Del Pilar's Digest: AFC RB handcuffs

Posted Aug. 30, 2011 @ 6:18 p.m.
Posted By William Del Pilar

Running-back committees are here to stay, and I've examined each NFL team and how their RB situations break down. Knowing who has the greatest fantasy value and who you should handcuff to your top back is critical to protecting yourself and allowing you to compete. By studying the depth and quality of each team's RB corps, you'll discover other backs to consider and discard. Knowledge is power and this is the most important position in our hobby.


Bills: Fred Jackson / C.J. Spiller
Likely starter: Jackson
Handcuff: Spiller
Goal-line back: Jackson
Third-down back: Jackson / Spiller
Outlook: Timeshare

Jackson is the better runner and will be the featured back in Chan Gailey's attack. Spiller, the ninth overall pick in last year's NFL Draft, will be used as a change-of-pace runner and receiver out of the backfield. Jackson is a No. 2 fantasy back, whereas Spiller is not draftable outside the handcuff to Jackson.

Dolphins: Reggie Bush / Daniel Thomas / Lex Hilliard / Larry Johnson
Starter: Bush (1A) / Thomas (1B)
Handcuff: Thomas / Bush
Goal-line back: Thomas / Bush / Hilliard
Third-down back: Bush
Outlook: Timeshare

Originally, Thomas was to handle the bulk of the workload, with Bush complementing him with enough touches to be a playmaker. However, the team plans on using Bush more than they originally thought because Thomas is having a poor preseason. He's slow to hit the hole and is not moving the pile. Bush has greater value in PPR leagues, and I view him as a No. 3 fantasy back. The team needs patience with Thomas, a rookie. If he can improve, his goal-line touchdowns could make him a No. 3 fantasy back. Based on what we've seen, he also has a chance to be this season's bust, so I'm avoiding him. The team did sign Johnson, who has two weeks to earn a roster spot — if he has anything left in the tank. There is nothing to gain from Hilliard as a fantasy back.

Patriots: BenJarvus Green-Ellis / Stevan Ridley / Danny Woodhead / Shane Vereen
Likely starter: Green-Ellis
Handcuff: Ridley
Goal-line back: Green-Ellis / Ridley
Third-down back: Woodhead / Vereen
Outlook: Timeshare

Green-Ellis came on last year with a breakout season. I would have classified him as a sleeper after rushing for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns on 229 carries. He's the thunder to Woodhead's lightning, making them the top two fantasy producers in the Patriots' backfield. If Green-Ellis goes down, the team will look to Ridley, who at 5-11, 225 pounds, fits the mold of a starter and goal-line back. The team expects him to complement Green-Ellis and he'll see a few touches and vulture a few touchdowns. Woodhead will continue to use his agility, burst and hands, but Shane Vereen, a second-round rookie, will get on the field, eating into Woodhead's playing time. Vereen comes from Cal, which runs an offense that does similar things to what the Patriots do. At 5-10, 210 pounds, he's also big enough to handle more physical play than the 5-foot-9 Woodhead. This could be Woodhead's final season, because a team won't sit on a second-round pick if he's ready to play. Green-Ellis is a No. 3 fantasy back because of the time-share, though I don't see him duplicating last year's touchdown count. He's going too early for me in most drafts, usually by Round Four in a 12-team league. That's high, even though he can be a touchdown machine. Woodhead will tease us with No. 3 fantasy back potential some weeks, but he makes a better injury or bye week replacement, as he'll be sharing time; his value is in PPR leagues. Ridley and Vereen are going in less than 10 percent of leagues.

Jets: Shonn Greene / LaDainian Tomlinson / Joe McKnight / Bilal Powell
Starter: Greene
Handcuff: Tomlinson
Goal-line back: Green / Tomlinson
Third-down back: Tomlinson / McKnight
Outlook: Complementary roles

For Greene, last season was supposed to be a breakout year. Instead a living legend seized his job. This year, Tomlinson understands his role of change-of-pace back, as Greene will see action on first and second downs, with L.T. coming in on third downs. L.T. expects to catch more than 35 passes. McKnight is winning the battle for the No. 3 back over Powell, but neither backup has fantasy value. Greene is a No. 2 fantasy back, assuming he'll see the goal-line carries, though L.T. is sure to vulture a few. L.T. has value in PPR leagues and is a quality bye week and injury fill-in. If you own Greene, handcuff him with L.T.


Ravens: Ray Rice / Ricky Williams / Jalen Parmele
Starter: Rice
Handcuff: Williams
Goal-line back: Rice / Williams
Third-down back: Rice / Williams
Outlook: Featured back

Rice is the top back here and I expect his goal-line and between-the-tackles running to show improvement with Vonta Leach now his fullback. Williams, the handcuff, is a bigger and slower version of Rice, a model 10 years older. Williams will spell Rice, and if the Ravens are leading deep in the game, he'll be used to help chew up the clock. Williams is solid insurance in case the starter goes down, but until we see his role in the regular season, I would pass unless I own Rice.

