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Fantasy Football Rankings & Tiers: Running Back Handcuffs

Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) runs the ball in the first quarter against the Houston Texans at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries are a part of football, and the running back position is the most susceptible in fantasy footballOnly 10 running backs who had over 100 rushing attempts played in all 16 games last season. Derrick Henry was the only back among the group to play over 200 snaps or surpass 900 rushing yards.

For most teams, at some point of the 2021 NFL season a backup running back will be handling starting duties. It's important to know how to handle these situations for fantasy football.

The following are the 32 players projected to be the backup running back in rushing situations for every team. Several receiving backs already function as backups and might not see might of a change in usage if the primary runner does go down. Those players are broken into tiers based on how helpful they can be to fantasy teams if the starter gets hurt. 

Several players on this list will already have fantasy football value this year even without injury, but this article only considers their value in the event of an injury at the top of the depth chart.

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Tier 1: The Proven Elite Handcuffs

Rank Name Team ADP
1 Tony Pollard Cowboys 116.3
2 A.J. Dillon Packers 88.9
3 Kareem Hunt Browns 54.6
4 Alexander Mattison Vikings 147.2

These four backs have a lot in common that unites them at the top of the list. First and foremost, they would be every-down backs with little to no competition if the starter suffered an injury. The four teams treated these backs like starters in the preseason, playing a combined 27 offensive snaps and never beyond the first quarter. The Cowboys didn’t even have a third back on their initial 53-man roster, while the other three teams either have special teams players or running backs in whom they haven’t invested much at third string.

The four starters on these teams are all first-round fantasy picks, so they are in excellent situations to succeed. Along with good situations, they are great backs who could be starters for other teams. Their PFF grades over the last two seasons range from 78.3-80.3, ranking between 18-23 among running backs in that time. 

Pollard leads the group with 4.0 yards after contact per carry over the last two seasons — he’s tied with Derrick Henry for the league lead. Dillon isn’t far behind at 3.6. The third-year Cowboy has maintained an incredible 4.0 yards per carry even when facing eight or more men in the box, which he’s done on 88 career rushing attempts.

All of these backs had a chance to be the primary ball carrier at some point last season, resulting in at least one top-six fantasy finish each. They would all be every-week starters for however long their starters are out.

Tier 2: The Top Potential Newcomers


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