For some reason, handcuffing running backs in fantasy football has become a controversial draft strategy throughout the years. On one hand, it isn’t sexy, so owners may shy away from a boring selection. Diversification on a roster is another reason why people may avoid it.
Yet, there is nothing but upside in securing the top backup in the correct situation.
Fantasy owners often are drawn to grabbing both backs in precarious backfields, which can get one into trouble. Some offenses just don’t warrant a selection, rendering both choices wasted picks.
The key is to look for backfields where the two primary choices are not polar opposites. An example of a backfield combo that would work against a gamer would be drafting both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. If Howard were to go down for any period of time, Cohen wouldn’t be called upon to handle the full workload. Benny Cunningham would assume most of Howard’s workload and share touches with Cohen.
You want to find player’s whose value drastically increased by way of a substantially larger workload. Rather than being one of <insert your league size here> number of owners fighting on the waiver wire or via blind bidding for the replacement player, adding him late in drafts is a win-win. It does, however, require patience during the season. Owners become tempted to cut said handcuff to create room for another player. This can backfire and needs to be addressed with a case-by-case mentality.
Handcuffing is especially crucial for high-round picks. More often than not, the reason a running back is a selection inside of the first three rounds is volume. Those touches have to go somewhere should an injury strike down side player. Avoid a second kicker and/or defense to provide your roster valuable insurance.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: Rookie Chase Edmonds should be a final-round flier for any owner with DJ on their roster. Coming off of a season-ending injury, with only one year as a track record, Johnson is no sure thing.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons: There’s little reason not to want Tevin Coleman, too, particularly given Freeman’s recent injury concerns and physical style. Coleman could end up sharing with rookie Ito Smith, yet there is a strong chance the 25-year-old Coleman would emerge as a breakthrough player if given a full workload.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills: While Shady isn’t going to be on any of my 2018 rosters, if something were to happen to prevent him from seeing the field, veteran Chris Ivory is a try-hard with experience to be a poor man’s workhorse.
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns: Regardless of the name, this backfield will share touches with third-down back Duke Johnson. Should Hyde go down, and his history suggests it is probable, rookie Nick Chubb is poised to step right into his role.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys: Why wouldn’t you want to spend a late pick on Rod Smith instead of adding an extra tight end, kicker or defense? This is a no-brainer given the likely workload behind this offensive line.
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos: The belief has been Devontae Booker and the rookie will enter a “hot hand” situation, cannibalizing each other some weeks. Recent reports suggest Freeman is pulling away. An injury to Freeman could make Booker the guy, which provides an opportunity for RB2 touches.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts: Mack (hamstring) already is banged up. Even though rookie Nyheim Hines is a fine sleeper target, he’s a limited player and will require a helping hand. Fellow rook Jordan Wilkins could be the bigger winner of this backfield if Mack were to miss extended time.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars: A long-term injury to Fournette likely means a shared approach from T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant. Regardless, there is enough ground to be made up for both players to be relevant. And it’s not like Fournette is a stranger to injuries…
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs: We’ve seen Spencer Ware play at a reasonably useful level before, and while injuries are a concern, Andy Reid’s history suggests a one-back system is the most likely path if Hunt were to go down.
Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler is the primary handcuff for Gordon, a player familiar with the injury bug. Rookie Justin Jackson was impressive early in camp before suffering a hamstring injury that will cost him several valuable weeks.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams: Malcolm Brown should be a pick in the final rounds for any Gurley owner. Brown isn’t going to offer anything near what Gurley brings to fantasy rosters. Nevertheless, chances are chances in a potent offense.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings: If there ever was a situation built for handcuffing, you’re looking at it. Coming off an ACL tear, behind a strong offensive line with a shielding passing game, Cook is the ultimate risk-reward pick. Should he have a problem, Latavius Murray is capable of shouldering the load.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants: The prized rookie already dealing with a minor hamstring injury should emphasize the importance of securing his backup, Wayne Gallman, late in drafts.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers: Sitting out of training camp didn’t hamper Bell too much last summer. This time around, he has to learn a new offense and is a year older. James Conner figures to take on a major role if anything were to happen to the disgruntled veteran.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers: Prior to suffering a shoulder injury, Matt Breida would have been the top handcuff for McKinnon. A calf strain has the latter on the mend, as well, which led to the addition of veteran Alfred Morris. He knows Kyle Shanahan’s system from their time together in D.C.
Derrick Henry/Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans: This one is worth addressing given the interchangeable nature with how gamers draft the two. An injury to Henry would give Lewis a much larger role, but whether he can hold up is a question without a confident answer. No backup of note behind these guys means Lewis would be tasked with every-down involvement. The same probably cannot be said of Henry if Lewis went down. Pairing the two isn’t a terrible idea, although it means you’ll need to invest heavily in one backfield and may be hamstrung with weekly lineup decisions.