In every fantasy football draft, there comes the time to start selecting backup running backs. I'm not talking about the numerous players in potential time-shares -- Jonathan Stewart, Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones -- but those who aren't expected to start or provide many fantasy points. Most of these fellows possess value. They're just one tweaked ankle away from being very, very important. I'm talking about players like Minnesota Vikings rookie Toby Gerhart, this season's prime example of a handcuff.
I must admit I don't generally seek out running back handcuffs for my own starters, because I believe in most cases that even in ideal conditions, with a run-first offense, a strong offensive line and an injury-prone starter, there are still no guarantees. I'm still looking for the best player available, and if that player happens to have no connection to my top running backs, so be it. For years, I've seen people seek out handcuffs for Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson -- the top running backs -- with little success, doing so in Round 5 or so. Talk about fruitless.
However, if you've drafted properly and have the key starters on your team sewn up by Rounds 10 or 11, then it becomes handcuff stealin' time! I'm talking about either your handcuffs or the ones others should covet.
Here are the top five running back handcuffs for this season and -- in a vacuum -- in which round I'd choose them. To me, one can't be a handcuff unless the starting running back is a legit fantasy starter ... I'm not real concerned about who backs up Cadillac Williams in Tampa Bay, you know?
Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings: The Heisman Trophy runner-up rushed for 1,871 yards and scored 27 touchdowns last season at Stanford. Everyone in the league has skills, of course, but few youngsters bring credentials like these. The Vikings feature arguably the top offensive line, serious wide receiver weapons and their Hall of Fame quarterback -- he will return -- does throw to his running backs. I don't think it's likely Gerhart gets a chance to shine, since Adrian Peterson is so good and so durable, but I'd still select him in Round 13, or three rounds earlier than his ESPN average live draft spot.
Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars: While Chester Taylor was able to accrue 70 fantasy points as Peterson's Minnesota handcuff, Jennings managed only 26 points working behind Maurice Jones-Drew last season. The Jaguars keep saying they want to ease the workload on MJD, but then again, he has only one season of more than 200 rushing attempts. I've got Jennings pegged for Round 15, and since I generally leave my defense and kicker for Rounds 15 and 16 of standard drafts, that means I'd be fine letting him be a free agent.
Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo Bills; Willis McGahee, Baltimore Ravens: These guys could have been teammates with the Bills, but McGahee was traded to the Ravens a bit before Lynch was drafted. Now they find themselves in unenviable yet similar situations, apparently needing an injury to get them playing time. I view Fred Jackson as a top-25 running back in Buffalo, and of course Ray Rice is a consensus top-5 pick. Still, because Lynch and McGahee are accomplished players with five 1,000-yard seasons between them, and each could figure into the goal-line chances, I'd look at them near Round 10.
Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcons: Just because I ranked Michael Turner in my overall top 10 hardly means I don't have doubts. Turner missed most of six games last season a year after being the league's breakout performer, and while I'd give Turner the benefit of the doubt, Snelling is clearly next in line. Jerious Norwood just isn't built for big-time carries, and Snelling proved himself with four games of 15 or more fantasy points. I have Snelling ranked in the 14th round, but I think I need to move that up a round or two.
Javon Ringer, Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson is the top player in most fantasy drafts, and no other Titans running back is being selected in ESPN average live drafts. Ringer is the No. 67 running back off the board, but he's owned in a mere 3.4 percent of leagues. Why the difference between him and Gerhart? For one, Ringer wasn't a Heisman candidate. Two, the Titans wouldn't likely call the same number of plays for Ringer that they do for Johnson, should the league's top rusher get hurt. Since I rank Ringer off the board for 16-round drafts, I wouldn't select him at this point.
Other names to know: Rashard Mendenhall isn't the most proven fellow, which makes Mewelde Moore interesting. Then again, Moore averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season. I have a feeling the team would sign someone if Mendenhall got hurt ... I kind of like Brandon Jackson in Green Bay behind Ryan Grant and think he could handle 15-plus carries per game, and do something with them. ... Are you buying another huge workload for Cedric Benson in Cincinnati? If you draft Benson in Round 2, then invest in Bernard Scott 10 rounds later.