My Little Fantasy: Handcuffed In The Backfield

Anthony LanzaContributor IAugust 21, 2009

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 07:  Running back Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens eludes Washington runs the ball in first quarter against the Washington Redskins December 7, 2008 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

It's an ongoing dilemma in many fantasy backfields, and there usually is not much anyone can do about it.

Your starting running back is handcuffed by his fellow teammate.

Each year we select what seems to be our go-to guy at running back, only to find that for some reason or another he cannot handle the load himself. Bring on the handcuffs and the frustration.

Try managing your squad the week before gameday. Scouring the waiver wires and other rosters in search of some relief from the aggravation that will be the Ravens backfield.

Or wondering if Marshawn Lynch is worth the time after Fred Jackson has put together three straight weeks of solid play.

The agony and thrill of fantasy football.

There is a fair amount of teams that will have multiple running backs getting touches this fall. This list focuses on those teams whose starting ball carrier suffers from the missed touches.

Teams like Carolina and Tennessee are teams that do not fall in this discussion.

Earnest Graham/Derrick WardTampa Bay Buccaneers

Graham has had starting experience down in Tampa Bay during the previous two seasons. We saw flashes of his fantasy value during the 2007 season when he rushed for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

It even earned him a slot in a fantasy football commercial on ESPN.

But a disappointing season in '08, that ended abruptly due to an ankle injury, led the Bucs to signing free agent Derrick Ward.

Ward was definitely one of the hotter commodities this offseason at running back. He managed to carry the ball for more than 1,000 yards in an extremely crowded backfield in the Meadowlands last season.

Ward will provide Tampa with great burst and speed, while Graham provides them with more of a downhill mentality especially on short yardage and goal-line situations.

Decisions, Decisions...

Earnest is little as the starter for now, but expect Derrick to make his way to the top of the depth chart by week one.

Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs  New York Giants

Speaking of the crowd that is in the Giants backfield, there still is one.

Now I know that Jacobs has been an early to middle first round draft choice of many so far this year, and for good reason. The guy is a monster and nearly impossible to bring down.

But with that type of running style, you are almost guaranteed to get dinged up along the way. Enter Ahmad Bradshaw.

Bradshaw will see increased duties as the change-of-pace back with the absence of Ward. Bradshaw has great vision and can hit the hole quickly.

He flashed those skills earlier this preseason with a strong touchdown run against the Carolina Panthers.

A couple of things to keep in mind as well: Since Jacobs has taken over as the No. 1 back in 2007, he has missed three or more games both seasons with injuries.

Also, Brandon's hands have been under question from the get-go, and it doesn't look like they are getting much better. Expect Bradshaw to be the guy on screening downs.

Fred Jackson/Marshawn Lynch  Buffalo Bills

Over the past two seasons Jackson has seen an increased role in the Buffalo offense.

That load will more than double during the first three weeks of the season as starter Marshawn Lynch will miss time because of a suspension.

Jackson's value has grown mainly because of his ability to make plays in the passing game, as well as in space. PPR leagues should have this guy on their radar during draft time. 

Jackson has grabbed nearly 60 balls in a season and a half of shared duty. He should see at least 20 or so touches even after Lynch rejoins him in the backfield.

Fantasy-wise, Lynch still has been able to produce effective numbers while being cuffed. Both of his seasons in the league he has cleared the 1,000 yard benchmark, all while assisting in the passing game (47 receptions in '08).

Once Marshawn returns he will without a doubt be the starter, but that doesn't mean ditch the girl you came with (or however that saying goes). Jackson is well worth the start as a RB3 or a flex player in most leagues.

This should be an interesting situation to watch all season as Fred Jackson will do everything in his power to earn more time on the field during Weeks 1-3.

Ray Rice/Willis McGahee/Le'Ron McClain  Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice has done everything that was needed and more to earn the starting spot for the Ravens this fall.

He has an amazing center of gravity and his stature allows him to naturally run with a lower pad level then most defenders. With the limited options on the outside for the passing game, Rice should be the focal point of all aspects of the offense. 

Doesn't all of that sound enticing? Well, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain still exist on the roster.

McGahee was the starter last season, but his increase in age and injuries have removed him as the starter. 

Currently Willis has been seeing time as a change of pace back, but Cam Cameron has been quoted as saying both backs could be on the field at once. They even may use a "running back by committee". 

What a nightmare for fantasy owners.

McClain was the free agent frenzy last fall when he saw his share of carries in the backfield (232) not to mention touchdowns (10). 

Do not expect that to happen again with the emergence of Rice, but his big frame makes him a touchdown monster and a pain in the side of many.

Of note: Rice and McGahee's ADPs have been eerily similar thus far, which should explain the confusion as to who is worth more.

All my money is on Ray Rice, especially in PPR leagues.

There are several more handcuffs out there plaguing fantasy drafts, so keep your eyes open and the aspirin close by.


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