As the 2012 NFL season draws near, fantasy football gurus are going into a frenzy researching and trying to finalize their targets for the complete team. What makes the complete team? For years the running back position was a must draft in the first round. In 2012, however (outside of Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, or Ray Rice), the running back position is a bit of a crap shoot. There are players being touted as breakout players like Ryan Mathews, and players looking to bounce back from a down year in 2011 like Chris Johnson. I think 2012 is going to be the year of the handcuff. Owner are going to want to safeguard their running back investments since injures to certain high-profile running backs seems to be common. Handcuffs, for those readers who are new to the fantasy football world, are players that back-up some of the games most desirable players. The injury bug was out in force in 2011 taking down several players including the oft injured Darren McFadden of the Oakland Raiders. Those owners who drafted Michael Bush as McFadden's "handcuff" were not as drastically bothered by the loss, as those owners who passed on him. With that said, who are the essential handcuffs for the 2012 season? Here is a list of the players I think are must drafts if you intend on handcuffing your primary investment.
1. Ben Tate , RB, Houston Texans
If there is a definition of a handcuff in the Fantasy Football dictionary 2012 edition, it's Ben Tate. Arian Foster is arguably the most talented running back in the NFL today, and if you drafted him in 2011, you felt the sting of not having Tate in the first couple of weeks while Foster nursed a hamstring injury. Tate rushed for 219 yards and 1 touchdown in weeks one and two in 2011. Owners who drafted him as a handcuff for Foster weren't hurt as badly as other owners who had to rely on the waiver wire for a fill-in player. Ben Tate seems to be more than capable of handling the lead back role; if Foster were playing for another team, I would consider Tate a strong RB2 border line lead back for any fantasy team. Not only is Tate the most important handcuff, he is also a viable flex player in some deeper leagues. Tate topped 100 yards in 5 games in 2011 (he had 97 against the Tennessee Titans in week 17 also) and over 1,000 all purpose yards. Tate only found the end zone 4 times, but I can imagine that number increasing in 2012. If you draft Foster, you may need to take Tate a round or two earlier if you want to use him as a handcuff.
2. Mike Goodson , RB, Oakland Raiders
There may not be a more frustrating running back in the fantasy football world than Darren McFadden. McFadden hasn't played in a full season since he was drafted number 4 overall in the 2008 NFL draft. The problem with 2012 is McFadden's former back-up, Michael Bush, has moved on from Oakland and joined the Chicago Bears. Bush was a good back-up, maybe one of the best back-ups in the game in 2010 & 2012. Now, Oakland must rely on either speedy second year running back Taiwan Jones or fourth year running back Mike Goodson to back-up McFadden. Goodson was acquired via trade with the Carolina Panthers in 2012. In the past, Goodson has shown flashes that he can be a viable back-up. Although he didn't see any carries in 2011, Goodson rushed for over 100 yards on two separate occasions in 2010. Goodson is only worth stashing on your roster in case McFadden gets injured and you need a lead back. In his career, Goodson has only carried the ball 125 for 501 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he isn't worth drafting if you don't own McFadden. If you do decided to roll the dice on McFadden, though, it may be worth stashing Goodson in case McFadden go out with an injury again. Goodson would be a decent flex option, at best a low-end RB2 in deeper leagues if McFadden get injured again.
3. Peyton Hillis , RB, Kansas City Chiefs
In 2010, those who took the chance to draft Hillis or pick him up off the waiver wire were pleasantly surprised. Those who used a second round pick on Hillis in 2011, not so much. Hillis was supposed to be one of the more reliable running backs in 2011, but after contract disputes and some injuries, Hillis didn't exactly live up to his expectations. In 2012, I think Hillis will regain some of his value, though his value may be limited to short-yardage and goal line carries (unless, of course, Jamaal Charles' knee isn't game ready). Hillis is no doubt the number 2 running back behind Charles and if you choose to spend a pick on Charles, Hillis should also be on your radar. Hillis has all the skills to be a lead back, but if Charles stays healthy Hillis' value will be limited. I can see Hillis, if Charles stays healthy, gaining about 700 yards and 9 touchdowns and has value as a RB3 or flex option. If Charles ends up reinjuring his knee or suffering another form of injury, I can see Hillis gaining about 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.
4. Michael Bush, RB, Chicago Bears
Michael Bush is one of the best back-up running backs in the NFL. I was taken by surprise that he signed with the Chicago Bears, who currently have Matt Forte (although he has not signed his franchise tender and could possibly hold-out), instead of shopping around for a team in need of a lead back. With the Oakland Raiders, Bush, as mentioned before, backed up the oft injured Darren McFadden. As a starter, Bush gained 977 yards and scored 7 touchdowns. In 2012, Bush may find himself in a lead role if Forte decides to hold-out and not sign his franchise tender. Many owners will bank on Forte due to the fact he has said he will not hold-out, and will probably draft him somewhere in the second round. If you choose to take the chance on Forte, you should plan on drafting Bush as well. In 2012, Bush is ranked as the 84 player in the fftoolbox default rankings. If you want to back up Forte with him, you will more than likely have to grab him in round 7 or early round 8 to ensure your Forte investment is protected. That's pretty high for a handcuff, but Bush is a talented back. If Forte plays in 2012, I can see Bush gaining about 600 yards and 4 touchdowns, but if Forte holds out or gets injured early in the year, I could see Bush gaining about 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Other "handcuffs" worthy of a look:
Kendell Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers
I think Brandon Jacobs is strictly going to be a short yardage back, and Frank Gore isn't getting any younger. Gore has had some injury issues in the past, and I think Hunter is in line for some serious playing time if Gore goes down with an injury early in the season.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins
Reggie Bush has said he wants to lead the NFL in rushing. For him to do that, he has to carry the ball more times than he ever has before. Bush isn't known as the most durable back and if he gets injured, Thomas will get his chance to prove his talents.
LeGarrette Blount , RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Blount is in an interesting position in 2012. Tampa Bay drafted former Boise State standout Doug Martin by trading back into the first round. Martin is now being touted as the likely starter, which leaves Blount to fill the back-up role. Blount has the talent to be a very effective starter, so if Martin does start out the season as the lead back, you may want to handcuff him with Blount.