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The Perfect Justin Fields’ Draft Strategy (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Ryan Newman | Featured Writer
Jul 25, 2021

Back in 2017, I recognized an interesting new way to leverage the “RB Handcuff” tactic among multiple teams. In 2017 Ezekiel Elliot was suspended for the first six games, opening up an opportunity for an “above average RB” Darren McFadden to gain some serious points behind the best run-blocking OL at the time. Coincidingly (but not related), Doug Martin was facing his own three-game suspension to start the year. And although many were calling for a “Elliot/McFadden” handcuff, we saw an opportunity to take advantage of some interesting RB pricing for that season. Given Martin’s and McFadden’s draft ADP of RB27 and RB38 (compared to Elliot’s RB9), why not draft two cheap(er) RBs with the intention to start McFadden early on in the season and shift to Martin after he had served his suspension. Zeke was going in the mid 2nd round, but we could get an “RB 1” between an RB in the sixth round and ninth round, respectively.

2021 Draft Kit: View printable cheat sheets, sleepers & mistakes to avoid >>

*I should note that I am not a fan of the traditional handcuff, as many sources have reported they simply are not worth it, notably this piece by Sharp Football.

This seemed like this could be a great “Inter-Team Handcuff.” Obviously, this particular play didn’t pan out, but the concept has always stayed with me.

This brings us to today’s topic: The Justin Fields QB Handcuff. Regardless of your evaluation of Fields, or the draft capital that was spent to acquire him, rookie QBs that actually end up as QB1s almost always have a significant running game attached to them. We also know that running QBs have become the “cheat code” within the fantasy community. With Field’s 4.44 40 and proven running ability, he seems like an excellent late-round option, particularly those (like me) that de-value the “non-scarce” position that is QBs in fantasy football. Yet, his talent isn’t the main obstacle to his fantasy success in 2021. It’s Matt Nagy.

There have been plenty of worrying anecdotes and even evidence that made it hard to trust what Nagy does/says. With that, when he came out and said Andy Dalton is our starter, everyone rolled their eyes and took advantage of the +350 Justin Fields Opening Day starter bets. Yet, as we inch closer to the season, it’s starting to seem more and more like this is an actual truth Nagy is saying. Take that along with a Week 1 primetime matchup in LA vs. Aaron Donald and the Rams defense, and you start to think it may actually not be that bad of an idea. But, Fields will play at some point this season, and if you look at the schedule and consider the defenses they face it shapes up like this (again, thanks to Sharp Football Preview):

Looking at the Bears’ schedule of pass defenses, the optimal time to bring Fields in may be as early as Week 2. However, that’s not the point. Here is what we know:

  • Fields will play at some point this season, and it’s very unlikely it’s Week 1.
  • Knowing Nagy and GM Ryan Pace have once again hung their hat on a young QB, there is significant incentive for them to wait as long as they can before they start Fields.
  • Fields is the ideal type of QB to raise your fantasy floor points.

So, why not (somewhat like the McFadden/Martin handcuff) find a cheap QB that has the best possible early-season schedule and pair him with Fields?

When using FantasyPros Matchup Calendar, the options for cheap (as in free or “last draft pick cheap”), great early-season QB schedule are:

Knowing that we need a QB12 or later, heavily weighted towards the easiest schedule, earlier the better, this leaves us with…Kirk Cousins.

As PFF and others have noted, Cousins is one of the most underrated QBs in the game (which is gold for astute fantasy owners). His cake early-season pass defense schedule, Bengals, Cardinals, Seahawks, Browns, and Lions, along with all but one of those games being in a dome, makes Cousins the optimal “Justin Fields QB Handcuff.”

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Ryan Newman is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Ryan, check out his archive and follow him @Ryannewman20.

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