32 Backfields 2013
A look at every team's RBs (Updated 9/2)
Welcome to my annual look at all 32 NFL backfields for fantasy purposes. The big issues are, obviously, who starts and who the best handcuff options are. Before we dive in, let’s talk about handcuffing for a moment. For those unfamiliar with the term in a fantasy football context, a handcuff is an insurance policy on a starting player, usually the player’s direct backup. That’s not to say that all direct backups are legit handcuff options. They’re not. Here’s what we want to see to consider a player as a handcuff option.
- Requisite talent. Can he replace enough of the starter’s production to be a viable starter himself?
- Snaps. Is the backup expected to play the same role as the starter or is it a predictable time-share?
- League Size. In ten team leagues with short benches, only the most elite handcuff options are viable ways to build a team due to limited roster spots and the subsequent strength of the waiver wire.
With that out of the way, let’s get into some backfields. I’m listing them in division order.
New England Patriots
There’s a ton of talent in New England’s backfield. Stevan Ridley is the primary tailback, but how things work after Ridley is not entirely clear. Let’s take a quick look at the whole group.
- Stevan Ridley - Primary back.
- Shane Vereen - All purpose back who should play plenty.
- Brandon Bolden - Fighting for early down work behind Ridley.
- LeGarrette Blount - Fighting for a roster spot and early down work.
That is a seriously talented group and it’s hard to say just who the handcuff for Ridley should be. Vereen is the obvious choice, but he is going as high as the 5th round, and that’s not a handcuff. In deep leagues, Ridley owners should probably keep an eye on Blount and Bolden and roster one if a clear pecking order emerges. Right now, those who take Ridley must build depth in other ways since there is no clear handcuff after Vereen.
C.J. Spiller is the primary back and it’s finally a clear cut situation. The good news, for those in big formats, is that Fred Jackson is still a very good back and can be drafted as a quality handcuff. Look to add him in the 12th round or so if he stays on the board.
Despite all the team’s rumblings about Lamar Miller competing with Daniel Thomas, the job is primarily Miller’s with Thomas in the backup role. Quite honestly, we’re not sure how long Thomas can hold off rookie Mike Gillislee. For now, take Miller as a RB2 and draft Thomas as a handcuff in the 14th round or so.
New York Jets
The Jets barely have a starter. In fact, right now, Bilal Powell is atop the depth chart. That should last long as the probable starter, Chris Ivory is still getting into shape after struggling through hamstring woes much of camp. By Week 1, we should see Ivory as the top guy with Powell as the backup and handcuff option for fantasy GMs, but, keep an eye on Mike Goodson, who, despite his embarrassing brush with the law, could end up being the better handcuff when his four game suspension ends. Goodson should return for Week 5 if all goes according to plan. So, for Ivory owners, you should use Powell as a handcuff, but keep your eye on Goodson when he comes back. We’ll advise accordingly on the waiver wire at that time.
****UPDATE**** The Jets have now added ex-Packer Alex Green to the mix. Green has upside if he can prove to be fully healthy which is far from a given. He's definitely a player to keep an eye on as he could be fit for OC Marty Mornhinweg's system.
Ray Rice is the man. He’s a clear cut starter and a RB1. The guy to roster as a handcuff is Bernard Pierce, who offers some upside if Rice goes down for any length of time. You’ll need to add Pierce in the 10th round or thereabouts as he’s a trendy sleeper. The other back to watch in Baltimore is Delone Carter. Carter would be a worthy handcuff for the starter in the event of an injury to either Rice or Pierce. Carter could be an effective runner in the Ravens’ scheme.
****UPDATE**** Delone Carter was let go. It's all Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
This backfield is a serious headache. The guy you want is Le’Veon Bell, but he has a nebulous foot injury with a murky timetable in terms of recovery. Bell will be the man if he gets back and is at full strength, but since we are dealing with a lisfranc injury, it’s very hard to estimate when he’ll be at full strength. The conservative take seems to be about midseason, but he could get back a lot sooner. It’s also possible that Bell won’t be himself until 2014. Understand the risks here. If you do take the plunge on Bell, my suggestion for a handcuff is Jonathan Dwyer, who I feel is a very underrated back. The other back worthy of consideration is Isaac Redman, but he seems pretty well entrenched as a role player as is LaRod Stephens-Howling. Felix Jones was added recently for depth, but he is not a draft target at this point--even in deep formats.
