Fantasy Football Handcuffs: Ranking the Best Backup Running Backs to Draft

Fabs highlights the RBs to draft as handcuffs for expected starters.
Nov 26, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (25) reacts after a first down against the New Orleans Saints in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (25) reacts after a first down against the New Orleans Saints in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Handcuffs.

They’re not just those shiny silver bracelets law enforcement uses to keep scofflaws in check. Or maybe some others might use them to get their “freak on.” (I won’t get into that, this is a family article after all!).

Regardless, handcuffs are also an important part of a smart fantasy build. In our world, the term “handcuffing” refers to drafting the immediate backup of one or even both of your starting running backs. So, if a starter goes down you already have his backup in tow without having to make a waiver claim.

These days, as we’re seeing more and more backfield committees, it’s harder to find true handcuffs. That’s because many teams will employ their top two runners in order to keep them both fresh. For example, the Washington Commanders don’t have a handcuff since Austin Ekeler and Brian Robinson Jr. will be sharing the workload. If one of them gets injured, the other is the obvious alternate …  but he’s not a true fantasy handcuff.

The same will hold true for many other teams, like the Dallas Cowboys (Ezekiel Elliott, Rico Dowdle), Detroit Lions (Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery), Los Angeles Chargers (Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins), Miami Dolphins (Raheem Mostert, De’Vone Achane), Pittsburgh Steelers (Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren), and Tennessee Titans (Tony Pollard, Tyjae Spears).

So, among the teams I haven’t mentioned, here are the best fantasy handcuffs.

Tyler Allgeier --> Bijan Robinson Falcons: The new Falcons coaches are expected to use Robinson in a true featured role, unlike last season when Allgeier saw a decent share of touches. A former 1,000-yard runner, Allgeier will be the most attractive fantasy handcuff in the majority of drafts.

Trey Benson --> James Conner, Cardinals: Conner was a league winner late last season, but he hasn’t been the most durable back. In fact, he’s missed at least four games in each of the last two years. That makes Benson, a rookie out of Florida State, a nice option and a valuable handcuff option.

Jerome Ford --> Nick Chubb, Browns: Ford was nice replacement for Chubb last season, finishing as the RB16 in the Browns offense. The team added veteran D’Onta Foreman in the offseason, but I’d side with Ford if Chubb has any setbacks or is brought along slowly with his injured knee.

Zach Charbonnet --> Kenneth Walker, Seahawks: The Seahawks didn’t use Charbonnet as a committee back last season, instead keeping Walker in a mostly featured role. If that scenario continues in 2024, Charbonnet will serve as solid late-round insurance for those Walker managers.

Chase Brown --> Zack Moss, Bengals: Moss, a valuable handcuff himself in past seasons, is now expected to play a featured role in Cincinnati. That leaves second-year runner Brown as his top backup. He could also have some standalone flex value at times, but Brown will have handcuff value as well.

Blake Corum --> Kyren Williams, Rams: Williams busted out last season, scoring 15 times and finishing as the RB7. He missed five games due to injuries, however, and Williams has some durability questions. That makes the rookie Corum a nice late-rounder and a potential deep sleeper in drafts.

Ty Chandle
Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) warms up before the game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports / Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Ty Chandler --> Aaron Jones, Vikings: Jones was a league winner last season, but he’s now in a new offense with the Vikings as their projected featured back. He has had injury issues and is entering his age-29 season, however, so Chandler could become a fantasy asset for managers.

Chuba Hubbard --> Jonathon Brooks, Panthers: If Brooks is ready for Week 1 (he’s coming off a torn ACL in college), I would project him to start with Hubbard as his main backup. The backfield is in a state of flux at this point, but Hubbard should be the long-term handcuff ahead of Miles Sanders.

Antonio Gibson --> Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots: Gibson should see some work as a pass catcher even with Stevenson in the lineup, but the former will be more of a featured back. If Stevenson misses time like he did last season, Gibson’s fantasy stock would rise to the RB2/flex range.

Alexander Mattson --> Zamir White, Raiders: White will be a popular breakout candidate in the majority of drafts, as the Raiders let Josh Jacobs walk in the offseason. His main backup will be Mattison, who was once a valuable fantasy handcuff for Dalvin Cook during his time in Minnesota.

Kendre Miller/Jamaal Williams --> Alvin Kamara, Saints: Kamara hasn’t missed much time due to injuries over the years, but he is entering his age-29 season. Should he be forced to miss time this season, I’d rank Miller over Williams as Kamara’s handcuff. Both will be late-rounders.

Bucky Irving --> Rashaad White, Buccaneers: White is coming off a breakout season that saw him finish in the top five in points among running backs. I like him to remain a featured back in 2024, but the rookie Irving looks like his main backup ahead of Chase Edmonds if White misses any time.

MarShawn Lloyd --> Josh Jacobs, Packers: The Packers did re-sign AJ Dillon, but he’s not my favorite to finish second on the running back depth chart. That would be Lloyd, a rookie out of USC who would see his stock soar if Jacobs were injured during the course of this season.

Kenneth Gainwell --> Saquon Barkley, Eagles: Barkley is obviously going to see most of the backfield work in Philadelphia, leaving little in terms of touches for Gainwell. But if the veteran were forced to miss time for any reason, Gainwell would be thrust into a bigger role in the offense.

Notable handcuffs

Elijah Mitchell --> Christian McCaffrey, 49ers
Khalil Herbert --> D’Andre Swift, Bears
Samaje Perine --> Javonte Williams, Broncos
Evan Hull/Trey Sermon --> Jonathan Taylor, Colts
Clyde Edwards-Helaire --> Isiah Pacheco, Chiefs
Justice Hill --> Derrick Henry, Ravens
Braelon Allen/Israel Abanikanda --> Breece Hall, Jets
Ty Johnson/Ray Davis --> James Cook, Bills
Tyrone Tracy Jr. --> Devin Singletary, Giants
D’Ernest Johnson --> Travis Etienne, Jaguars


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Michael Fabiano

MICHAEL FABIANO

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Formerly of CBS Sports, NFL Network and SirusXM, Michael was the first fantasy analyst to appear on one of the four major TV networks. His work can now be found on SI, Westwood One Radio and the Bleav Podcast Network.