Where and When to Handcuff WRs

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By John Paulsen (Senior Editor) on January 4, 2013

John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 season, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in 2012 for an unprecedented three straight top 5 finishes. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-13 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate preseason rankings.  Follow John on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Earlier in the week (in The Art of the Handcuff), I discussed the different scenarios where fantasy owners may want to draft a backup RB to provide insurance for another RB that was picked early in the draft. The best example is Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Since Foster seems to be the consensus #1 overall pick and Tate is the clear (and obviously talented) backup, it makes a lot of sense to use a 6th or 7th rounder on Tate as insurance to lock up the Texans' stellar running game if something were to happen to Foster.

Now I'd like to discuss two different types of WR handcuffs.
 

INJURY HANDCUFFS

 
When it comes to WRs, handcuffs aren't as common, though they can still be useful. This year, the most obvious injury handcuff is Kenny Britt and Nate Washington. Britt is a very talented WR and if he plays 16 games, he'll probably finish in the top 5. But he has been njury-prone and he's not yet 100%. If he can't go to start the season or gets injured again, Washington is a proven vet that can step in and provide solid production. Last year, with Britt playing just two full games, Washington finished WR16 in standard scoring formats. He even provided decent production in two games alongside Britt (13 catches, 166 yards), so for a guy going in the 11th round (or even later), he could work his way into a fantasy WR3 role even if Britt plays a full season and rookie Kendall Wright makes an impact.
 
Another injury handcuff that fantasy owners may want to consider is Calvin Johnson and Titus Young. Johnson's ADP is solidly in the 1st round, while Young is going in the 9th. If Calvin were to go down, the team would have to lean heavily on Young and he'd likely provide fantasy WR2 value in that scenario.
 
Finally, Marques Colston and Lance Moore jump out as another good injury handcuff at the WR position. Colston is going in the 5th round while Moore has been going in the 10th. Moore is a proven vet who would also jump into WR2 territory if Colston were to miss time.
 

PRODUCTION HANDCUFFS

 
Many fantasy owners shy away from drafting two WRs on the same team, but I'm sometimes willing go out of my way to do so. Here's why:
 
1. More consistent production
Imagine that the total number of completions, passing yards and passing TDs in a given game (or season) is just a big pie filled with fantasy points. Over the course of the year, the WR1 is going to get a big slice, while the WR2 will probably get a smaller slice. The TE will get his share, and so will the RB1, if he's adept at that phase of the game. If not, the third-down RB will get that work. The rest of the pie will be divvied up between the rest of the WRs, RBs and TEs.
 
If the WR1 is getting extra attention and has a below average game, chances are that the WR2 will see more targets to compensate. If an owner has both the WR1 and WR2 in a good passing attack, this will result in a "higher floor" for those two starting slots. I would rather have a consistent squad than one that swings wildly from week to week. Over the long haul, consistency will bring more wins.
 
2. Built-in insurance
If Greg Jennings goes down, Jordy Nelson is probably going to see a jump in targets. For a fantasy owner, Nelson's "extra" production will somewhat offset the loss of Jennings. Without Nelson on the roster, this increased production can't be enjoyed.
 
This situation actually occurred in 2011. Jennings sat out the final three games of the season, and Nelson went nuts, scoring an average of 25.9 points per game in PPR formats while seeing his targets jump from 5.3 T/G to 8.7 over those last three games.
 
There are a couple of downsides to drafting the top two WRs from a given team. If Aaron Rodgers gets injured, that's going to hurt the value of both Jennings and Nelson. The other issue is strength of schedule. Fantasy owners will want to be careful not to draft two players from the same team if they have a tough schedule in the fantasy playoffs.
 
The table below covers a few potential WR handcuffs for the 2012 season. It shows the duo's 2011 average FP in PPR formats (W1-W16) in games where both players played, the 2011 coefficient of variation (CV = standard deviation / mean; the lower the number, the more consistent the duo), the ADPs for both WRs, 2012 SOS and 2012 SOS for Weeks 14-16.
 
Combo 2011 Avg (PPR) 2011 CV WR1 ADP WR2 ADP SOS SOS - L3
Nicks/Cruz 34.2 35% 3.10 3.02 30.2 33.4
White/Jones 34.2 42% 3.11 3.05 31.9 32.2
Jennings/Nelson 32.5 21% 3.01 4.06 33.2 33.1
Welker/Lloyd - - 3.06 5.08 31.3 31.2
Bryant/Austin 27.0 33% 4.04 4.08 30.1 32.7
Wallace/Brown 28.7 27% 4.03 5.09 30.6 31.9
Thomas/Decker - - 4.12 7.09 32.6 31.6
Maclin/Jackson 26.2 42% 5.04 6.03 31.1 31.2
Moore/Heyward-Bey 22.3 38% 8.02 9.03 30.3 27.9
Meachem/Floyd - - 8.03 9.02 30.3 27.0
 
A few things to note:
 
  • Owners drafting near the 2/3 turn (end of 2nd round, beginning of 3rd) could potentially go with Nicks/Cruz, White/Jones or Jennings/Nelson, though Nelson has (surprisingly) been available in the 4th round fairly regularly in recent drafts. One downside with going WR/WR in the 2nd and 3rd rounds is the relative depth at WR this year lends itself to perhaps waiting until the 4th/5th to draft your WR1 & WR2. If you do draft one of these duos near the 2/3 turn, you're likely looking at someone like Michael Turner, Reggie Bush or Shonn Greene as your RB2 in the 4th. I have no problem with a core of LeSean McCoy, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Michael Turner, but I like Turner more than most.
  • Welker/Lloyd is an interesting pair due to the many mouths to feed in New England. They won't have the typical WR1/WR2 co-dependency due to the prominent roles that both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez play in the Patriots' offense. However, that passing attack is potent, so that would be a good pair to have in the 3rd and 5th.
  • Owners picking near the 3/4 turn could target Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Dez seems more likely to go first, and with Laurent Robinson gone, Bryant and Austin are going to see a large portion of the WR targets in Dallas.
  • Mike Wallace is going at a discount due to the holdout, and owners should be wary because this could possibly turn into another Vincent Jackson 2011 situation where he holds out for most of the season only to report late to earn a year of service and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. However, for fantasy owners who can stomach the risk, the Wallace/Brown combo was the second most consistent of the seven duos I studied. Regardless, I like Brown in the 5th, especially in PPR formats.
  • I like Jeremy Maclin; DeSean Jackson...not so much. Still, if I take Maclin in the 4th or 5th and D-Jax is still hanging around in the 7th, I might hold my nose and pull the trigger.
  • Two middle round combos that I really like are Denarius Moore/Darrius Heyward-Bey and Robert Meachem/Malcom Floyd. These are both situations where we're not really sure who's going to end up being the WR1, and by drafting both, you're pretty much guaranteeing yourself a solid WR2 (and perhaps a solid WR3 as well). Unfortunately, the SOS for the fantasy playoffs for both duos looks to be pretty tough. The Chargers have PIT, CAR and NYJ, while the Raiders have DEN, KC and CAR.
Filed Under: Preseason, 2012