Sticks and Stones may break my Bones, But Handcuffs Excite Me!?
No boys and girls this is not a hanky panky article discussing S&M, or is it a paper outlining what a huge Rihanna fan I am, but rather an article designed to help fantasy GMs employ an old fantasy football strategy called Handcuffing. Ironically enough, handcuffing isn’t a very “sexy” strategy - It’s a strategy based on hedging your bets and playing it safe.
Don’t know what handcuffing is? Well, allow me to explain: After you’ve drafted a tier 1 or tier 2 running back in the early parts of the draft, you select his backup in the latter rounds. A form of insurance if your star back were to fall due to an injury (or become suspended due to cocaine trafficking, I’m looking at you Travis Henry). This does not mean you select two RBs that are part of a committee, or RBs that split carries evenly. In order for a back up to qualify as a handcuff they must receive less than 25% of the workload.
Unfortunately handcuffing isn’t that simple. There are pros and cons to any strategy and this one is no different. First and foremost, securing a backup running back doesn’t necessarily insure that he will receive the same amount of carries as the starter did – There is a reason why the backup back plays 2nd fiddle. Take Ryan Grant from last season for example. Grant went down half way through the first game of the season - Come Monday, Brandon Jackson was the most sought after free agent (Grant’s backup). However, Jackson was rendered useless and eventually lost his starting job to James Starks - Now you’re the D-Bag who picked up two Green Bay running backs and neither of them is producing. Drafting the backup and or handcuff limits you in selecting other potential running backs in the latter parts of your draft.
However, if you’re starting back were to go down, and the back-up steps in, as did Jason Snelling did for Turner in 2009 – You look like a genius. Snelling stepped in for Turner during the last 8 games and averaged 81 yards per contest and scored 5 TDs during that span. Snelling absolutely was a high priority add for every fantasy GM, but a Turner owner may have missed out on such production if he did not secure his handcuff during the draft. You invest so much value into a top tier running back – It only makes sense to take out a little insurance for him, doesn’t it?
Now I’m not suggesting you draft handcuffs for every starting running back this season – It’s not good practice to draft two running backs for the same starting position. However, being a smart fantasy GM is about protecting your investment while selecting high upside talent later in the draft as well. Solid fantasy drafting is about creating a team with balance and protecting yourself from the unpredictable.
I’ve taken the liberty in highlighting a few back up backs that I feel are a must handcuff. I guarantee you that if you don’t draft them as your handcuff, someone else will in hopes the injury bug falls on your squad.
Adrian Peterson / Toby Gerhart - Gerhart started out the gate slowly, but appeared to get into a rhythm toward the end of last season. Gerhart averaged 4 yards per carry, and showed a solid ability to catch the football out of the backfield (21 receptions for 167 yards). While Peterson has been very durable so far in his NFL career, he’s still averaged 300 carries over the last 4 seasons and has had some shoulder and knee issues in the past – NOT good for an NFL running back. Why wouldn’t you nab his productive, proven backup late in the draft? Michael Turner / Jason Snelling – If you’re drafting Michael Turner, I think Jason Snelling is a MUST draft selection. In week 2, when Turner left early with a groin injury, Snelling posted 186 total yards and 3 scores. Plain and simple, if Tuner wasn’t in Atlanta this season we’d be talking about Snelling being a top 20 pick. Don’t make the mistake by not selecting Turner’s handcuff – Especially when you consider his injuries over the last two seasons.
Maurice Jones-Drew / Rashad Jennings – Plain and simple, Jones –Drew is a smallish RB that is coming off major knee surgery that he’s “slowly” recovering from. Jennings is a must handcuff for any Jones-Drew owner this upcoming season. Jennings rushed for 5.5 yards per carry last season, and posted a 22 carry, 108 yard, 1 TD game in the finale without Jones-Drew. Jennings was more than productive last year and will be a top fantasy producer if Jones-Drew knee becomes an issue.
Frank Gore / Anthony Dixon / Kendall Hunter – Ok, so Dixon did not show a whole lot of anything last season. However, the 49ers offense was a complete disaster under Mike Singletary. I’m not really sure what to expect from Dixon this season, but Gore has missed at least two games a season 5 of the last 6 years. That stat alone I think makes Dixon worth a speculative add late in drafts just in case he can turn into a Brandon Jacobs type runner. However, keep an eye on the Niner’s backfield situation as the preseason unfolds and see how Kendall Hunter performs. This exciting young rookie from Oklahoma State is on the small side (5’7’ 199) but he could be more of a prototypical back compared to the much larger Dixon who could assume a role as full back.
Late addition adds: Ronnie Brown (PHI) / Ricky Williams (BAL) - These former teammates find themselves playing second fiddle to first round fantasy draft picks this upcoming season (McCoy/Rice). Brown and Williams are both very versatile pass, hard running backs that could make a huge impact on a fantasy season if given the opportunity.
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