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Handcuff Hierarchy

On November 11, 2006 the Grim Reaper visited my fantasy team.

It was on this chilly mid-fall Sunday in the nation's capital that my cherished marquee back Clinton Portis ran around left end for a nine-yard gain before being punishingly dragged to the ground by Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. After the violent clash of tendon and bone, Portis rose to his feet with a noticeable grimace on his face and slowly jogged to the sideline, favoring his right side with each wincing step.

Overcome mentally by what I had just witnessed on my television, tears began to stream down my wing-stained cheeks as an unbearable depression instantly took hold.

Shots of Uncle Jack consoled me.

When I arose from a haze of alcohol and Frank's hot sauce the next day to carry out my normal Monday morning ritual of sifting through online game recaps, my worst fears were realized.

The headline in the Washington Post read: "Portis Breaks Bone in Right Hand: RB Could Miss Rest of Season with Injury."

Fan-friggin-tastic.

Blinded by optimism on Draft Day in early August, I didn't take out a Ladell Betts insurance policy.

Three days later, my prized backfield cornerstone was placed on Injured Reserve.

With the horribly unproductive Rueben Droughns as my primary RB crutch, you could say I feared the Reaper. And my dumb ass didn't own a cowbell.

As you might recall, from Weeks 12-17 Betts reeled off seven straight games of 100-plus total yards. Every stellar performance showered my still festering wound with salt …

Let my cautionary tale encourage all of you to carry a pair of handcuffs to your draft.

Just like Michael Vick and lawyers, Lyndsey Lohan and Captain Morgan, and Snoop Dogg and marijuana, some things just go together. And in fantasy, guys like LaDanian Tomlinson should be shackled, hog-tied, leashed, or super-glued to Michael Turner.

Unless you're a fan of playing the fantasy football equivalent of Russian roulette, draft smart, play it safe and chain your treasured RB to his backup. Otherwise, have an athletic cup handy because the Grim Reaper could slice away your fantasy manhood with one swipe of the scythe.

Before I unveil this year's hierarchy of RB backups be sure to review these three simple rules to handcuffing:

1. Only handcuff top-twenty backs. If you bypass serviceable backs to purposely shackle Jason Wright to Jamal Lewis you have serious mental deficiencies.

2. Don't be scared to reach a round early for a handcuff. Bring a list of ADP values to your draft to gauge when it's appropriate to break out the irons.

3. Turnabout is fair play in handcuffing. If someone steals your guy, return the favor by snatching his later on. Having plenty of bargaining chips and additional depth at fantasy's most key position is always beneficial.

Excluding those plowshares involved in platoons and muddied backfields – Marion Barber III/Julius Jones, Jerious Norwood/Warrick Dunn, Adrian Peterson/Chester Taylor, DeAngelo Williams/DeShaun Foster, Marshawn Lynch/Anthony Thomas/Dwayne Wright, Vernand Morency/Brandon Jackson, Fred Taylor/Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Brown/Chris Henry/LenDale White and Reggie Bush/Deuce McAllister – here are this season's top-twenty handcuffs:

*AAV dollar values are courtesy of FantasyAuctioneer.com
*ADP values are courtesy of Mock Draft Central
*RD (Round) is based on leagues with 12 teams.
*The "Odds to Start" section notes the odds a handcuff will start one or more games ahead of the current player listed at the top of their team's depth chart. Each ratio was painfully extracted from the Big Noise's gut.

