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I’m not much for drafting a handcuff of my starting running backs just for the hell of it. Investing in a running back’s backup is sometimes a good idea and sometimes not. Not all backups are created equally. Offense, opportunity and ability become big components in deciding if handcuffing is in your future. And besides backing up your starter, these guys make for good bench stashes even if you don’t own the #1 back. I guess you could consider it a jerk move to grab someone else’s backup before they do, but if you like a guy you should take him when you feel like there’s value there. Deciding when to draft a handcuff is a nearly impossible task unfortunately. Following ADP is going to be your best chance, but sometimes people will want to cut you off at the knees or if you want someone else’s backup they may grab him much earlier than you would. But like any draft pick you have to pick for value, even if you really, really, REALLY want a player. Don’t over reach by multiple rounds.
Theo Riddick: When Joe Lombardi joined the Lions this offseason as their offensive coordinator Theo Riddick probably had the biggest bump in his fantasy ceiling of any #3 running back in the league. The Saints offense is ideally fit for Riddick’s ability. He’s not a burner, but as a sophomore and junior at Notre Dame he topped 1,000 yards as the slot receiver and then was transitioned to his natural position at running back. He’s not a premier running back who is going to take over a game, but in Lombardi’s offense he doesn’t need to be. So far in training camp he is getting a ton of praise for linebackers not being able to cover him. Mismatches are a key to this offense. Riddick can get open, has good hands, but is also large enough to take on a tackler. He very much could be just a scheme fit for the Lions now, but that’s fine with me. If one of Reggie Bush or Joique Bell are injured, Riddick will be an instant upside player in PPR leagues. I think he’ll see some work even with them both healthy, at least enough to stay on top of the offense and be ready when called on. And unlike other handcuffs, Riddick is the backup to two running backs, which gives him a better chance to see time this season. Just remember, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas both had over 70 receptions last season.
Carlos Hyde: Right now you couldn’t have a much better situation for Hyde other than him starting. Yes, we’ve been calling for the reign of Frank Gore to end for a long while now and he keeps on kicking, but if he keeps going much longer we are going to find out he’s a cyborg and he will be disqualified from playing. For the last 11 games of 2013 Gore averaged just 3.8 yards per carry while Kendall Hunter averaged 4.9 during that span. Hunter is done for the season, James is hurting, and Lattimore has yet to practice. That leaves the fresh power runner Hyde to compete for work with Gore. Once the season gets underway I think we see a stark difference in burst and extra yards after contact for Hyde. Gore won’t give up his spot easily, but we know that Harbaugh will put his team’s interest first. I think Hyde gets goal line work very early on and continues eating into Gores reps as the season goes on.
James Starks: Eddie Lacy is a beast. He’s easily one of my favorite running backs this season for many reasons, but one is that they plan on using him early and often and he hates going down. That makes for a lot of yards and touchdowns, especially when that Packers’ offense is clicking. But that also makes for a lot of contact, brutal NFL style contact. Lacy will get nicked up this season and hopefully for those invested in him, they’ll just be nicks and he won’t miss much time. But to be safe you very much need to grab James Starks before someone snipes him from you out of spite or because they realize he has a ton of upside in this offense as well. We saw what he could do last season when he stepped in for Lacy and had a huge game where he totaled 166 yards and a touchdown against Washington. For the season he averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 89 carries and totaled four touchdowns. He is the direct backup and will be the every down back if Lacy is hurt. That is hard to find and makes him worthwhile for anyone, especially in deeper leagues with a lot of bench space.
Ronnie Hillman: We always knew Hillman had ability, but just couldn’t put it together on the field. His fumbling problems (4 fumbles in 140 carries) have kept him lagging behind, but this training camp has been a revelation according to RB coach Studesville. Hillman has been running with the second team over CJ Anderson, who had been crowned the backup by many, including myself. But Hillman was crowned the starter going into training camp last season and we saw what Moreno was able to do. Moreno, like Hillman, was the forgotten man, but worked his way back. Right now it looks like Hillman has learned something from that. He knows he’s not going to be given anything and if he wants to stay in this league he needs to work, a lot, and it doesn’t sound like he truly comprehended that before. It’s still a competition and Anderson may end up overtaking him, but I like Hillman’s upside in this offense.