With the unprecedented amount of injuries that have occurred during the first three weeks of 2014 NFL season, we at FST felt the timing was appropriate to do a quick rundown of the top running back handcuffs. This season has proven very unpredictable, and therefore stashing some of these guys at the end of your bench could (and has already in many cases) prove invaluable if and when more top running backs go down.

Already Ascended

Starter: Jamaal Charles (injured)

Backup: Knile Davis

Charles is out for at least this week, and probably a couple more weeks with what’s been diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. Davis was possibly the #1 waiver pickup on Wednesday morning, and HC Andy Reid has said Davis will have much the same workload (heavy) that Charles would have. I’d consider Davis a top-12 RB for the duration of Charles absence.

Starter: Ryan Matthews (injured)

Backup: Donald Brown

Matthews has already proven brittle once again, spraining his MCL in Week 2. He’s out 4-5 weeks, assuming no setbacks. In his place the Bolts will start Donald Brown, who is more than capable of handling Matthews workload. Some of you will remember Brown dominating down the stretch last year for the Colts. He averaged 5+ YPC and scored 6 TD on only 102 carries. I love him in the San Diego offense and think he’s a great start as long as Matthews remains on the sidelines.

Starter: Mark Ingram (injured)

Backup: Khiry Robinson

Ingram was off to a molten-hot start, but went down with a broken hand in Week 2. He’ll be out the better part of a month. Many assumed a much larger workload for Pierre Thomas, but the pounder role is going to go to Khiry. He’s a tackle-breaking, head-lowering wrecking ball of a back, and he should handle all the short yardage carries as well. While not quite as dynamic as the first two, I think he’s a solid low end RB2 / high end RB3 for the next month – the Saints run the ball a lot more than people give them credit for.

Starter: Knowshon Moreno (injured)

Backup: Lamar Miller

Reports state that Moreno dislocated his elbow early in Sunday’s game. He’s still being evaluated, but most agree that a timetable of 4-8 weeks is reasonable for a return to action. I’ve already observed Moreno being dropped in 10 team leagues. His backup is Lamar Miller, who the Dolphins have misused for what seems like eons. He’s shifty and quick, but not really built to pound between the tackles 25 times per game (at least thus far). He’ll get one more chance to prove he can be a feature back in the NFL, starting with a matchup against the injury-riddled KC defense on Sunday.

Starter: Ben Tate (Injured)

Backups: Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell

Tate wasted little time getting in on the injured RB action, going down in Week 1 with a knee injury. He was quickly ruled out for the game. Not good. His recovery time is still up in the air, but if I had to guess I’d say he won’t return until after the Browns bye in Week 4. In the meantime, that leaves the Browns (and us fantasy owners) with West and Crowell. West showed well in Week 1, rushing for 100 yards on only 16 carries, and followed it up with an equally useful performance in Week 2 (19 carries, 68 yards, TD). He looks like the guy to own for the moment, with Crowell mixing in on 3rd downs and as a change-of-pace. Crowell may even be the more talented of the two backs, but for now the job is West’s to lose.

Starter: DeAngelo Williams (Injured, shocker)

Backups: Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert

Williams and Stewart generally split carries in the Carolina offense, leading to generally uninspiring fantasy performances by both. But with Williams inactive on Sunday, Stewart handled the full load, rushing for 37 yards and catching a pass for 22 more. Pretty yawn-stipating until he finally converted a two-yard TD. Williams is still not practicing, and if he was to be out again, Stewart would make for a somewhat useful RB2/3 play against a Steelers defense that has been torched on the ground.

Starter: Adrian Peterson (Exempt)

Backups: Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon

We’re all well versed in the Peterson child abuse scandal. AP has been placed on the exempt list by the Vikings, meaning he has to stay away from the team and their facilities until his legal issues are resolved. He may return in a matter of weeks, or he may not play again this year. If you drafted him, you’re pretty much hosed on that value – I’m suggesting holding him until some further news shakes loose.

Asiata started in his place on Sunday, and while he was generally unremarkable, did manage to provide his owners with 14.4 fantasy points – which is nothing to sneeze at. Asiata is an average NFL back, but he’s got the starters job until he loses it. McKinnon is actually a very interesting stash due to the ‘meh’-factor surrounding Asiata. Jerick is extremely raw as a RB, but is a freakish athlete who scored insanely high on the Nike SPARQ test (measure of overall athleticism / potential at the combine). Keep a close eye on this situation, as it’s possibly that any of these RBs could be the starter by Week 7.

Starter: Ray Rice (Waived)

Backups: Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett

So with Ray Rice long since down the ‘ol dusty trail, the Ravens are left to experiment with Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett. In Week 1, Forsett looked like the guy after Pierce was benched, but Pierce rebounded solidly in Week 2, totaling 96 yards on 22 carries. Right now, it looks like Pierce is the main pounder, and Forsett is the third-down and change-of-pace back when Pierce needs a breather. Of the two, I would much rather own Pierce, because I think he’s the guy that gets the lions shares of the carries when the ball is inside the five.

(Whew. Need to catch my breath here. There’s only 32 NFL teams, and 8 lost their starter in the first 3 weeks. Insane. Okay, on to the Lurkers.)

