I am always amazed each fantasy season when I see owners handcuffing their top running backs with their backups. To me, that is a mistake, as most of the top backs should not be handcuffed with their backup. There are of course exceptions to the rule, but for the most part the backup running back is just that for a reason…he can’t be trusted as a starter. So, I think it is time to reevaluate how to handcuff a player.
If you are drafting a player who is an injury risk then you are going to want to grab extra depth at the position. This is a far better strategy than grabbing the backup to your stud. If you are not feeling confident in a player then be sure to grab more depth at the position so that you have players who can be give you points without needing an injury to get in the game. These players that are getting carries have a chance to get more if they play well, so you also have the potential to get another starter out of your depth, and can trade from a point of strength if everything works out well.
I have gone through 20 of the top candidates for handcuffs and broken them into categories of No Handcuff, Yes Handcuff and Maybe Handcuff. The 20 running backs are listed below with my reasoning for their handcuff position.
ADRIAN PETERSON – There is no reason to handcuff Peterson with his backup, and after showing he is back last season, there is good reason to believe he will play all 16 games this season. Also, if you grab Toby Gerhart then you are wasting a pick, as he will never put up any stats close to AP.
DOUG MARTIN – Martin is a dynamic young running back and showed he was ready for the league last season. There is no other running back on the Buccaneers that is worth drafting, and Martin is going to be a top 5 pick in drafts this season.
TRENT RICHARDSON – Richardson showed his toughness as a rookie, playing with 3 broken ribs for much of the season. Richardson might be considered an injury risk, but he is going to be a true workload back in Norv Turner’s offense. Richardson’s backup on the roster is Montario Hardesty, who has had a hard time staying on the field in his career. This is Richardson’s year.
JAMAAL CHARLES – Charles is one of those rare backs in the league that always has a few monster runs a season, last season he had a 91 yard touchdown run. There is not another player like him on the Chiefs, and under Andy Reid Charles is going to be used to the best of his ability. He is fully recovered from the torn ACL, and, like Adrian Peterson, showed he may be even better than before.
ALFRED MORRIS – Morris is a throwback runner who reminds me of Kevin Mack, Natrone Means and the ultimate Redskin, John Riggins. Mike Shanahan realized what he had in Morris and leaned on him last season, and will do so again this season. Morris is the perfect complement to RG III, and no other back on the roster is near as effective.
MATT FORTE – Forte was considered a handcuff last season, with Michael Bush arriving to the Bears, but Bush was unspectacular and Forte is in line for an uptick this season. New head coach Marc Trestman is expected to use Forte as a major factor in the passing game, as well as the running game. If you draft Bush he is not going to be able to do the same things as Forte in the offense, and while he might get some goal line carries, it is not enough to take him as a handcuff.
MAURICE JONES DREW – MJD is the main offense for the Jaguars, and coming off an injury and playing for a contract, you can expect that MJD is going to be a bull this season. MJD has been very durable in his career, before his injury last season, and there is no reason to think that he won’t be durable again this season. There is no need to handcuff MJD.
STEVEN JACKSON – Jackson has moved to a powerhouse offense in Atlanta, and will be taking over for Michael Turner. Jackson has the ability to put up similar numbers to Turner when he arrived in Atlanta, although Jackson also catches the ball. Jaquizz Rodgers is not worth drafting as a handcuff for Jackson.
MONTEE BALL – Ball, like Steven Jackson, was drafted and is going to a team with a powerhouse offense, but that also contains a future hall-of-fame quarterback. Ball presents the Denver with a true workhorse who scored 83 touchdowns in college. Ball will be able to withstand the punishment of the NFL and will be a touchdown threat every time they are inside the 10-yard line. Ronnie Hillman is not a threat to steal carries, and does not have ability to be a 3 down back if Ball were to miss time.
DEMARCO MURRAY – Demarco Murray has proven in his short career that he cannot be counted on to play all 16 games. If you draft Murray as a starting running back then you need to be sure grab some depth at the running back position. The backup to Murray is going to be rookie Johnathan Randle, who is unproven. I like Randle in dynasty formats, but I would not trust him as a sole handcuff to Murray, but there is no doubt that you need to handcuff Murray this year.
