Not all backup running backs are created equal. Whether fantasy owners are still in draft mode or prepping for Week 1, ensuring all bases are covered with RB options is necessary. Running backs are always in demand, which is why employing the handcuff method by owning the backup to the starter is wise in deeper leagues, though not always.
Must own handcuffs
Carlos Hyde, 49ers, 93 - Not the first rookie selected in this year's NFL Draft, but the Ohio State product is the most talented. Better bet for keeper/dynasty leagues since Frank Gore's contract ends following this season. Strong bet for top-15 production should Gore go down this season and a potential flex option regardless.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts, 137 - Starting to move up the rankings because the ex-Giant is a gamer and Trent Richardson continues to disappoint during the preseason (2.5 yards per carry).
Christine Michael, Seahawks, 140 - The physically imposing runner won't help owners unless Marshawn Lynch goes down. Even then, Robert Turbin would be part of the replacement process. That doesn't mean Michael's lottery ticket potential isn't drool-worthy.
Knile Davis, Chiefs, 152 - Jamaal Charles owns KC's backfield. Davis looks shifty to be a suitable replacement if called upon.
James Starks, Packers, 163 - Eddie Lacy's relentless style leads to missed snaps. Green Bay's offense leads to tons of points.
Ronnie Hillman, Broncos, 168 - It's not like Montee Ball has actually proven much yet.
Flex-ible handcuffs: This group offers weekly potential. Can be drafted regardless of whether the owner also has the starter.
Darren Sproles, Eagles, 85 Average Draft Position (ADP) - Pass catcher supreme offers RB3 production in PPR formats. Less impactful in standard formats which is why late-seventh round ADP is pricy. Doubtful Sproles becomes main option if LeSean McCoy missed any games, but reception totals would surely rise.
Knowshon Moreno, Dolphins, 97 - Lamar Miller had an opportunity to cement his role as Miami's starter That didn't happen, but remains the early-down option with Moreno stepping in for passing situations. Don't buy Moreno based on what happened in Denver, but a decent option if draft range falls into round 9-10 range.
Jeremy Hill, Bengals, 118 - Taking over the inside runner role from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Hill has the goods to turn Cincinnati's backfield into a true time-share.
LeGarrette Blount, Steelers, 131- Will siphon short-yardage scoring chances and carries away from Le'Veon Bell.
Chris Ivory, Jets, 144 - Chris Johnson remains the lead back, but New York will run plenty. Ivory's power game makes him possible RB3/flex option.
Shonn Greene, Titans, 146 - Greene enters the season as Tennessee's starter with rookie Bishop Sankey as the backup. Based on Greene's mediocre skill set and Sankey's explosive potential, the rookie's ADP is nearly 100 spots higher. Then again, we've all seen young stars fizzle out and someone will carry the load early for the Titans.
Upside plays: Even with limited early role could eventually turn into a fantasy force based on talent or situation.
Devonta Freeman, Falcons, 101 - Trust Steven Jackson if you want. I trust S-Jax to wear down and for the 5-foot-8 rookie with speed and sizzle to receive a starting shot sooner than later.
Terrance West, Browns, 107 - Ben Tate has distanced himself from the Towson rookie during the preseason. Doesn't change the likelihood that he'll miss time with injuries.
Andre Williams, Giants, 115 - Expect big things out of starter Rashad Jennings. Yet the 29-year-old has something of an injury history during his career. The power-packed Williams will receive some goal line touches at the least. Should Jennings miss time, the former Boston College star takes over as an RB2 candidate.
James White, Patriots, 158 - Overhyped entering the preseason, but could take over at the goal line if Stevan Ridley can't stop fumbling.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, Ravens - Deep, deep leagues primarily, but possibly lots more early. Bernard Pierce coming off a concussion and Ray Rice suspended the first two games.
Maybe more than a backup on a weekly basis, but probably not - Own these runners if you have the corresponding starter or roster space or not at all.
Darren McFadden, Raiders, 122 - The trimmer Maurice Jones-Drew starts for Oakland. The real question for DMac becomes how the Raiders will use him in blowout situations.
Khiry Robinson, Saints, 130 - The Saints will rotate three backs with Mark Ingram leading the way on the ground, Pierre Thomas in the air. Robinson works as handcuff for both. Could be a flex candidate depending on game plan.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers, 159 - The Panthers backfield is a mess. Even during better days, trusting Stewart or DeAngelo Williams for consistent touches proved migraine inducing. Mike Tolbert will steal short yardage opportunities and Cam Newton has been known to run himself.
Roy Helu Jr., Redskins, N/A - Will dominate passing downs and we've seen Helu carry the load before. Just don't expect consistent work with Alfred Morris leading the way.
Backup your investment with your starter's backup: Low-end handcuffs take up roster space, but owners will sleep better with them around.
Lance Dunbar, Cowboys, 167 - This just in: DeMarco Murray is an injury risk.
Benny Cunningham, Rams - Late addition to this group. Yeah, kind of weird Cunningham started the third preseason game over Zac Stacy. Veering into must-own territory.
Bryce Brown, Bills - Backup for C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings, NA - Adrian Peterson's likely handcuff
Jonathan Grimes, Texans, NA - Arian Foster's likely handcuff
Jordan Todman, Jaguars, NA - Toby Gerhart's likely handcuff
Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers, NA - Doug Martin's likely handcuff
Leave on the waiver wire until further notice
Donald Brown, Chargers
Shaun Draughn, Bears
Tre Mason, Rams
Jonathan Dwyer, Cardinals
Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals
Theo Riddick, Lions
(In addition to 20-plus years of playing fantasy football, Ben Standig covered fantasy football for the past several years at FFToolbox.com and helped direct the site to generating the industry's most accurate preseason rankings in 2012. Ben is also a noted NFL Draft reporter.)