Handcuff Hierarchy
Player Team RNK AAV ADP, RD
Ladell Betts
1 $8.52 82.9, 6.9
'06 Stats: 245 RUSH, 1154 RYD, 4 RTD, 53 REC, 445 RECYD, RECTD
Odds to Start: 5:2
Lowdown: The ex-Hawkeye horse was the pinnacle handcuff of '06, averaging 156 total yards per game with five touchdowns over the 'Skins final six contests. Portis boasted recently he feels rejuvenated after a season of taxing injuries, which means Betts will be relegated to the Larry Johnson '04 role (8-12 carries) in Al Saunders ground-centered attack. If the injury imp devours Inspector 2-2, Betts is a lock to produce No.1 RB numbers.
Michael Turner
2 $5.73 105.3, 8.7
'06 Stats: 80 RUSH, 502 RYD, 2 RTD, 3 REC, 47 RECYD
Odds to Start: 75:1
Lowdown: "The Burner" has the size, afterburners and athleticism to be a blinding Bull Moose in lightning white. On 157 attempts in his three-year career, the Bolts bruiser has averaged a ridiculous 6.0 yards per carry. Based on his credentials, he would instantly vault into the elite class of backs if LT were poisoned by kryptonite. For now, Turner will likely yield 8-10 carries per game and be a serviceable flex play in deep formats (14-teams and larger) against flaccid rush defenses.
Mike Bell
3 $1.60 131.7, 10.9
'06 Stats: 157 RUSH, 677 RYD, 8 RTD, 20 REC, 158 RECYD
Odds to Start: 15:1
Lowdown: Now that "Taco" Tatum Bell has moved to D-Town, Mike is the lone clangor heard in Denver. The undrafted rookie performed admirably in spurts last season amassing 677 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games. In games when he touched the pill 15 or more times he averaged a respectable 4.5 YPC and 76.8 YPG. Shifty Mike Shanahan has expressed his desire to feature one back exclusively, but his treachery is legendary. Travis Henry's fall-forward running style fits Denver's one-cut scheme impeccably, but Bell has proven his dauntlessness when given a heavier workload. You just never know with Lucifer Shanahan …
Adrian Peterson
4 $1.72 191.8, 15.9
'06 Stats: 10 RUSH, 41 RYD, 2 RTD, 6 REC, 88 RECYD
Odds to Start: 18:1
Lowdown: Not to be confused with the dynamite Vikes rookie with the same name, Chicago's Peterson is more underrated than the smooth taste of a PBR. Peterson is a versatile series speller who has averaged a stout 5.1 YPC back in 2005 – the only time he's eclipsed 30-plus carries in a season. Current starter Cedric Benson is in line for a breakout season, but his durability is questionable after suffering two knee sprains and a shoulder injury in two seasons. Devin Hester's spark at receiver should open up Sears Tower-sized holes for the Chicago running game. If Benson succumbs to injury or is alienated by teammates because of his flippant mouth, Peterson could fill the void flawlessly given his gritty toughness.
Ron Dayne
5 $1.00 176.6, 14.7
'06 Stats: 151 RUSH, 612 RYD, 5 RTD, 14 REC, 77 RECYD
Odds to Start: 6:1
Lowdown: "Big Daddy" Dayne was a crucial piece of many a championship puzzle last year when he busted out for 107.2 RYPG and five end-zone plunges from Weeks 13-16. Starter Ahman Green is well past the pinnacle of his career and at age 30 is one knee-twist away from spending Sundays in a geriatric scooter. Green has missed 19 games since 2005, which bodes well for Dayne to see ample touches at some point this year. Although Dayne moves like a hippopotamus through the hole, his brute, move-the-chains style is effective in Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. Bank on Dayne becoming a useful No. 3 back sometime this season.
Tony Hunt
6 $1.20 199.0, 16.5
'06 Stats: (Penn St.) 277 RUSH, 1386 RYD, 11 RTD, 27 REC, 259 RECYD, 3 RECTD
Odds to Start: 10:1
Lowdown: The '07 third round choice out of Penn State has ambitions to be more Larry Johnson than Curtis Enis. Scouting reports on Hunt describe him as a tough yardage guy who has excellent balance and form to move piles forward. He has plenty of quickness out of his stance, but his golf cart top-end speed will never win any footraces. Brian Westbrook's diminutive size always leaves him susceptible to injury and since he's missed 2.6 games on average per season since 2004, Hunt could become a waiver wire warrior later this season. That is, if he can elevate past Correll Buckhalter on the depth chart this summer.
Priest Holmes
7 $1.33 192.5, 16.0
'06 Stats: DNP
Odds to Start: 12:1
Lowdown: Holmes would be much higher on this list if it were: A. 2003, B. He wasn't an ancient 34 years old and C. He wasn't enveloped by the unknown. If Larry Johnson's stalled contract negotiations reach an impasse and he is either dealt to Green Bay or unavailable come Week 1, Holmes would be the most likely candidate to handle the bulk of the workload as long as he can accelerate past Michael Bennett and Kolby Smith in the depth-chart rankings. Circle Saturday, August 11 on your preseason calendars. If Holmes is physically able to perform, he will see his first in-game action in two years against the woeful Browns and give us a veritable gauge of expectation.
