19 fantasy football running back situations explained

by Tim Heaney on August 15, 2013 @ 14:14:11 PDT


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Targeting the proper handcuffs and complements for every backfield can win a fantasy football league. Some ground totem poles require little analysis, such as the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson-Toby Gerhart pairing. Others, however, require digging and forecasting, especially in this era of committees.

Click for every team's handcuff chart.

St. Louis Rams

  Primary HC1 HC2 HC3
St. Louis Rams
Daryl Richardson Zac Stacy ®
Isaiah Pead susp1 Terrance Ganaway

Here's your headliner for 2013. Richardson has the lead because of the experience he gained in his rookie year. He'll probably be the best early-season play, but he worked best as part of a pair.

Pead: passing-down, big-play sprinter. If Sam Bradford explodes, it may happen in part from Pead opening up the aerial game. The scatback must improve his pass protection and discipline, however, following a spotty rookie campaign to hold onto a top-two spot in this trio. He's already suspended for a game and vulnerable in the hierarchy.

Stacy doesn't have a second gear but boasts most other attributes of a workhorse back, including QB pocket nurturing that might already surpass Pead's. The rookie's sturdiness as the best between-the-tackles and goal line weapon could put D-Rich and Pead at odds later in the year to be Stacy's sidekick. Stacy's price remains the most alluring but might grow in the next month.

Green Bay Packers

  Primary HC1 HC2 HC3
Green Bay Packers Eddie Lacy ® DuJuan Harris
Johnathan Franklin
James Starks Alex Green

Draft attention should start and end with the rooks. Lacy gives them a boulder to move chains without taxing Aaron Rodgers' arm. For a 5-foot-11, 231-pounder, Lacy is nimble but, more starkly, possesses smart football movements, including a dynamic first step that fits Green Bay's zone-blocking formula. Alabama ran a mix of zone and power calls, and though Lacy preferred the latter, he can make either work.

Franklin, a truer ZBS fit, is a dynamic version of the sneaky-quick Harris, which means he has the inside track on changeup work and limiting Lacy's involvement on passing downs. His presence restricts Lacy to nothing better than a high-end No. 3 and makes himself a potential PPR flex stalwart.

New England Patriots

  Primary HC1 HC2 HC3
New England Patriots Stevan Ridley Shane Vereen Brandon Bolden
LeGarrette Blount
Leon Washington
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots
Rising up draft boards

An annual inclusion.... Ridley will have to succumb to injury or fumbilitis to cede primary work, but Vereen looks like he'll be a vital part of the solution to replace Aaron Hernandez. Vereen, who's underrated around the paydirt boundary, could start for many other clubs and should become New England's new Danny Woodhead in the catches column. NE should successfully manage a balance between these two that may set up both for RB2 returns.

Bolden (ankle) runs with authority when healthy, though Blount may have some life left in him for inseason waiver interest. Bill Belichick could open up his options if Tom Brady and this passing attack scuffle.

New York Giants

  Primary HC1 HC2 HC3
New York Giants David Wilson
Andre Brown
Andre Brown
David Wilson
Da'Rel Scott Ryan Torain

Wilson loves the open field, but Brown's build favors him for bruiser totes, and he was one of last year's best in goal-to-go opps. He's not a plodder like Brandon Jacobs. Though Wilson is fit for the Ahmad Bradshaw role, he hasn't yet displayed Bradshaw's effectiveness in short-yardage; his yardage totals are bloated by big plays.

Does this staff think Wilson is better at keeping Eli Manning upright than Brown, who chiefly has been kept at bay by injury? Such concerns make it more logical to spend on Brown in the eighth than Wilson in the third, right?

Denver Broncos

  Primary HC1 HC2 HC3
Denver Broncos Montee Ball ®
Ronnie Hillman Knowshon Moreno Lance Ball
Jeremiah Johnson
C.J. Anderson ® inj

Hillman entered camp as the leader, but that's probably because Ball must master the book first. Bigwig John Elway has called Hillman a "change-of-pace" back several times, and the plan for him to carry the load only seems feasible until Ball enters Peyton Manning's circle of trust. Ball (5-foot-10, 214 pounds) excels at cutbacks, so he's built for a ZBS and every-down work ... eventually.

Maybe PPR players could rely on Hillman early in the season, but the likelihood of Ball taking over as early as September makes him the one you want to own for the entire year.

San Diego Chargers

  Primary HC1 HC2 HC3
San Diego Chargers Ryan Mathews Danny Woodhead Ronnie Brown Le'Ron McClain

The offensive line crippled last year's offense. Mathews didn't help. He hasn't played a full season as a pro and has proven skittish with the leather and in hitting holes. Maybe the Mike McCoy-Ken Whisenhunt offense will better utilize his shiftiness. He's a value play in Round 4 but not as anything more than a shaky RB2.

Is Woodhead the new Darren Sproles? It'd help make Philip Rivers more efficient and cognizant of his checkdown options. Mark Woodhead as a PPR flex play many weeks. It didn't take big changes for Woodhead to wind up a top-24 PPR back last year. Brown is only a last-ditch plan, but watch out for Hill, an undrafted rookie and Woodhead clone.

Arizona Cardinals

  Primary HC1 HC2 HC3
Arizona Cardinals
Rashard Mendenhall Ryan Williams inj Stepfan Taylor ® Andre Ellington ®

Their addition of right tackle Eric Winston could do wonders for the run game. Good for Mendy, who knows Bruce Arians' scheme from their days with the Pittsburgh Steelers and can provide steady pass protection for Carson Palmer -- their primary objective. If Mendenhall can regain lower-body power a year-plus after knee repairs, he'll keep the backups at bay and become quite the fantasy bargain.

Arizona holds out hope for Williams to recapture leg strength and confident running following his 2011 knee surgery, but rookies Stepfan Taylor (bulk) and Andre Ellington (speed) aren't far behind, with Taylor the more logical everydown replacement. If Mendenhall crashes, it'll be a messy group effort.

More RB situations to understand on Page 2

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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