Running backs are arguably the most important position in fantasy football. With only 32 starters and a few backups with standalone value, the positional scarcity is real at the position. Running backs are also the most prone to injuries as they make up 16 percent of all injuries occurred.
While some fantasy analysts argue about the significance of drafting an RB handcuff, these players are an essential part of any fantasy team. Whether they’re desperate waiver wire adds or a strategically placed late-round pick, a backup running back can win you a week at any time in the season.
Here’s a look at my top five handcuffs and some honorable mentions for deeper leagues.
All ‘cuffs in this article are currently RB37 or worse (109 overall) in Underdog Fantasy Best Ball ADP. Use promo code RSJ (or click this link) to get a 100% first deposit match on Underdog Fantasy to take advantage of these juicy ADPs in season-long best ball contests.
5. DARREL WILLIAMS (ARI, ADP: 171.2)
Darrel Williams has one of the best paths to being a starting running back at any point this season. As James Conner’s primary backup, Williams can be a lead back in one of the best offenses in the NFL. Conner has a history of injuries, missing 16 games in five seasons. While in Kansas City, Williams was able to take advantage of the handful of times he was able to fill in as a starting running back. He possesses a three-down skill-set that makes him valuable between the tackles and in the passing game.
Williams finds himself in another great situation backing up Conner and has league-winning upside if Conner goes down this season. Williams is currently going as the RB52 in Underdog Fantasy best ball drafts.
Williams is RB46 in The Wolf’s 2022 Fantasy Football Rankings.
4. DARRELL HENDERSON (LAR, ADP: 137.9)
The LA Rams running back room wasn’t an elite fantasy option last season, but Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel produced respectable RB2 numbers when they were given the opportunity. In Henderson’s starts from Week 1 through 12, he averaged 15.7 PPR points per game and was RB13 during that time. Third-year back Cam Akers didn’t look great in the postseason after coming back from his Achilles injury and historically speaking, no NFL running back has returned to pre-injury form following that injury.
As Akers’ primary handcuff, Henderson has proven to be a viable option in fantasy on a high-powered offense and compares similarly to Williams’ situation in Arizona. If given the opportunity, Henderson can slide right in as a strong flex option on any roster.
Henderson is RB44 in The Wolf’s 2022 Rankings.
3. RACHAAD WHITE (TB, ADP: 121.2)
A rookie running back in the top five handcuffs???? YES! Rachaad White is backing up Leonard Fournette in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. White already has standalone value as a receiver — ranking first in PFF receiving grade for the 2022 draft class. With rumors of Fournette weighing 260 pounds and Fournette’s history of injuries (18 games missed in five seasons), White has a strong chance to slide in as the RB1 in Tampa Bay.
White has every chance to have standalone value this year, but if given the chance to start, he could be one of the best fantasy assets across all platforms. It’s clear the rookie oozes confidence, but he’ll have to gain Tom Brady’s trust in camp to get the nod on passing downs. If he can, then he could be the next James White, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis, or Kevin Faulk for TB12. White is currently being drafted as the RB39.
White is RB41 in The Wolf’s 2022 Fantasy Rankings.
2. ALEXANDER MATTISON (MIN, ADP: 125)
Mattison has been a handcuff savior multiple times throughout his career. In his last five starts for the Vikings, Mattison hasn’t finished lower than RB13 and has been as high as RB4. In those starts, he averaged 21.7 PPR points per game.
In a revamped offense with a new head coach, there could be a cause for concern that Mattison may not be the set it and forget it back he had been in the past. But, he’s proven it over the two seasons that he is one of the best handcuffs and faces zero real competition to be the team’s RB2.
Mattison is RB37 in The Wolf’s 2022 Rankings and is going off the Underdog Fantasy boards at RB41.
1. MELVIN GORDON (DEN, ADP: 109.6)
The Broncos remodeled its offense this offseason, bringing in Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett as head coach and Russell Wilson to lead the offense. Hackett is known for flowering his running backs with targets and producing RB1 finishes in nearly every season as a coordinator.
While everyone is drooling over Javonte Williams (including us), Gordon is going off the board at RB37 even though he finished RB22 last season.
Gordon is easily the best value for a handcuff running back and is one Williams’ injury away from being a high-end RB2 or low-end RB1. In his career, Gordon has had three RB1 finishes and two RB2 finishes. Make sure to grab Gordon in the 8-to-10 round range because he not only has some standalone value, but he also has league-winning starting value at his ADP.
Gordon is RB32 in The Wolf’s 2022 Rankings.
- James Cook (BUF, ADP: 110.4) – Dalvin’s brother will be backing up last season’s stretch run hero, Devin Singletary, yet he could be a league-winner in the league’s top offense.
- Dameon Pierce (HOU, ADP: 129.4) – Pierce is being drafted ahead of the Texans’ RB1 Marlon Mack, but he landed in the perfect spot to win the starting gig in Houston.
- Isaiah Spiller (LAC, ADP: 130.6) – Spiller is an Austin Ekeler injury away from fantasy superstar status.
- Nyheim Hines (IND, ADP: 138.4) – Hines finished as the RB15 in 2020 and is rumored to see more snaps this season. With a better quarterback running the offense, Hines may have standalone fantasy value as an elite pass-catcher.
- Michael Carter (NYJ, ADP: 143.8) – Carter was a PPR beast for a few weeks last season and will be backing up rookie stud Breece Hall. With an improved offense and a strong offseason, Carter is worth a pick in the middle rounds.
- Tyrion Davis-Price (SF, ADP: 154.5) – The 49ers went out and drafted Elijah Mitchell’s backup in the third round, making the chances of a disturbing Shanahan committee very real.
- Kenneth Gainwell (PHI, ADP: 158.1) – We saw what Kenneth Gainwell could do as a rookie in place of an injured Miles Sanders, and his pass-catching prowess and sneaky touchdown numbers ooze Flex upside.
- Khalil Herbert (CHI, ADP: 160.3) – Herbert shined in his time as a starter last season and should thrive in the Bears’ new outside zone scheme.
- Jamaal Williams (DET, ADP: 174.1) – Williams has been the 1B in Green Bay and Detroit, but when given the opportunity, he’s shined.
- Mark Ingram (NO, ADP: 183.1) – With Kamara still facing potential legal issues, Ingram at a ripe age of 32 is still a viable fantasy option.
- Brian Robinson (WAS, ADP: 193) – It’s clear the Commanders do not trust Antonio Gibson, so they went out and drafted a former Alabama workhorse in the third round of this year’s draft.
- Chris Evans (CIN, ADP: 201.7): Evans is rumored to spell Joe Mixon on third down this season. An elite athlete with crazy pass-catching skills could shine as a starter in Cincy’s potent offense.