Fantasy Football 2014: Breaking Down The Handcuffs
Death, taxes and running backs getting hurt.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, guarantees in life.
Every single year, fantasy owners find a handful of running backs on their waiver wire that are set to be thrust into a starting role. Starting running backs go down. It just happens. The injury rate among rushers is higher than any other offensive position, of course, and could possibly be the highest ever. Because of this, targeting backup running backs in favorable systems is crucial to adding depth and upside to your fantasy roster.
So, who should you be looking at?
Andre Williams, New York Giants
The fantasy world was buzzing on Sunday night, watching actual NFL football (sort of). However, they were also buzzing over the debut of rookie runner, Williams, who carried the ball seven times for 48 yards, including a three-yard touchdown. He looked very good, as last year’s leading rusher in the nation should. Now, with David Wilson unfortunately being shut down, Williams is the clear cut number two back in this offense, which offers upside. According to Matthew Berry, over the past five seasons, Giants’ running backs have accumulated the 5th-most rushing scores, while running the football on 55 percent of their plays from inside the 10-yard line, the 7th-highest rate in football during that span. Williams is a bigger back who was getting some goal line work during camp, so he fits the bill well. Still, Rashad Jennings is the better fit for the overall offense, ranking 12th in pass-protection among backs last year (via PFF) and only fumbling the ball four times in his career. But Williams is a must-draft if you land Jennings.
Terrance West, Cleveland Browns
Another guarantee? Ben Tate is going to get hurt.
The guy has played in three seasons, but has missed 24 of 64 possible regular season contests (38%), and according to Christopher Harris of ESPN, has landed on the Texans injury report about 80 percent of the time thus far. That just scares the heck out of me, especially when you consider that, at least to start the year, he’ll be seeing the biggest workload of his career, as the Browns look to run the ball as much as anyone in the league. Meanwhile, West continues to draw a ton of buzz during camp and I’d be shocked if he didn’t start at least four games for the Browns this year. Tate has dealt with ankle, head, toe, foot and rib injuries over the course of his career, so he’ll more than likely be banged up again in 2014.
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
Hyde’s stock continues to rise and the season hasn’t even started yet. Kendall Hunter has already been ruled out for the season, while LaMichael James suffered an elbow injury that could sideline him for up to a month. Hyde, meanwhile, has been impressing at camp, and even before these injuries, there were rumblings that he could see goal line work in arguably the most run-heavy offense in football. And it makes sense, too, as Hyde scored a whopping 35 rushing touchdowns during his two seasons at Ohio State, and the 49ers absolutely love him.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
I’ve already proclaimed my love for Freeman this year, and I think that is exactly what fantasy players are overlooking– this year. Freeman is a popular dynasty commodity, but I think he makes an impact in year one, too. Last year, Steven Jackson dealt with a nagging hamstring issue and for the first time since his rookie year, Jackson failed to carry the ball 200 times. The Falcons have been raving about Freeman in camp, as he’s the best pass-blocker in this year’s class, while initiating contact when running the football. Also, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter won’t be afraid to implement a near split, as he did in Jacksonville with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Taylor was 31-years old the first year Koetter implemented it.
Jackson is 31-years old in 2014.
Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
Pierce is interesting because, at the moment, he isn’t a backup. With Ray Rice suspended for the first two games of the season, Pierce has the opportunity to make a statement as the number one running back. Of course, the offensive line was putrid last year, as the Ravens led the league in rushes of zero yards or fewer, but Pierce is a big, decisive runner, who will fit new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone system. And if Pierce impresses early on, he may significantly cut into Rice’s workload, making him more than just a handcuff.
Ka’Deem Carey, Chicago Bears
Carey isn’t just going to come in and steal work from All-Pro runner, Matt Forte. But he is a very talented back who does not go down easily. A violent runner, Carey will more than likely be the number two back on the Bears depth chart to start the season, and at age 29 and coming off a season where he led all running backs in offensive snaps, Carey could play a bigger role in this offense than people realize. Remember, for as good as Forte is, he isn’t the best at converting goal line attempts. Keep an eye on the rookie out of Arizona.
Note: I do not consider the likes of Joique Bell, Fred Jackson or Shane Vereen handcuffs.