This past weekend, I was a guest on a fantasy football show called "Roster Watch" on 1300 The Zone in Austin and the subject of Arian Foster and his hamstring came up. I know this won't make Foster happy, but more people actually do care about his hamstring as it pertains to their fantasy teams as opposed to worrying about his overall health.
I told them that I believed any hamstring injury is a cause for concern with a running back and that owners should be prepared for the possibility that this injury could become a factor once again this season. The logical follow-up question was asked: "Who should Foster owners target as a handcuff? Ben Tate or Derrick Ward?"
I have Foster in two of my four leagues and I cover the Houston Texans on a regular basis and I realize that despite the potential for a statistical "boom" for a handcuff to Foster, the reality is that a true handcuff/backup hasn't emerged and may not under head coach Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak has a consistent veteran in Ward who performed well every time he stepped on the field last year. Ward can play on third downs and could be solid, if unspectacular, as a primary ball-carrier if called upon. Tate has more "juice" and has a greater ceiling than Ward. Kubiak probably would hesitate to trust Tate on third downs as a pass protector, but he's capable at catching balls out of the backfield.
I could argue for either back, but the reality is that Kubiak would likely split carries between Tate and Ward if Foster had to miss any length of time, and I'm not sure which back would get the goal-line carriers. Therefore, when assessing your RB4 options, it might be best to look elsewhere. If I had to gamble on one, Ward would be the safer bet for PPR leagues as a RB4 or RB5.
Peyton Hillis put on quite a show for fantasy owners lucky enough to add him from waiver wire, but what happens this year? It's one thing to find a diamond in the rough, but it is quite another to count on that back as a RB2. The Browns will want to run the ball effectively, but if Hillis goes out, I'm not sure I would want to tie my handcuff fortunes to the oft-injured Montario Hardesty, who is still trying to get his overall game back to where it was before he suffered an ACL injury over a year ago.
The depth chart in Dallas is a mess. Their starting running back, Felix Jones, is more of a scat-back who will probably get the same number of carries that Jamal Charles usually gets. After Jones, the Cowboys have Tashard Choice, but I don't know anyone who drafted him as a handcuff and draft pick DeMarco Murray would likely get third down snaps as well as some every down snaps. I haven't even mentioned the Cowboys 4th string RB, Phillip Tanner, who was hand-selected by owner Jerry Jones to make the team.
Tim Hightower has turned into the belle of the fantasy ball as draft season has progressed and with head coach Mike Shanahan determined to improve the running game, Hightower's ascension makes sense. After Hightower, however, you have to choose between Ryan Torain and Roy Helu. Helu has the explosiveness that is a perfect fit for the zone scheme, but he's only a rookie. Torain was a Shanny favorite previously, but has battled injuries. Helu is currently listed as the #2 RB by the Redskins.
In this man's humble opinion (my wife scoffs), Matt Forte is headed for a big season in both PPR and non-PPR leagues. If Forte goes down, I don't think the Bears will automatically abandon the run and put their hopes and dreams in QB Jay Cutler's hands. So Marion Barber is the handcuff, right? I don't think it's that easy. Barber is still a good goal-line and short yardage back, but Kahlil Bell might be the better option on 1st and 2nd down and the Bears are said to like his potential.