****UPDATE**** The headache has worsened. Or has it? The release of Jonathan Dwyer may be a good sign for Le'Veon Bell owners. Bell could be back as soon as Week 2. Dwyer has clearly fell out of favor with Todd Haley and the coaching staff. Insert Felix Jones, who was signed after his release from Philadelphia. Jones may start in the short term and will get a bump in the rankings when I update them later today. Isaac Redman is still a role player as is LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Cincy has a seriously improved backfield. BenJarvus Green-Ellis returns and should “start” early on, but the name to know here is Giovani Bernard. Gio was the first back taken in this year’s draft and he has supremely quick feet and an all-around game. He’ll be a valuable fantasy asset at some point, but he may not dominate touches right away or at all in 2013 depending on how well he pass protects and runs inside. BJGE could still be a factor at the goal line too. Right now, Gio is being taken well ahead of the Law Firm and we get that, but don’t expect these guys to play to the levels of their ADP right away. It could be a fairly even split for a period of time. For fantasy purposes, BJGE is the handcuff, but he’s not cheap. You’ll need to use a 7th or 8th rounder on him. The rest of the backfield is talented too. Our favorite back for fantasy value in the event of injury to Gio or BJGE is rookie Rex Burkhead.
Trent Richardson is the every down back and an RB1. If he misses time, you have a complicated situation.
- Montario Hardesty - He technically is the backup, but he’s an injury-riddled nightmare and not worth drafting.
- Brandon Jackson - Having the best camp he’s ever had. Will have a role and that role would grow if Richardson went down.
- Miguel Maysonet - We like his game, but he’s made little noise so far.
- Chris Ogbonnaya - My favorite for value if T-Rich goes down. Though technically the fullback, Ogbonnaya is the best of the bunch after Richardson and is easily the best at the goal line. It may be counter-intuitive, but in deep formats, this is my handcuff choice. The good news is that you can nab him with one of your last picks.
****UPDATE**** TOTAL RE-SET.... Hardesty, Jackson and Maysonet are all gone. In their place, the Browns have brought in rookie UDFA Dennis Johnson, who was released from the Texans. Johnson has legit 3rd down potential and is worth a look in big leagues. The other new RB is Bobby Rainey, who has spent most of his NFL life on the Ravens' practice squad. Rainey will get a chance to compete with Ogbonnaya and Johnson for snaps and carries behind bell-cow Trent Richardson.
Hold onto your hats. This is a dangerous backfield. The starter is obviously Arian Foster, but beware of Ben Tate, who is a mandatory handcuff that you’ll need to jump on in the 7th round. And, he’s no lock to be there. The kicker is that Tate gets banged up too. Right now there’s a 3-man battle to back up Tate and these backs can all play.
- Deji Karim - He’s got the lead right now and should make the team.
- Cierre Wood - Best option as a ball carrier, but lack of special teams chops may cost him a roster spot.
- Dennis Johnson - Could surprise if he sticks. A good all-around back.
We’ll see how many backs they keep, but all three of these guys could excel in a lead role if they get the chance. The guy who wins will be worth a lot if either Foster or Tate gets hurt.
****UPDATE**** Cierre Wood wins the battle to back up Foster and Tate and due to both player's injury histories, Wood is a viable add in large leagues for Foster and or Tate owners.
Ahmad Bradshaw should be the main back with Vick Ballard as the primary backup and handcuff option for fantasy owners. There’s also Donald Brown, who has some talent and who should see some snaps. The guy that really intrigues me is rookie Kerwynn Williams, but, unless there are multiple injuries, Williams’ time should be 2014 and beyond. Still, he is a name to know.
****UPDATE**** Kerwynn Williams was released in a roster crunch. He may end up on the practice squad. This increases the value of Ballard and Brown. Bradshaw is still the man for as long as he can stay healthy.
This one’s easy. Chris Johnson is the back to own and backing him up with Shonn Greene is a no-brainer handcuff move. Greene is a solid back and he’ll be chewing defenses up behind the Titan’s beefed up line. Greene’s affordable too with an ADP of 175. I’d go after him around the 12th round if I was worried about my RB depth. Greene would be outstanding in the event of an injury to Johnson.
