Handcuff Your Pick… If You Really Want to Win
I am a firm believer that the key to winning your fantasy football league begins and ends with your starting running backs. There are only a handful of elite fantasy running backs up for grabs every season, and it is imperative that you insure yourself and your team by grabbing your starting running back’s backup, also known as a handcuff. Now there are some cases where it does not make sense to employ this strategy. For example, if you drafted Trent Richardson or Jamaal Charles in the first round, you would not waste a pick on either of their backups as they typically go undrafted and can be picked up off waivers.
If you are in an 8-man league, it may not make sense to draft anyone but the Tier 1 handcuffs listed below as there will be several more valuable players still available. However, if you are in a 10-man or deeper league, feel free to pickup any of the handcuffs labeled as Tier 2 or Honorable Mention as the pickings will be slim in the later rounds.
Tier 1 Handcuffs
The following Tier 1 handcuffs can put up elite numbers if the starter on their team goes down and may very well be fantasy-relevant even if the starter remains healthy.
Ben Tate, Hou (Arian Foster)
The backup to the oft-injured Arian Foster, Tate is considered by many to be the ultimate handcuff. Several teams around the league would love to have Tate on their team as he would easily be the starter on a less-talented team thanks to his physical running style and nose for the end zone. He is coming off a disappointing 2012 campaign that was hampered by nagging injuries, but if he can return to 2011 form–watch out! Target Tate in the 7th or 8th round.
Bryce Brown, Phi (LeSean McCoy)
Brown showed flashes of brilliance last season in back to back games against Carolina and Dallas when LeSean McCoy got knocked out with a concussion. Rushing for over 300 yards and 4 TDs in those games, Brown’s speed and power were on full display despite showing some signs of fumblitis. If new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly can find a way to utilize Brown in his high-powered offense alongside McCoy, it will only add to his value this season. If you draft Shady make sure to draft Brown, who is usually drafted in the 8th or 9th round.
Michael Bush, Chi (Matt Forte)
Bush has always been one of the best backups in the league as the understudy to injury-prone running backs Darren McFadden in Oakland and now Matt Forte. When Forte injured his ankle last season, Bush filled in admirably with five touchdowns on the year including a two touchdown performance on 21 carries against Minnesota in Week 12. If you draft Forte, start making plans to grab Bush in the 9th round in a 12-man league.
Fred Jackson, Buf (C.J. Spiller)
Jackson was poised for a productive season in 2012 until he suffered a serious leg injury which allowed C.J. Spiller to become the breakout running back of the year. Now 32 years old and coming off two straight seasons cut short by injuries, Jackson is definitely on the decline but is still a powerful runner who is sure to vulture some of Spiller’s goal line carries and touchdowns.
Andre Brown, New York Giants (David Wilson)
Weighing in at a whopping 224 lbs., consider Brown the thunder to David Wilson’s lightning. Brown scored eight touchdowns last season, all of which came from inside the 3-yard line. His best game was a two touchdown, 113 yard performance against the Panthers in Week 3. Brown also excels at pass protection, which could keep him on the field for often this season assuming he can shake the injury bug which has plagued his career thus far. Brown should be targeted in the mid to late rounds.
Shane Vereen, NE (Stevan Ridley)
Vereen benefits from head coach Bill Belichick’s multi-running back attack, and should have much more opportunities now that Danny Woodhead has moved on to San Diego. Although Stevan Ridley is the starter and number one goal line option, Vereen is extremely versatile and excels at catching the ball out of the backfield. Vereen is talented enough to be a starter on lesser teams and should be targeted somewhere in the 8th-9th round depending on the market set by your league.
Tier 2 Handcuffs
These Tier 2 Handcuffs are not absolute must-draft backs, but in a deep league, you might as well invest a late-round draft pick to handcuff your workhorse.
Bernard Pierce, Bal (Ray Rice)
Pierce would be a much higher priority if Rice wasn’t such a sturdy workhorse. Still, a must-draft handcuff for Rice owners as Pierce possesses borderline starter ability.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atl (Steven Jackson)
His lack of size and pass protection ability has always prevented Rodgers from getting a serious look at being a 3-down running back. With the much bigger Steven Jackson in town, expect Rodgers to continue duty as a change of pace back and excellent kick returner. Rodgers should be drafted in every PPR league.
Danny Woodhead, SD (Ryan Matthews)
The diminutive Woodhead’s potential lies in the fact that starter Ryan Matthews has yet to stay healthy for a full season, and there is no reason to believe he will this year. Although he is in a platoon with Matthews and Ronnie Brown, expect Woodhead to have a much larger role in San Diego as a pass catching back.
Ronnie Hillman, Den (Montee Ball)
Although Hillman’s upside is fairly limited, he is currently the starter. Montee Ball is expected to be the featured back at some point during the season, but Hillman is worth a late round pick.
Keep a close eye on the following running back pecking order.
- DuJuan Harris, GB (Eddie Lacy) – Right knee injury
- Jonathan Franklin, GB (Eddie Lacy) – Rookie has been unimpressive thus far
- Mikel Leshoure, Det (Reggie Bush) – A possible goal line vulture?
- Joique Bell, Det (Reggie Bush) – Best suited to “replace” Reggie Bush’s role
- Marcel Reece, Oak (Darren McFadden) – A late-round flyer in PPR leagues. Reece is listed as a FB but has good receiver skills
- Rashad Jennings, Oak (Darren McFadden) – Should be McFadden’s direct backup