Fantasy owners love handcuffs. We know that near the final rounds of fantasy drafts there are several backup running backs that go off the board. Some fantasy owners are looking for insurance if they selected an elite back in the top two rounds. Some fantasy owners are looking to rock block an opponent by stealing away a backup for a key player on another team. And some fantasy owners are just looking for a lottery ticket to scratch.
There are some backup situations which are clear cut in 2013. If you have Vikings running back Adrian Peterson then everyone knows you need backup Toby Gerhart. If you have Texans running back Arian Foster then grab Ben Tate as his handcuff. If you have Eagles running back LeSean McCoy then add Bryce Brown later in your draft. If you have Ravens running back Ray Rice then adding Bernard Pierce is a wise move.
However, there are some situations which aren't so clear. In this series "Who's The Handcuff?" I'll examine these situations and determine which one (if any) of these backup RBs should be handcuffed to the starter. Next up: Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch has become one of the best RBs in the game today. His hard charging style is fun to watch and he loves to initiate contact, attacking would be tacklers. Last season Lynch had career highs in rushing attempts (315), rushing yards (1,506), and yards per carry (5.0). He also had the second-highest total touchdowns of his career (12) and proved that “Beast Mode" was no fluke. He was incredibly consistent in 2012, with at least 85 yards rushing in all but two of his 16 games. Lynch is quietly becoming a better receiver out of the backfield too. His yards per catch have improved every year he's been in the league and last year he had a strong 8.5 average. Lynch has a bloodhound's nose for the end zone. Over the last two seasons Lynch scored 13 rushing touchdowns inside the five-yard line. The Seahawks and head coach Pete Carroll seem content to feed Lynch the rock once again in 2013 despite the development of quarterback Russell Wilson and the addition of star wide receiver Percy Harvin. The Seahawks were the most run heavy offense in the league in 2012 with an average of 33.5 rushing attempts per game. Lynch should face fewer stacked boxes with Harvin in the mix. This will lead to wide open rushing lanes that allow Beast Mode to build an even bigger head of steam. There are durability concerns with Lynch as back spasms have plagued him over the last few years. He rarely misses a game but will often show up on the injury report as Questionable. This injury concern should be of note for fantasy owners considering Lynch in the first round of fantasy drafts. It makes the handcuff decision even more critical.
In the fourth-round of the 2012 NFL draft the Seahawks selected Robert Turbin out of Utah State. Turbin had a strong showing as a rookie and even notched a 100-yard rushing game (20 carries, 108 yards) against the Cardinals in week 14. He was almost used as much as a receiver as Lynch was in 2012. Even though he was a part time reserve player Turbin only finished with four fewer catches (19) than Lynch (23) last season. Turbin even had a better yards per catch average (9.5) than Lynch (8.5). Outside of Bernard Pierce (Ravens), Turbin was one of the most productive and exciting backup rookie rushers to watch last year.
Turbin is listed at 5'10", 222 pounds and can absolutely hammer opponents between the tackles. He is a grinder who loves to punish defenders. A load for defenders to bring down, Turbin uses his shoulder pads as striking objects. Turbin has enough burst to make it to the corner, and he does a good job of seeing cutback lanes. He runs with good forward lean and has the leg drive to consistently run through arm tackles. Turbin does a good job of fighting for extra yards after contact. Even though he's a big back Turbin has proven that he can make a few big plays. He had three career touchdowns of 80 or more yards at Utah State.
Durability is Turbin's biggest concern. He missed two full seasons in college due to injury as he runs with little regard for his personal safety. Turbin has never seen a collision that he didn't like and that's a problem. Great backs have vision to find cutback lanes, or they can improvise at the second level to continue downfield. What you see is what you get with Turbin. He runs with build up speed and isn't the type of runner who is overly creative or elusive in the open field. He's a no-nonsense back who is a one-cut, downhill zone runner.
I watched plenty of Turbin on tape coming out of college. He was a back who wore down as games (and the season) went on. His yards per carry fell from 6.4 during the first three months of the season to 4.4 during the last two months of the year in 2011. He also saw his yards per carry fall from 6.4 in the first three quarters to 3.78 in the fourth quarter. When the field was cramped in the red zone Turbin only averaged 3.0 yards per carry. In our 2012 Footballguys online magazine I compared Turbin to a less elusive Marshawn Lynch. Turbin was a workhorse in college but as a pro he fits best as a tandem back in the right system.
