The Art of the Handcuff: 2015 Running Backs

The Art of the Handcuff: 2015 Running Backs

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last update Sep 6, 2015

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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. 

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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 LeVeon Bell in the first round, he could later draft DeAngelo Williams as a handcuff. Not only will owners be covered for Bell’s two-game suspension, but if he goes down with an injury, then Williams would likely 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 (and price) 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.

You’ll notice that some of these potential handcuffs have ADPs in the 9th-11th round (or even earlier). Be careful using such a valuable pick on what amounts to insurance. Looking at 2014 ADP, some big-name receivers went in the 9th-11th rounds, namely Mike Evans (WR11), Kelvin Benjamin (WR16), Anquan Boldin (WR23) and Jordan Matthews (WR24). Zach Ertz (TE13) and Martellus Bennett (TE5) went in that range as well. There were even a couple of gems at the running back position in Jeremy Hill (RB10) and Fred Jackson (RB25). Owners who were worried about drafting their expensive handcuffs would have missed an opportunity to draft a couple of backs that finished the year in the top 25. (Then again, if they happened to be Giovani Bernard or C.J. Spiller owners, then they did a nice job of insuring their early pick.)

Below you'll find the table of the 32 RB1s, in the order of our standard scoring rankings . 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.

Note: An asterisk indicates a player that I recommend targeting even if you don’t have the RB1 on your roster. These are players going late in drafts that are all capable of posting RB2 numbers if the RB1 goes down with an injury.


32 NFL RB1s and Their Handcuffs
RB1 Handcuff ADP Priority Comments
Adrian Peterson Jerick McKinnon 13th 4 Matt Asiata would also be in the mix, especially around the goal line, but McKinnon averaged 12.7 touches in 11 games as a rookie.
LeVeon Bell DeAngelo Williams 12th 3 Williams should see 14-plus touches in the first two weeks then find himself in a reserve role once Bell returns from suspension.
Marshawn Lynch Fred Jackson 16th 3 Christine Michael is out of the way and Turbin is out for a while. This is F-Jax's job to lose. Thomas Rawls is the RB3.
Eddie Lacy James Starks* 16th 5 Starks has proven capable of fantasy RB2 numbers if Lacy goes down.
Jamaal Charles Knile Davis 10th 3 Davis was solid last year in relief, but a 10th rounder is a big price to pay for a handcuff.
C.J. Anderson Ronnie Hillman 16th 4 HIllman becomes the primary back if Anderson goes down. Ball is gone, so Juwan Thompson is the RB3.
Matt Forte ?     KaDeem Carey, Jeremy Langford and Jacquizz Rodgers are vying for the honor of backing up Forte.
Jeremy Hill Giovani Bernard 5th 1 Bernard turns into a low-end RB1 if something happens to Hill, but the 5th round pick is untenable.
DeMarco Murray Ryan Mathews 8th 2 Mathews may have standalone value if the Eagles split the carries as evenly as some beat writers have suggested (50-30-15 split between Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles).
LeSean McCoy Karlos Williams, Anthony Dixon 16th 3 With Fred Jackson cut, Williams appears to have the inside track to back up McCoy, but Dixon would be involved as well.
Frank Gore Josh Robinson 16th 3 It looks like Herron is out for a while, so Robinson likely takes over as Gore's primary handcuff. Vick Ballard is still on the roster.
Lamar Miller Damien Williams* 16th 4 Ajayi is on the shelf for a while. Williams is the proper handcuff here and is an interesting injury play.
Justin Forsett Lorenzo Taliaferro, Javorius Allen 16th 2 Javorius Allen probably splits time with Taliaferro if something happens to Forsett. Allen may hold more value in PPR. Taliaferro is dealing with an MCL sprain.
Alfred Morris Matt Jones* 15th 4 Jones is pretty cheap considering he's a rookie.
Jonathan Stewart Cameron Artis-Payne* 14th 4 Mike Tolbert could very well carry the load if Stewart went down, so I'm not totally sold on Artis-Payne as a handcuff. Stewart has been injury-prone, so it's worth a shot.
Melvin Gordon Branden Oliver 16th 2 A committee is likely if Gordon goes down, and Danny Woodhead's third-down role seems to be safe.
Mark Ingram Khiry Robinson* 16th 5 If Ingram goes down, Robinson will be the biggest beneficiary. He averaged 16.7 touches in the three games that Ingram missed last year.
Latavius Murray Roy Helu* 12th 4 Helu is likely sees a spike in touches if Murray gets injuried.
Joseph Randle Darren McFadden, Christine Michael 9th 1 McFadden is too pricey to recommend as a handcuff, but if you think he can win the job, have at it. Michael is now in the mix.
LeGarrette Blount Brandon Bolden 16th 2 The Pats cut Jonas Gray, though he may end up back on the practice squad.
Andre Ellington David Johnson 9th 2 A 9th round pick is a steep price to pay for a handcuff, even though Johnson would likely be the RB1 if Ellington is injured. Chris Johnson is now in the mix.
Todd Gurley Tre Mason 7th 1 Gurley's murky status has led to a situation where Mason is going in the middle rounds.
Ameer Abdullah Joique Bell 6th 1 Abdullah has passed Bell, but both players should provide fantasy starter (RB2 or better) value in PPR formats.
Carlos Hyde Reggie Bush* 10th 1 I'd prefer to simply draft Bush and ignore Hyde at his current price. When Bush stays healthy, he typically produces.
T.J. Yeldon Toby Gerhart 16th 1 If Yeldon is injured, the Jags probably turn to a Toby Gerhart/Denard Robinson committee.
Chris Ivory ?     Bilal Powell is the third-down back. Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy will compete for the RB3 job once Ridley is healthy.
Doug Martin Charles Sims 11th 2 The Bucs' running game doesn't project to be strong enough to warrant a handcuff.
Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson 8th 1 Terrance West is out of the way, so it looks like a 1-2 punch of Crowell and Johnson.
Tevin Coleman Devonta Freeman 8th 1 This figures to remain a committee for most of the season.
Rashad Jennings Andre Williams 14th 4 Williams' price is reasonable considering the injury history of Jennings. Shane Vereen's role would likely remain largely unchanged in the event of a Jennings injury. Williams is reportedly closing on Jennings.
Arian Foster Alfred Blue 12th 3 Blue has to fend off Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes to win the job while Foster is out. Complicating matters, Foster's recovery timeline seems to be getting shorter.
Bishop Sankey Terrance West 16th 1 This is shaping up as a committee. David Cobb is out for a while, and the team traded for West to provide depth/competition.


A few observations:


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