Maurice Jones-Drew is the starter and the back to own. The handcuff is a tough call, but I’m going with Jordan Todman for now. The youngster is running hard and I’m guessing that he’s eclipsed veteran Justin Forsett. The other back to own here is rookie Denard Robinson, who we absolutely love. In deep leagues, I’d consider rostering both Robinson and Todman just in case. Both backs have a significant talent. Robinson could eventually have stand-alone flex value.
Oh baby. This is a backfield that could decide some leagues in 2013. There is GOING TO BE serious fantasy value here. Just look at the situation. Great passing game and and a cream puff schedule. Whomever emerges from this backfield is going to get easy stats and the irony is that, running with the ball is maybe the least important skill when it comes to playing time. The obvious keystone to this situation is protecting the HOF QB with the surgically repaired neck and the zillion dollar contract. There are three primary players here.
- Montee Ball - The favorite due to his size and draft position. Ball is the guy who SHOULD emerge as the starter.
- Ronnie Hillman - He’s talented, but he’s had ball security issues and pass protection issues.
- Knowshon Moreno - He’s the sage and the underrated element in the equation. Moreno has had serious issues with health and that makes him ideal for backup duty and for being the “break glass in case of emergency” guy. I think Denver understands that Moreno can’t last as a starter.
So here’s my take. Ball should be the primary back sooner or later and most likely the prior. Moreno will play a lot in passing situations until such time where they trust Hillman and or Ball. Ball is the back to own, but the other two will be taken in most drafts. Due to his fresh legs, I recommend Hillman as the handcuff. Moreno could be an interesting stand-alone flier for those in deeper formats looking for some early value at the flex position. But again, Ball is the guy.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles is the starter and we like rookie Knile Davis as far as handcuff options go. There is some risk with Davis as he’s been injury-prone and fumble-prone too. That said, he’s also a big play in waiting whenever he’s on the field. He could really go off in this offense if he gets a lather going. Knile is usually available late, but I’d get him before the end in 20-round drafts. Probably in the 14th or 15th depending on my backfield situation. The other back of note is Shaun Draughn, who would be the handcuff for Davis if JC had another major injury.
San Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews is the primary ball carrier and the most valuable back in fantasy. The next man up should be Danny Woodhead, and though he is probably the best handcuff, we don’t see him being given the whole job due to his lack of bulk. The other backs to know about are....
- Fozzy Whitaker
- Ronnie Brown
- Michael Hill
One of these guys should get cut soon and though Hills seems to be the likely choice, we have our doubts. The better choice for the Chargers would be the aging Brown, who offers more to team with playoff hopes than a team so well positioned in the Clowney/Bridgewater lottery. Quite frankly, I am not looking to own any of these backs in redraft formats.
****UPDATE**** Michael Hill was released paving the way for Fozzy Whitaker to make the team.
Like with San Diego, I am not looking to get involved here, but for the sake of full exposition, I’m gonna tell you about them anyway. Darren McFadden is the obvious lead tailback, but since he is injury-prone to the nth degree, his backup is a serious issue. Rookie Latavius Murray is done for year with an ankle injury and that leaves Rashad Jennings as the primary backup. Given that Jennings is a medium talent at best and is injury-prone himself, I am now looking at last year's hero ... Marcel Reece. Reece is technically a fullback, but he's better than Jennings and is the best way to handcuff McFadden if you want to go that way.
Alfred Morris is the clear starter. Roy Helu is the clear handcuff and a quality one at that. He’s looked like his old self since returning from his achilles injury. I’d be looking to lock up Helu as a handcuff in large formats and he may have flex value during the bye weeks. These are clearly the two backs to own in RGIII’s backfield. The next back in line is not clear at this point, but we’ll keep our eyes on the group of contenders.
- Evan Royster - Rumored to be on roster bubble.
- Chris Thompson - Still dealing with rookie curve and too small for a feature role.
- Jawan Jamison - Underrated back that could surprise if given the chance. Also not a lock to make final roster.
New York Giants
The starter is David Wilson and the handcuff option is Andre Brown. The complication is that Brown is being taken early as he has some flex value due to his solid play in 2012 and his talent as a goal line back. If I have Wilson, and Brown makes it to the 8th, I am probably taking him. In the 9th, it’s a pure no-brainer.
