Drafting a handcuff running back is never a simple task. If you wait too long to draft one, you'll miss on a key security blanket for your best runner. But, if you reach too far, you'll surely pass up talent you could have used elsewhere. Stashing a handcuff on your roster is important, but you need to be sure you're choosing the right back, and you're getting the best value for your selection.
Let's take a look at some of the cloudy handcuff situations, along with the top handcuffs available in 2012.
Right now, the Browns have expressed a lukewarm commitment to use Hardesty as the No. 2 running back in Cleveland. Trent Richardson, the prize possession of Cleveland's offseason, did not play at all in the preseason, and still remains questionable for the regular season opener. Even though Hardesty is the top backup on the depth chart right now, he isn't going to provide much value to owners. He's consistently injured, and as a result seems to underachieve in the playing time he's given.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer seems to believe Brandon Jackson serves as a better runner than Hardesty, and if Chris Ogbonnaya had stayed healthy, he could have supplanted Hardesty at No. 2. If you do take Richardson, don't invest much stock into Hardesty's value. Jackson will see some action in Week 1, and when Ogbonnaya returns from his high ankle sprain, he'll cut into the workload as well. Don't reach too high for Richardson, but certainly don't anticipate drafting Hardesty before the final rounds of your draft.
If you want a handcuff for Ryan Mathews, draft Ronnie Brown. It's that simple. Norv Turner recently spoke about one runner emerging from the cast of backups in San Diego, hinting that Brown is the likely candidate to handle a hefty workload. Turner also said he feels someone can get around 20 carries with Mathews out. Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle are undraftable, so roll with Brown in the later picks. He'll only be valuable for a few weeks until Mathews returns.
When Hillis ventured through his breakout year two seasons ago in Cleveland, Brian Daboll was the offensive coordinator managing the operation. Guess who's running the offensive show in Kansas City now? That's right, Daboll and Hillis are reunited and looking to make a serious impact with the ground game. Jamaal Charles appears to be back to his pre-injury form, but Hillis is sure to see a sizable amount of carries thrown his way regardless. Hillis has the potential to be a fantasy starter in deeper leagues, so he'll require a higher draft pick. However, it would be wise for Charles owners to draft both, just to ensure last year's debacle (Charles going down in Week 2) isn't repeated.
If Tate was on any one of about 20 other NFL rosters, he'd be a starter for sure. The third-year running back only takes a backseat to Arian Foster because, well, it's Arian Foster. Still, Tate averaged 3.3 yards after contact last season, third-best in the league, and an outstanding 5.4 yards per carry. He's the most valuable handcuff in all of football, and a must have for Foster owners. If the Texans decide to give Tate more work going forward, he could be more than just a bench player even with Foster in the game.
Bush only averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season, but he filled in nicely for Darren McFadden while he was out. Now in Chicago, he's supposed to be a goal-line back, and he's met that expectation exactly in preseason play. Forte owners can't wait till the last few rounds for Bush, but he is an important piece to have. He's not going to cut into Forte's typical playing time, but the touchdown vulture role suits him nicely.
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