The Art of the Handcuff

Jul 09, 2012
The Art of the Handcuff

In fantasy football, the definition of handcuff is as follows:

hand-cuff verb*
to draft a second player mainly as insurance for another player already on the roster

The guy who took Arian Foster with the first pick had to handcuff Ben Tate in the 6th round.

* Yes, I realize it can also be a noun.

Handcuffing RBs is not an exact science. The value of a handcuff depends on several factors, including the value of the RB1 in question, the durability of the RB1, the ability 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, depending on how many slots you intend to use for RBs. I don't typically worry about handcuffing RBs taken after the third round.

Below you'll find the table of the 32 RB1s, ranked in order of ADP. There are a few cases where the current RB2 is actually going ahead of the RB1, but for our purposes, we'll assume that the player with the higher ADP has more value. I've also listed the probable handcuff(s) for each RB1 along with their Priority, which is on a scale of one to five, with five being a "must-handcuff" situation.

RB1 Handcuff Priority Comments
Arian Foster Ben Tate 5 Arguably the most important handcuff of 2012. Tate's 5.4 YPC on 175 attempts proves his value.
LeSean McCoy Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown 1 Muddy fight for RB2 job with iffy talent.
Ray Rice Bernard Pierce 2 Three-way fight for RB2, but Pierce figures to have the edge.
Ryan Mathews Curtis Brinkley, Ronnie Brown 1 RB2 not clear in SD.
Maurice Jones-Drew Rashad Jennings 4 Jennings has some talent and MJD may miss games due to holdout/injury.
Chris Johnson Javon Ringer 3 Ringer had a rough 2011, but rushed for 4.7 YPC in 2010.
Darren McFadden Mike Goodson 1 Rumors swirl that Raiders will sign Cedric Benson. If not, ugly RBBC if DMC goes down.
Trent Richardson Brandon Jackson 2 Jackson is serviceable, but Montario Hardesty could vulture touches if he makes the team.
Marshawn Lynch Leon Washington, Robert Turbin 2 Washington is a very different player, RBBC if Lynch goes down.
DeMarco Murray Felix Jones 4 Felix is capable of carrying the load for a couple of weeks if Murray misses time.
Adrian Peterson Toby Gerhart 5 Gerhart is a must-draft for those owners brave enough to draft Peterson.
Matt Forte Michael Bush 5 Forte shouldn't miss any games, but Bush has proven to be a great handcuff.
Jamaal Charles Peyton Hillis 5 Hillis should be a serviceable RB2 if Charles were to go down.
Steven Jackson Isaiah Pead 2 Not a good running game to start with, gets a lot worse if S-Jax goes down.
Ahmad Bradshaw David Wilson 5 Wilson is a must-handcuff for Bradshaw owners.
Fred Jackson C.J. Spiller 5 Spiller may be startable in PPR leagues even with F-Jax in lineup.
Darren Sproles Pierre Thomas 4 Thomas would take over Sproles's pass-catching role.
Doug Martin LeGarrette Blount 3 Blount may actually start, but Martin is going much earlier.
Michael Turner Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling 1 Snelling may be the better Turner handcuff, would likely get his goal line carries.
Frank Gore Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs 2 Ugly mess if Gore goes down.
Reggie Bush Daniel Thomas 3 Lamar Miller is in the mix, but Thomas should have a leg up if/when Reggie gets dinged up.
Isaac Redman Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer 1 Mendy may start the season on PUP. Redman not really worth handcuffing.
Shonn Greene Joe McKnight 1 McKnight too slight to carry the load for long.
Beanie Wells Ryan Williams 3 Two-RB system in the works for ARI.
Roy Helu Tim Hightower, Evan Royster 1 Expect more Shanahanigans in 2012.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis Bernard Scott 2 BJGE's ADP makes his handcuff a low priority.
Willis McGahee Ronnie Hillman 2 Hillman buried on the depth chart at the moment.
Jonathan Stewart DeAngelo Williams 3 Makes sense to get both if you can -- if one goes down, the other may be a RB1.
Jahvid Best Mikel LeShoure, Kevin Smith 1 This appears to be a very ugly RBBC, though Best/LeShoure start atop the depth chart.
James Starks Alex Green 1 Green trying to come back from a torn ACL. Cloudy situation after Starks.
Donald Brown Delone Carter, Vick Ballard 2 Carter has experience, but coaching staff drafted Ballard.
Stevan Ridley Shane Vereen 2 NE RBBC will be tough to predict all year.

A few random observations:

  • Topping my list of must-handcuffs are Ben Tate, Toby Gerhart, Michael Bush, Peyton Hillis, David Wilson and C.J. Spiller. Aside from Wilson (who has been getting rave reviews from Giants minicamp), the other five RBs are proven (or semi-proven) and would pick up at a RB1 (Tate, Bush, Spiller) or an RB2 (Gerhart, Hillis, Wilson) level if the RB1 ahead of them goes down with an injury. Tate, Spiller and Wilson figure to have significant value even if Foster, Jackson and Bradshaw get their usual complement of carries. I don't really recommend Jackson at his price, but owners that draft him should do what they can to get Spiller as well.
  • Next up are Rashad Jennings, Felix Jones, Pierre Thomas, Daniel Thomas and DeAngelo Williams. These players would project to produce at a RB2/RB3 level if the RB1s ahead of them were to miss time.
  • RBs that have a reputation for being injury-prone (e.g. Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews and Steven Jackson) do not always merit a handcuff if the situation behind the RB1 is unclear. For example, Mike Goodson should be a decent handcuff for McFadden, but many expect the Raiders to sign Cedric Benson, who would compete to become his primary backup. It makes no sense to use a pick on a handcuff if we can't be reasonably certain that the player is next in line for carries.
  • Notice that there aren't any situations that merit a 4+ Priority after Sproles. It's generally not worth it to handcuff a RB that is going in the 4th round or later since they aren't all that great in the first place.
  • It's not a bad strategy to draft two RBs early -- like Foster and Murray -- and then spend two middle round picks on Tate and Felix. That way, barring multiple injuries, our two starting RB slots are covered for all but two (bye) weeks.
  • Going a step further, one could draft Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, Rashad Jennings and Michael Bush, who all have a Week 6 bye and simply punt that week, leaving the team at full strength the rest of the season.
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