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The art of using handcuffs

Fred Jackson could get almost half-a-season worth of starts in Buffalo this season.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Is there any worse feeling in fantasy football than your No.1 running back going down due to an injury and only then finding out you forgot to prepare for the contingency by drafting his backup?

For this reason, below I have listed all the running backs who require "handcuffs." They are ranked by the likelihood in which their backup will be used as a starter during the upcoming season.

1) Marshawn Lynch - Fred Jackson

It's already a guarantee that Lynch will miss three games this season, because of his suspension for a misdemeanor gun charge - a violation of the league's personal conduct policy. The real question here is whether Jackson or Dominic Rhodes will end up being his backup. Right now, it appears that Jackson has the upper hand. Add in a game or two due to injury and you could get almost half-a-season worth of starts from Jackson (RapidDraft ADP 108.9).

2) Joseph Addai - Donald Brown

Coming off Addai's incredibly disappointing 2008 season, the Indianapolis Colts drafted his "future replacement" with their No.1 pick (27th selection overall). If Addai (RapidDraft ADP 27.3) doesn't get off to a quick start, the future could be sooner than anyone thinks. Drafting Addai is a high risk venture made only slightly more palatable by drafting Brown as well. Brown's "RapidDraft ADP" is 66.3 meaning it will take a sixth-round choice to get him.

3) Brian Westbrook - LeSean McCoy

When healthy, Westbrook (RapidDraft ADP 7.6) might be a top-three running back (particularly in PPR leagues), but he's never played a complete 16-game schedule and is always playing hurt. The Eagles used a high draft pick on McCoy, who has looked very good in camp and the first exhibition game. Westbrook is returning from offseason surgery and might not get into any preseason games making his selection even more difficult for fantasy owners. McCoy (RapidDraft ADP 100.6) will cost you a ninth-round pick.

4) Marion Barber - Felix Jones

Barber (RapidDraft ADP 18.1) was a late first-round draft choice in 2008 after the Dallas Cowboys sent running back Julius Jones to Seattle. But Barber disappointed fantasy owners with his 885 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground. He was particularly bad at fantasy playoff time (Weeks 14-16) when he missed Week 14 and combined for just two yards rushing in Weeks 15 and 16. In the short time Jones appeared before his season-ending toe injury he looked explosive both rushing and receiving. It will take a late eight-round or early ninth-round selection to get the Jones (RapidDraft ADP 97.3) handcuff with Barber.

5) LaDainian Tomlinson - Darren Sproles

Those fantasy owners who took "LT" No.1 overall last season struggled with his "turf toe' almost as much as Tomlinson did. He cracked the 100-yard mark just twice because he kept coming out of games and scored TDs in just two of the first 10 weeks. Still he totaled 1,536 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs so he's worth drafting in the first round again. This time, however, take out "insurance" by handcuffing Sproles (RapidDraft ADP 67.2) and you will breathe a lot easier.

6) Thomas Jones - Shonn Greene

Jones (RapidDraft ADP 27.3) had a very good 2008, posting 1,312 yards on the ground and a combined 15 touchdowns rushing and receiving. Yet the team went out and spent a high draft choice on Iowa running back Shonn Greene. Now just this week, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan had to deny rumors that the team was trying to trade the 31-year-old Jones. A ninth-round pick of Greene (RapidDraft ADP 117) will allow you to sleep easier at night.

7) Larry Johnson - Jamaal Charles

After carrying the ball 416 times in 2006, Johnson (RapidDraft ADP 47.8) suffered through injury-plagued seasons in 2007 and 2008. With a new head coach and a new offense it's understandable if you are uneasy using a late fourth- round pick on a running back who ran for 874 yards and five scores last year and who gets replaced on third downs by Charles. On the other hand, the Chiefs have a tough schedule for quarterback Matt Cassel to throw against, making it important that they get the running game going well. Charles (RapidDraft ADP 114.8) is relatively cheap insurance.

8) Brandon Jacobs - Ahmad Bradshaw

Whoever gets to run behind the New York Giants great offensive line (157.4 ypg) is going to get yards and touchdowns. Jacobs, if he stays healthy could improve on last year's 1,089 yard, 15 TD performance, but he's only played in 11 and 13 games the past two seasons. With Derrick Ward in Tampa Bay, Bradshaw is the No.2 man and is likely a borderline starter himself. With a high RapidDraft ADP of 113, Bradshaw might be one of the best bargains this draft season.

9) Willie Parker - Rashard Mendenhall

The Pittsburgh Steelers love to run the ball and Parker was the beneficiary from 2005-2007 rushing for more than 1,200 yards in each season. Unfortunately, except for 2006, he's not a "touchdown maker." Then last season he opened with a great game against Houston (138 yards, 3 TDs) and stumbled for the most part the rest of the way. With 2008 first-round pick Mendenhall back from his season-ending shoulder injury, it's likely that this will be a shared situation soon, particularly at the goal line. Mendenhall (RapidDraft ADP 78.3) will cost you a seventh-round pick, but on a team which loves to run more than pass, is worth it.

10) Frank Gore - Glen Coffee

Gore (RapidDraft ADP 10.2) will cost you a late first-round draft choice, a little pricey for a man who has never scored 10 TDs in a season. Still, people remember his 2006 campaign when he combined for 2,180 yards from scrimmage. I don't think he'll do that again, but if you are willing to use a top pick on Gore, it's cheap insurance to get Coffee (RapidDraft ADP 208.4) with an 18th- round pick. Coffee, who coach Mike Singletary described as a "tough runner" and "great addition to our football team," might end up being the goal line running back.

11) Adrian Peterson - Chester Taylor

I already wrote an article on reasons why Peterson might not be your No.1 overall pick, but since that's what it will take to get him (RapidDraft ADP 1.3), at least get his backup to insure that you will not become suicidal if he twists an ankle. Taylor (RapidDraft ADP 102.8), a pretty good running back and an excellent receiver in his own right, will cost you about a ninth-round pick.

12) Michael Turner - Jerious Norwood

Beware the "Curse of 370." There is a well-known theory, which says that a running back who carries the ball 370-or-more times in the regular season, or 390 times including playoffs, will see a drastic decrease in production the following season. According to a study by Football Outsiders, the drop in rushing yards is significant - 35%, while the drop in yards-per-carry is 8%.

Looking at the final standings for the 2008-09 NFL season we see Turner at the top of the "rushing attempts" category with 376 carries last season for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also had 18 carries in a playoff loss to Arizona which puts him over 390 carries for the season

For this reason alone, drafting Norwood (RapidDraft ADP 116) seems like the prudent thing to do, and since it will only cost a 10th-round selection, it's cheap insurance.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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