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Three RB Handcuffs You Must Own, But Probably Don’t

The running back position has a ton of turnover and owners would be wide to invest in these three RB handcuffs before they ascend up the depth chart.

Jerick McKinnon
Jerick McKinnon

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Playing running back in the National Football League is the hardest job in the world. In what other profession do individuals in the prime of their career walk away from $1 million-plus annual salaries? None.

Jerome Bettis once compared playing running back to living through a car crash sixteen times a year. Being a professional running back hurts, and that pain is responsible for the pervasive early retirement of NFL running backs, a truly unique labor market phenomenon.

It makes sense. No amount of money would entice me to suffer through the head-on collisions that NFL running backs endure throughout a full season in the league. Not since Rome’s Colosseum have individuals endured such physical consequences for our entertainment.

But alas, the show must go on, and we also have a job to do – win fantasy championships. As we fawn over our newly drafted teams, our success depends on our very best warriors, our top draft picks, withstanding more than 300 violent impacts over the next four months.

That is not easy. In 2013, the following early-round running backs missed one or more games due to injury:
Adrian Peterson
DeMarco Murray
Arian Foster
Eddie Lacy
Steven Jackson
Doug Martin
C.J. Spiller
Reggie Bush
Ray Rice
Maurice Jones-Drew
David Wilson
Darren Sproles

Less than 50-percent of the top-20 ADP running backs in 2013, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, played 16 regular season games.

To compound the problem, not every stud running back has a clear-cut back-up. If LeSean McCoy or Matt Forte fall, multiple running backs on the depth chart would be called upon to fill an irrevocable void. On the other hand, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, and Arian Foster are backed up by the following strong, versatile RBs who fit the every-down back profile.

Jerick McKinnon

Adrian Peterson has entered the twilight of his career not due to age, but due to the physiological toll of his 2000+ total carries. Numerous studies about running back career arcs have provided empirical evidence that raw carry totals, and the collisions that result from most touches, significantly impact career length.

With a nickname like Purple Jesus, clearly Adrian Peterson has a reputation for super-human toughness. On behalf of XN Sports, I have breaking news: Adrian Peterson is human. Beyond crossing the 2000-carry Rubicon, his team-reported injuries since 2011 are as follows:
*strained calf
*sprained ankle
*high ankle sprain
*torn ACL
*knee soreness
*sprained ankle
*bruised shoulder
*strained abdomen
*strained groin
*strained hamstring
*strained groin
*sprained ankle
*sprained foot

Given this risk profile, Adrian Peterson is an asset that must be insured. Fortunately, standing directly behind Peterson on the depth chart is Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon’s athleticism shines in stark contrast to Matt Asiata, the ultimate JAG and only other RB on the Vikings roster. Here is an overview of McKinnon’s workout metrics on PlayerProfiler.com:

40-time: 4.41 (94th percentile)
Burst Score: 134.9 (96th)
Agility Score: 10.95 (89th)
Bench Press: 32 reps (100th)

From purely an athleticism perspective, Jerick McKinnon is the Calvin Johnson of running backs.

By investing a third round pick to acquire Jerick McKinnon in the 2014 NFL Draft, relatively high for a running back, the Vikings made it clear that he is Adrian Peterson‘s heir. Unlike converted college quarterbacks who lack NFL-level running instincts upon arrival, McKinnon ran the option offense at Georgia Southern, often taking sweep runs himself and acting as a running back. He has also received high grades as a pass catcher. Weighing in at 209 pounds, Jerick McKinnon has the physical attributes and skill set to immediately excel in an every-down role should Peterson’s carry odometer and injury history befall him.

Robert Turbin

Marshawn Lynch has not yet reached 2000 carries, but he has been in more than 2000 violent collisions. In just the past three years, while amassing an astounding 901 carries, Lynch also broke 215 tackles, 97 in 2013 alone, according to Pro Football Focus.

An actuary would strongly advise investing in a Marshawn Lynch insurance policy. While Christine Michael is the candidate for this role, he has proven to be the unreliable European sports car to Robert Turbin‘s turbo-charged pick-up truck. Michael is currently sitting out with a strained hamstring.

The more reliable Robert Turbin received most first-team carries when Lynch was held out of action during the 2014 preseason. A look at Turbin’s PlayerProfiler page shows a running back that would be highly competent in Seattle’s high run-volume offensive system:

40-time: 4.50 (69th percentile)
Burst Score: 122.2 (66th)
Agility Score: 11.47 (25th)
Bench Reps: 28 (95th)

The Seahawks’ 509 run plays in 2013 were No. 2 in the NFL, and the 222-pound Turbin has the necessary strength, speed, and burst to replicate the majority of Marshawn Lynch‘s production should one of Lynch’s numerous broken tackles finally break him in the process.

Jonathan Grimes

Arian Foster is the anti-beast mode seemingly miscast as an NFL running back. He was a college philosophy major. He is a poet. He is socially conscious, intellectually curious, and very aware of the NFL’s toll on his mind and his body. If I told you that “Running Back X” quietly walked off the practice field one day and never returned, Arian Foster‘s name would be the first to come to mind. Indeed, it would not be the first time that an NFL running back inexplicably walked away from the game in his prime to go “walkabout” (see Ricky Williams).

If Arian Foster decides to head to the other side of the world to seek enlightenment in the middle of October, where will that leave your fantasy team? Ideally, on Jonathan Grimes‘ capable legs. Though undrafted, Grimes looked a lot like LeSean McCoy while accounting for 51-percent of the College of William & Mary’s offensive production, an exceptional feat even at a non-BCS school. In additional to a productive college career, Grimes’ resume also features impressive workout metrics:

40-time: 4.58 (43rd percentile)
Burst Score: 127.1 (86th)
Agility Score: 10.87 (93rd)
Bench Reps: 23 (68th)

Jonathan Grimes‘ dynamic physical profile and college production far exceeds Alfred Blue, the unimpressive plodder immediately behind Grimes on the Texans’ running back depth chart. Grimes also proved himself at the NFL level when he accumulated 126 total yards and a touchdown operating as Houston’s primary ball carrier in week 17 of last season. Should the weekly punishment inflicted by NFL linebackers physically or mentally break Arian Foster, Jonathan Grimes is ready to jump into the arena and buoy fantasy teams.

In the words of Maximus Decimus Meridius, are you not entertained?

Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.

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