2020 NFL Draft Guide: Running Back Depth & Value of Handcuffing
Published: Jun 27, 2020
The running back position is often the most important position in fantasy football. It is the position that most team’s spend their FAAB budgets on during the season and the position that is drafted the most during fantasy football drafts. The importance of the position is not lost on anyone and therefore the strategy behind loading up on depth and handcuffing your top tier backs is important. However, this year is going to be an entirely different animal. One that will make depth of this position impact how you go about your fantasy draft. Some will think they can outsmart the system, time will tell if they are correct but if you have participated in any mock drafts or followed along with some of the FSGA expert league drafts then you may have noticed something when it comes to the running back position. Let’s explore!
Do Not Wait!
Let’s get this out of the way, ok? You MUST draft a running back in the early rounds of your draft. It’s just that plain and simple. Sure, you may think you are getting great value with some of the wide receivers or tight ends that may be available but that thinking is a trap. Explore the ADPs and see the trend. Running backs are going early and often. Not only are running backs going early and often but the running back position itself is possibly as weak as it has been in years. Multiple teams this year will have a split-backfield and we saw a lot of teams that we thought had a back with a secure job then go and draft one of the stud running backs that came out in this past year’s draft. Just look at the backfields right now that have some actual questions on who the lead guy will be.
- Denver – Melvin Gordon / Phillip Lindsay
- Indianapolis – Marlon Mack / Jonathan Taylor
- Baltimore – Mark Ingram / J.K. Dobbins
- Buffalo – Devin Singletary / Zack Moss
- Detroit – Kerryon Johnson / D’Andre Swift
- Kansas City – Damien Williams / Clyde Edwards-Helaire
- San Francisco - Raheem Mostert / Tevin Coleman
Some of those players above have ADPs going in the third and four round and may not even have the job to themselves. It’s almost imperative that you target backs early who have their job secured and the carries are not in question.
Understand Who the Handcuff Is
The strategy of drafting your handcuff certainly makes sense. If you spend a first round pick on Dalvin Cook you may want to go and draft Alexander Mattison. If an injury happens to Cook or he ends up holding out then you know that the Vikings have a talented back up running back in Mattison who will mostly fill the role vacated by Dalvin Cook and become a major fantasy asset. However, if you drafted Christian McCaffrey do you think that Reggie Bonnafon is going to be able to step up and fill his shoes? The answer to that question is NO! Be smart about drafting a handcuff and do not waste the pick. If you draft CMC you are better off looking to draft other players who actually fill a role on their respective teams instead of burning a hole on your bench with Bonnafon. Also realize that there is a difference between a handcuff and someone on the roster with a defined role. For example, James White is not the handcuff to Sony Michel . Now, James White may benefit from Sony Michel being out of the lineup but you can also draft James White as a standalone player and he has his own value. Someone like Damien Harris or even Rex Burkhead would qualify as being a handcuff to Sony Michel because they would see the early down work that Michel is vacating. An example of a player that has standalone value but one that would be an elite handcuff would be the situation in Cleveland. Nick Chubb is an elite running back. Kareem Hunt proved to have standalone value last season as a pass catching back and change of pace option. If Nick Chubb ever got hurt it would make Kareem Hunt a possible top five overall running back. So, as the title states, understand who the handcuff is when drafting.
The narrative isn’t really changing here. Make sure you are not stuck trying to pick through the trash at the end of your fantasy drafts here. Just look at the ADPs right now, once you get past round 10 of 12-team leagues you find running backs like Darrell Henderson, Latavius Murray , Tony Pollard, Duke Johnson , Boston Scott , Justin Jackson , AJ Dillon ect. Now, sure, some of those guys may be OK like Murray, Scott or Dillon but these aren’t really players you can rely upon in a pinch or if someone gets hurt. If you are drafting depth you want players with roles. Personally, my advice is that you should be drafting at least four starting running backs within the first six rounds. That is how I approach the draft this season. Give yourself two starters and one for your flex with a replacement player. That is a minimum requirement. Otherwise you may find yourself having to trust some of the names above and hope you can gain some assemblance of value. There just is no waiting until the end of the draft to fill in some depth players or possible sleepers because those players are all gone sooner than you expect.