This is the 49th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
Backfield committees and timeshares are all the rage these days in the NFL, but not every team has followed the trend.
For some clubs, featuring one running back is still the preferred way to operate, allowing their primary rusher to establish himself and wear down defenses over the course of a game. While this strategy has its positives, teams also run the risk of exposing their No. 1 RB to excessive punishment and possibly getting him hurt. That's one of the reasons why fewer and fewer squads are going with the one-back approach.
Since the backs who are legitimate workhorses tend to be some of the first ones taken in fantasy drafts, it's important for owners to ensure their pricey investments by grabbing their top pick's backup in the middle or later rounds. With that in mind, here are the top five "handcuffs" to target on draft day:
1. Javon Ringer / Titans
With former backup LenDale White now gone, Ringer takes over as the first man in line to No. 1 overall fantasy player Chris Johnson's throne. A fifth-round pick in 2009, Ringer barely played as a rookie, but he's not exactly inexperienced as a primary ballcarrier — in his senior year at Michigan State, he piled up 390 carries for 1,637 yards and 22 TDs. That's a whopping 30 rushes per game. With Johnson coming off a season in which he had 408 touches, a serious injury isn't out of the realm of possibility. Owners who invest a top pick in CJ2K better protect themselves by drafting the diminutive, yet powerful Ringer.
2. Toby Gerhart / Vikings
Although he hasn't locked up the job yet, Gerhart appears to be in the driver's seat to be the No. 2 RB in Minnesota, backing up the great Adrian Peterson. A Heisman trophy finalist last season at Stanford, Gerhart was a true workhorse, rushing for 1,871 yards and 28 TDs on 343 attempts. Possessing the size to be a pounder in the NFL, the second-round draft choice would be a fantasy threat in the Vikings' potent offense. A.P. is a physical runner who has dealt with injuries in his past, so it wouldn't be shocking if he were forced to miss time. Gerhart might not be the fastest runner or best athlete, but he's well worth a late-round grab for Peterson owners.
3. Bernard Scott / Bengals
A flier pick by Cincinnati in the '09 draft, Scott showed some signs last season that he could be the real deal. In the two games Cedric Benson missed because injury, Scott had 39 carries for 206 yards, a solid 5.3-yard average. A quick playmaker who doubles as the team's kickoff returner, the Abilene Christian product proved he can be an adequate starter if called upon, and with Benson shouldering such a massive workload, the chances of him going down again are fairly high. Especially for an offense that likes to run as much as the Bengals do, Scott is definitely someone to snare as your draft wears on.
4. Rashad Jennings / Jaguars
Any time you're dealing with a 5-7, 208-pound back like Maurice Jones-Drew who's coming off a 365-touch season, it's good to know who his backup is. Even though M.J.D. has been surprisingly durable throughout his career, the way the smallish rusher gets knocked around makes him susceptible to injuries. That's why his owners would be wise to spend a pick on Jennings, a second-year player who saw spot duty last season and had 39-202-1 (5.2) rushing. Bigger than Jones-Drew but also possessing good feet and shiftiness, he would have sizable value in the Jags' offense as a featured runner.
5. Jason Snelling / Falcons
After handling an eye-popping 376 carries in 2008, Michael Turner unsurprisingly missed five games to injury last season, opening the door for Snelling to come in and play well in his absence. The 5-11, 229-pound hammer had at least 10 attempts in every game Turner was out, twice racking up 25 carries in a contest. He was also a decent receiver out of the backfield, with 30 grabs on the year. Although reports on Turner's health have been positive entering the season, his owners would be wise to pluck Snelling in the late rounds, as the Falcons are a run-first team that has proven it will ride its backups hard if necessary.
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