Michael Pittman
8 $1.00 199.8, 16.6
'06 Stats: 50 RUSH, 245 RYD, RTD, 47 REC, 405 RECYD
Odds to Start: 12:1
Lowdown: Pittman's frenetic, Speedy Gonzalez-like acceleration through the hole always lures me to draft him this time each year. Arguably one of the most polished receiving backs in the league, the 32-year-old backfield beetle has caught at least 40 balls in six of his past seven seasons. Because Carnell Williams is a constant fixture on the Bucs injury report – he's missed two games in each of his first two seasons – a Pittman return to the starting role is plausible. With Cadillac sidelined by a bruised foot in Weeks 16 and 17 last season, Pittman filled in handsomely rushing for 159 yards and a touchdown while snagging 7 passes for 57 yards against the Browns and Seahawks. You could do a whole lot worse in the wee hours of your draft.
Reuben Droughns
9 $3.02 104.2, 8.6
'06 Stats: 220 RUSH, 758 RYD, 4 RTD, 27 REC, 169 RECYD
Odds to Start: 25:1
Lowdown: Just like his last name suggests, Droughns is a stingless bee. As the primary ball carrier in an dreadful Browns offense last season, Droughns averaged a paltry 3.4 YPC and scored a meager four touchdowns in 14 games. Droughns, the antithesis of the freakishly strong and speedy Brandon Jacobs, has worn down in the past couple of seasons and expects to be utilized a maximum of 2-3 series (8-12 carries) per game. Despite his downturn, Droughns must be duct-taped to Jacobs. Many scouts have noted that Jacobs' upright running style makes him susceptible to lower-body injuries.
T.J. Duckett
10 $1.00 198.0, 16.5
'06 Stats: 38 RUSH, 132 RYD, 2 RTD, 2 REC, 16 RECYD
Odds to Start: 21:1
Lowdown: Since his days as the goal-line gargantuan in Atlanta, the 6-foot, 260-pound battering ram has been a lame Duckett. Given a new lease on life in Detroit, Rod Marinelli has hinted that Duckett could return to a power back role similar to his days in Atlanta. Kevin Jones will likely begin the season on the PUP list and Tatum Bell's relative ineffectiveness near the goal line indicates Duckett will again become a vicious vulture inside the 10.
Michael Robinson
11 $1.00 150.0, 12.5
'06 Stats: 38 RUSH, 116 RYD, 2 RTD, 9 REC, 47 RECYD
Odds to Start: 25:1
Lowdown: For those mining for late-round gold, the former collegiate quarterback could be a valuable nugget. Robinson's brutish guise and versatility out of the backfield as a reciever make him a serviceable back when needed despite his limited experience. In his rookie campaign, Robinson had difficulties adjusting to the nuances of the position, but this season he's poised to leapfrog Maurice Hicks on the depth chart. Frank Gore, plagued by a variety of injuries throughout his college and early pro career, played a full slate last season, but was bitten by the injury imp on July 30, breaking his hand in contact drills. With Gore likely decommissioned for the entire exhibition season, Robinson will have plenty of opportunities to leave an indelible impression. Gore is expected to make a full recovery and be in uniform Week 1 versus Arizona.
Lorenzo Booker
12 $1.66 201.9, 16.8
'06 Stats: (Florida St.) 143 RUSH, 616 RYD, 4 RTD, 33 REC, 420 RECYD
Odds to Start: 35:1
Lowdown: Booker, the latest product to come out of a Florida State program that has churned out numerous NFL backs in recent years (Travis Minor, Greg Jones and Leon Washington), is a superb athlete who is best suited as a change-of-pace back. Listed at an undersized 5-foot-10, 191-pounds, he doesn't have the natural strength to drag tacklers, but his nimble feet and open-field jets will make him an asset on third downs. Booker's blazing speed and bookworm mentality greatly impressed the Miami staff in mini-camp, which could lead to a consistent 8-10 carries per game. However, if Ronnie Brown was befallen by injury, Booker may have a difficult time toting a 25-carry load.
Leon Washington
13 $1.85 127.4, 10.6
'06 Stats: 151 RUSH, 650 RYD, 4 RTD, 25 REC, 270 RECYD
Odds to Start: 30:1
Lowdown: Like former college teammate Lorenzo Booker, Washington is a pint-sized underdog who packs a surprisingly ferocious bite. Washington doesn't showcase drag racer speed, but is very quick and elusive in space. When given the opportunity last year, little Leon proved acceptable, racking 66.2 RYPG and a fair 4.3 YPC mark in the seven games in which he logged 15 or more carries. Expected to be the primary third-down back this season, he will be counted upon heavily if Thomas Jones misses significant time. Unfortunately for Washington, Jones has missed only three games in his past three seasons.
Brian Leonard
14 $1.17 203.6, 16.9
'06 Stats: (Rutgers) 93 RUSH, 423 RYD, 5 RTD, 38 REC, 294 RECYD
Odds to Start: 45:1
