The idea of a former top pick in an advantageous situation might be sexy to some, but not me. I’ll let someone else reach for the former Raider.
57) Alfred Blue, Houston Texans
Quick word association! What comes to mind when I say the name Alfred Blue?
Arian Foster? Yeah, thought so.
It’s pretty obvious why Blue is a running back that you need to target if you take Arian Foster. He’s the handcuff, and a pretty blatant one at that.
Since the beginning of 2013, Foster has missed 11 games. He is one who frequents the weekly injury report.
He’s not exactly Bo Jackson from a talent standpoint, but given the opportunity, he can produce. In week 11, the Texans ran him, ran him again, and ran him some more. He finished that game in Cleveland with a line of 35/156/0. That week, Texans fans and fantasy owners alike were channeling their inner Will Ferrell and yelling, “YOU’RE MY BOY, BLUE!”.
Plus, there are reports of Blue getting some work on passing downs. Espn.com reported that he had been working on his catching abilities and pass protection. It’s not much, but it’s something.
But, really, Blue won’t see much action unless Foster goes down. Classic handcuff.
56) James Starks, Green Bay Packers
See Blue, Alfred.
Starks is the handcuff to Eddie Lacy, and much like handcuffs operate, he won’t see anything significant until the main man ahead of him goes down. Given the opportunity, he should see many weak fronts playing along side the most talented quarterback in the NFL, in an offense that loves to chuck the pigskin.
Starks’ rushing lines from the past two seasons look like this:
Not too much action, some garbage-time/change-of-pace snaps. Nothing really significant.
I don’t really have too much to say about Starks other than, if you’re drafting Lacy, grab Starks as well. It’s just playing it safe.
55) Bilal Powell, New York Jets
With Stevan Ridley possibly starting the season on the PUP list, there’s a really good chance that Powell picks up the slack.
He was under-utilized in 2014, but in 2013, he had a half-decent year:
176/697/1 to go along with 36/272/0 receiving.
I believe that a healthy Ridley takes the pass-catching role behind Chris Ivory with ease, but I’m not convinced that he will be ready to go for Week 1. Given Powell’s ability to catch the football, he should take that role early-on if Ridley is unable to fulfill the duties.
Also, all six of Powell’s career touchdowns have came in goal-to-go situations. I’m not saying that he’s going to get all the goal-line carries, but could have a decent chunk of them fall into his lap? Just some food for thought.
He’s not a flashy option, but Powell does have some value, especially out of the gate.
54) The Bills’ Running Back That Backs-Up LeSean McCoy.
Yes, it’s a cop-out of sorts to rank four running backs in one slot, but I really do believe that one of Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Boobie Dixon, and Karlos Williams will be a very valuable handcuff.
The only reason why I grouped them all together like this is… well, I really don’t know who will be Shady’s main man. My gut tells me it’s Fred Jackson, and he appears to be the leader in the clubhouse today, but Rex Ryan and company have been very vocal that the role behind McCoy is very much up for grabs.
He’s the veteran of the offense that is well-liked and respected; the heart and soul of the Bills’ ground attack for years. The former Coe College standout worked his way up from a division III school, made the team, and has out-lasted the likes of Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller. He’s a scrappy guy who competes for a roster spot every August and takes nothing for granted.
He is also a 34-years-old running back with a $2.5 million cap hit, who can’t contribute on special teams, and who perpetually is banged-up. In order to retain his spot on not only the depth chart, but his spot on the the roster, he will need to be the best back in camp not named LeSean.
This isn’t the first time that Brown has been a LeSean McCoy handcuff. For 2012 and 2013, he was very much the Knile Davis to McCoy’s Jamaal Charles. He is a very similar runner to the guy at the top of the depth chart, but he was only getting second and third-team reps at OTAs. He also missed most of OTAs due to the birth of his child, which doesn’t bode well given he’s behind the others when it comes to learning the new playbook that Greg Roman will implement in 2015. It also doesn’t help when your running back coach has this to say about you:
“I’ve only met him once.”
