It’s a very common misconception.
Rather than the first few picks in your Fantasy Football drafts, it’s the later round selections that win or lose your league. Owners who land the dark horse fantasy superstars are handsomely rewarded at seasons’ end, but the backup running backs from each club are also very significant when it comes to fantasy success, and should not be overlooked. With that being said, in case anyone hasn’t been following the depth chart progression of rosters this summer, I thought I’d highlight some of the more fantasy relevant handcuff options for fantasy owners in 2013. Remember, just because you don’t own the starter, doesn’t mean you can’t grab the backup and block an opposing team of doing so.
Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens: Why has Ray Rice been becoming a bit less of a sexy fantasy option? Just ask the guy behind him on the depth chart. Pierce is expected to see more than the 108 carries he posted in his rookie year, regardless of how well Rice is running the football. The Ravens official website reported that Pierce will push for a significant amount of carries if he has an impressive summer. There was also some talk of the carry distribution being almost balanced. I believe that is a bit premature, especially considering how consistently awesome Rice has been over the course of his career. However, there is most certainly some fantasy relevance with the second-year back out of Temple. When new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell took over the job last season, he actually utilized Pierce quite a bit, having played him 30 percent or more in five of seven games (stat via Dave Richard). Also, despite not even being a starting back, Pierce averaged an impressive 0.31 fantasy points per snap, which was good for 16th-best among running backs, ahead of guys like Trent Richardson and Rice himself. Pierce will see the field quite a bit in his sophomore season, making him very relevant in fantasy land.
Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles: When LeSean McCoy went down with a concussion last year, Brown stepped in and hit the ground running. Literally. In week’s 11 and 12, Brown combined for 347 rushing yards and four scores, establishing himself as one of the better fantasy options during that span. However, he did have a tendency to cough up the football, fumbling four times in limited action last season. Brown is a must-own for all McCoy owners because after suffering from a concussion, we just don’t know how he will fair in 2013. One wrong blow to the head could result in an extended absence for McCoy, which could follow with Brown being the starter in a run-oriented Chip Kelly offense. Still, I believe Brown has some work to do. He clearly needs to work on ball security, as well as becoming less one dimensional. Often times last year he would consistently try to bounce it to the outside and use his speed. Seeing as Kelly is his head coach, Brown will be on the field regardless of McCoy’s health, but needs to be drafted alongside McCoy this year.
Andre Brown, New York Giants: Brown is much more than a handcuff this year, as he has the upside to be a flex option in most leagues. However, as of right now, he is the second string back behind David Wilson, but he’ll most likely aggravate Wilson owners everywhere come September. Brown will be the goal line back for the Giants, especially after scoring all eight of his rushing touchdowns inside the two-yard line last season. Remember, Brown was extremely productive for fantasy owners when Ahmad Bradshaw was down last season. In fact, Brown averaged the most fantasy points per snap among running backs last season (0.45). He’ll get the touchdowns in this Thunder and Lightning package, but he could end up as the number one back if Wilson struggles. Wilson has had his fair share of ball security issues, and head coach Tom Coughlin isn’t one to mess around. Brown is much more than Wilson’s handcuff.
Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions: Last season Leshoure scored nine rushing touchdowns for the Lions, all of which coming from inside the 20-yard line. With Reggie Bush now in the mix, Leshoure will no longer be called upon for every-down work, as Bush will thrive in pass-happy Detroit. However, there’s no reason to believe that Bush will stay on the field in goal line situations, considering he only has one more rushing touchdown than Aaron Rodgers over the past five seasons. He’ll be a touchdown vulture in 2013, standing at 230 lbs, but injuries have slowed him down a bit throughout his short career. Don’t be surprised if we see some Joique Bell this year either.
Michael Bush, Chicago Bears: Bush will undoubtedly be the Bears’ goal line back for the forseeable future. Bush has been known to play this role in the past, and with Matt Forte struggling in short-yardage situations to start his career, there is no reason Bush shouldn’t be the guy. He scored all five of his touchdowns inside the three-yard line last season, and will be difficult to stop at 6’1″, 245 lbs. Also, don’t forget, while I do think Forte’s injury prone label is a bit overrated, he has missed five games during the last two seasons, so Bush needs to be drafted by Forte owners for insurance.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals: I’ll have to include Bernard in the handcuffs list for now, but don’t be one bit surprised if the rookie becomes the team’s starter at some point during the 2013 season. There has been a lot of talk that the Bengals see Bernard as an every-down back, due to his dynamic, versatile skill-set. He is pretty much the complete opposite of teammate BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm won’t make defenders miss like Bernard can and won’t pose as a pass-catching threat either. Bernard is definitely the more exciting player in open space, and if he continues to have a strong summer, don’t be surprised if he is included a ton. The team has had talks of utilizing him out of the slot, in the backfield, whatever they need to do to get this guy the ball, they’ll do it. Grab Bernard in all of your drafts, whether you own Green-Ellis or not because he has a terrific chance to emerge as an appealing fantasy back in his rookie campaign.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.