When it comes to backup running backs, you aren’t usually drafting anyone but a handcuff. This might change if it looks like a certain starter is going to start the season hurt, but then you’re not necessarily drafting a backup, so to speak. It may also be different if you’re in a dynasty league or keeper league in which a backup can be a valuable long-term stash.
In general though, there’s not much talk about the most valuable backups. Still, some of these players wind up being valuable even if we don’t necessarily expect it early on. So, if you want a little bit of backfield insurance these are five backup running backs to consider targeting with mid- to late-round draft picks.
1. LeGarrette Blount (Detroit Lions)
The Lions have about as convoluted a running back situation as there is in football, to the point that it’s actually difficult to declare anyone the backup. Theo Riddick seems to be the likeliest figure to start as the number one back, but Ameer Abdullah is still on board, and Detroit also spent a second round pick on Auburn runner Kerryon Johnson. But there are indications that LeGarrette Blount will get the goal-line work, and we’ve seen what he can do with that kind of job before. There’s a decent bet that Riddick and Johnson are the starters at various points in the season, but don’t be surprised if Blount is the most productive fantasy player.
2. Duke Johnson Jr. (Cleveland Browns)
The Browns’ situation actually isn’t unlike the one in Detroit in that there’s a mix of veterans, a new rookie, and a lot of uncertainty. Carlos Hyde can be electric at the top of his game, and the Browns just drafted Nick Chubb out of Georgia. No matter what happens the first few weeks, Chubb will probably be at least tried out in the lead back role at some point, because he cost a second round pick and he’s exceptionally talented. With all the uncertainty in this backfield though, Johnson looks to be the most consistent back, as well as the best for pass-catching situations. That makes him an intriguing late-round pickup, as well as a strong PPR option.
3. Spencer Ware (Kansas City Chiefs)
Sometimes it helps to look at how leading bookmakers and prognosticators are looking at the coming season. And when you look at betting platforms providing tips and strategic takes on the coming season, there’s a little bit of intrigue in the Chiefs’ backfield. We’ll put it this way: Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing as a rookie, yet is only being given the sixth best odds to repeat the feat. That’s no major indictment of his talent, but it does suggest a fall back to Earth a little bit, and Hunt was actually mediocre in fantasy during the middle of last season. Ware, meanwhile, has been just about as good as Hunt at times, and is one of the most talented backups in the league. Should Hunt struggle, Ware is capable of stepping in and dominating.
4. Jordan Wilkins (Indianapolis Colts)
At various points during the 2017 season, there was a lot of hype surrounding young Colts running back Marlon Mack. And for his part, Jim Irsay is keeping the hype going, suggesting recently that he sees Mack approaching 1,500 yards this season. But Mack is far from a sure thing, and if anything was somewhat disappointing in 2018. The Colts are looking to compete this season with Andrew Luck back under center, and that means struggles at running back likely won’t be tolerated long. The team spent a fifth round pick on Jordan Wilkins, out of Ole Miss, and could well plug him in if Mack doesn’t reach his potential – which seems like at least a reasonable bet.
5. Sony Michel (New England Patriots)
The Patriots have a very deep and bizarre stable of running backs. Some think Rex Burhead is the most talented and the best suited for a big role. Some see James White and his prowess in the passing game as being worthy of a nod. Others are looking to Mike Gillislee to step into a LeGarrette Blount sort of role. And who knows what Jeremy Hill has left in the tank? The only trouble with all of these names is that we’ve seen them all play before, and while they can all be effective, none are true RB1s. Michel is the unknown quantity and thus the one with the most breakout potential. And he’s an immensely talented player.