Bengals: Cedric Benson / Bernard Scott / Brian Leonard                 
Starter: Benson
Handcuff: Scott 
Goal-line back: Benson / Scott
Third-down back: Leonard
Outlook: Complementary roles

Benson is a power back, running in a physical division, with Scott as his handcuff. However, in this team's new West Coast offense, Benson needs to learn to catch. He's struggled in the past in that area of the game, which may give Scott a few more touches. Until the team can pass efficiently, however, expect them to lean on Benson a lot. Though a one-dimensional back, on a team with a rookie quarterback, he'll be asked to do a lot. I'll pass on him, as he has diminishing skills and is on a team with a new offense led by a rookie. He's a No. 3 fantasy back, and Scott is only worth the handcuff.

Browns: Peyton Hillis / Montario Hardesty / Brandon Jackson
Starter: Hillis
Handcuff: Hardesty / Jackson
Goal-line back: Hillis
Third-down back: Hillis / Jackson
Outlook: Complementary roles

Hillis is the primary carrier and the team hopes Hardesty can come around as his backup. Hardesty is just getting back on the field after suffering an ACL tear last season. He's yet to show he can play in the NFL after missing his entire rookie season. Jackson is dealing with turf toe and will miss the first month of the season. He'll assume the third-down role when healthy. The team believes that when they're at their best, the backs will complement one another. For now, Hillis will handle the load and is a No. 2 fantasy back. I worry he won't see as many touches this year, and outside of PPR leagues, I won't take him before the third round. Hardesty is the backup but has no real fantasy value now; neither does Jackson.

Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall / Isaac Redman / Mewelde Moore/ Jonathan Dwyer
Starter: Mendenhall
Handcuff: Redman
Third-down back: Moore
Goal-line back: Mendenhall
Outlook: Featured back

Mendenhall is the team's workhorse back and the Steelers view him as a complete football player who they trust. His backup will be Redman, who is similar in style but slower with solid hands. Mewelde Moore is the third-down back, as he is a strong pass blocker and receiver. Mendenhall is a No. 1 fantasy back, whereas Redman is merely a handcuff and has no fantasy value; neither do Moore nor Dwyer. When healthy it's a one-man show in Steel City.


Texans: Arian Foster / Derrick Ward / Ben Tate / Steve Slaton
Starter: Foster
Handcuff: Ward / Tate
Third-down back: Foster / Slaton
Goal-line back: Foster / Ward
Outlook: Featured back

After a brilliant 2010, Foster will be the featured back, with Ward and Tate spelling him. Ward and Tate are battling for the No. 2 job, as Slaton could be cut. Tate is outplaying Ward in camp, but Ward was the first one in when Foster went down with a hamstring tweak in the team's third preseason game. Foster and the team are optimistic he'll be ready by Week One. If he can't play or goes down early in the season, Ward and Tate will share duties or the team will go with the hot hand. Come draft day, if you can't draft both of them, go with Tate as the handcuff. I stated Ward in another report, but it's becoming clear Tate has overtaken him. Head coach Gary Kubiak has stated there is still a lot of football left in the preseason. Foster is going first overall, but I like RB Adrian Peterson better, as you don't have to worry about the handcuff dilemma and Peterson is proven. Tate is going in about 19 percent of leagues and Ward is going in less than 10 percent. Those are handcuff picks, so you can wait until the late rounds to back Foster up.

Colts: Joseph Addai / Delone Carter / Donald Brown / Darren Evans
Starter: Addai
Handcuff: Carter / Brown
Goal-line back: Addai / Carter
Third-down back: Addai / Brown
Outlook: Complementary roles

Addai has a three-year, $14 million contract and is the starter after a lackluster battle from Delone Carter and Donald Brown. Addai's hands give him extra value as a pass receiver, and he's also the goal-line back, so he can score in a variety of ways. Carter, the new No. 2, took it to Brown and beat him out for the backup job to Addai. Carter didn't look great at times, but he won the job and that's what counts. Looking at it another way, this shows how far Brown has fallen off. Peyton Manning still doesn't trust his blocking, and he's never adjusted to the NFL, dancing too much and not hitting the hole. It would not be a shocker if the team lets him go in final cuts. Addai is a No. 3 fantasy back with No. 2 upside if he can stay healthy. His pass-receiving skills and goal-line touches give him greater value, but I think there are better No. 2 fantasy backs you can grab. Beanie Wells or Mark Ingram come to mind. Carter is merely a handcuff to Addai and offers no value outside that role. He's currently only being drafted in 16 percent of leagues. Darren Evans has no value.

Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew / Rashad Jennings
Starter: Jones-Drew / Jennings
Handcuff: Jennings
Third-down back: Jones-Drew / Jennings
Goal-line back: Jones-Drew / Jennings
Outlook: Featured back

MJD is the featured back, but look for Jennings to spell him. Jones-Drew took a beating last year and the offense goes through him, but the team wants him healthy for the season. MJD is going around eighth overall, and for someone with so many questions and so much mileage, I'd pass on him unless he drops further. I view Jennings the same way. How the team uses him throughout the season will dictate his fantasy value, and because of that, I won't draft him. I view him only as a handcuff to MJD.

Titans: Chris Johnson / Javon Ringer / Jamie Harper
Starter: Johnson
Handcuff: Ringer
Third-down back: Johnson / Harper
Goal-line back: Johnson / Ringer
Outlook: Featured back

C.J. is still holding out and it's ugly, as they're far apart in negotiations. Ringer, his top backup, is dealing with a hip injury and will not play again in the preseason. The team is holding him out to make sure he's ready by Week One. This is allowing Harper to see reps and potentially an expanded role until Johnson returns. I'm not touching C.J. in the first round because of his holdout, and I suggest you do the same. Ringer is only going in 34 percent of leagues, making him a great value pick. If you grab C.J., obviously also grab Ringer. Harper is going in less than 3 percent of leagues, so watch how this situation unfolds to determine his value.


Broncos: Knowshown Moreno / Lance Ball / Willis McGahee
Starter: Moreno
Handcuff: Ball / McGahee
Goal-line back: McGahee / Moreno
Third-down back: Moreno
Outlook: Complementary roles

Moreno is looking great in camp and is a solid receiver, as well. The downside is that McGahee will see most of the goal-line carries, taking away some value from Moreno. In the John Fox offense, McGahee is in line to see extra carries, as Fox wants a punishing rushing attack. Ball could see time on the field spelling Moreno. I still like McGahee if Moreno goes down, because he and Ball would share the load. Keep an eye on Ball, as he's younger and McGahee's role is short-yardage. Moreno's value is greater in PPR leagues because of McGahee's role. McGahee is a great value as a bye-week and injury fill-in if you can grab him late in a draft.

Chiefs: Jamaal Charles / Thomas Jones / Dexter McCluster
Starter: Charles
Handcuff: Jones
Goal-line back: Jones
Third-down back: Charles / McCluster
Outlook: Complementary roles

Charles is the back to have despite the presence of Jones. Last season they both saw a similar amount of rushing attempts, but Charles should begin to see more this season, and he's also a great playmaking receiver. Jones is the handcuff and short-yardage back, but he offers diminishing returns and is only good for fantasy depth or the handcuff to Charles. Look for McCluster to contribute like he did last year — a few change-of-pace, third-down and gadget plays. Charles is going fourth overall and has greater value in PPR leagues. He's worthy of the pick, but Jones as a mid-round chice is too high for me. If you can get him in the early late rounds, great. But if not, I'm going to let him go. Outside the handcuff and fantasy depth, I see limited upside.

Raiders: Darren McFadden / Michael Bush / Tawain Jones
Starter: McFadden
Handcuff: Bush
Goal-line back: Bush / McFadden
Third-down back: McFadden / Bush
Outlook: Complementary roles

The team is holding McFadden out of preseason action due to a fractured orbital bone as a precaution, but when healthy, he'll see most of the carries. Bush will see time on the field as a change-of-pace and goal-line back. The team does not want McFadden to wear down, so expect Bush gaining more touches as the season wears on. Jones will have a small role, as they have are creating plays specifically for him. He's a dazzling runner with big play ability. McFadden is going with the 13th overall pick, and I have no reason to ignore him. Be sure to back him up with Bush. He's still young and has upside sharing time with an injury-prone back. I'd take the handcuff but wouldn't draft him unless I can grab him in the middle-to-later rounds. Jones has no consideration at this point.

Chargers: Ryan Mathews / Mike Tolbert / Jordan Todman
Starter: Mathews (1A) / Tolbert (1B)
Handcuff: Tolbert / Mathews
Goal-line back: Tolbert / Mathews
Third-down back: Tolbert / Todman
Outlook: Timeshare

Mathews is going to split time with Tolbert. Mathews could be the first- and second-down back, with Tolbert seeing most of the goal-line carries and working as the pass receiver. Todman will slowly be eased into the game, though the team would like him to eventually be the replacement for Darren Sproles' scat-back and third-down role. Mathews is going too early and is worth a mid-round pick, though not in the first three rounds, where he's been going. He's a No. 2 fantasy back, not a No. 1. Tolbert as a mid-round pick is great value, so you may have to jump on him as a No. 2 fantasy back. I like him better than Mathews overall, but it's too early to tell for sure, as this will be Mathews' first full season after missing much of rookie year with injuries.