There are three guarantees in this world: death, taxes, and injuries to your favorite players. The right running back can win you a fantasy league, but the physical nature of the job means that the position is prone to injury. Of course, when one running back goes down, another steps up to take their place, and finding the right running back handcuffs is a great way to get weeks of cheap production.
Keep in mind that the running backs included on this list are the ones that are widely available in redraft and dynasty leagues alike. Everyone knows that Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard will handle a full workload if injuries strike Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott, respectively, and that knowledge is baked into their current prices. In order to be included on this list, the player needed to be available in over 30% of Sleeper dynasty leagues. So, with that in mind, let’s get to the actual list.
Fantasy Football: Five Low-Cost Running Back Handcuffs to Target
1. Rex Burkhead
The best running back handcuffs in fantasy football are the ones that also have standalone value. Burkhead has a proven track record as a pass-catching weapon, and the only other running back of note in the Texans backfield is Dameon Pierce. As discussed in an earlier article, Pierce does not profile as a pass-catcher, which means that Burkhead will see the vast majority of running back targets on a team that will probably spend a lot of time trying to erase a deficit.
If Strong suffers an injury, however, then it’s wheels up for Burkhead. Burkhead is nobody’s idea of an ideal three-down workhorse, but last year proved that the Texans will use him in that manner if the need arises. From Weeks 13 to 17, Burkhead averaged 18 opportunities per game while serving as the de-facto leader of the backfield. He was the RB12 over that stretch and could put up similar numbers over a small sample if injury strikes again.
2. Eno Benjamin
Benjamin barely makes the cutoff on this list, as the former seventh-round pick is currently available in 32% of dyansty leagues. James Conner is the locked-and-loaded starter for the Arizona Cardinals, but anyone that’s been playing fantasy football for a while knows that Conner is not the most reliable player. The former third-round pick has yet to play a full season in his career and, now entering his age-27 season, will probably start to slow down before long.
While Darrel Williams is the bigger name, most camp reports believe that Eno Benjamin is going to serve as Conner’s primary backup. The Cardinals proved that they could support two fantasy-relevant backs last year with Conner and Chase Edmonds, so Benjamin could be a weekly low-ceiling flex play even with a healthy Conner. If, however, Conner goes down, Benjamin will be a weekly must-start. It’s no secret that the starting running back position for the Arizona Cardinals is a fantasy goldmine, and Benjamin is only one injury away from earning that spot.
Another day, another Eno Benjamin leaping snag. pic.twitter.com/Mw7V5mvPHQ
— Tyler Drake (@Tdrake4sports) August 31, 2022
3. Jerick McKinnon
Seventh-round rookie Isaih Pacheco might have all the training camp hype, but veteran running back Jerick McKinnon is far more likely to receive meaningful touches in 2022. McKinnon finished the 2021 season on a high note, earning the starting job for the postseason run while averaging 17 opportunties per game.
Not only did McKinnon earn those touches, but he looked good with the ball in his hands. Andy Reid’s offense is supposed to be a cheat code for running back production, and that theory works perfectly with every running back except for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire will enter the season as the starter with McKinnon being the first guy off the bench. However, should Edwards-Helaire continue to be less effective than McKinnon, don’t be surprised if the seasoned veteran ends up taking the starting job by Week 10.
4. Dontrell Hilliard
Derrick Henry has been one of the most valuable assets in the fantasy football community for the past few seasons, but the end comes quickly for running backs. The former second-round pick will enter the season as the unquestioned starter, but is Henry’s 28-year-old body ready for another season of 300 touches?
If it’s not, Dontrell Hilliard could see a similar workload to what D’Onta Foreman received last year. Foreman performed admirably in relief of Henry, putting up multiple fantasy-relevant weeks while salvaging many a fantasy season. Mike Vrabel proved that he isn’t afraid to run the ball even with Henry out of the lineup, and with Foreman in Carolina and rookie Hassan Haskins underwhelming in the preseason, Hilliard appears to be the next in line for that massive workload should Henry miss more time.
Dontrell Hilliard was 2nd in explosive run yard percentage — 48.90% — amongst players with 50 or more rush attempts
He’s one of the cheapest handcuffs currently — RB85
— Jeremy (@PopesFFH) August 9, 2022
5. Jaylen Warren
Everyone knows that Najee Harris has one of the safest workloads in the league, and Jaylen Warren will not carry any fantasy relevance as long as Harris remains on the field. However, injuries are incredibly common at the running back position, and somebody will need to handle the rock if Harris goes down.
That somebody will likely be undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren. The Snow College product beat out Anthony McFarland for a roster spot, and the vast majority of Pittsburgh beat reporters believe that fellow running back Benny Snell will primarily be used on special teams.
Head coach Mike Tomlin loves using a single workhorse running back whenever possible, and Warren is just one injury away from inheriting that role. That alone makes him one of the more intriguing running back handcuffs in the league. It should go without saying that Warren can not match Harris on per-touch production, but based on volume alone, Warren would easily justify a flex play.