- The right handcuff to your running back could be a late fantasy draft pick that pays enormous dividends.
In fantasy football, many people want to protect their top investment in a running back by handcuffing them. This means taking their direct backup in case the starter gets hurt and has to miss time. This way they have the replacement on their roster without spending a lot of FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) money on the waiver wire or using a high priority pick in waivers.
There are different viewpoints on handcuffs. Some think it's a waste of a roster spot. If the starter never misses a time, then the handcuff will never contribute for your team. It also prevents you from potentially adding a breakout waiver wire pickup because after the draft day investment, there's still a need to hold on to the handcuff. Unless a team is loaded with talent at running back, the players are backups for a reason. Handcuffing becomes more of a priority later in the season, but it also depends on the depth of the league.
On the other hand, a smart handcuff is a protection of an investment. For those that took James Conner as the Le'Veon Bell handcuff last season, it paid huge dividends. There are times when the backup isn't clear. Last season, most took John Kelly as the handcuff for Todd Gurley and Kelly never panned out. It was a wasted pick.
Like any strategy, it can work if done correctly. Keep in mind that not every player will succeed if given a starting role. Some teams will use the dreaded running-back-by-committee approach if the workhorse goes down. It's easier to justify handcuffing in deeper formats with 18 roster spots or more. Here are some handcuffs that should be considered.
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints (ADP 82)
Murray isn't the typical handcuff. He has value even with Alvin Kamara healthy and is an ideal target in the middle rounds of drafts. The Saints run the ball a lot and have been one of the top two teams in running back fantasy points over the last few seasons. Drew Brees had fewer than 500 pass attempts last season and New Orleans now uses a run-heavy offense. Murray is basically stepping into the Mark Ingram role. Ingram averaged 15.9 touches over the last two seasons. The Saints have already said Alvin Kamara will have a similar workload to his first two seasons in which he had 120 carries as a rookie and 194 carries last season, adding 81 receptions in each of those years. If Kamara misses time, Murray would be a RB1. Don’t forget that Murray is no stranger to the starting role due to his time in Oakland and Minnesota. When Dalvin Cook was hurt last season, Murray produced 20-plus PPR fantasy points three weeks in a row. He should flourish in Sean Payton’s system in New Orleans.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams (ADP 79)
Henderson has a high ADP since many are worried about the arthritic knee of Todd Gurley. Henderson isn't even the direct handcuff yet as it could be Malcolm Brown, but Henderson has the higher ceiling. The rookie is expected to play a role even with Gurley active and the Rams will likely limit Gurley’s workload in an attempt to keep him healthy for the playoffs. The Rams traded up to get Henderson and teams usually have plans to use a running back when selected in the third round. Brown would also be a factor if Gurley were to miss time.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots (ADP 110)
Harris is in a great situation. The Patriots plan to run the football often and they used a third-round draft pick on the rookie. Sony Michel had a knee scope in the offseason and has a history of knee issues. Harris might not see much action early in the season, but he's worth stashing in deeper formats. Even with a shared backfield, Harris would become valuable in the Michel role. He would likely stick to early-down situations with James White in the fold, but Harris would certainly be a hot commodity in the fantasy community if Michel missed time.
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans (ADP 111)
Derrick Henry is the starter, although he's dealing with a calf injury. Similar to the 2018 season, Lewis will still have a role in the passing game with Henry healthy. He caught 59 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns last season. The Titans’ offense was best when Henry was fed the football in the final few games of the season. Lewis’s value is mainly tied to Henry missing time. Remember how good Lewis was when he received the bulk of the touches as a member of the New England Patriots? Tennessee doesn’t have a lot of depth at the running back position so Lewis’s value could skyrocket in the event of a Derrick Henry injury.
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP 112)
The Steelers’ offense has proved to be excellent for running backs in fantasy football. James Conner projects to be the starter after gaining 1,470 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018, but Samuels will play a complementary role in the offense and if Conner misses time, Samuels becomes a must-start. Samuels is adept at catching the football and it wouldn't be surprising to see him line up in the slot. Eddie Faulkner, the new running backs coach for the Steelers, was an assistant at N.C. State, where Samuels played in college. In the last five games of Pittsburgh’s season last year, Samuels produced double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues every single game, including when Conner was active. This stretch was highlighted by the Steelers’ Week 15 matchup with the New England Patriots, in which Samuels carried the rock 19 times for a whopping 142 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. He also chipped in by catching the only two passes thrown his way for an additional 30 yards, finishing the week with a career-high 19.2 fantasy points. Samuels did all that without finding the endzone, and actually finished the season without any rushing touchdowns. He did produce three receiving scores last year, but imagine the upside if Conner struggles out of the gate or goes down with an injury. Pittsburgh’s offensive system would turn Samuels into a top-15 RB. You can take that to the bank!
Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers (ADP 114)
Breida gets a boost with the growing likelihood that Jerick McKinnon will begin the season on injured reserve. Tevin Coleman is the primary back, but Breida has a great skill set and looked good when he got the chance last season. The 49ers’ offense was productive for running backs in fantasy football last season and it projects to be better with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back under center after only playing three games in 2018 due to a torn ACL. There have also been reports that Breida could line up as a receiver on offense. Breida showed a lot to the coaching staff last season by amassing 1,080 total yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns despite playing through several injuries. While we can’t expect performances like his Week 10 outing against the New York Giants, when Breida rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and caught three passes for 31 yards and an additional touchdown (28.2 fantasy points), Breida will be involved in San Francisco’s new-look offense even if Coleman remains healthy.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (ADP 129)
Ezekiel Elliott is still holding out and the Cowboys have used Pollard with the first-team offense. He might not have the same workload as Elliott, but he projects as the Cowboys running back to target in case Elliott misses game. Pollard is 6', 210 pounds, runs a 4.42 40-yard dash and is an excellent receiver. Pollard’s ADP will continue to rise the longer Elliott’s holdout continues. If Elliott drafters are unable to handcuff their first-round pick with Pollard, this could result in a lost season for many fantasy owners.While you cannot win your draft in the first round, you can absolutely set yourself up for failure. Elliott drafters should do themselves a favor and go get Pollard, even if it means pulling the trigger a bit early.
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings (ADP 132)
The Vikings’ offensive line has improved and the running backs had big lanes in the preseason opener. Minnesota began to shift to a run-heavy offense towards the end of last season, which could translate to 2019 despite the Vikings’ two stud receivers. Starter Dalvin Cook has the talent to breakout, but he has missed 17 games in his first two seasons due to a torn ACL and hamstring injuries. If Mattison does earn the backup role as expected, he could see 10 touches per game.
Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens (ADP 138)
The Ravens are going to run the ball a lot. Even with Mark Ingram getting the bulk of the carries, there's room for Hill to get touches. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is such a threat as a runner, it opens up lanes for the running backs. Ingram turns 30 this season and if he goes down, Hill gets a big boost. Only a dozen active running backs have rushed 525-plus times over the past three seasons and Ingram is one of them. If Ingram gets injured this year, the Ravens could turn to the franchise’s running back of the future.
Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP 148)
The Chiefs’ offense is explosive and getting the running back is ideal. Andy Reid always seems to turn his running backs into fantasy football studs. Damien Williams appears to be the lead back, but he's 27 years old and has never had more than 50 carries in a season. Carlos Hyde is in the picture, but he hasn't been very good in recent seasons. Thompson is a rookie, but showed good speed and impressed in the first preseason game with five carries for 22 yards and a 29-yard touchdown reception. It may take some time for Thompson, but he's a good stash.
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals (ADP 151)
The Cardinals’ offense should be up-tempo and run a lot of plays. Edmonds could even see a decent amount of touches with David Johnson healthy. If the plan to run a lot of play comes to fruition, Johnson will occasionally come out for a breather. Edmonds played the spread offense in college, and is excited by head coach Kliff Kingsbury's new scheme. Johnson will be the bellcow in Arizona, as long as he is healthy, but Edmonds is a player to watch in deeper fantasy leagues, particularly in PPR formats. Edmonds is a good stash at the end of your bench.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP 162)
Bernard has been a RB1 when he has been asked to fill in for a starter. Bernard had two starts last season. He ran for 61 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown and caught five-of-nine targets for 25 yards in Week 3. The following week, Bernard rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns and caught all four targets for 27 yards. In those two starts, the veteran averaged 22.6 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. Joe Mixon will be the lead back in Cincinnati, but Bernard continues to show that he belongs in the NFL and can be quite productive when given the opportunity.