Lowdown: Known as the Edwin Moses of the collegiate gridiron, Leonard hurdled light-hitting safeties and bulldozed over opposing linebackers in four bruising seasons at Rutgers. The sole fullback on the list, Leonard is a fearless, warship-strong battler who has the hands and deceptive quickness to generate plenty of yards. Steven Jackson is the undisputed ball carrier in St. Louis, but Leonard is a more than adequate filler if the turf shark bites.
Maurice Morris
15 $1.00 185.5, 15.4
'06 Stats: 161 RUSH, 604 RYD, 0 RTD, 11 REC, 46 RECYD
Odds to Start: 28:1
Lowdown: When the Madden curse engulfed Shaun Alexander and forced him to the sidelines in Week 4, Morris "The Cat" purred – at least in yardage leagues. Although he failed to cross the chalk once, Morris did post back-to-back 100-yard efforts against two shoddy defenses (Oakland and St. Louis) in Weeks 9 and 10. Although numerous cynics claimed that Alexander's broken foot was not completely healed, an MRI back in May revealed the contrary. Alexander, who will turn 30 prior to Week 1, has a solid chance of missing time given his advanced age. Still, Morris would be considered nothing more than a flex play or bye-week filler as a starter.
Najeh Davenport
16 $1.33 202.7. 16.8
'06 Stats: 60 RUSH, 221 RYD, RTD, 15 REC, 193 RECYD, RECTD
Odds to Start: 45:1
Lowdown: Davenport, the runaway medicine ball of the Pittsburgh backfield, could see more goal-line looks this season in an aerial-featured Bruce Arians offense. At a beastly 6-foot-1, 247-pounds, Davenport is a powerful, yet nimble, runner who will steal roughly 6-8 carries per contest from Willie Parker. Mike Tomlin's recent declaration that offseason acquisition Kevan Barlow will be worked as a third-down back implies that Davenport will be the chalk chaser inside the five this season. If another burdensome 300-plus carry workload taxes Parker, look for Davenport and Barlow to form a two-headed committee. In the past three seasons, Davenport has only logged one game of 15 or more carries.
Sammy Morris
17 $1.00 202.9, 16.9
'06 Stats: 92 RUSH, 400 RYD, RTD, 21 REC, 162 RECYD
Odds to Start: 25:1
Lowdown: Questions surrounding Laurence Maroney's surgically repaired shoulder sneaks Morris onto the list. Known more for his pass-blocking and effectiveness on third-downs, Morris did perform commendably as the starter behind a defective Dolphins O-line late last year. In four starts from Weeks 13-16, he notched a noteworthy 110.0 TYPG and one rushing score. Morris has the power and stamina to be a full-time back in the event of an injury and is someone who must be nailed to Maroney in the midnight hour of a 12-team draft.
Michael Bush
18 $1.18 197.9, 16.4
'06 Stats: (Louisville) 17 RUSH, 128 RYD, 3 RTD, 1 REC, 3 RECYD
Odds to Start: 35:1
Lowdown: The NFL's other Bush enters into a murky tailback situation with a lot to prove. Favored to win the Heisman Trophy while a star at Louisville in 2006, Bush fractured his leg in the first game of the season and has not taken the field since. At the NFL combine in April, many scouts were impressed with his overall agility, balance and explosive up-field burst. With Dominic Rhodes suspended for the first four games of the season, Bush could get an extended 8-12 carry look behind LaMont Jordan with a strong exhibition season. However, the flimsiness of the Oakland offensive line could make his first few professional touches rather unmemorable. Dynasty leaguers should stash him late, but he's a long ways from making a major impact this season.
Kenny Irons
19 $1.77 192.5, 16.0
'06 Stats: (Auburn) 198 RUSH, 893 RYD, 4 RTD, 10 RED, 78 RECYD
Odds to Start: 50:1
Lowdown: It's only appropriate that a guy with the last name Irons would find a spot on the handcuff list. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound second round pick out of Auburn is a low-to-the-ground runner who can accelerate through tight holes and pick up abundant yards in a flash. Many NFL scouts have compared him to Jerious Norwood in style and substance. Backing up Rudi Johnson, the ironman of the NFL, may seem like a cushy gig, but at some point one would think the three consecutive seasons of 330-plus carries would penalize Rudi's body. With Chris Perry out for at least the first six games of the regular season, Irons should solidify his spot with ease as the Bengals No. 2 in camp.
Musa Smith
20 $1.66 201.8, 16.8
'06 Stats: 36 RUSH, 153 RYD, 0 RTD, 22 REC, 135 RECYD
Odds to Start: 55:1
Lowdown: With Mike Anderson's days of Mile High salutes clearly in the rear-view mirror, Smith is hoping to seize the backup job behind Willis McGahee come September. Smith has been a fragile underachiever in his four-year employment in Baltimore. When healthy last year, he at times plowed over backs with more assertion than Jamal Lewis, providing a glimpse at what his true ceiling might be. Contrary to most perceptions, McGahee has been an object of dependability in his career, missing just two games in three years. Regardless, Smith is a true dark-horse deep-thinking owners should be mindful of.