Every fantasy manager's worst nightmare is seeing their best running back go down with a season ending injury. The first thought that races through everyone's mind is “who has……?!”, that’s right, everyone’s first thought is who has the backup.
Losing what likely was your 1st or 2nd round pick can ruin your chances of a championship, having their backup sitting on your bench awaiting an opportunity can keep you in the fight.
I’m skipping over the backfields like Chubb & Hunt, Edmonds & Connor, Jacobs & Drake etc, the backfields that see enough opportunity even with a healthy starter, were talking about the guys at the bottom of draft boards that will see a massive increase in touches when the bell cow goes down.
This list is composed of some of the best backups patiently awaiting their turn to dominate on the big stage, running backs no one is thinking about that will get thrown into a great situation, and backups with PPR value.
1. Tony Pollard- Dallas Cowboys (Ezekiel Elliott)
This one was easy for me, ESPN.com recently released a list ranking the leagues backup running backs, and Pollard landed at #2 behind Kareem Hunt.
In his 2 year career, Pollard has averaged 4.8 YPC with over 1000 total yards and 8 total TDs, all while playing backup to Ezekiel Elliott. In week 15 last season, while Elliott was sidelined Pollard finished as the #1 back in fantasy.
Elliott’s job is safe as long as he is healthy, but given the opportunity Pollard is sure to capitalize on his chances, and even gives RB1 upside in Dallas’ high powered offense. Pollard’s ADP on Sleeper is 129.0, that's nearing the 11th round in 12 team leagues.
2. Alexander Mattison- Minnesota Vikings (Dalvin Cook)
Mattison has proven to be a reliable starter when Cook misses time due to injury. Mattison finished as the RB7 in the 3 combined games Cook was absent in last season. I’m not putting an ‘Injury Prone’ tag on Dalvin Cook, but he has missed at least 2 games in every season since being drafted by the Vikings in 2017.
If you follow that trend you could get some crucial games from Mattison, and if Cook goes down for a significant amount of time your team doesn't lose as much of a beat.
The Vikings don't have much competition for touches after Mattison so he should get plenty of touches. Mattison’s current Sleeper ADP is 170.6 meaning you can grab him right at the very end of all your drafts.
3. AJ Dillon- Green Bay Packers (Aaron Jones)
With Jamaal Williams in Detroit the door opens for AJ Dillon to move into a much more prominent role in Green Bay. In 2020 Dillon didn't see the field that often, some sporadic carries week after week, but nothing crazy, until week 16 where he trounced the Titans for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur stated they want to get Dillon more involved this season and with his physical capabilities I don't blame them.
Williams has accumulated more than 700 yards in each of his 4 seasons as a backup in Green Bay, except for 2018 (674 Yards). I’m a big Williams fan, But Dillon’s ceiling is much higher, and now given a bigger opportunity he's poised for a breakout sophomore season.
Green Bay has a great 1,2 punch with Jones & Dillon, and will be in good hands if Jones goes down, you can grab Dillon in the double digit rounds.
4. Gus Edwards- Baltimore Ravens (JK Dobbins)
Now some may not view Gus as a true ‘Handcuff’ because of Baltimore’s rushing attack and neither did I until I saw their ADP. Dobbins is being drafted more than 100 picks before Edwards, that doesn't scream split backfield to me.
Yes, Baltimore runs the ball more than anybody and yes they are going to each get their fair share of touches, but I still view Dobbins as the lead back with much more potential, and Edwards as the safe backup that gives you fantastic value if JK goes down.
The best part about grabbing Edwards is that if you run into injury or bye week issues you can still get some value given how Baltimore spreads the ball around.
5. JD McKissic- Washington Football Team (Antonio Gibson)
McKissic finished 2nd in catches with 80 behind Alvin Kamara (83) last season. It’s safe to say that McKissic likely won't repeat that feat, with Antonio Gibson getting a more solidified role in the offense and new QB Ryan Fitzpatrick won't be dumping it off as much as Alex Smith.
However, McKissic is still much more valuable entering this season as he was last. McKissic has added weight this offseason to bulk up for a bigger role in the offense, if Gibson goes down McKissic is the clear favourite to get a rep increase and he wants to make sure he is capable of doing just that.
