What You Gonna Do: The NFL's Top Handcuffs in 2012
Starting QB, check. Starting TE, check. Starting WRs, check. Starting RBs (and possible foundations of your championship run), check. On paper, your starters look strong, prepared to take your league by storm and culminating with a fantasy championship at the end of the season. Are you prepared if one of your foundations falters, a la Jamaal Charles or Darren Mcfadden 2011? Running back handcuffs are a much maligned group, oft ignored, but highly sought after when the inevitable strikes. It is never easy using a roster spot on a backup, especially one that may never see the starting lineup and could have little value without an injury, but backing up an expensive investment in a violent and turnover-heavy league is never a bad idea. Not all handcuffs are created equal; but when the injury bug strikes, the owners who have backed their studs up will encounter a mere hiccup in their march to the playoffs.
Ben Tate: Perhaps the most important and valuable of the all the handcuffs, Ben Tate proved in 2011 he is more than able to step in if fantasy stud (and better human) Arian Foster goes down in 2012. While filling in for Foster, Tate averaged nearly 15 fantasy points a game, looking more than capable and flashing the ideal running style for the Texans' zone blocking scheme. Tate will again be the top handcuff in 2012 for the league's best running team, and is even serviceable in larger leagues as a flex play regardless of Foster's health.
CJ Spiller: Bills fans have been waiting to see what CJ Spiller is capable of ever since Buffalo took the Clemson stud 9th overall in 2010. Unfairly, Spiller and 'bust' started to creep into the NFL lexicon as the season progressed and the Bills coaching staff struggled to find ways to get Spiller the ball. However, when do-everything offensive leader Fred Jackson went down, Spiller shocked even his most ardent supporters with his production on the field. The last 5 games of the season, Spiller scored nearly 17 fantasy points a week, including 5 touchdowns and averaging more than 5 yards a carry. Spiller proved to be a dual threat, as he averaged nearly 5 catches a game in the final 5 games. Despite the Fred Jackson contract, Spiller will definitely see more touches in 2012 as the franchise prepares the RB for his future as the team's lead back.
Jonathan Stewart: Everyone expected Jonathan Stewart to assume the lead back role when Carolina took the Oregon Duck in 2008. 4 years later, and everyone is still waiting for that ascension. Given what Carolina gave to running mate DeAngelo Williams in 2011 (and it being Stewart's final year of his rookie contract), it appears the talented RB will be assuming the role many expected in 2008 some 5 years later and with a new team. However, not getting too far ahead, Stewart still appears to be stuck behind (or in a committee at best) another RB in 2012. That being said, if the oft injured Williams is unable to go any given week, Stewart has shown he is beyond capable of filling in. Being the lead back in 2009, for the final 5 games Stewart amassed nearly 600 yards of total offense -- including rushing for 200 yards and compiled 5 touchdowns. Like Tate and Spiller, Stewart is a possible flex play in larger leagues in 2012 regardless of injury status, but is a full blown stud if Williams cannot take the field.
Peyton Hillis: Peyton Hillis moves from workhorse in Cleveland (leaving much to be desired in 2011), to backup in Kansas City in 2012. However, Hillis may be in the best position of all the handcuffs, as he should fill the Thomas Jones role nicely with the potential to be the only back if Jamaal Charles' health falters in a run first offense behind a solid offensive line. Perhaps Hillis will never repeat his 1500+ total yards, 13 TD performance from 2010, but the move to Kansas City is a step in the right direction. Hillis will undoubtedly be the goal line back in 2012 in a worst case scenario with a much higher ceiling given the right set of circumstances.
Toby Gerhart: Similar to Charles and Hillis in Kansas City, Toby Gerhart is a must own handcuff for Adrian Peterson owners in 2012. Gerhart proved more than serviceable filling in for Peterson at the end of 2011, totaling 100+ total yards in 3 of 5 games along with 4 TDs. Despite Peterson's proclamations about the 2012 season, owners should be skeptical and prepared to insert Gerhart given any setbacks. Like Hillis, Gerhart fits the workhorse back mold with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Michael Bush: Another city, same role for Michael Bush. With Chicago unwilling (as of right now) to appease RB Matt Forte with a long term contract, the value of Bush continues to ascend. With his team crumbling around him and essentially no back to spell him in 2011, Bush was run ragged by the Oakland Raider coaching staff (the numbers attest to the drag in production). Well over 100+ total yards in 4 consecutive weeks and another right at 100, Bush proved his worth and ability to lead a depleted backfield and makes Bush a must-own for Forte owners in 2012.
Mike Goodson: Some may call it premature, or even unlikely, but I expect Mike Goodson to be the guy when Darren McFadden undoubtedly misses at least 1 game in 2012. Many will expect Taiwan Jones to fill that spot, but injury and size concerns follow Jones as well. Goodson filled in admirably for the injured Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in 2010, rushing for 100+ yards in back to back games (including 120 against the Ravens) despite having zero help from Jimmy Clausen and the passing game. Goodson will be a sneaky pick in 2012 and will reward McFadden owners (or haunt those who do not) who find a spot for Goodson on their rosters.