No, Brandon Marshall isn’t in trouble again, nor is this an expose on the legal escapades of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. There are no squad cars, but there should definitely be some sirens and flashing lights for fantasy owners, without question. This concerns that all important facet of this wondrous hobby – the Handcuff. While in previous years it was more an issue of injury insurance, with the emergence of the committee approach at the running back position, the handcuff is no longer a later round after-thought after the #1 option is secured. These so-called secondary options are on the radar much earlier in drafts than ever before, because their viability as increased by leaps and bounds over the past few seasons.
Strategy must be employed on draft day, figuring out the best way to secure these options, when, and how to do so without affecting the overall makeup of what is to be your primary starting lineup. Now of course, there are handcuffs in the general sense of the word, guys that are bona fide backup options, guys that won’t emerge in fantasy circles unless the starter is injured, benched or suspended. These particular players can be secured in the later rounds of draft or even in the early weeks of the waiver wire. But the strategy comes as to when to pull the trigger, if at all. Realize in the later rounds, most teams are at the point of building for depth and will lock on to backups, and it’s especially satisfying when you can snatch away that key backup from a fellow owner. It’s the deviously gratifying nature of the hobby, for sure!
When you look at guys who are the secondary part of a committee approach at running back, then it gets more interesting. For example, those who drafted oft-injured Raiders start Darren McFadden would have been served well by securing the services of one Michael Bush. Yes, Bush was a serviceable option with McFadden on the field, but when McFadden succumbed to injury (again), Bush rose to the forefront and was a stellar fantasy option.
Let’s take a look at each team and the running back depth as it stands right now. Well look over the players that fall into the handcuff category, the cast of characters involved and how they should be viewed on draft day! Bear in mind, this could change both positively and negatively as training camps begin, with cuts, injuries, standout performances and those underachieving.
Let’s run around the league and take a look at each situation.
Fred Jackson / CJ Spiller / Tashard Choice - While Spiller is an interesting wildcard due to his versatility and pass catching skills out of the backfield, he is worth considering if you draft Jackson. The fact that he is used both as a receiver and running back is mildly intriguing. Tashard Choice is in the mix as well, but in fantasy circles he is relatively worthless. Ok, I am being nice, so let me elaborate. In NFL circles Choice is relatively useless.
Reggie Bush / Daniel Thomas / Lamar Miller - Bush was a nice surprise in Miami this year, in my opinion over achieving, and better yet staying healthy. This was a huge disadvantage to Thomas, as many expected big things from him in his rookie season. As it turns out, Thomas battled a myriad of injuries and Bush’s production relegated Thomas to an afterthought in 2011. While conventional wisdom would say that Bush will fall back to earth, probably get hurt on the way down and Thomas will supplant him in Miami, one should keep a very close eye on rookie RB Lamar Miller and act accordingly. But if all remains the same, I would quietly draft Thomas and hope he was just a little late in meeting those lofty expectations from a year ago.
New England Patriots
Stevan Ridley / Danny Woodhead – The issue with either of these guys is the fact that the Patriots are a pass-first team. Even in the red zone, on the goal line, pretty much across the board. Ridley is a decent player, but if you are relying on either of these guys to anchor your squad, you should be placed in handcuffs and hauled away.
New York Jets
Shonn Greene / Joe McKnight – McKnight is a decent player, but should Green fall to injury, you’ll likely troll the waiver wire for McKnight or someone else to fill the void. McKnight is not a guy that you want to make sure you secure on draft day unless you have unlimited roster space or are the President of the Joe McKnight Fan Club. I know you are out there somewhere!
DeMarco Murray / Felix Jones – Murray was the benefactor, as were the owner’s fortunate enough to score him off the waiver wire, of injuries to both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Now fully recovered from the late season ankle injury that sidelined him for the last three games of the season, he is the #1 option in Dallas. With Choice out of the picture, the clear handcuff option is Felix Jones. He is worth considering in the latter stages of your fantasy draft.
New York Giants
Ahmad Bradshaw / David Wilson / Danny Ware – With Brandon Jacobs signing with the 49ers, there is no clear cut backup to Bradshaw. This could very well change quickly, as one would imagine that rookie David Wilson will get plenty of looks in the pre-season to solidify his place in New York. But unless the Giants bring in a quality veteran presence, I wouldn’t go too crazy in redraft league reaching for the handcuff here.
