2019 Running Back Handcuff Strategy: The Value in RB Platoons

by Michael Tomlin
Running Back Handcuff Strategy

Running back handcuff strategy can be a fickle thing. It has definitely changed over the past five to ten years as well. Running back handcuff strategy is not simply just taking the backup to your first-round pick anymore.

Jonathan Chan already laid out the must-own handcuffs to know going into the 2019 NFL Season. He also gave us the backfields that are leaning more towards the committee approach. The question now is how to differentiate this information into a running back handcuff strategy.

It all comes back to a concept that I came up with a few years ago: running back platoons. My father-in-law and I were in the championship of our big money league. We were deciding between starting Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, both on the Lions. We knew Detroit would score some that day, but it had been a back-and-forth on the better option the previous few weeks. So we decided to just start both of them.

Seven hours later, we were celebrating a championship. We cornered the running back market on a high-scoring team by having our running back’s “handcuff”.

You see, that’s the thing in the current state of the NFL: almost every backfield is a committee. At the current state of contract holdouts and uncertain injury/layoff-comebacks, I would say there is just a couple of backfields out of the 32 teams that do not have multiple Fantasy-relevant assets (Giants, Panthers).

2019 Running Back Handcuff Strategy

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So for our 2019 running back handcuff strategy, we are not handcuffing the running backs. We are handcuffing the backfields. Specifically, you want to target good/high-scoring offenses.

By platooning multiple backs in the same backfield, you can corner the market on production. In other words, you “handcuff” the Fantasy production as if it was a bell cow back.

The old days of just taking your top running back’s backup are gone. I mean, do you think Wayne Gallman or Cameron Artis-Payne can provide similar production to Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey? NO!! If they could be 3-down backs, then they would not be backups.

Moreover, if a top back gets hurt the team will probably sign a veteran off the street. As of this writing, Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Alex Collins and Chris Ivory are all unemployed. I could see LeSean McCoy, Carlos Hyde and Frank Gore joining them shortly. So why waste a valuable roster spot on a “handcuff” that will probably never provide value?

My handcuff or platoon mate needs to provide value immediately. I want to take guys that can produce without an injury to the starter. It is not necessarily saying to plan to use multiple guys in the same backfield as your top two backs or something. I just mean as a bye week fill-in you wouldn’t be screwed.

So let’s get to which running back platoons fit this running back handcuff strategy. All of the Average Draft Position (ADP) and Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) data is taken with half-point per reception scoring in mind. The depth charts and data are up-to-date as of August 2nd from Fantasy Pros.

Running Back Platoons to Target

I used to rank the platoons. However, it’s tough to do that since the value you get them is the key factor. With the 2019 running back platoon strategy, I thought I should just list the good ones that I am targeting.

New Orleans Saints – Alvin Kamara (ADP: 3.3, ECR: RB3) and Latavius Murray (ADP: 97.7, ECR: RB31)

I mean obviously you want Kamara on your team. I am trying to say that with the running back handcuff strategy, Murray is the epitome of what we want.

The Saints have produced a platoon of Top 20 backs in each of the past two seasons. Murray has shown that he can be a solid producer as the second fiddle. It’s a marriage made in Fantasy heaven.

Cleveland Browns – Nick Chubb (ADP: 17.7, ECR: RB9) and Kareem Hunt (ADP: 90.0, ECR: RB53)

This one is a bit tougher with Hunt sitting out the first eight games. However I would argue that this is the most talented running back duo in the league. Chubb and Hunt ranked 1st and 3rd respectively in Elusive Rating and 1st and 4th in Yards After Contact per Attempt.

With the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., there will be more open lanes than ever in Cleveland. I want whoever is getting those attempts. With the amount of points that the Browns are expected to put up, I could see both of these guys being starter-worthy in the second half of the season.

Indianapolis Colts – Marlon Mack (ADP: 32.0, ECR: RB14) and Nyheim Hines (ADP: 156.3, ECR: RB45)

I would argue this is the least talented duo in the league. Neither of these guys was even in the Top 25 in the league in elusiveness or yards created. But they do have one thing going for them. They play with Andrew Luck in Indy.

The Colts are going to score a ton. They are going to move the ball even more. Hines is the pass-catcher of the duo, hauling in 63 balls in his rookie season. Mack rushed for over 75 yards per game in his first time as the starter. I think they could easily cross the 80-catch/1,200 yard barrier respectively.

***UPDATE 8/8: The Colts claims D'Onta Foreman off of waivers from Houston. I'm not sure he makes the team here either, but as of now I am leaving this duo as is.

Denver Broncos – Phillip Lindsay (ADP: 44.7, ECR: RB25) and Royce Freeman (ADP: 101.0, ECR: RB34)

I am a believer that Freeman will win the heavier workload in Denver. He was 21st in elusiveness last year. Phillip Linsday ranked 46th in that same category that quantifies how many yards are created per touch.

