2014 Running Backs: The Art of the Handcuff

2014 Running Backs: The Art of the Handcuff

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last updated Sep 12, 2016

John Paulsen's picture

John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John on Twitter: @4for4_John.

For newbies, the word handcuff is used in fantasy football to describe the act of drafting a player in order to provide insurance for another player already on the roster. For example, if an owner drafted Jamaal Charles in the first round, he would later draft Knile Davis as a handcuff. If Charles goes down with an injury, then Davis would likely be able to start in his place.

Handcuffing RBs is not an exact science. The importance of a handcuff depends on several factors, including the value of the RB1 in question, the durability of the RB1, the talent of the handcuff, the overall clarity of the RB situation and the roster size of the league. It's typically a good idea to handcuff your top 1-2 RBs provided the aforementioned factors don't make it difficult or wasteful to do so. RB is the most injury-prone position in fantasy football and it makes sense to buy insurance if the handcuff meets the necessary criteria.

It's easier to handcuff with larger roster sizes. If you can only carry 16 players, it may only make sense to handcuff one RB1 (or none), depending on how many slots you intend to use for RBs. I don't typically worry about handcuffing RBs I don’t plan to start on a weekly basis, though there are the occasional exceptions.

Below you'll find the table of the 32 RB1s, ranked in order of ADP. I've also listed the probable handcuff for each RB1 along with their Priority, which is on a scale of one to five, with one being “don’t bother” and five being a "you-must-handcuff-this-player-or-suffer-the-consequences" situation.


32 NFL RB1s and Their Handcuffs

RB1 Handcuff ADP Priority Comments
Jamaal Charles Knile Davis * 14th 5 Davis is an ideal handcuff. He's cheap (14th round ADP) and pretty talented. He should post RB2-type numbers if something happens to Charles.
LeSean McCoy

Darren Sproles

16th 5 The team has indicated that Sproles would see a jump in touches if something happens to McCoy.
Adrian Peterson Matt Asiata 16th 3 Asiata likely splits time with Jerick McKinnon if AP misses time. Asiata can carry the load, but the Vikings will want to get McKinnon on the field.
Matt Forte Shaun Draughn 16th 3 Draughn has been running behind Forte in camp. We last saw him in a minor role for the Chiefs in 2012.
Eddie Lacy James Starks
DuJuan Harris
16th 3 Starks was the clear RB2, but DuJuan Harris has had a good preseason and is pushing him for touches.
DeMarco Murray Lance Dunbar 13th 3 Dunbar is the RB2, but there are rumblings that Joseph Randle or Ryan Williams would see the larger jump in touches if Murray goes down.
Montee Ball Ronnie Hillman
C.J. Anderson
15th 3 Hillman has been running ahead of Anderson in camp, but if Ball gets injured, it will probably devolve into a RBBC.
Marshawn Lynch