Lurking

Starter: Trent Richardson (Suck-itis)

Backup: Ahmad Bradshaw

Richardson logged his best game as a Colt on Monday, which should make you feel good if you’re a TRich owner. Unfortunately, his best game as a Colt still featured one lost fumble (and another which Reggie Wayne recovered), zero trips to the end zone, and multiple runs where he simply ran into the back of the lineman right in front of him. His best still wasn’t terribly good, and it looked positively juvenile compared to Bradshaw, who looked like he was shot out of a cannon on his way to 96 total yards and 2 TDs on only 18 touches.

Bradshaw is the best back on this team by a mile, and the only reason the switch hasn’t been made yet is the price Indianapolis paid to bring Richardson to their team. They need to view it as a sunk cost – Brawshaw looks positively dynamic in their offense. Make certain he’s not floating on the wire in any of your leagues. If Richardson were hurt, Bradshaw would instantly become a top 10 back.

Starter: Doug Martin (Injured / Suck-itis)

Backups: Bobby Rainey and Mike James

I know, Doug Martin had this wonderful campaign a few years ago, and he’s been hurt, and nobody blocks for him, and his QB has been bad, etc etc etc. My question therefore is, if he’s such an elite talent, how come every time he’s out, one of his backups just completely goes off? I’m fairly certain they’re running behind the same line and working with the same QB. But I digress. Martin was inactive on Sunday, leaving the door open for Rainey, who proceeded to blow the hinges off it. Dude totaled on 174 yards from scrimmage on 25 touches. Against a pretty stout Rams defensive front – Quite Martin-like, if you think about it. Last year, once Rainey was hurt Mike James stepped up to the plate and had a few nice games himself. Almost makes you wonder if they should send the Muscle Hamster back to his running wheel and let Rainey run wild.

Starter: Shonn Greene

Backup: Bishop Sankey

I don’t really have any idea what’s going on with the running game in Tennessee. Green seems like he’s the nominal starter, but produces nothing, Sankey is the young stud, but he apparently doesn’t get the playbook, or the pass protections, or who knows what just yet. I feel like he’s lurking, but he’s doing it very slowly. They mix in Dexter McCluster just to flatten the fantasy value of all involved. Sankey is clearly the guy to own here, but you have to be willing to not use him for a couple more weeks while he figures it out. He could be a stud down the stretch if he becomes the true three-down back we all thought he was in the preseason.

Stash these backups until further notice

Starter: C.J. Spiller

Backup: Fred Jackson

Obviously Spiller is the clear #1 here, but he splits a lot of carries with Jackson. Both of these guys need to be owned. If either one of them went down, the other would become a must-start just based on volume.

Starter: Frank Gore

Backup: Carlos Hyde

Pretty simple math here: Hyde could probably start right now for several NFL teams, but he’s playing second fiddle to Gore. For his part, Gore is 48398 years old, and he’s going to blow a tire one of these years. Hyde is a must-own handcuff in the 49ers run heavy offense.

Starter: Steven Jackson

Backup: Devonta Freeman

Jackson is another aging warhorse, but unlike Gore he looks to be quite a bit past his prime already. His running style could be aptly described as ‘Stuck in the mud’. But the coaches trust him more than rookie Freeman, so he’s starting for now. Plus, the Falcons run the ball like 12 times a game, so his impact is negligible anyway. Freeman is a dynamic RB who could dominate in the Falcons high octance offense if given 15+ carries per game. Is it going to happen soon? No. But there’s going to be a week somewhere in the near future where Freeman is the #1 waiver target, so if you’ve got a deep bench consider a preemptive stash move.

Starter: LeSean McCoy

Backup: Darren Sproles

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the McCoy / Sproles duo that torched the Colts on Monday night. I’m not stating the Shady is in any danger of losing his starting job (no chance), but merely pointing out that the guy that would be the best PHI RB play if McCoy were to go down would be Sproles. And, since Sproles can have hella good games when McCoy isn’t hurt, he’s just a great guy to own no matter what!

Starter: Eddie Lacy

Backup: James Starks

Lacy has suffered multiple concussions in the past 24 months. The Packers offense promises to be pretty prolific, as long as they don’t play the Seahawks in Seattle. If Lacy went down again, Starks would be the guy there, and would get all the goal line plunges. He makes for a worthy stash in deeper leagues.

Starter: Arian Foster

Backup: Alfred Blue

Arian Foster is a monster when he’s on the field. Trouble is, he’s not always on said field, and his monster workload so far means he’ll probably be missing some time before this season is over. We originally thought that Jonathan Grimes would be the #2 back for the Texans, but the 2014 6th rounder has leapfrogged him on the depth chart, grabbing 11 carries last Sunday.

Starter: Marshawn Lynch

Backup: Robert Turbin

We all thought Christine Michael was the wave of the future during the preseason. Opps. Turbin is clearly the #2 here, and on top of that Michael has been dinged up.

Starter: Alfred Morris

Backup: Roy Helu

When Morris went down last year, Helu acquitted himself well before also going down. He would immediately assume three-down duties if Morris went down again. Note also that Jay Gruden likes quick, shifty backs – he made a monster of one in Giovani Bernard in Cincinnati.

Starter: Toby Gerhart

Backup: Nobody

The Jaguars can’t run block. The Jaguars can’t pass block. They stink. Stay as far away from this quagmire as you can.