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RB Handcuff Situations To Watch

Jun 4, 2015
The answer to "should I handcuff my RB?" varies from team to team

The answer to “should I handcuff my RB?” varies from team to team

It’s 2015 and workhorse running backs are scarce, passing yards are plentiful, and Adrian Peterson is happy to join the Vikings. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But when it comes to insuring RB production, fantasy owners must constantly adjust with the times to stay ahead of the game. In other words, don’t just blindly handcuff your RB1 with his direct backup.

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The strategy of “handcuffing” an RB1 by also owning his backup on the depth chart allows an owner to monopolize that team’s backfield and, presumably, stay afloat if the starter is injured. While some folks swear by this strategy, others simply have no interest in dedicating two roster spots for what is effectively one starter, especially at a position that has become so volatile.

Ultimately, each RB committee situation is unique, so it’s difficult to determine which backs will rise to glory, and when that will happen. Opportunities are often dictated by external circumstances like injury or the salary cap or Bill Belichick, and the league is chock full of one-time backups who proved they really do have the tools to succeed on their own – all they needed was a chance. The goal of this article is to identify the best potential committee RBs to target depending on your situation.

Let’s identify some worthwhile backfields to invest in, and weed out the duds.

Murky RBBC situations

While it’s not exactly sacrilege to own both members of an evenly split RB timeshare, the returns on your investment are rarely great if both backs stay healthy. For example, Atlanta rookie Tevin Coleman (Expert Consensus Rank 27) and second-year back Devonta Freeman (ECR 32 in PPR) are widely expected to form something of a 1a and 1b tandem, with the actual distribution of carries yet to be decided. Whether you are on board the Coleman hype train or believe Freeman is the better value pick in PPR formats, this is the type of situation where you want to pick one horse to win the race rather than boxing the field. By rostering both, you are essentially borrowing from your right hand to pay your left — with interest, when you factor in the proximity of both players’ ADP.

Here are some other similarly competitive RBBC situations where taking more than one back could be a mistake in 2015:

Starter material with a clear path forward

Personally, these tend to be my priority backups. These guys have the tools to start, and their path to that job is more clear. As always, the goal is to be sitting comfortably ahead of that curve where talent meets opportunity, not to be chasing the waiver wire. When it comes to rookies, they are producing more and more right off the bat these days, so give yourself an edge and scout ahead. Don’t just read up on draft reports, take advantage of Twitter and YouTube, watch some of their college video (raw cuts, not just highlights to mixtapes) and be the judge for yourself. Does he pass the eye test?

  • Miami – Dynasty owners beware, but Jay Ajayi‘s knee shouldn’t stop him from getting touches Day 1. Lamar Miller has yet to be trusted with a full workload and is now entering the final year of his rookie contract.
  • Seattle – Can Marshawn Lynch hold off Father Time and Christine Michael for another full season?
  • St. Louis – If Todd Gurley starts out on PUP list there’s no guarantee Tre Mason gives up his job, this year at least.
  • TennesseeDavid Cobb does everything the Titans hoped they were getting in Bishop Sankey.
  • WashingtonMatt Jones is more than just a 3rd down threat. He was also handpicked by the new GM. Alfred Morris was not, and is now entering a contract year.

Opportunity knocks

Some backups win the job on merit, others via injury or cap moves. These are the guys whose appeal is linked to a starter who may be aging, or injury-prone, or expensive, or approaching a walk year…

  • CarolinaJonathan Stewart ran like a beast last year but hasn’t played 16 games since 2011. Backfield addition Cameron Artis-Payne led the SEC in rushing and now joins forces with another “Cam” and Auburn alum.
  • Baltimore – Journeyman Justin Forsett turns 30 in October. Lorenzo Taliaferro and rookie Buck Allen will battle for No. 2.
  • Arizona – Unlike Freeman in Atlanta, Andre Ellington has already had his chance. David Johnson is now knocking.
  • Seattle – Already listed above, but Michael is worth a duplicate mention here on account of Lynch’s violent running style and Pete Carroll’s commitment to the ground game.
  • Indianapolis – “Boom” Dan Herron ran hungry when he got his chance in 2014 and also flashed receiving skills. Indy is still a pass-heavy offense, but new addition Frank Gore is 32 with lots of tread on his tires.

Stud handcuffs

Backups to the elite RB1s; these are the traditional handcuffs, as intended when feature backs were a thing.

  • PittsburghDeAngelo Williams is now 32 but assured 3 (tough) starts. Okay to pass on him if you’re deep at flex.
  • Kansas City – ADP in Rd.10 for Knile Davis is a tad steep, but he’s proven his worth in Reid’s offense.
  • Minnesota – The support group signup sheet for Jerick McKinnon keeper league owners is in the hall.
  • ChicagoMatt Forte is in a walk year & turns 30 in Dec. Former Arizona star Ka’Deem Carey is the choice over Jacquizz Rodgers.
  • Green BayJames Starks is the backup, but GB is already a pass-heavy team even with Eddie Lacy. Limited potential.
  • HoustonArian Foster turns 29 in Aug. and has battled injuries, but Alfred Blue underwhelmed in 3 spot starts last year.
  • DenverC.J. Anderson is not assured of the starting job just yet. Montee Ball is healthy and motivated. Good value in Rd.13.
  • Buffalo – Rex will give LeSean McCoy all the work he can handle. Fred Jackson is No.2, but Bryce Brown boasts more upside.
  • PhiladelphiaDemarco Murray‘s workload will be scaled down, but injury history makes Ryan Mathews an attractive handcuff in a potent offense.

When in doubt, I always choose talent over opportunity. Generally speaking, unless I’m particularly smitten with my RB1’s backup, I’ll spend that late draft pick on a player whose overall skill set and upside I prefer. This holds especially true in keeper and dynasty leagues, even redraft leagues when handcuffs tend to start coming off the board before the double-digit rounds.

Some final personal observations:

  • You don’t have to handcuff at draft time. True story.. Joseph Randle was widely available as fantasy playoffs approached in 2014. As a playoff-bound DeMarco Murray owner in keeper and dynasty leagues, I not only was able to scoop up Randle late in the regular season as insurance, I now have what effectively amounts to a stock that split.
  • When I have a man-crush on a young backup RB who maybe isn’t quite ready for primetime yet or buried on the depth chart — LJ (2005), Murray (2011), David Wilson (hey nobody’s perfect!) — I’ll scoop him up regardless of who owns the starter. In the event the starter does go down, you’ve suddenly bolstered your RB corps with a coveted young player AND generated major trade leverage on the unfortunate owner. Win and win. (worst case, the starter stays healthy, you cut bait and rest your head knowing you didn’t celebrate a fellow human’s injury)

Mike Castiglione is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, you can view his archive or follow him @RickDancin.