When evaluating players for fantasy football rankings and projections, nothing irritates me more than accounting for injuries. The process would be so much easier if guys were made out of rubber.
But they’re not.
And so “handcuff” is a household word for anyone with the first clue about fantasy football.
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Of course, the savvy fantasy owner will take advantage of the handcuffing process, loading their bench with high-upside backups in the mid-to-late rounds.
The extremely savvy fantasy owner will take a step further, adjusting the value of early-round picks (specifically at the running back position) based on the price and replacement value of said player’s handcuff.
Take Alfred Morris, for example. Morris is currently coming off the board with the No. 11 overall pick. His primary handcuff, Roy Helu, has struggled with injuries, but is an effective player when healthy and would handle a bulk of Washington’s backfield snaps in the event of a Morris injury. Helu is currently going undrafted in most formats.
Helu’s talent and ease of acquisition actually adds to Morris’ attractiveness on draft day.
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.
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.
Note that a 12-team, 16-round, non-PPR format is assumed when referring to ADP.
Group 1 - Clear handcuffs at a good price
MIN – Adrian Peterson – Toby Gerhart (ADP: UD)
WAS – Alfred Morris – Roy Helu (ADP: UD)
SF – Frank Gore – Kendall Hunter (ADP: 152.2)
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.
Gerhart’s production was down in 2013, but it would’ve been hard for anyone to find touches behind Peterson last season. One of the better No. 2 backs in the league, capable of handling a 20-plus touch load, and available in the last round of your draft, Gerhart makes Peterson even more deserving of the No. 1 overall pick.
We discussed Helu in the introduction, which leaves us with Hunter. Gore’s primary handcuff is coming off a torn Achilles but is expected to be healthy in time for the season. If he has a setback, LaMichael James is available in Round 13 (ADP: 148.0), which is still a strong value.
SEA – Marshawn Lynch – Robert Turbin (ADP: UD)
ATL – Steven Jackson – Jacquizz Rodgers (ADP: 132.7)
CHI – Matt Forte – Michael Bush (ADP: 135.6)
JAX – Maurice Jones-Drew – Justin Forsett (ADP: UD)
TEN – Chris Johnson – Shonn Greene (ADP: 156.4)
The backs listed here have handcuffs who 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.
Had the 2013 draft not happened, Turbin would’ve boosted Lynch to the top of this list. Unfortunately for Lynch owners, the Seahawks clouded the team’s handcuff situation by selecting Christine Michael in the second round back in April. If Lynch goes down, Turbin figures to get first shot, but Michael will be involved. Amazingly, both players are currently going undrafted despite backing up a workhorse in 2012’s run-heaviest offense.
Rodgers would share the load with Jason Snelling, but he’d see more of the carries and plenty of targets. His Round-12 ADP is only moderately expensive. Bush would have very little competition for a massive workload should Forte miss action.
Denard Robinson would certainly play more, but Forsett is the clear No. 2 back in Jacksonville. He’s underrated, but not going to win you a championship on his own. Jones-Drew owners won’t need a draft pick in order to order to land their handcuff. Greene isn’t as bad as his reputation suggests, which makes him a value in Round 13. He’s not going to get much pressure for snaps from Jalen Parmele or Darius Reynaud if asked to start.
TB – Doug Martin – Peyton Hillis (ADP: UD)
KC – Jamaal Charles – Knile Davis (ADP: UD)
MIA – Lamar Miller – Daniel Thomas (ADP: UD)
DET – Reggie Bush – Joique Bell (ADP: UD)
PIT – Le'Veon Bell – Isaac Redman (ADP: UD)
ARZ – Rashard Mendenhall – Ryan Williams (ADP: 154.0)
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.
The Buccaneers recently added Hillis to the mix, but he should easily beat out Michael Smith and Mike James for short-term No. 2 duties. He’s the man to stash if you own Martin. Davis will face some competition from replacement-level Shaun Draughn, but the rookie is the man Charles owners should be taking a chance on.
Thomas isn’t very good, but he has the edge on rookie Mike Gillislee for No. 2 duties in Miami. As the starter, he’d be looking at a good 15 or so touches each week. Mikel Leshoure is coming off the board in Round 11, but undrafted Bell would be the primary benefactor of a Bush injury. Leshoure’s snaps and carries would rise, but Bell would slide into passing-down duties, which is more relevant in one of the leagues’ pass-heaviest offenses.
Jonathan Dwyer is coming off the board in Round 14 of recent drafts, but undrafted Redman is Bell’s primary handcuff. Dwyer and LaRod Stephens-Howling would be involved, however, which, along with his underwhelming ability, limits Redman’s upside. Williams continues to struggle with durability, which makes the situation behind Mendenhall tough to sort through. Williams still has a tiny bit of breakout potential, but rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington are already pushing for a promotion.