The running back position is one of the most difficult to predict in fantasy football. Injuries and sudden drops in performance are nothing new. The rarity of an elite back has a direct impact on the cost.
The first round of every fantasy football draft is littered with running backs for that reason. There's no guarantee a top back will play every key game or avoid hitting a wall due to too many touches. But the payoff of a top-five running back can lead to a championship easier than any other formula.
Certain teams have better situations than others in case of injury. Losing a top playmaker can change an offensive approach, but not every team will dramatically alter its plans.
We've scoured the league to rank the five backfields you should handcuff. Some may not pay off right away unless an injury happens. However, these running backs could be league-winners if they're thrust into the starting lineup.
5. Javian Hawkins, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are hosting an open competition at the running back position. Rookie Javian Hawkins, who was nicknamed "PlayStation" for his ability to make defenders miss at Louisville, will face off against journeyman Mike Davis.
The 29-year-old Davis had a solid season starting in relief of Christian McCaffrey in 2019. He earned the shot to win a starting job with Atlanta. One concern with Davis, though, is how he wore down as his workload grew.
Hawkins will eventually earn more snaps even if he doesn't win the job right away. The Falcons won't be competitive enough to justify playing a veteran over a rookie. And the opportunity for Hawkins is massive as an explosive playmaker.
4. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
We've been waiting two years for an extended Alexander Mattison run but the promise hasn't delivered. This is good news because we love Dalvin Cook. However, it's frustrating to see a talented back be relegated to an average of 98 carries per year.
We don't want Cook to suffer an injury, but if he does, you must have Mattison on your roster. The Vikings won't change their approach with Mattison behind Kirk Cousins. They know he can average 4.5 yards per carry and handle the rock as many times as they need.
Mattison has almost no fantasy value so long as Cook is in the lineup, though. He's a stash player who can go from zero to elite if Cook is unavailable to play.
3. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions
As much as I like D'Andre Swift's chances of producing in 2021, his own injury demons are a real threat to his success. The Lions have a premier offensive line and favorable scheme for any back to succeed. The shrewd signing of Jamaal Williams may pay off quicker than they imagined.
Williams is a terrific third-down back thanks to his catching ability. Green Bay trusted him with a steady flow of passes. Detroit will target him even more.
His ability to run between the tackles is lacking because of his high hips and lack of shake. He's not likely to takeover the starting job barring injury, but can be a successful handcuff and platoon back for a team trying to solidify their identity.
2. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
It's really not fair the Browns have a superstar back in Nick Chubb and then a capable star in Kareem Hunt. Hunt was an immediate smash of a draft pick by Kansas City as he tallied 1,372 yards and eight scores rushing as a rookie.
He's never matched that same production but it's not due to skill. He could play receiver full-time if he wanted to. Hunt is that gifted on the football field.
He managed to be a top-12 producer even as Chubb went bananas in 2020 ahead of him. Hunt will be an elite producer if Chubb goes down, and be above-average as a RB2 if not. He's a top target for me thanks to the likelihood he'll eclipse 1,100 total yards and 11 or more touchdowns.
1. Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
This one should be fairly obvious. The league's top rushing attack ditched an aging back in Mark Ingram and extended Gus Edwards for an average of $4 million per year. Their returning lead rushing back must be handcuffed along with J.K. Dobbins.
There are some red flags as Edwards will likely slip to third on the team in rushing if everyone is healthy. Lamar Jackson should throw the ball more in 2021 as the offense expands, but can still hit 1,000 rushing yards. Dobbins overtook Edwards' job as the season progressed because he's more explosive.
But don't lose sight of the fact Edwards is in an extremely advantageous situation. Dobbins has dealt with dings throughout his career and we could easily lead to Edwards earning more of a workload and winning your league.
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