What makes McKissic even more intriguing is the extra value he gives you in the passing game even with Gibson in as the starter. Yes I stated earlier that he likely won’t duplicate last season's performance, but in PPR format leagues pass catching backs have tremendous value late in drafts, and McKissics ADP right now is 151.7.
6. Darrynton Evans- Tennessee Titans (Derrick Henry)
Evans may not be the most talented player on this list, but is in arguably the best situation to succeed if Henry goes down. Henry has been very durable in recent years given his style of play, but if something does happen Evans is getting thrown into the RB1 role on a run heavy team.
Henry led the league in carries last year by 68 touches, Tennessee’s offense relies heavily on the run game and play action.
Evans doesn't have the running ability that Henry has, but one thing he does have is passing game upside. Evans will have to compete with Hill, and McNichols for RB1 reps, but his talent, and receiving upside should give him the nod. Evans current ADP is 222.4 making him virtually untouched in standard fantasy leagues.
7. Devontae Booker- New York Giants (Saquon Barkley)
Booker never turned into what a lot of people had hoped he would when he was drafted by the Broncos in 2016. Jump ahead 6 years and Booker finds himself backing up Saquon Barkley who has missed 17 games over the last 2 seasons, 14 of those coming last season.
Denver got great value using Booker’s hands out of the backfield, and he brings that versatility to New York.
Barkley hasn't shown us that he can stay healthy and a lot of fantasy managers are wondering if they can trust Barkley this season.
Now I can't help you out in that regard, but I can tell you that grabbing Booker in the last round of your draft will definitely give you some peace of mind if Barkley goes down, the recent signing of Alfred Morris shouldn't scare you. Booker’s current ADP is 235.2.
8. Latavius Murray- New Orleans Saints (Alvin Kamara)
Murray is about as consistent as they come, carrying the ball 146 times in each of his first 2 seasons with New Orleans. Murray has been one of the best backup/fringe starter running backs his entire career, and even racked up a 1,000 yard season in 2015 with the Raiders.
In 2019 Murray was the #1 ranked fantasy running back in the weeks Alvin Kamara missed, showing he still has the ability to be an effective runner in the NFL.
Murray still possesses value as a starter if Kamara goes down, but with Brees gone and the Saints offense lacking the firepower from seasons past, he isn't as high on this list as he would be in previous years. Murray is getting selected at pick 166.2
9. Rashaad Penny- Seattle Seahawks (Chris Carson)
Over the past 2 seasons Chris Carson has suffered a mid foot sprain and a hip fracture forcing him to miss a total of 5 games, lucky for him his hip fracture came in week 16 or he would have missed a significant amount of time.
Carson is a physical runner, but his durability is a big question mark, Carson has never surpassed 300 carries in a season and his touches per game took a significant hit this past season. You would love to be able to rely on Carson because of how dominant he has been when healthy, but like i said the durability leaves a big question mark.
Insert backup running back Rashaad Penny, Penny has a career YPC of 5.1 over the course of 3 seasons with the Seahawks, and has proven to be an adequate fill-in when called upon.
Note that Penny is coming off a knee injury which required surgery, however has been given lots of praise at training camp and feels faster and stronger than he did before.
10. Chuba Hubbard- Carolina Panthers (Christian McCaffrey)
Carolina doesn’t have much talent behind CMC, and what's the point he's the best fantasy player in the NFL and gets almost all of his teams touches. I wouldn't have put Carolina on this list if it wasn't for what happened last year, when McCaffrey went down no one had Mike Davis sitting there patiently waiting for his time to shine.
Davis was a potential league winner last year if you stashed him or got him on waivers (Unless you had Cmac as well) and with all the injuries McCaffrey battled through there has to be at least a little thought in the back of your head if it will happen again.
This leads us to his handcuff, the likely choice to give you the most upside in the Panthers backfield is rookie Chuba Hubbard. Hubbard is an electrifying runner with game breaking speed and gives you the most value of all Panthers backup running backs.
To wrap things up, drafting a backup running back isn’t a glamorous pick, and they just might never see one second in your starting line-up, but when you get that update on your phone that your 1st overall pick is done for the year you’ll be happy you did.