Mike Clay

Football Daily Dose

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The Hidden Value of Handcuffs

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not many people have had the opportunity to chat with Jaguars holdout Maurice Jones-Drew this past month or so.

I had that opportunity last Wednesday…and I like to think I took advantage.

Thanks to the fine folks at DirecTV, who organized the event to promote their NFL Sunday Ticket product, I was able to join a live video conference with Jones-Drew, Brent Celek, and host Andrew Siciliano. One of the first “analysts” to join the conversation, I was able to ask the question many fantasy owners have on their mind:

“Maurice, I’m kind of curious what you think – as are most fantasy owners – of your backup Rashad Jennings. If he’s put in a position where he does have to carry a load for a long period of time, for a few games, what do you think he can do?”

His response: “Rashad is a very, very good runner. I mean, from the time he got there, he’s worked hard at it. He’s great in open field. He can make guys miss. He’s big enough to run through tackles. We’ve obviously seen in the preseason what he’s done. I definitely feel like he’s a guy that, given an opportunity, wherever it may be, he’s going to make plays. And so, like I said before, I hear a lot of people trying to do this “handcuffing” thing. If that’s what you feel, Rashad is a very capable guy.”

I tend to agree with Jones-Drew. Although there’s certainly a drop-off in talent (my words), Jennings would see enough of a workload and is good enough of a player to easily find himself on the fantasy radar. In fact, I’d be willing to go as far as to call him a strong RB2 option.

And that got me thinking. Does Jennings, at least at his pre-MJD-holdout ADP, actually add to Jones-Drew’s fantasy value?

Think about it.

There’s more demand than supply at the running back position. You’re almost forced to take one early and maybe even a pair in the first two rounds. Like your house, car, and health, because you’re making such a huge investment, it’s important to pay up for insurance. And, if you’ve ever shopped for insurance, you know that sometimes you can get the exact same, if not better, coverage elsewhere, and at a cheaper rate.

The same concept can be applied to fantasy football handcuffs. If you can pick a different insurance provider (star running back) and get better coverage at a cheaper rate (a back who would be fantasy-relevant in a full-time role with a late-round pick), isn’t it a no brainer?

Today, I’ll run through each team and pick out the handcuffs that make the biggest impact, for better or worse, on the team’s starting, fantasy-relevant tailback. Again the two characteristics I’ll be focusing on are as follows: (1) The handcuff’s fantasy value if the starter is out of action and (2) ADP.

Group 1 - Clear handcuffs at a good price

Big Boost

Michael TurnerJacquizz Rodgers (ADP: 118.1)
LeSean McCoyDion Lewis (ADP: N/A)
Marshawn LynchRobert Turbin (ADP: 164.5)
Steven JacksonIsaiah Pead (ADP: 144.8)
Stevan RidleyShane Vereen (ADP: 143.0)

These backs benefit the most from the situation behind them on the depth chart. You can upgrade these players knowing that you can land a capable handcuff late in your draft. This way, if your starter suffers a long-term injury, you’re still in relatively good shape.

Turner paces the field even though Rodgers’ ADP is pushing the tenth round. Still, that’s not a bad price to pay for a guy who would see 15-plus touches in a growing offense. Jackson and Lynch make the list despite their primary backup job belonging to a rookie. Pead and Turbin, respectively, are being selected after the 12th round and would be in for healthy roles if asked to start. That is, even with Daryl Richardson and Leon Washington in the picture, respectively.

McCoy’s handcuff, Lewis, isn’t being drafted in most 16-round leagues, which is surprising considering that Lewis is locked in as his primary backup. Ridley enjoys a boost even though Vereen would share with Danny Woodhead and potentially Brandon Bolden. Still, he’d see a significant workload and goal line work.

Moderate Boost

Frank GoreKendall Hunter (ADP: 151.5)
Chris JohnsonJavon Ringer (ADP: 175.5)
DeMarco MurrayFelix Jones (ADP: 141.3)
Reggie BushDaniel Thomas (ADP: 127.7)

The backs listed here have handcuffs that would be in for a big increase in role, but aren’t quite as talented as those receiving a big boost and/or would have additional competition for touches.

Johnson and Murray can be grouped together because both are in a situation where their backup is both experienced and would basically be the clear-cut lead back if called upon to start. Ringer would face a little bit of heat from Jamie Harper, but would see a good 15 or so carries and a few targets. Jones will already be helping on passing downs and Phillip Tanner isn’t much of a threat.

Gore and Bush are also in a similar boat, as they’re involved in backfields with quite a bit of depth. If Gore is out, Hunter provides the most upside among remaining backs on the roster, but he’d need to fend off Brandon Jacobs at the goal line and LaMichael James on passing downs. If Bush misses time, Thomas is the favorite to take on most of the workload, but Steve Slaton and especially rookie Lamar Miller would be all over his coattail.

Small Boost

Doug MartinLeGarrette Blount (ADP: 114.7)
Mark IngramPierre Thomas (ADP: 122.7)
BenJarvus Green-EllisBernard Scott (ADP: 165.6)

The backs enjoying only a small boost have handcuffs who are being picked in the later rounds, but are either not overly effective or wouldn’t see much of a role increase.

If you owned Blount in 2011, you know exactly why he’s not a safe play if Martin goes down. Mossis Madu and especially rookie Michael Smith would put serious pressure on Blount for reps, but he’d figure to hang onto early-down and short-yardage touches. Ingram isn’t safe because Chris Ivory (or Tarvaris Cadet) would form a backfield trio with Darren Sproles and Thomas, who wouldn’t see much of a spike in touches. Green-Ellis would turn his touches over to the underwhelming duo of Scott and Brian Leonard.

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Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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