LeSean McCoy / Dion Lewis / Chris Polk – While many pundits will lean to Lewis being the immediate backup option to LeSean McCoy, I am not so sure. While Lewis is a nice little back, I think the real dark horse is the rookie out of Washington, Chris Polk. A forgotten soul in the draft due to injuries, in my opinion the Eagles got themselves a nice little score in Polk. Watch for him to make some noise in training camp and turn some heads if called into duty at some point during the season. He is already snapped up in most dynasty leagues, but in re-draft formats do yourself a favor, grab him late and wait. Call me a pessimist, but stud running back… nice fat new contract… the injury bug licking his chops.
Roy Helu / Evan Royster / Tim Hightower – With Roy Helu the clear cut starter heading into 2012, it will be interesting if Royster or Hightower rise to the occasion in a support role. Hightower brings versatility to the table, but is battling back from last season’s ACL injury. Evan Royster is a bruiser and has the eye of the head coach, but if you know Shanny like I know Shanny and how maddening he can be in fantasy circles, his endorsement is not overly convincing. However, being leery of Hightower and his ACL, I would look to Royster as the insurance policy to Roy Helu.
Ray Rice / Bernard Pierce – It is only because I am a Temple Alum I mention Pierce as a handcuff. Of course he could come into prominence, but if he is replacing Ray Rice, there will be legions of unhappy fantasy owners out there, and I am not sure Pierce can remedy that. He is a physical runner, and certainly worthy of consideration – I would be surprised if anyone in your league aside from the Ray Rice owner would be interested in him.. That is unless I am in your league.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis / Bernard Scott / Brian Leonard – Finally an opportunity for Law Firm to get the rock early and often, something that eluded him in New England. After him, I am not overly sure I would consider any of the Cincinnati backups to be viable handcuff material. Sure, Bernard Scott has been discussed in fantasy circles as a sleeper here and there, but nothing magical has yet to materialize. However, the Bengals are poised to have him compliment Green-Ellis and that again will make him intriguing to many. He could be worth a later round flier, if you are so inclined.
Trent Richardson / Montario Hardesty – From what I see, Richardson is confident and speaking his mind. However, while fantasy owners share his confidence, He’s a rookie, never faced the rigors of an NFL season or its defenders, so I am leery. Handcuff option? Look, it’s Cleveland and Jim Brown has long retired. After Richardson you basically have “eh”. While Hardesty is a decent option, and I like him as he’s another year removed from the ACL, he’s not someone I would climb over your fellow drafters to make a premature play for should you draft Richardson. Remember, you are drafting a rookie, and you’ll likely draft him early. Make sure those 2nd and 3rd roster running backs are solid fantasy options. Hardesty won’t exactly be a season-saver.
Isaac Redman / Jonathan Dwyer / Rashard Mendenhall – With long time starter Mendenhall starting 2012 on the PUP list rendering him ineligible until Week 6, the lay of the land in the Pittsburgh backfield is a little different this season. With Isaac Redman taking over the starting role, this leaves the backup duty and subsequent handcuff role to Jonathan Dwyer. Definitely a guy to grab late in your draft should you already have Redman in the mix. That said, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look at Mendenhall, in the event you have some roster room to spare. He’ll fly under the radar in most drafts, but if Redman or Dwyer are operating at a less than stellar pace, come Week 4 or 5, Mendenhall’s name will be EVERYWHERE.
Matt Forte / Michael Bush / Kahlil Bell – So the saving grace for Darren McFadden owners everywhere has relocated to the windy city. I think it is safe to say that Bush will get his fair share of touches with Forte in the lineup, but should Matt fall to injury, Bush will move into the starting lineup and be a top performer. It’s pretty simple, if you draft Forte, make sure you make a play for Bush before someone else does. I mentioned Bell, but unless something serious happens with either Forte or Bush, Bell will have minimal value.
Mikel Leshoure / Jahvid Best / Kevin Smith / Keiland Williams – From the looks of this M*A*S*H unit, it’s a good thing the Lions throw the ball a lot. Truthfully, Mikel Leshoure could be the starter in Detroit following his suspension, but after that injuries rule the day and could cause much trepidation from fantasy owners and rightfully so. Jahvid Best has yet to be cleared to play due to concussion symptoms. Kevin Smith, returned to the Lions last season in a big way, only to see injuries derail him yet again. Keilland Williams? The guy continually gains my support and disappoints. This overall history alone should give fantasy owners pause. I’d make a play for Leshoure as a #3 option and move along.
Green Bay Packers
James Starks / Alex Green / Brandon Saine – As long as the passing game continues to dominate the frozen tundra in Green Bay, I would be hesitant to consider the starting running back let alone losing sleep over the handcuff options.