In the 2013 NFL draft the Seahawks selected Michael in the third-round out of Texas A&M. Michael burst onto the scene as a freshman rushing for 844 yards and standing out with his high energy style. He was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and the future looked bright for Michael in 2009. The rest of his college career was a bit of a roller coaster ride with durability and attitude questions preventing him from playing up to his enormous potential.
Michael has proper NFL size for a RB, checking in at 5'10", 220 pounds. Sigmund Bloom has given him the nickname “Starbucks" because of his high energy style. Michael's legs pound like pistons in the ground and he can powerfully change direction quickly. His hard charging style also helps him run through arm tackles when he's at the second level. Michael's short area quickness is what really stands out on film. He can get to top speed in a hurry and has the vision to anticipate where holes (and cutback lanes) are opening up in front of him. Michael runs with a low center of gravity and keeps his legs moving after contact. He runs angry and refuses to go down easily, always fighting and pushing for extra yards. In 2012 Michael wasn't quite recovered from the ACL injury that cut his 2011 season short. However, he did average a whopping 7.27 yards per carry on third downs last year.
Durability and attitude problems abound when looking at Michael as a pro prospect. His 2010 season was cut short by a broken right leg. In 2011 his season was cut short by a torn ACL in his left knee. In 2012 Michael butted heads with new head coach Kevin Sumlin and received a smaller workload as he was in the coach's doghouse. Michael is also a work in progress when it comes to pass protection. It's a weak spot to his game and one that needs to be cleaned up before he would ever get an expanded role as a pro. Michael has a good initial burst but even at full strength does not possess true homerun speed.
I watched Michael earlier this year during the week of practices for the 2013 Shrine Game in Tampa, FL. His hard charging style was on display, as was his quick initial burst. In fact, Michael had a couple of runs in practice that initially drew “oohs" from the crowd of scouts on the sidelines. However, those “oohs" turned into “meh" when he got to the second level. I saw Safeties with bad angles catch Michael from behind. Some think he's still not fully recovered from that 2011 ACL injury but it further accentuated what I saw on film from Michael. He's fast in a short space but doesn't have long speed. Michael also struggled in pass protection drills during that week of practice. I love his high energy, effort, and anger/tenacity as a runner but Michael didn't blow me away in Tampa. Respected analyst Matt Williamson, from ESPN.com, had high praise for Michael this offseason. "Expect Pete Carroll and company to harness Michael's great talent by bringing him along slowly." Williamson continued, "By 2016, he will be a total stud and a true every-down running back. Ignoring their extenuating circumstances, (Marcus) Lattimore and Michael are the most talented all-around running backs from this latest draft class." Michael also earned praise at OTAs for his work with the first team offense as a pass catcher, something he wasn't known for in college.
This is a tough one to call and I've changed my mind a few times this offseason on which ONE is the best. I feel the proper answer is either/or. Both backs make a nice handcuff to Marshawn Lynch. Seattle has an embarassment of riches at the RB position.
Turbin has the experience and did look good in a part time role as a rookie. His current ADP is RB66 and he's coming off the board at 13.11 in 12 team PPR leagues. Michael is the more explosive rookie and we've heard a few positive reports about him this offseason. His current ADP is RB67 (just one behind Turbin) and he's coming off the board at 13.12 in 12 team PPR leagues. As you can see the fantasy community is split on who to handcuff to Lynch.
Bottom line is this: Both are good handcuffs and there may be some fantasy owners who try to lock down all three in deeper leagues. If Turbin goes off the board then don't feel bad about grabbing Michael right after that. In fact, if Lynch were to go down with an injury I feel it's Michael who has the best ability to be the lead back. Michael's attitude problems are likley to be a non-issue with renowned players coach Pete Carroll. Either way both make for nice additions late in your draft and could fill in as low end RB2s if Lynch misses time with an injury. This situation has RBBC written all over it in the event of an emergency.