With a shift toward passing in the NFL and few quintessential workhorse running backs around, the concept of drafting a top running back and also taking his understudy is becoming an obsolete idea in fantasy football.
But there are still certain situations where it will make sense to handcuff a top running back’s immediate backup in a fantasy draft or auction, and here are my top five running backs for that purpose in 2016.
5-Benny Cunningham, Los Angeles Rams
Cunningham has been useful to PPR league owners, with 45 catches in 2014 and 71 catches over the last two seasons, and he’s a significant Todd Gurley injury away from a substantial all-around workload. Anyone that gets Gurley in 12 and 14-team league would do well to secure Cunningham late in a draft or auction.
4-Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
Booker is one of my favorite deep sleepers this year, with a high level of production over his final two seasons at Utah and my doubt about C.J. Anderson as a legit RB1. The Broncos are in line to adopt a particularly run-heavy approach this year, and Booker’s running style fits Gary Kubiak’s now Peyton Manning-less zone blocking driven offensive scheme well. Any fantasy roster with Anderson, in a 12 or 14-team league, should also have Booker.
3-Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman emerged as a top-tier fantasy running back in 2015, but he also faded late and 10 of his 14 total touchdowns came over a five-game stretch from Week 2-Week 6. Coleman has been the subject of offseason buzz from virtually everyone of substance in the Falcons’ organization, and it’s worth noting offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan handpicked Coleman for his scheme during the 2015 draft.
2-Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings
Yes, Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing last season at age-30 and he will be no worse than the third running back drafted in fantasy this year. But one of these years the wheels will fall off, and McKinnon has a better all-around skill set. If Peterson were to miss time this year Matt Asiata may re-enter the Vikings’ running back mix as a goal line guy, but McKinnon is the clear handcuff on draft day.
1-Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2015, just in time to earn a big contract in free agency, so he is clearly Tampa Bay’s No. 1 running back. But Sims was productive on his own last season, with over 1,000 combined yards and 51 receptions, and he carries some fantasy value on his own this year. If Martin disappoints, or is injured (15 total missed games in 2013 and 2014), Sims is an immediate RB1 in all scoring formats and he deserves the No. 1 spot on this list.