Adrian Peterson / Toby Gerhart / Lex Hilliard - Peterson’s recovery will bear monitoring as training camp progresses. Gerhart is bruising type running back, a bit of a departure from Peterson, but if he gets the rock, he’s a serviceable option. If you draft ADP, make sure Gerhart is on your radar. You’ll see I mentioned Lex Hilliard here as well. Unlike Gerhart, Hilliard won’t be on as many fantasy radars on draft day or even on the waiver wire. That said, if you have the space, he is worth taking a gamble on in his new situation. I’ve seen stranger things happen in years past.
Arian Foster / Ben Tate – This is without question one of those key handcuff situations. If you are fortunate enough to secure the services of Texans RB Arian Foster, so yourself a favor and be sure to acquire Tate. This one will take some strategy on your part for a few reasons. Foster’s injury issues were no secret last season. When given the opportunity, Tate was more than a quality performer. Rest assured that your fellow owners will be in tune to this line of thinking and will be looking to pull the rug out from under you at some point during the draft. He’ll be a prime negotiating piece at some point during the season, or an absolute steal should Foster go down.
Donald Brown / Delone Carter – Donald Brown is poised to have a nice season for the Colts this year, despite working in new QB Andrew Luck. While many will shy away from Brown with a new signal caller, with Luck’s pedigree, I think Brown will flourish. With that in mind, and the fact that Brown can be maddeningly inconsistent, Carter is an interesting player to consider should you procure Brown, and one to consider even if you don’t.
Maurice Jones-Drew / Rashad Jennings – With negotiations at a stalemate between a new ownership in Jacksonville and what amounts to the entire offense of the Jaguars, it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. If you are willing to take a risk on what could be a lengthy holdout with Maurice Jones-Drew, be absolutely sure you pull the trigger on Jennings. Of course be mindful of the fact that he missed all of last season due to injury, but all systems seem to be a go this season and I am sure Jennings will relish the opportunity. This is another situation that will require some strategy regarding when to pull the trigger. Even if MJD signs in time for the beginning of the regular season, all involved would be wise be deliberate to avoid injury. If we’ve learned anything from lengthy holdouts and subsequent performances.. Chris Johnson anyone?.
Chris Johnson / Javon Ringer – Speak of the devil! Quite honestly, I think Johnson bounces back in a big way in 2012, as year removed from the nasty holdout and accompanying bouts with inconsistency and mediocrity. Regardless, Ringer is a guy you want in the fold should you draft Johnson in 2012.
Michael Turner / Jacquizz Rodgers / Jason Snelling – While Jason Snelling seems to have his niche in a limited but effective role in the Falcons offense, if you had to pick a handcuff option, the nod would have to go to Jacquizz Rodgers. I wouldn’t reach for him too early, but if you draft Turner, Rodgers would be the guy to consider.
DeAngelo Williams / Jonathan Stewart – Quite honestly, this is the epitome of a RBBC situation. Either can and will be drafted and will produce admirably for their fantasy owners. There is no handcuff scenario with these guys, because the chance of one team in your league obtaining both of these players is remote.
New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram / Pierre Thomas / Darren Sproles / Chris Ivory – I’ll immediately take Sproles out of the handcuff mix , as based on individual performance alone, he’ll be drafted with more than just handcuff aspirations. Quite honestly, all of these players are quality options, with Mark Ingram leading the pack. In regards to handcuff consideration, if Pierre Thomas can remain healthy, he’ll be poised to take on a more complete role should Ingram or Sproles fall to injury. Admittedly, I have a soft spot in my heart for Chris Ivory, but too many dominoes will have to fall in order for him to make an impact.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LeGarrette Blount/ Doug Martin – Drafting a rookie running back has it’s element of risk, without a doubt. But if you draft Blount, you are making a smart play but selecting Martin as a handcuff.
Willis McGahee / Knowshon Moreno / Ronnie Hillman / Lance Ball – The arrival of QB Peyton Manning, more importantly a healthy and motivated Peyton Manning will raise the value of pretty much every skill player on the Broncos roster, running backs included. Regarding handcuffs, this one could be hard to pinpoint. Knowshon Moreno showed glimpses of skill, yet his inability to stay on the field is disconcerting. Lance Ball could push for the backup job, but with all the bodies vying for the role, it is hard to speculate. However, since speculating is fun and feels soooo good when it works out in your favor, I’ll take the leap and lean heavily on the quick development of rookie RB Ronnie Hillman. He’s a bona fide risk in re-draft leagues, but since the likes of Moreno and Ball strike me as waiver wire selections, give that a whirl.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles / Peyton Hillis / Dexter McCluster – The situation here is key, as Jamaal Charles is working his way back from the torn ACL suffered last season. All signs are he looks great, but it is early yet, and if you are risking an early pick on Charles, you’d be wise to hammer down your contingency plan. Quite honestly, I am a big Peyton Hillis fan in 2012. New situation, new teammates and a new desire. Remember, this guy was a pretty solid fantasy performer until he got derailed a bit last season. Handcuff to Charles aside, while the other owner’s in your league are playing it safe, grabbing Hillis could very well be quite a coup in 2012. McCluster? Nah.