****UPDATE**** With Andre Brown's injury (broken leg 4-6 weeks), Da'Rel Scott becomes an interesting player for fantasy consideration in larger formats. He should be the next man up for now and we've alway's liked his game. David Wilson's value is now cresting as a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside.
DeMarco Murray is the man as long as he can stay healthy, but things get dicey after that. The back we like the most is Lance Dunbar, but he’s less than ideally suited for a major role plus he’s dinged up and may be out for the early portion of the year. The other two backs to consider are Phillip Tanner and rookie Joe Randle. All three reserves can make a solid case for carries in the event of a Murray injury and that’s a problem for handcuffing. If you do roll with the oft-dinged DeMarco, you should build depth early at RB by taking backs from teams other than Dallas.
LeSean McCoy is the lead dog, but this is going to be a run-heavy team in 2013, so Bryce Brown could also play a major role regardless of McCoy’s health and availability. Right now, you should be going after Brown as a handcuff and usable flex option behind McCoy, but there’s more. Second year back Chris Polk has had an outstanding camp and has forced himself into the discussion. In big 12-team leagues, all three of these backs are worth owning. I might even try to collect them all. The Eagles will be running the ball a ton and McCoy, though not injury-prone, is less than durable and had concussion woes in 2012.
Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy should be the primary back and he’s more than equipped to excel, but there are no easy answers after Lacy. In the event of a Lacy injury, my guess is that Alex Green would be the back to own, but that’s nothing more than a guess. Green has the size and talent to get the job done as a primary back and he’s well versed in the Green Bay system. Still, this is a deep and talented group.
- Eddie Lacy - The guy.
- Alex Green - Next up.
- Johnathan Franklin - Dealing with the rookie curve, but a serious talent.
- James Starks - Potentially on the roster bubble, but he’s a big back with some legit skills.
To fully count out any of them would be premature, but I have them ranked according to my projected value. In case you missed it, DuJuan Harris has been lost for the season due to a knee injury.
****UPDATE**** Alex Green was released (added by Jets) and this now Eddie Lacy's backfield with Franklin, Starks and John Kuhn fighting for snaps.
Matt Forte is the established starter and Michael Bush is a pretty clear handcuff option though we do like rookie Michael Ford too. With new HC Marc Trestman running the offense, this is a backfield to lockdown in all scoring formats and especially PPR formats.
If you need me here, you might want to consider Jarts or Bocce Ball as a hobby. Adrian Peterson is the starter and his handcuff is Toby Gerhart. Gerhart won’t replace AP, but he will get almost all of the work, and would be a borderline RB2 if AP was to miss any games. Gerhart’s worth rostering as a handcuff in deeper formats for sure and the good news is that you can usually get him pretty late.
Reggie Bush is the new starter and he will be very good unless he gets hurt, which he does on a semi regular basis. The back to own in case of an injured Bush is Joique Bell and not Mikel Leshoure. While both backs would surely get touches, Bell has outplayed LeShoure thoroughly and is a better fit for the offense due to his receiving skills as well as his pass blocking ability. Bell is an underrated back and should be owned in all 12-team leagues. I’d go after him before the 14th round if I owned Reggie.
Steve Jackson is the unquestioned lead back. As for handcuffing, this one is trickier than some folks think. In PPR, I like Jacquizz Rodgers as a handcuff, but in performance leagues, I worry that Jason Snelling will get enough touches and goal line looks to put a big dent in Rodgers’ handcuff value. In that vein, you might want to build your depth elsewhere in the earlier rounds with guys like Mark Ingram, Ben Tate and Bryce Brown.
New Orleans Saints
Speaking of Mark Ingram. The former Heisman Trophy winner is technically the starter in Big Easy, but he shares the backfield with both Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. Sproles is the passing down back and Thomas is the jack-of-all-trades and could act as a handcuff for both Ingram and Sproles, though I am not a big proponent of that due to the Saints’ pesky and unpredictable ways. My best advice is to consider all three backs as stand-alone options and to not overpay for any of them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin is the man in the backfield and his handcuff is not clear. My advice is to go with our guy Mike James, who, we feel, is the best talent after Martin by far. He’s a guy you can add late too. The other potential guys are Brian Leonard and Peyton Hillis. Very uninspiring options.
