2015 Fantasy Football: Top RB Handcuffs

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With the 2015 NFL season less than 3 months away, it’s time to start doing prep work for your fantasy football draft. Over the next few weeks I will be breaking down every position with a primer, rankings, sleepers, busts, and rookies.

It’s boring to waste a draft pick on a handcuff running back. There is a chance they never play enough to use in your lineup and you are passing up rolling the dice on high-risk / high-upside players with your last few picks. Depending on how many drinks I’ve had during my drafts I waver between no handcuffs at all and backing up both of my top two running backs.

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There are valid arguments for both sides. If you spend your top two picks on Eddie Lacy and Arian Foster, then you have basically trusted your season on those two players producing and staying healthy. Drafting handcuffs like James Starks and Alfred Blue gives you the peace of mind that an injury to Lacy or Foster won’t end your season. There is value in that.

On the other side of coin, there are valuable players to be found in the last few rounds of the draft. If you nab a high-upside player late in the draft that ends up becoming a fantasy asset, it is a huge boost to your squad. Last season players like Ryan Tannehill, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Stills, Steve Smith Jr, Travis Kelce, Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham(!) were all taken in the last few rounds of the draft. My point is that there is a ton of value at the end of drafts and taking a low-upside backup RB instead is both boring and potentially costly.

Most people draft handcuff RBs to insure they are covered if their top RB(s) get hurt, but another handcuff strategy is to beat your fellow owners to the backups of their top RBs. You aren’t going to be very popular in the draft room, but if you find yourself light on RBs late in the draft then spending a late pick or two on backups for RBs you don’t own makes sense. It may give you a starting RB if that team’s starter gets hurt at some point in the season but it also gives you a potential trade chip with the squad that owns the starter. For example if you are trying to make a trade with the team that owns Lacy, including Starks as a throw in to the deal could move the needle and get the trade completed.

It’s impossible to predict injuries and it’s very possible that a handcuff RB will never see your starting lineup, but when you hear the news that your best fantasy RB just got hurt, it is reassuring to know that you already have their backup on the roster. You don’t want to end up using a huge chunk of your FAAB budget getting in a bidding war to grab the backup off the waiver wire. If you decide that you want to go the handcuff route, I’ve listed the best options below.

The best handcuffs have at least one of three things going for them. One, they are going to get touches regardless of the starters health. Two, they are playing behind a starter that is injury prone. Three, they have the talent to produce if the starter goes down.

*I’m not considering third down backs like Spiller, Bernard, Sproles, Vereen, and Bush as handcuffs as their roles as pass catching backs are well defined and may not change much if the starter gets hurt. I’ve also left out players on teams with on-going position battles at RB (TEN, ATL, DET, NE) as the main players involved will probably be taken before the last couple rounds.

Running Back Handcuffs:

Ryan Matthews, Eagles – He’s missed 20 games over the last 5 seasons, but a backup role behind DeMarco Murray could be what Matthews needs to stay healthy. According to early reports from the Eagles camp, Matthews should get a decent amount of touches (10ish per game) even with Murray healthy. That’s probably not enough to be worth a spot in your starting lineup on a regular basis, but would be a viable option in a bye week pinch. If Murray where to get hurt than Matthews value would skyrocket to a borderline RB1. I wouldn’t bank on injury with most RBs, but last year was the first time Murray managed to play all 16 games in a season and is coming off a season with 449 touches.

Knile Davis, Chiefs – Davis had only four games with 15+ touches and he had over 100 total yards in three of them. Over the last two seasons, Davis has shown potential to be a solid starting running back. If Charles were to get hurt or even rested for a game or two, Davis can step in and provide a solid double-digit+ fantasy line.