Handcuffing in Fantasy Football is the idea of filling a roster spot with your starting running back’s backup. In theory, handcuffing is a good strategy. If something happens to your starting running back, you replace him in your lineup with his backup. Just like that you are getting similar production or at least better production than someone you could find on waivers.
Problem is, nowadays NFL teams treat their backfields like a door knob. Everyone gets a turn.
With this adoption of the running back by committee approach (RBBC), it becomes useless to handcuff most running backs.
Some already split time with the number two running back on the team e.g., Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill of the Bengals. Or if the starter goes down, the backups form a committee e.g., Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee of the Bills in 2015. It becomes more confusing than a Ryan Lochte story doesn't it?
Running backs are getting hurt or busting at an even higher rate, leading to the perceived need to handcuff.
6 Handcuffs to Draft
The general advice here is to only focus on handcuffing your studs in situations where the backup has a clear cut path to a similar workload. Below is a list of handcuff worthy players that should see the majority of the touches. They have a likely chance of becoming fantasy relevant if something were to happen to the feature back.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
DeAngelo Williams is the epitome of what a great handcuff looks like. Williams started the 2015 season off strong; filling in for Le’Veon Bell during his two game suspension. However, Bell’s season was ended due to injury shortly after returning, thrusting Williams back into the starting lineup. As a matter of fact, in the 10 games Williams started, he posted remarkable RB1 numbers.
Williams averaged over 18 standard fantasy points per game in 2015. He also finished as the fourth best running back in fantasy, tied for first for rushing touchdowns, and finished third in red zone rushing attempts. He is one of the best handcuff options in fantasy.
With the bonus of getting to start the first three games this season because of another Bell suspension, make sure you cuff Bell with Williams.
Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman finished as the number one running back in fantasy last year. He accomplished this after not starting the first two games. In fact, it was Coleman who was the Falcon’s lead back to start the season. Unfortunately, Coleman suffered an injury and Freeman supplanted him as the starting back.
When Coleman was healthy, he ran the ball very well, averaging 4.51 yards per carry as opposed to Freeman’s 4.00 yards per carry. In the games Coleman received 18 or more carries, he averaged over 95 rushing yards.
The talk around Falcon’s camp is that they want to get Coleman more involved this year. If something were to happen to Freeman, Coleman would instantly jump into the lower end RB1 or higher end RB2 tiers.
Freeman is coming off of a massive 338 touch season - meaning more wear and tear on his body. Look to cuff him with Coleman, who could provide a decent return on investment.
Alfred Morris, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Alfred Morris has rushed for over 1,000 yards in all four of his NFL seasons but one. That one season was in 2015 in which he received a career low in attempts per game at 12.6. Even with last season included, Morris has a respectable career average of 4.4 yards per carry. He managed to accomplish all of this behind a subpar Redskin’s offensive line.
The only other competition for touches is the injury prone Darren McFadden, who is still recovering from an offseason elbow injury. Morris is a good running back and looked great in the preseason so far with a stat line of 16 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Again, if something were to happen to Elliott, and Morris was the lead back in Dallas, he would become a must own fantasy asset. Elliott owners, look to handcuff your running back with Alfred Morris, not Darren McFadden.
Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
There is no doubt that Jamaal Charles is a Fantasy Football beast, finishing 8th or better in three of the past four years. That one year was last year in which he was well on his way to another great finish before tearing his ACL.
In the time Charles missed last year, we learned that other backs could succeed in a very fantasy friendly Kansas City rushing attack. Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware both produced excellent fantasy numbers at times. However, Ware was the more efficient.
Ware averaged an outstanding 5.60 yards per carry as opposed to West’s mediocre 3.79 yards per carry. The Chiefs also relied heavily on Ware as their goal line back; in which he was able to rack up six touchdowns. In the games that Ware received more than 10 touches, he was able to average nearly 18 standard fantasy points per game.
To top it all off, Ware may even have some stand alone value with Charles back! He could still receive the bulk of the goal line carries. With Charles coming off his second ACL tear of his career, make sure you lock Ware down as your handcuff.
Chris Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
David Johnson has some pretty lofty expectations for his second year in the league. These expectations are being formulated on the basis of what David Johnson did in his small sample size of games in which he was the starter last year when Chris Johnson went down.
Before getting injured, Chris Johnson was in the top five for rushing yards. This demonstrated a career revitalization and also that running backs can have success in Arizona’s offense.
Right now the expectation is that David Johnson will be the unquestioned starter. However, the Arizona coaching staff has mentioned on multiple occasions that Chris and David could split work and that they are “both even” with regards to carrying the rock.
Chris Johnson is an outstanding football player who has had a phenomenal, and seems like, 100 year career. If something were to happen to David, there is no doubt that Bruce Arians would lean heavily on the veteran. He would be in line to post respectable fantasy numbers.
Tim Hightower, RB, New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram is one of the few running backs in the league that truly has a workhorse role. He runs the ball, catches the ball, and is a goal line bruiser. However, he has only played in every game of a season only once since coming into the league in 2011.
His tendency to miss games reared its ugly head last year when he missed the last four games due to injury. Tim Hightower was therefore thrust into the same type of workhorse back position. He scored double digits in all but one of those four games, averaged 17.4 standard fantasy points, and was the number two running back in that span. With Ingram’s vulnerability to injury, look to Tim Hightower as a high end fantasy handcuff.