Leagues are never “won” on draft day, despite what fantasy football gurus (yours truly included) will tell you. Being risk-averse isn’t sexy, but it can pay off over a grinding regular season, particularly for running backs.
Reliable backups can serve as the ultimate safety blankets, saving fantasy managers if their starting back misses any time. While many handcuffs are merely insurance policies, the best of the bunch can carve out a role regardless of their position on the depth chart.
Best Fantasy Football Handcuffs
Jerome Ford, Cleveland Browns
Kareem Hunt saw a flex-worthy workload in Cleveland while playing behind Nick Chubb over four seasons. Serving primarily as a pass-catching specialist, Hunt performed admirably (when he played) in spite of lackluster quarterback play. In his absence this offseason, someone has to step up as the Browns’ number two. Chubb could see an increased workload, but there’s still room for someone else in Kevin Stefanski’s run-dominant offense.
2022 fifth-round pick Jerome Ford is the best bet to see work on passing downs. Having spent time at Alabama, where he played behind Brian Robinson, and Cincinnati, Ford has a solid prospect pedigree. There isn’t much competition behind him on the depth chart, and Cleveland should throw the ball far more often under Deshaun Watson. Considering how late he’s going in drafts, Ford is a sleeper with plenty of upside.
Deuce Vaughn, Dallas Cowboys
By the time most leagues draft, Deuce Vaughn’s stock could skyrocket. The diminutive rookie was an afterthought when Dallas selected him in the sixth round this spring, but he’s emerged as the favorite to win the Cowboys backup job. After a strong training camp, Vaughn turned heads last weekend against the Jaguars in the Cowboys’ first preseason game, rushing for 50 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
Could Vaughn contribute right away in Dallas? Mike McCarthy has expressed a desire to “run the damn ball” more in 2023; finding a way to involve the TCU product could be part of the Cowboys’ plans. With Ezekiel Elliott gone and Tony Pollard recovering from a broken fibula, the ‘Boys may be forced to use Vaughn sooner rather than later.
Ty Chandler, Minnesota Vikings
Of all the running backs listed, Chandler has the lowest chance of being drafted, even in leagues of 12 or more teams. That doesn’t mean managers should let this sophomore sit on waivers. The Vikings’ offense is still prolific, but Dalvin Cook is gone. The consensus is that Alexander Mattison will suddenly become a bell cow; while he’s performed well in spot-starts, Mattison will need to produce quickly in order to command Cook’s workload.
Chandler was barely used last season as a rookie, but 2023 should be a different story. He commanded 15 touches in Minnesota’s first preseason game against the Seahawks. Although it’s hard to read too much into a game without any starters playing, Chandler drew rave reviews from his head coach; Kevin O’Connell said after the game that Chander “jumped out,” Much like Ford, Chandler has the perfect mix of offensive environment and a limited depth chart in front of him. It’s not often that a player with this kind of opportunity comes this cheap.