-Anthony Lynn, Bills’ running back coach when asked by the Buffalo News about his thoughts on Brown. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
He’s only 24, and has lots of potential. If he can prove that he can contribute on special teams, return kicks, or simply out-perform the competition, he could be the guy, but that remains to be seen.
He’s not as quick as Brown and WKBN Buffalo’s Joe Buscaglia believes that Dixon will be the odd-man out in this contest for handcuff supremacy. He can play special teams and had 13 of the Bills’ 57 red zone carries last season. He also did play under Greg Roman in San Francisico, so there could be a loyalty factor there.
This guy is interesting. A converted safety that became a running back after he had major success returning kicks at Florida State, he showed some ability with catching the ball out of the backfield and has some speed to his credit (he ran a 4.48 forty-yard dash at the combine). Right now, the rookie is at the back of the depth chart and is considered to be a “project” given that he was a safety for a portion of his collegiate career, but he has just as good a chance to be that number two guy as anybody else.
Like I said, my gut tells me that Jackson is the guy, but this is a training camp battle that anyone who intends on drafting LeSean McCoy needs to keep a keen eye on.
53) Buck Allen, Baltimore Ravens
It’s really between the rookie Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro for the backup gig behind 2014 surprise breakout fantasy star, Justin Forsett. Allen’s skill set is one that is pretty damn close to the one shown by Forsett.
Allen can catch balls and pass-protect at the NFL level with ease according to his coach John Harbaugh:
“We’ve seen Buck catch passes, we’ve seen Buck pass-protect, so we know he can do it,” Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun.
Harbaugh continued on to say that “he has done it out here and looks very smooth doing it.”
In a Marc Trestman offense, these skills are paramount. Skills that Taliaferro and his eight career receptions don’t exactly match. Allen had 1,947 all-purpose yards and 12 all-purpose touchdowns during his final year at USC.
It will probably take an injury to Forsett for Allen to really be fantasy relevant. But for now, draft him as your official Justin Forsett handcuff.
52) Matt Jones, Washington Redskins
Hey! Another handcuff! Sensing a theme yet?
The Redskins’ third-round pick out of Florida is clearly the handcuff you want for Alfred Morris. He has the likes of Chris Thompson and Silas Redd competing with him for that spot. I can’t really see why you would invest a 3rd round pick on someone and then have him lower on the pecking order than the two unknowns previously mentioned, by yours truly.
There’s quite a bit of hype around Jones in regards to him stealing significant snaps from Morris. While I won’t go that far, I will say Jones will be the pass-catching back that Roy Helu was before he bolted for the Bay Area. According to ESPN’s John Kiem, the Redskins love what Jones can do in the passing game from a ball-catching and pass-protection standpoint. He says that Jones will “more than likely” be the third-down back in Washington.
And hey, Coach Gruden didn’t totally rule-out the possibility of Jones cutting into Morris’ playing time. When a CSN Washington reporter asked Gruden about the notion, he didn’t exactly rule it out:
“We’ll see… That’s what training camp is for.”
*Queue the “Saved By the Bell” “OUUUUUUUUUHHHHH!”*
And apparently, he’s not just a pass-catching specialist. According to Redskins’ GM Scot McCloughan, he is a north-south runner that he compares to Marshawn Lynch. I don’t know about that, but it’s good to see that he has the potential to be the guy who can participate in run formations in addition to being a pass-catcher.
51) Stevan Ridley, New York Jets
The biggest question mark regarding Ridley is his health. More specifically, his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the first half of last season. ESPN New York reported that he “looked decent” in OTAs, but Dom Cosentino of the Newark Star-Ledger says that he could start the year on the PUP list. Here’s what Ridley had to say regarding his recovery:
“I really can’t perdict the future. I’m not going to set myself up for false hope or that I’m going to do something that I’m not. I’ve just gotta make sure that I’m 100% healthy, and that when I do hit the field, I’m making an impact.”
To me, that sounds like a guy who will more than likely not be ready for week one, but that’s okay. It will cheapen his draft day value. If you stash him on your bench the first few weeks, you will be rewarded with a solid, flex option.