It is already coming out that these two are splitting carries. With Joe Flacco under center, I can promise you that they do not want to sling the ball around. There will be enough touches for both to sniff the RB2/FLEX territory.

Seattle Seahawks – Chris Carson (ADP: 54.0, ECR: RB23) and Rashaad Penny (ADP: 83.0, ECR: RB32)

The Seahawks ran the ball more than anyone in the league last year. Carson had the quietest elite running back season in memory with over 1,100 rushing yards and nine scores.

Mike Davis is also gone. If you just combine he and Penny's stats from last season, the production in Full-PPR leagues was actually slightly more than Carson. Carson being drafted as a low-end RB2 is the steal of the draft as of now. Penny is still a solid value.

San Francisco 49ers – Tevin Coleman (ADP: 73.3, ECR: RB28) and Jerick McKinnon (ADP: 109.3, ECR: RB42)

Tevin Coleman was in the top RB Platoon for a few years with Devonta Freeman. McKinnon finally got to show what he could do with a solid workload in 2017. He accumulated almost 1,000 scrimmage yards, 51 catches and five touchdowns.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan knows how to use a running back platoon. He knows how to use one with Coleman in it in fact, as he was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta for two seasons. That happens to coincide with Coleman’s most efficient and highest-scoring season. At the current price point, this is a very low risk platoon to obtain.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ronald Jones (ADP: 119.3, ECR: RB39) and Peyton Barber (ADP: 142.3, ECR: RB47)

Speaking of price point, this platoon is solely based on cost. Acquiring a duo in Rounds 11 and 14 is ideal for the Zero-RB drafter. I am a fan of the Single-RB draft construction this year and the Bucs’ platoon is perfect for that.

Tampa Bay will not be good. But they will be explosive on offense and score points. Who knows which of these two guys will get the lead role. It will be one of them though and at the point people are already taking defenses, the price is worth it.

****8/8 UPDATE: Houston Texans - Lamar Miller (ADP: 73.3, ECR: RB27 ) and Duke Johnson (NEW ADP/ECR TBD)

The Texans jettisoned Foreman, but traded for Johnson. Duke has long been a favorite late-round target of mine. Last year was tough with the emergence of Chubb and coaching change. In Johnson's first three pro campaigns he averaged 942 yards from scrimmage, almost 63 catches a year and almost 177 PPR points a season. I think he can come close to that as the pass-catcher in Houston.

Lamar Miller's ADP will surely drop. At that point, he will become a value play in the mid-30's at the position. Miller has averaged a 1,316 scrimmage yard 16-game pace over the past five seasons. Throw in the work as the goal line back and I think both backs can end up as RB2's.

Running Back Situations to Avoid

These backfields would qualify as platoons. However, the ADP cost is too high or the offense is too bad.

Pittsburgh Steelers – James Conner (ADP: 11.0, ECR: RB6) and Jaylen Samuels (ADP: 155.3, ECR: RB52)

I am on record of avoiding Conner this season. His production is solely based on high usage. After Samuels proved he could carry the load and the drafting of Benny Snell, I just do not see the workload there for Conner.

Furthermore, he was just 29th in the league in elusiveness. He was 33rd in overall rushing grade per PFF. I am going to avoid this group completely due to Conner’s ridiculously high cost point.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Leonard Fournette (ADP: 31.0, ECR: RB16) and Ryquell Armstead (ADP:202.0, ECR: RB73)

Fournette has not played a full season since his freshman year of college. The Jaguars also have Armstead, Alfred Blue and Thomas Rawls. I’ll pass.

Chicago Bears – David Montgomery (ADP: 53.3, ECR: RB24) and Tarik Cohen (ADP: 58.0, ECR: RB29)

This is another platoon that is just too costly. I’m sure both of these guys will have their moments. I just think that they are being drafted too close to their statistical ceiling.

New England Patriots – Sony Michel (ADP: 54.7, ECR: RB22), James White (ADP: 65.0, ECR: RB27) and Damien Harris (ADP: 128.0, ECR: RB50)

I will stick to just taking James White. He has carved out his niche within the Patriots’ offense. The other two guys along with Rex Burkhead will all take turns being useful for Fantasy purposes. Who knows which guy will be in which week. So stick to White and leave the rest.

Washington Redskins – Derrius Guice (ADP: 69.3, ECR: RB33), Adrian Peterson (ADP: 136.7, ECR: RB43) and Chris Thompson (ADP: 204.0, ECR: RB55)

Two of these guys are coming off major injuries. The other is a 34-year old with 3,219 career touches. The offense will be absolutely atrocious. Stay away from this entire backfield.

That’s it for the 2019 running back handcuff strategy. Be sure to check out our updated draft rankings!

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