DARREN MCFADDEN – Ok, so this is the no brainer of no brainers. You had better handcuff the hell out of Darren McFadden, but don’t handcuff him with any other running back on the Raiders roster. Expect an injury and you will be better off.
RYAN MATHEWS – Ok, so McFadden is not alone in the no brainer department, as he rides in a carpool with Mathews. Mathews is a player that is trying to prove he can be depended on, but if you draft him…handcuff him. I would be grabbing extra depth at the position, but if Mathews does get injured I expect Danny Woodhead to be even more valuable.
ARIAN FOSTER – Foster is one of our Bust candidates this season and if you draft him you will be taking him as your #1 running back, so you will need insurance. Ben Tate could be in line for a big season if Foster goes down and Tate is one of the few true handcuffs that I would draft this season. I have very little faith in Foster this year.
LESEAN MCCOY – McCoy is moving from playing in Andy Reid’s offense to playing for new head coach Chip Kelly, who ran the ball 64.1% of the time while coaching at Oregon. McCoy is expected to see a big workload, if that is the case, but he has never had more than 273 carries in a season. Last season Bryce Brown showed he could be an effective replacement for McCoy, and is expected to poach some carries this season. Brown is a perfect handcuff for McCoy, as he has the same skill set and can break the big run.
DAVID WILSON – Wilson is a player that we expect to make a splash in fantasy in 2013, but that does not mean that you can give him 100% trust. Wilson only had 71 carries last season, but showed his big play ability on kickoff returns. That resume demands that you handcuff him with extra depth at the position.
RAY RICE – Rice is an interesting case, as he was a sure fire no handcuff last season, but he showed signs of slowing down toward the end of the season. Then there is the case of Bernard Pierce, who had 108 carries last season, which is surely to increase this year, since most of those carries came toward the end of the season including 2 double digit carry games in the playoffs. The Ravens have compared him to Matt Forte as a runner, with the ability to be a weapon in the passing game. This indicates that if I draft Rice I am going to have to go after Pierce as his handcuff.
STEVAN RIDLEY – Ridley did a great job last season as the lead back for the Patriots, and with the turmoil going on with the New England offense he is expected to see a bigger workload this season. I still have faith in Ridley, but the fact that he is not a threat in the passing game, with all of 6 catches last season, it will make me potentially want to grab some depth, especially if Ridley is your #1 back. If he is your #2 then you may not need to handcuff him.
CHRIS JOHNSON – Chris Johnson has extra competition in Tennessee this season with the arrival of Shonn Greene, but that does not mean you want to handcuff Johnson with him, as they are both completely different types of running backs. Johnson is talking big this season with new help on his offensive line, and is saying he is going for 2,000 yards again, which makes me worry a little. Johnson may have eyes bigger than his stomach and he is traditionally a back who has great weeks, as well as duds. That being said it will depend on what the make up of your team is to decide if you want to handcuff him, just don’t do it with Shonn Greene.
CJ SPILLER – Spiller is entering the season as the #1 running back for the Bills for the first time in his career. He has all the talent and ability to be one of the best backs in the game, but the fact is he has never had more than 207 carries in a season. This fact helps to make Spiller a maybe candidate for a handcuff. If you believe that he is going to breakdown with a larger workload and a young offense then you handcuff him. If you feel has not taken the beating of lots of carries over the year and is ready to be a starter for all 16 games, then you don’t handcuff him.
MARSHAWN LYNCH – Lynch is back that most owners are not going to even think about handcuffing, as he is known as Beast Mode. That being said, Lynch has also seen a lot carries (600) over the past 2 seasons, and could be a candidate to wear down. The growth of Russell Wilson should also be a benefit to keeping defenses honest and from stacking the box on Lynch. I am not as concerned about Lynch, but if I do grab him I will probably handcuff him late with his rookie backup Christine Michael, who could be Lynch’s replacement within 2 years.
By Houdini (email me)
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