Tevin Coleman – Atlanta Falcons
When the Falcons spent a third-round pick on Coleman in the 2015 NFL Draft, he seemed poised for a featured role. Devonta Freeman was coming off a pedestrian rookie year, and scouts had touted Coleman for his top-end speed and ability to run downhill. Plans changed quickly when Freeman had a breakout 2015 season. As such, Coleman was relegated to a complementary role during his first two years in the league.
The duo found ways to be fantasy relevant in Atlanta’s explosive 2016 season. Both finished in the Top-20 for scoring among running backs (PPR). New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will have plenty of sets to keep the pair fresh and involved in the offensive attack. The Falcons’ offense truly is potent enough to sustain two viable backs. In the event Freeman misses any extended period of time, Coleman would be in for a featured role that many believe he could thrive in. If you’re investing in Freeman (or even if you’re not), Coleman is a valuable backup/handcuff.
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans
Despite DeMarco Murray being the clear No. 1 back, Henry produced when his number was called upon. Accruing 490 yards on 110 carries, the bruising back has proven himself to be a NFL-worthy ball carrier. Murray showed no signs of slowing down last year. However at 29 years old, the Titans might be more inclined to utilize Henry a bit more. Tennessee is an excellent running team — equipped with an elite offensive line and a dynamic quarterback. Even if Henry sees a slight uptick in his touches, he’s worth a spot on your fantasy roster. If Murray goes down injured, Henry would be a 20-plus carry guy on a weekly basis.
Thomas Rawls – Seattle Seahawks
It wasn’t long ago that we were singing Rawls’ praises as Marshawn Lynch’s true successor. A 30-carry, 209-yard performance versus the 49ers in 2015 had fantasy owners salivating. An injury in December derailed the end of the season, but it didn’t stop believers from picking Rawls in the first two rounds of their drafts the following year. What followed was a position battle with Christine Michael, a negative 7-yard performance versus the Rams, and an injury that kept him out for two months of the year.
Fast-forward one year, and Rawls seems to be healthy and ready to go. With that said, former Packer Eddie Lacy stands in his way as the initial starter. It seems as if Lacy will get the early-down work, with C.J. Prosise being mixed in on passing situations. Rawls will get his touches, but will only breakout if Lacy is unproductive or forced to miss time. Take a flier on Rawls at the end of your draft, and stash him on your bench.
Theo Riddick – Detroit Lions
The Lions backfield is as confusing as ever. Even if Ameer Abdullah ends up taking keeping the starting role, he’s coming off a serious foot injury from last year. Dwayne Washington is starting to build up hype via a solid preseason. Zach Zenner is a big body that will likely steal some red-zone carries. It’s a bit convoluted to say the least, and none of the Lions backs are worth a starting spot on your fantasy roster. With that being said, if you want to draft any of them at their current asking price – go with Riddick.
One thing we know about the Lions through all this confusion is that they will always rely heavily on their passing game. Riddick is one of the very best receiving backs in the game, and Matthew Stafford uses him as a security blanket on underneath routes. When you’re looking for a handcuff, the asset you should be most interested in is which player would benefit the most from an injury. If any of the other backs miss time, it clears up the mess in the backfield. Riddick can then add to his total of 167 catches over the past three seasons.
Joe Williams – San Francisco 49ers
There are three things certain in life: Death, taxes, and Carlos Hyde missing time in the regular season. It’s inevitable, as awful as it is to say. He’s missed 10 games in the last two years, and hasn’t played a full season once during his career. When it happens again this year, 4th round draft pick Joe Williams will be ready to step-up to the plate.
John Lynch and the 49ers showed belief in the enigmatic Utah product, trading up in April’s draft to acquire his services. He’s got breakaway speed and has the wiggle to make defenders miss in the open field. His dismissal from UCONN and short-lived retirement made him a relative unknown throughout his college career. However, Williams has plenty of talent — possessing the potential to be a breakout candidate in 2017.
Ryan Mathews – Free Agent
The recently released Mathews is currently without a team, but still might be worth a spot at the end of your fantasy bench. The addition of LeGarrette Blount made the oft-injured Mathews expendable this offseason. His up-and-down career has made him a polarizing figure among fantasy experts. Mathews has been productive when on the field, but he’s consistently held out of games due to various ailments. In seven seasons, Mathews has appeared in all 16 games just once. He’s missed a full season’s worth of games over the last three years (appearing in 32 of a possible 48).
It may take some time, but Mathews will catch on with a team because he’s still a talented player with the ability to help a team’s rushing attack. If a team that isn’t set in the backfield picks him up, don’t be surprised to see Mathews as a starting running back down the stretch of the season.
Sources: CBSSports, Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports, Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports, Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports, Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports