With this weekly column, I hope to focus on running back news and break down the position as the NFL fantasy football season progresses. Week one gifted us with pure chaos, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the light of week two will bring to the “darkness” that some fantasy football GMs must be feeling. Given everything that has happened to the running back rooms of the Ravens and 49ers this week, I think it’s apt to discuss a principal term in the fantasy football community: handcuffs.
An injury is never fun. An injury to a player that you devoted a large portion of salary to or selected in the first-or-second round of your fantasy draft can make it feel like your season is over. That is, unless you rostered his backup. Smart use of handcuffs protects you from a fantasy season-ending injury to your premium players. Now, not all handcuffs are created equal, and some NFL teams don’t have a player who fantasy football managers would even consider as a handcuff. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
What are handcuffs, you ask? Well, let’s review:
Fantasy Football Glossary: Handcuff
A fantasy football handcuff is a primary benefactor in terms of playtime and general use as the direct result of injury, trade, holdout, or suspension removing another player from usefulness. Generally, fantasy football vets are almost always referring to a team’s running back when they say handcuff, due to positional scarcity and the position’s volatility.
Simply put: if you have a running back on your fantasy team who is the primary running back or “bell cow” for their team, then it’s a good idea who hold onto his direct (and sometimes indirect) successor.
On the other side of the coin, if you were unable to land a lot of high-value running backs during your draft you can also grab the higher value handcuffs for your own team. Typically, these RBs have some fantasy football value outside of merely handcuffing the primary back. This idea doesn’t work for every single team or running back, as some teams’ backfields become muddled when the primary back goes down and it’s too hard to predict who will get that massive boost in value. Or, nobody gets a massive boost in value as the touches end up distributed among the players without a lead guy.
As an example, I’m going to quickly break down the top-five ranked running backs according to Beersheets’s full PPR rankings. Hopefully, you can take some of this logic and move forward with it by looking at your own rosters. Or, you can always check in the Football Absurdity Discord or Twitch and ask us and our community for advice.
Starter: Christian McCaffrey
Handcuff: Chuba Hubbard (17% rostered)
Chuba Hubbard will be the lead back if Christian McCaffrey (CMC) goes down. That said, I’m not projecting CMC to go down this season, and if he does, it will just be for a week or two. Plus, Chuba doesn’t currently hold any added fantasy points value. He isn’t a guy who gets a lot of rotational snaps behind CMC. UnleUnless you drafted CMC and play in a league that gives an excessive amount of bench spots you are better off focusing elsewhere for value.
Starter: Dalvin Cook
Handcuff: Alexander Mattison (33% rostered)
Dalvin Cook has a storied injury history and Alexander Mattison has proven to be the next man up for the Vikings. Cook also has stand-alone PPR value insomuch as in a pinch, he won’t goose egg you or your squad. You took Dalvin within the first few picks of your draft; it would be best if you insured your investment with a high-upside player with independent value like Mattison.
New Orleans Saints
Starter: Alvin Kamara
Handcuff: Tony Jones Jr. (24% rostered)
I’m going to outright say it: Tony Jones Jr. deserved to be one of the top waiver wire pickups after week one. If you’re sitting on Alvin Kamara, please snap up Tony Jones Jr. His route to being the primary back for the Saints if Kamara misses time cleared up after the Saints released Latavius Murray. Given his performance in week one, it’s clear to see why the Saints have so much confidence in Tony Jones. Last year, Latavius Murray had some week-to-week value, and given how explosive the Saints’ offense seems this year, I could see Tony Jones having okay value as a desperation flex player on top of his clear handcuff value.
Starter: Derrick Henry
With Darrynton Evans out until at least week four, and mixed results from both Jeremy McNichols and Mekhi Sargent, it’s too hard to tell who will take over as the primary back for the Titans if Henry missed time. I would avoid picking up a handcuff for Henry until we know more about the backfield.
Starter: Ezekiel Elliott
Handcuff: Tony Pollard (52% rostered)
Tony Pollard is a perfect handcuff, especially in PPR. He carries some solid value as a passing catching back for his team that gets a decent amount of snaps every game so he can fill in on your flex. Plus, any change in Zeke’s availability would lead to Pollard soaking up the vast majority of Zeke’s reps.