With Jonathan Stewart on the PUP to start the year, DeAngelo Williams should be the primary ball carrier for at least five games (Carolina has a Week 4 bye), but he’s not the only rooster in the hen hut. Here are the combatants.
- DeAngelo Williams - The current starter, but that could change if Stewart gets fully healthy in six weeks, which is about as likely as Bill Clinton only having eyes for Hillary.
- Jonathan Stewart - The most talented but least available back on the roster. He’ll miss the first five games with ongoing ankle woes. Only draftable in the deeper formats.
- Kenjon Barner - He’s a Rotobahn fave and a good back who was raised in Chip Kelly’s system at Oregon. This kid is a talented sleeper who could do great things if given the chance. Worth a late flier in deep leagues, Kenjon is my personal choice for handcuffing Williams though it’s just a gut feeling.
- Mike Tolbert - Though technically the fullback, Tolbert can take main role and do very well with it. He’s a goal line vulture and a guy to keep an eye on. He’s definitely rosterable in deep 12-team leagues and is arguably a decent handcuff option.
Sorry, folks. There’s just no clarity here. The thing to know is that if any of these backs get the carries, they’ll have legit value. Right now, DeAngelo is the best option and he’s a lot more valuable now that Stewart is PUP bound. I’ll be bumping him up a bit in the rankings tonight.
San Francisco 49ers
Frank Gore leads the way as the unquestioned starter and Kendall Hunter is the back to use as a handcuff. Hunter could also garner stand-alone flex value in larger formats during the bye week crunch. After Hunter, there’s the talented LaMichael James, who’d be a handcuff option himself in the event of an injury to either Gore or Hunter.
Man, do we love this backfield. It could be the most talented backfield in football. Marshawn Lynch leads the way, obviously, but he is backed up by a studly trio of young big backs.
- Christine Michael
- Robert Turbin
- Spencer Ware
All three backups can absolutely play and carry the load. For my money, though Turbin is technically the backup, the man to own as a handcuff is Michael. He’s just too talented to not play at least half of the snaps in the event of a Lynch injury and in that scenario, he should outperform Turbin. If you play in a really deep league, try to roster both, but if you only have space for one, I’d go with Michael’s immense upside.
St. Louis Rams
At this point, Daryl Richardson, whom we pimped in 2012 as being equal to Isaiah Pead, will handle the starter’s role. Pead is a non-factor in Week 1 due to a suspension. He’ll be given chances once he is back, but Richardson’s got a decent handle on things at this point. The other back to know about is Zac Stacy. I like Stacy a lot, but he’s a rookie and the Rams have a jargon-riddled offensive system that can be rough on rookies. Right now, Richardson is the back to own with both Stacy and Pead fighting for snaps. There is no clear handcuff yet, though we’ll be watching this situation closely. If I HAD to draft a handcuff here, I’d take Stacy.
You’d need to get into full Frank-the-Tank-mode to find the mental clarity required to untangle this mess. Let’s just break them down one a time.
- Rashard Mendenhall - He is the back to own for now, but I’m not going near him, even at his ADP of 72. He’s now got fresh knee woes. None for me, thanks.
- Ryan Williams - He’s a solid talent, but his knees are more problematic than Mendy’s. Pass.
- Alfonso Smith - He’s just another back, but he’s getting enough time with the starter’s to mention him. We doubt he’s a big factor without a rash of injuries.
- Stepfan Taylor - A very solid rookie back from Stanford. Taylor could end up playing a big role by default because he has just enough skill in all facets to stay on the field.
- Andre Ellington - My favorite for long term value, but he’s been behind in camp after missing some time early on. He’s got the most ability of the group as a ball carrier, but he needs to refine his pass blocking skills. He’s a solid receiver.
So Mendenhall should start Week 1 if he’s back. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. I would not try to handcuff any of these players. Rather, I’d just look for some value. If either Taylor or Ellington is around really late in 20-round drafts, I’d be willing to take a chance and stash one of them. Apart from that, this backfield is a fantasy sinkhole.
****UPDATE**** With Jonathan Cooper's season-ending injury, this is a backfield to avoid for fantasy purposes with the exception of the rookies, who still make decent late fliers in dynasty and very large formats.
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