Darren McFadden / Mike Goodson / Taiwan Jones – Granted, many will be leery given McFadden’s injury riddled past. But rock solid handcuff Michael Bush has departed in free agency, and I would probably be kidding myself to think either Goodson or Jones would fill the role as admirably as Bush did. However, it bears watching – if McFadden were to succumb to injury yet again (alert the media), one of these guys will be thrust into fantasy relevancy.
San Diego Chargers
Ryan Matthews /Curtis Brinkley / Jacob Hester – The handcuff situation here is pretty cloudy, if uneventful. Brinkley will get every opportunity to be the primary backup, and is a fair handcuff option. Jacob Hester could emerge, as you can expect Le’Ron McClain to take on the lion’s share of the duties at full back (incidentally a HUGE plus for Ryan Matthews…) and even Eagles castoff Ronnie Brown is in the fold as well. I did say it was cloudy, folks.
Beanie Wells / Ryan Williams / LeRod Stephens-Howling – Perish the thought, should Wells again enrage his fantasy owners with another injury riddled season. When he’s in the lineup, he’s a solid option no doubt. When he is out of the lineup, I am not so sure that any of the other Cardinal running backs are going to set the world on fire. Ryan Williams has potential, but recovery from the patella tendon injury is a concern. I would probably avoid this situation at all costs and let the guy sitting next to you at the draft table worry about that mess.
San Francisco 49ers
Frank Gore / Kendal Hunter / Brandon Jacobs – It’s funny, I listed Kendal Hunter second after Frank Gore, but that is pretty inaccurate. During the course of last season it may have been applicable, but with the 49ers signing former Giant Brandon Jacobs and drafting LaMichael James, things are not very clear cut for Hunter. If I had to score a handcuff, I would actually lean to the veteran Jacobs, for if injury were to befall Gore, I have a suspicion San Francisco will lean that way too.
Marshawn Lynch / Leon Washington / Robert Turbin – Safe to say, the move to Seattle reignited Marshawn Lynch’s career and made a lot of fantasy owners happy.. That is unless you played against Lynch last season against the Eagles and he scored 3 touchdowns.. Sigh.. Ahem.. Anyway, after Lynch, regarding a handcuff situation, the water gets a little muddy. Truth be told, I wouldn’t reach on draft day to grab either Leon Washington or Robert Turbin. Washington is a nice wild card option with the return skills, but you certainly can’t count on that week in and week out, and some leagues don’t even factor that in. Turbin has the potential to be a quality player, but the jury is obviously still out on the rookie in regards to his NFL career. Sit tight, draft for depth and utilize the waiver wire if need be.
St Louis Rams
Steven Jackson / Isaiah Pead / Daryl Richardson – There are only a few one man show scenarios at RB in the NFL and this would be one of them. If you don’t get Jackson, I’d move along and not concern yourself with a handcuff. You might as well draft me.
Look, as you are setting your pre-draft strategy and eyeing certain running backs it is pivotal to know not only the starter, but who the backups are and their role in the offense. In an injury situation, realize that some higher profile backups or the perceived obvious choice, will not be instantly inserted into the starting lineup for a variety of reasons. As I said, know who the other players are, their style and how they fit into the overall offensive scheme. Are they similar to the injured starter? Do they possess a similar skill set, size and speed? Many times these things play into the decision regarding who takes over.
When it is all said and done, you want to go into the draft and make sure you are securing depth in all areas of your squad. Having a handcuff can be a great insurance policy, but the majority of these players are backups for a reason. In most cases their presence on your roster will not make or break your fantasy season. But overall depth and little proactivity when it comes to roster content will keep league competition high and could set you above the rest when the dust settles.
I’ll end on a personal note.. As a testament to the old adage that Knowledge Is Power… I can recall back in 1999 (wow, dating myself here…) when everyone tabbed Skip Hicks as the handcuff to Washington Redskins starting RB Terry Allen.. I gleefully watched Hicks fly off the board and in latter stages of the 16th round, I was able to grab some kid by the name of Stephen Davis. 17 Touchdowns later..
I will readily admit that while there is a huge element of luck to the hobby, during the draft specifically in the later rounds is where fantasy leagues are won and lost.
We’ll do our best to help you out!
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