The Art of the Handcuff: Where and When to Handcuff Your Stud RB

The Art of the Handcuff: Where and When to Handcuff Your Stud RB

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last update Aug 30, 2016

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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 1st/2nd round, he could later draft DeAngelo Williams as a handcuff. Not only will owners be covered for Bell’s four-game suspension, but if he goes down with an injury, then Williams would 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 starter in question, the durability of the starter, the talent (and price) of the handcuff, the overall clarity of the backfield situation and the roster size of your league. Generally, it’s a good idea to handcuff your top 1-2 backs provided the aforementioned factors don't make it difficult or wasteful to do so. Running back 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 in leagues with deep rosters. If you can only carry 16 players, it may only make sense to handcuff one running back (or none), depending on how many slots you intend to use on the position. I don't typically worry about handcuffing backs that 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 2015 ADP, some highly-productive players went in that range, namely Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Devonta Freeman, Eric Decker, Michael Floyd and Delanie Walker. On the flip side, owners who drafted Andre Ellington’s handcuff (David Johnson) or Bell’s handcuff (Williams) in the 10th/11th were sitting on a gold mine.

Below you'll find a table of our top 32 ranked running backs (PPR), along with their probable handcuff(s). I’ve also included the handcuff’s current multi-site ADP and their Priority, which is on a scale of one to five, with one being don’t bother and five being a you-should-handcuff-this-player-or-suffer-the-consequences situation.

Note: An asterisk indicates a player that is a good attrition/injury play even if you don’t have the starter on your roster. These are players going later in drafts capable of posting at least RB2 numbers if the starter goes down with an injury.

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