Robert Turbin

Christine Michael 

11th 2 Michael is still behind Turbin, so a Lynch injury may not guarantee starter's touches for Michael. Still, he's worth the risk after a great offseason. Turbin hasn't done anything to lose the RB2 job, however.
LeVeon Bell LeGarrette Blount * 15th 5 Blount will have a role per the Steelers. Bell even said he expects Blount to get the goal line work. Blount's late-round ADP makes him a very attractive handcuff/flier.
Giovani Bernard Jeremy Hill 9th 4 Hill is expected to be the RB2, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis is playing his way onto the roster and may limit Hill's upside in the event that Bernard goes down.
Arian Foster Jonathan Grimes 16th 4 Grimes is currently ahead of rookie Alfred Blue. It's a somewhat murky situation, but Foster's durability is a major question mark.
Doug Martin Bobby Rainey 16th 4 Charles Sims is out for a while after foot surgery, so Rainey (612 yards, six TDs in 2013) would likely see starter's touches if Martin is injured. Mike Brown is also in the mix.
Alfred Morris Roy Helu 16th 3 Helu is mainly a 3rd down back, but can handle feature duties as a stopgap. Rookie Lache Seastrunk has to prove he can protect the QB.
Zac Stacy Benny Cunningham * 16th 4 Tre Mason is struggling in pass pro, so Cunningham continues to be the RB2 for the Rams. He averaged 5.6 YPC last year, so he'll be difficult to unseat.
Andre Ellington Jonathan Dwyer 16th 3 Dwyer played ahead of Stepfan Taylor in the preseason.
C.J. Spiller Fred Jackson * 8th 5 Jackson has flex value even with a healthy Spiller and is likely a RB2 if Spiller goes down. Bryce Brown is in the mix, but hasn't had a good camp.
Reggie Bush Theo Riddick * 16th 4 Not considering Joique Bell as a handcuff since he may actually receive the most carries this season. If something happens to Bush, Riddick likely sees the biggest bump in touches.
Toby Gerhart Jordan Todman 16th 3 Todman has "locked up" the RB2 job, though he averaged just 3.4 YPC last year.
Rashad Jennings Andre Williams * 10th 3 Williams has looked good in the preseason, but pass pro and poor hands are major issues. He'd likely only get early down work if Jennings were injured.
Shane Vereen James White * 14th 4 White may back up both Vereen and Stevan Ridley. His ADP is on the rise, but he's still affordable. There are even rumors that Ridley may be cut, which would be a boon for White (and Brandon Bolden).
Ryan Mathews Donald Brown * 16th 5 Brown was a top 30 back last year in a part-time role. He's playing behind the injury-prone Mathews, so there's a good chance he makes some starts this season.
Bishop Sankey Shonn Greene
Dexter McCluster
15th 3 Greene re-injured his knee but it's not supposed to be serious. McCluster would see more snaps as well if Sankey were hurt. Greene is technically the starter right now, but we expect that will change sooner rather than later.
Frank Gore Carlos Hyde * 8th 5 Kendall Hunter is out for the year, so the RB2 job is Hyde's to lose. Gore is a fantasy cockroach, but no one can outlast Father Time indefinitely.
Ray Rice Bernard Pierce 9th 5 Pierce's ADP makes him tough to handcuff, but he's going to start the first two games while Rice is suspended. Rice is expected to return to RB1 role.
Trent Richardson Ahmad Bradshaw * 12th 4 Bradshaw is better than Richardson, provided he can stay healthy. He's worth a late-round flier even without T-Rich on the roster. Dan Herron backs up the oft-injured Bradshaw and is a name to remember.
Chris Johnson Chris Ivory 14th 3 Ivory was pretty good last year. He's expected to split time with CJ?K, though he's had real trouble staying healthy. Bilal Powell is also in the mix.
Ben Tate Terrance West * 8th 5 West is pushing Tate for the starting job, though Tate has a big edge in experience. Given Tate's injury history, West should see a few starts this year.
Lamar Miller Knowshon Moreno 10th 2 Moreno is coming off of knee injury and Miller has been pretty good in camp. The Dolphins O-line is struggling to open up running lanes in the preseason. Moreno may be pushing Miller for the RB1 job.
Pierre Thomas Mark Ingram * 11th 2 It's not clear who would replace Thomas in the passing game. It could be Ingram, Brandin Cooks or Travaris Cadet. Ingram likely sees more snaps, however.
Steven Jackson Devonta Freeman * 9th 4 Freeman is buried on the depth chart but has looked great in the preseason and likely has a role if S-Jax misses any time.
Maurice Jones-Drew Darren McFadden 10th 2 It's not clear who is going to be the RB1, but if one of these two goes down, the other would see a jump in value. Latavius Murray is waiting in the wings.
DeAngelo Williams Jonathan Stewart * 16th 2 J-Stew is back and looking pretty good in the preseason. This looks like an ugly RBBC, but both players are very late, so drafting both and waiting for a winner/injury is an option.

* indicates a player I’m targeting even if I don’t have the RB1 on my roster


A few key takeaways:

  • The ideal handcuff will be cheap, talented, obvious and play behind an injury-prone starter. Think Michael Bush, who played behind Darren McFadden in 2010-11. This year, Donald Brown checks all of the boxes.
  • I listed seven high-priority handcuffs: Knile Davis, LeGarrette Blount, Fred Jackson, Donald Brown, Carlos Hyde, Bernard Pierce and Terrance West, though Pierce (9th), Hyde (8th) and West (8th) may be too pricey to draft as handcuffs. Jackson is also going in the 8th, but he offers flex appeal in addition to serving as C.J. Spiller’s handcuff.
  • In addition to Jackson, Jeremy Hill and Mark Ingram offer some flex value.
  • In murky RBBC situations it can be useful to grab both backs vying for the job and hope that one emerges as a quality starter. For example, owners who draft Ray Rice can also grab Pierce. The Colts, Dolphins, Raiders and Panthers also have somewhat murky backfield situations.
  • Conversely, owners could target a few of the RB2s (i.e. draft Bradshaw, Moreno and Stewart) on the cheap and hope that one works his way into a starting role.
  • Even if the RB1 in question has durability issues, the situation does not always merit a handcuff if the backup situation is unclear. DeMarco Murray is an example.
  • Another strategy is to draft two RBs early – like Charles and Lynch – and then later draft their capable handcuffs (Davis and Michael). That way, barring multiple injuries in one backfield, the two starting RB slots are covered for all but two bye weeks. Draft a cheap RB3 (like Danny Woodhead or Fred Jackson) and call it a day.


Filed Under: Preseason, 2014

We are your friend's secret weapon.

  • Get 4 FREE downloads
  • Receive breaking news alerts & analysis.
  • BONUS: Learn how to play DFS.
  • Battle-Tested by 40,000+ fantasy football diehards since 1999.