In his time with the Patriots, Ridley had a stat line of 649/2,817/22 in 52 games, 25 starts. Which roughly translates to an average per game stat line of 12.5/54.17/0.42.
Even with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell on the roster, is it wrong to suggest that Ridley could get 12-13 carries per game? Why, not? Here’s the typical workload of some of the other crowded backfields new Jets’ Offensive Coordinater Chan Gailey looked after in Buffalo from 2010-2012:
We’ll look at the 2012 season, Gailey’s final year in Buffalo.
C.J. Spiller: 12.9/77.75/0.38
Fred Jackson: 11.5/43.7/0.3 (He missed six games due to injury.)
So, given health, is 11-13 carries a game out of the question for Ridley upon his return to the lineup? A workload that he has routinely seen throughout his career? Of course not.
Now, say he does hit the PUP list and misses six games. If he just stays true to his career averages, he will give you roughly 138/596/4-5 over the final 11 games of the season. Not too shabby.
50) Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
Okay, so at worst, he’s a C.J. Anderson handcuff. That’s worst case, but he very well could be more. He could still see significant time on the field despite being second on the depth chart.
Here’s what Ball did in 2013 sitting behind Knowshown Moreno:
119/558/4 with 20/145/0 receiving on 27 targets.
People forget that he was actually productive given that some drafted him as high as the second and third round that year. He unfairly was anointed a bust because he wasn’t Peyton’s Terrell Davis.
2014 was a rough year for Ball. He left training camp without his appendix and just never got his strength back. He even admitted it to the Denver Post:
“… They dug inside of me to get my appendix. And then, that kinda weakened my core. Which, I think, resulted in my groin going out.”
I’ve never had my appendix taken out, but I’ve heard stories how it takes people sometimes a couple months to fully recover from the procedure. Not easy by any stretch of the imagination.
He has spent the offseason training like a mad-man, adding yoga and Pilates to his training regiment, adding core strength. He has a chip on his shoulder and he has two personal goals: take “his starting job back” and run for 1,000 yards. It would take a lot for him to accomplish this feat, but I like his attitude.
Even if he gives fantasy owners close to what he did in 2013, that has some value. And, if Anderson goes down, you have a guy who has high-end RB2 potential at your disposal.
49) Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
Now it’s time for the annual Cleveland rookie running back report.
From Trent Richardson to Terrance West and Isiah Crowell, there just hasn’t been a rookie ball carrier that has made it last in Cleveland.
Enter Duke Johnson, professional trend-bender.
According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, Johnson has been the “most impressive running back” at Browns’ OTAs. He’s reportedly out performing the, at times, underwhelming Crowell and West.
And, based on his combine numbers, I’m not overly surprised. He ran a 4.54 forty and had a record-breaking career at Miami.
During his time at “The U”, he accumulated 526/3,519/26 and set a school record for all-purpose yards. A school that has produced Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, and Ottis Anderson. He produced more than all of those Hurricane greats.
Johnson hit the ground running during his collegiate career. In just 12 games (only five starts), he ran for 947 yards, 10 rushing touhdowns, 27 receptions, returned two kicks for touchdowns, and even threw for a touchdown. The kid was unstoppable.
According to Nate Ulrich via Twitter, Johnson is getting reps at wide receiver (slot and out wide) in addition to his regular running back duties. The Browns reportedly want to take a “Gio Bernard-like approach” to deploying Johnson on the opposition. As Browns’ Running Backs Coach Wilbert Montgomery put it, a “Where’s Waldo?” game-plan will be used when Johnson takes the field.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer also reports that Johnson could assume kick-return duties, even further adding to his value.
For a team that ran 63% of the time in the red-zone last season and 68% when faced with goal-to-go situations, the news that one back is standing-out among the rest is juicy. Here’s to you, Duke Johnson. Professional trend-bender.
That should do it for this week’s installment of running back rankings. Check me out next week as I delve into another 12 running backs.
Until then, Cheers!
@stromme_93 on Twitter.
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