Chris Wesseling

Waiver Wired

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Stretch-run Handcuffs

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Every August at draft time, the hand-wringing "handcuff" rage vaults to the top of the strategy list in most war rooms. Chaining your starter to his backup regardless of potential or situation, however, simply wastes roster spots better spent on players that could breakout during the season. When you have to waste a high draft pick to feel secure about your fantasy backfield, it gets to be an even sketchier proposition.

As those in the Northeast and upper Midwest fully realize, the August draft is long gone and autumn is on the lam by the time the gales of November come calling. Charles Schultz neglected to cover the fantasy football angle at Thanksgiving time, so we're here to do his light work. When John Madden's turducken award begins to make an appearance, it's time to fine-tune that championship caliber roster by trimming the dead weight and protecting yourself against injury. Handcuffs have gone from early autumn roster fodder to mandatory Thanksgiving guests.

In considering late-season insurance policies, it's important to ask several questions: Has the backup shown the potential for fantasy production? Does the starter make the offense go, or does the system make the player? Is there a defined pecking order at the position? If there is no clear-cut backup, is it best to just stay away (sorry Frank Gore and Matt Forte owners)?

Prior hot pickups or highly drafted backs such as Mewelde Moore, Darren McFadden, Chester Taylor, Ricky Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Derrick Ward, and Jerious Norwood aren't likely to be sitting on your waiver wire freely available, so this column will concentrate on players you can add in Week 13. Obvious handcuffs such as Ladell Betts, Tashard Choice, and Fred Jackson are available in most leagues, which means that the majority of fantasy owners are guilty of neglect right now. If your bell-cow RB1 has a clear-cut insurance policy, then the waiver wire pickup is mandatory this week. As we've seen the past two seasons with the valuable stretch-run performances of Ladell Betts and Aaron Stecker, Weeks 15 and 16 thumb their nose at logic. The packrat owner, though, will take the unexpected injuries in stride.

On to the handcuff list. Here is how I rank the Top-15 mandatory handcuffs as owners prep for a championship run. Full writeups of each player are below.

1. Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints
2. Dominic Rhodes, RB, Colts
3. Fred Jackson, RB, Bills
4. Ladell Betts, RB, Redskins
5. Leon Washington, RB, Jets
6. Domenik Hixon, WR, Giants
7. Tashard Choice, RB, Cowboys
8. Darren Sproles, RB, Chargers
9. Matt Leinart, QB, Cardinals
10. Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giantas
11. Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns
12. Brandon Jackson, RB, Packers
13. Billy Miller, TE, Saints
14. Lorenzo Booker, RB, Eagles
15. Byron Leftwich, QB, Steelers

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Top 15 Stretch-Run Handcuffs

1. Pierre Thomas, Saints - Long a Rotoworld favorite, Thomas finally had his national coming out party on Monday Night Football against the Packers. We saw earlier this season that Thomas could be effective when paired with Reggie Bush, but Monday night's performance proved that he has stud potential should Bush struggle in his return.

It was clear to anybody watching that Thomas is a vastly superior option to a valiant but washed up Deuce McAllister. The changing of the guard has arrived in New Orleans, and Thomas offers value both as a handcuff and as a possible committee back.

2. Dominic Rhodes, Colts - Joseph Addai looks fully recovered from his hamstring injury, but Rhodes continues to maintain an annoying presence in the red zone as well as the passing game. Should Addai suffer another injury, Rhodes would have the Bengals, Lions, and Jags pussycat defenses to himself in the Colts backfield. He's owned in about 60 percent of all leagues, but no Addai owner should leave his flank uncovered.

3. Fred Jackson, Bills - For much of the season Jackson has simply been a more effective player than Marshawn Lynch. Jackson has a significant role in the passing game, matches Lynch's toughness, and shows terrific moves both in the open field and in tight spaces. He's similar to Rhodes in that he's already involved in the offense and would assume the mantle of every-down stud if the starter goes down. Lynch is finally starting to reward owners who drafted him in the first-round, but it's time to insure that investment.

4. Ladell Betts, Reskins - Clinton Portis owners deserve kudos for their foresight back in August, but the fact that Betts is owned in just a quarter of all leagues means that many of those owners left their wisdom in the draft room.

As Betts showed down the stretch-run in 2006, he can lift a fantasy squad to the title should Portis' knee/hip/ribcage injuries demobilize the MVP candidate. Betts may not quite be at 100 percent right now, but he has re-established himself as the clear backup. It's time to grab him and forget about Shaun Alexander.

5. Leon Washington, Jets - One could argue that the "X-Factor" is in his most valuable NFL role right now as the change of pace back and return ace. It's an argument I happen to agree with as I think his explosiveness is much more of an asset to the Jets with 10 offensive touches per game as opposed to 20.

If Thomas Jones should suffer an injury, would Washington be able to sustain a rushing attack? That's a more important question for the Jets than for fantasy owners. His efficiency would go down, but his fantasy production figures to rise with the additional touches. He's a must-grab for Jones owners.

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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling

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