In today’s NFL, the three-down workhorse running back is difficult to find. With only a select few to choose from, they are the first players drafted in nearly every fantasy football draft. In fact, they're so important to a fantasy team's season-long outlook that many owners will also draft a star running back’s primary backup to protect their high investment. The decision can pay dividends, as production from the running back position is influenced significantly by team offense. Often, backup running backs step in and produce like the top-tier fantasy running backs.
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The downside to handcuffing your own running backs is that sometimes you're wasting a roster spot on a player that has no standalone value unless something happens to the starter. In leagues with limited benches, this can become extremely problematic. Plus, there are times when you spend all this draft capital and roster space on a backup only to have him underperform when the starter goes down. Dalvin Cook missed Week 16 last season and his backup, Mike Boone, failed to deliver in the fantasy championships. Of course, he then rubbed salt in the wounds of fantasy owners by going for 148 rushing yards with a touchdown the following week.
There are also situations when a team decides to go with a committee approach. When James Conner went down for the Steelers last year, Pittsburgh ran a two-back committee between Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. This sapped the potential of any fantasy relevance from the running back position on the Steelers.
The best advice is to forget about handcuffing your own running backs and focus on backup RBs for teams whose starters you do not own. This maximizes your upside — if those players are thrust into starting roles, you'll potentially have a top-tier running back in addition to the running backs you already have on your roster. You should not go into your fantasy draft thinking your running backs will get hurt. Instead, capitalize when somebody else’s running back gets hurt.
Here are the top fantasy football running back handcuffs to target for 2020. Keep in mind that some have some standalone value even with the incumbent still entrenched, but their production would increase drastically should the starter miss time.
With the news of a potential Dalvin Cook holdout, Alexander Mattison is quickly rising on draft boards. The hype around Mattison in a featured role is warranted — his efficiency was right on par with Cook last season. They both ranked in the top 20 in yards after contact per attempt and in forced missed tackles per attempt among running backs with at least 100 attempts. Mattison showed enough in 2019 to earn more touches in 2020 regardless of Cook’s availability.