Handcuffing in Fantasy Football is the idea of filling a roster spot with a 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. The point of this article is to pinpoint 2017 Fantasy Football Handcuffs.
Problem is that nowadays NFL teams like to use a running back by committee approach (RBBC). With this RBBC adoption, it becomes useless to handcuff most running backs. Running backs are getting hurt or busting at an even higher rate, leading to the perceived need to handcuff.
Some running backs already split time with the number two running back on the team. Or if the starter goes down, the backups form a committee. Figuring out the right handcuff to draft is a daunting task. Will he perform as you hoped? Will the starter miss time? Is he going to get the same opportunity as the starter? All of these uncertainties make for a frustrating strategy. Not to mention, you have to spend a draft pick on the guy and use a roster spot on him. This is a roster spot that could never even return value.
I get it though. People like to feel safe, and in this sense, handcuffing your studs does provide a sense of security. Though it may be a false sense of security. JJ Zachariason over at Numberfire.com recently released an article on why you should stop drafting handcuffs. It is an interesting take on the concept and worth reading.
2017 Fantasy Football Handcuffs
Certain teams have backup running backs that don’t fit the handcuff category. These running backs have value in themselves, demand a higher draft pick, and do not necessarily need the starter to go down to be useful. But, if the starter does go down these guys become high-value commodities and possibly even elite.
This list includes guys like Tevin Coleman, Derrick Henry, and Adrian Peterson. Of course, it would be nice to have Derrick Henry as a handcuff to DeMarco Murray by drafting him in the close to last rounds, but unfortunately drafting him requires a mid-round pick and too much of an investment in one backfield.
The general advice here is if you are determined to deploy the handcuffing strategy, only focus on handcuffing your studs in situations where the backup has a clear-cut path to a similar workload. Another strategy is to handcuff other players, not on your team, to maximize your team’s potential upside. Below is a list of handcuff worthy players that should see the majority of the touches. These players have a likely chance of becoming fantasy relevant if something were to happen to the feature back.
Click here for a full list of this year's projected handcuffs and their respective ADPs at FantasyPros.com. Of course, you can also do a mock draft using the FantasyPros DraftWizard so you can see where certain handcuffs are being drafted. You can also do instant mock drafts and have your team analyzed and graded so that you have a leg up against your opponents come draft time.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers, over the past few years, have had one of the most prolific and Fantasy friendly backfields.
In the three games that former Pittsburgh backup, DeAngelo Williams started in 2016, and was fully healthy, he averaged over 23 standard points per game (PPG). In 2015, he averaged over 18 PPG, finished as the fourth best running back, tied for first in rushing touchdowns, and finished third in red zone attempts. He accomplished this all in only 10 games.
Williams is now gone and Bell has missed 14 games in the past two years, between suspension and injury. This leaves the door open for Connor as the backup to Bell. If Bell goes down or gets suspended, Connor should see plenty of work including carries, receptions, and goal line work, making him a valuable handcuff.
Jonathan Williams, RB, Buffalo Bills
Last year Mike Gillislee led the league in yards per carry for qualifying running backs with 100 or more carries, at 5.7 yards per carry (YPC). He also finished in the top 11 for rushing touchdowns, at eight, as a backup. Gillislee is now with the Patriots.
The Buffalo offensive line is very good. Shady McCoy has a history of injury, and is 29 years old in July, close to the dreaded 30 for running backs. The Bills run the ball a lot and Tyrod Taylor’s rushing abilities opens up the running game. The Buffalo coaching staff has stated that they are invested in Williams for the future. If or when McCoy misses time, Williams should get plenty of work to be fantasy relevant and bring value as a handcuff.
The Buffalo coaching staff has stated that they are invested in Williams for the future. If or when McCoy misses time, Williams should get plenty of work to be fantasy relevant and bring value as a handcuff.
Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys boast the second best rated offensive line, allowing for an excellent running game. In 2015, when Darren McFadden was the starting running back, he averaged over 4.6 YPC, good enough for 3rd in the NFL for qualified running backs with 170 or more carries. He also scored over ten standard fantasy points in all but three games after becoming the starter in Week 7.
Ezekiel Elliott demanded a very heavy workload last year, will likely demand another heavy workload this year, and might not be able to stay out of car wrecks or trouble. All of this could lead to missed time for Elliott and an opportunity to provide some return on investment for McFadden.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In 2016, Rodgers was in the top 15 for yards per carry for running backs with over 129 carries, at 4.3 YPC.
In 2017 there is little competition for the backup role. Charles Sims is more effective in a third down role after being ineffective as a rusher and missing time with injury. Rookie, Jeremy McNichols is the only real threat to the backup role, but will need to learn the offense. Rodgers already knows it.
Starter Doug Martin is facing a suspension for the first three games and has frequently missed time due to injury. In the five games as the starter, Rodgers averaged 12.94 standard PPG. Rodgers will immediately be useful in the first three games for Martin owners. He could continue to be useful if anything else happens to Martin.
Honorable Mention (Kareem Hunt Kansas City Chiefs, T.J. Logan Arizona Cardinals, D’Onta Foreman Houston Texans, Branden Oliver Los Angeles Chargers)