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Fantasy football 'handcuffs' are now more important than ever

Adrian Peterson. Jamaal Charles. Rashard Mendenhall. Darren McFadden. Those are just four of the big-name fantasy running backs that endured serious injuries last season. If you were one of the poor souls who owned one of those runners and didn't have their immediate backup (or "handcuff"), well, you were likely in a world of backfield hurt. With so many question marks at the position entering 2012, it's going to be more important than ever to insure your top backs on draft day.

Here's a look at the most valuable No. 2 running backs from a fantasy perspective.

1. Isaac Redman, Steelers: With Mendenhall's status for the start of the season up in the air as he recovers from reconstructive knee surgery, Redman's name will be a popular one in fantasy leagues. In fact, there's a chance he'll come off the board before Mendenhall in a worst-case scenario for the incumbent starter. It's a situation to monitor.

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2. Ben Tate, Texans: If Tate were a featured back, he'd be a top-12 fantasy option at his position. Unfortunately, he's stuck behind fantasy's top runner in Arian Foster and will be tough to trust as more than a potential flex starter based on the matchups. It makes a lot of sense to grab Tate if Foster is your first-round pick, regardless, due to the physical nature of the position.

3. Toby Gerhart, Vikings: Whether or not Adrian Peterson is able to return from reconstructive knee surgery in time for Week 1 remains to be seen, but owners who draft him need to target Gerhart regardless. He posted some nice stat lines in A.D.'s absence last season, and could open 2012 as a bigger backfield contributor if the Vikes eases Peterson back onto the gridiron.

4. C.J. Spiller, Bills: There is a chance Fred Jackson and Spiller could end up in a committee, but the latter was the clear featured back in 2011 before injuring his leg. If that scenario remains the same, Spiller is going to be one of the more valuable handcuffs. Of course, his 2011 success might make him tough to grab him in that capacity.

5. Michael Bush, Bears: Matt Forte isn't brittle at all, but he is coming off a knee injury that cost him four games in 2011. Enter Bush, who was a top-10 fantasy runner last season and could be in a position to see a ton of work in short-yardage and goal-line sets. If you do take Forte, you'll be smart to also lock up Bush in the middle to late rounds.

6. Peyton Hillis, Chiefs: With Charles coming off major reconstructive knee surgery, there's going to be at least some risk with drafting him in the early rounds. That makes Hillis, who signed with the Chiefs in the offseason, someone to target as insurance in the middle to late stanzas. This, of course, assumes that the team doesn't go with a full-blown committee situation in 2012.

7. Mikel Leshoure, Lions: Kevin Smith has proven to be one of the least durable running backs in the entire league, and Jahvid Best is expected to miss the start of the season. Leshoure, who has had some off-field problems and is suspended the first two games, could be called on to see a prominent role in the backfield. He's worth a middle- to late-round pick.

8. David Wilson, Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw is the surefire top back for Big Blue, but we all know about his ankle and foot problems. With that said, Wilson should be seen as a must-have handcuff for owners who land the veteran runner. The problem, however, is that it could be tough to secure the rookie based on his potential as a fantasy flex starter. Wilson could go as soon as the middle rounds.

9. Felix Jones, Cowboys: DeMarco Murray has a ton of upside and will be a breakout candidate in fantasy land this season. However, the Oklahoma product has had his share of durability issues -- he missed the final weeks of last season with a busted ankle. Enter Jones, who has injury woes of his own but remains a viable handcuff for owners who draft Murray in Rounds 2-3.

10. Mike Goodson, Raiders: Fantasy owners looking for a running back sleeper need to remember Goodson. With Bush now in Chicago, he will battle Taiwan Jones to be the top option in Oakland's backfield rotation behind the brittle Darren McFadden. Assuming McFadden's reputation for getting hurt continues in 2012, the veteran Goodson could make a great impact for owners.

11. Daniel Thomas, Dolphins: Reggie Bush is coming off the best fantasy season of his pro career, but we know that he was synonymous with injuries during his time in New Orleans. As a result, I need to see more than one healthy season from Bush to consider him a reliable and dependable runner. If he regresses from a durability standpoint, Thomas could be a major sleeper.

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12. Kendall Hunter, 49ers: If you're an avid fantasy player, you know that Frank Gore isn't always the most durable running back. In fact, last year was the first time he played in a full 16 games since 2006 -- he also saw one of the biggest single-season workload of his pro career. That makes grabbing Hunter as insurance even more important.

13. Jason Snelling, Falcons: Snelling, who re-signed with the Falcons, could see a major role if Michael Turner falls prey to injuries in 2012. Remember, the veteran has carried the football 300 or more times in three of the last four seasons. Turner also turned 30 back in February. That makes Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers worth a late look.

14. Bernard Scott, Bengals: The addition of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the expectant starter likely means a committee role for Scott, who has backed up Cedric Benson for the past three years. While there have been reports that he'll see more burn in the offense in a potential tandem situation, Scott is still a viable late-round handcuff for fantasy owners who "hire" the Law Firm.

15. Ryan Williams, Cardinals: Beanie Wells established himself as the top running back in Arizona last season, but his problematic knees always make him a risk to break down. As a result, owners who land him in the middle rounds would be wise to target Williams. Assuming he has no setbacks from patellar tendon surgery, Williams will be well worth a late-round draft look.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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