Every fantasy season the age old debate resurfaces, to handcuff or not to handcuff. Injuries are guaranteed, knowing who to draft as an insurance policy or to pick up off waivers is a critical component in your journey to fantasy football glory. Luckily for you, I will be here to guide you throughout the season on which handcuffs you should own or which to keep on your watch list. Unfortunately our leagues bench spots are not infinite, some handcuffs need to be drafted and some left on the waivers.
Leading up to the NFL regular season kick-off, I will break down the various types of handcuffs. Yes, not all handcuffs are created equal. Some are furry, some are wrapped in velvet/satin, some have spikes, some are plastic, metal, or leather, and some are wrist + ankle combos. Okay..okay..back to fantasy..football. Where’s Lisa Ann?
There are two types of handcuffs,
- Traditional handcuff: a RB that their sole value is based on the starting backs health/availability on game day. If the starter suits up this guy needs to be on your bench or on waivers. The traditional handcuff is drafted LATE, unless the starter enters the season with injury concerns.
- Scheme Based Handcuff (I need to think of a better name, help me out in the comments)- a RB that still holds value regardless of the starters game day status because of the offensive scheme. This is different than the dreaded running-back-by-committee (RBBC). In a RBBC, neither back is drafted as an RB1-2. The usage in a RBBC is spread out between two, sometimes three, backs that it caps the value of all backs in the stable. On any given week, it’s difficult to predict which back will finish ahead in fantasy points in a RBBC (i.e. 2017-2018 Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens). The Scheme Based Handcuff, is a running back in an offensive scheme that produces a clear cut RB1/2 AND an ancillary back exists that provides stand alone fantasy value, but if the starter were to go down their value would sky rocket even more. The scheme based handcuff is prevalent in PPR leagues. If you follow me regularly, all of my articles are based around PPR scoring leagues, which should be the “standard” fantasy league, in this modern era of football.
Examples of Scheme Based Handcuffs:
- 2018 LAC: Austin Ekeler (RB26) / Melvin Gordon (RB8)
- 2017 NO: Mark Ingram (RB6) / Alvin Kamara (RB3)
- 2017 CHI: Tarik Cohen (RB33) / Jordan Howard (RB14)
- 2016 ATL: Tevin Coleman (RB20) / Devonta Freeman (RB6)
- 2015 NYJ: Bilal Powell (RB34) / Chris Ivory (RB11)
- 2014 CIN: Giovani Bernard (RB16) / Jeremy Hill (RB10)
Here are a few scheme based handcuffs to watch for this draft season…
The most obvious name on this list because of Melvin Gordons current contract holdout. At this point, I rather draft Ekeler over Gordon even though there remains a chance Gordon will return. Ekeler and LAC, last season, is the perfect example of the scheme based handcuff. Gordon and Ekeler played together in 11 games, Ekeler produced at minimum RB3 numbers in 7 of those games. 2 of those games they both posted RB1 numbers. Gordon finished the season as RB8 and Ekeler RB25. Ekeler holds value regardless of Gordons contract situation. Some will argue that Jackson is the guy to own, but for this exercise Justin Jackson is a ‘traditional handcuff.’ JJ didn’t provide any fantasy production last season until Gordon missed time.
Another easy one, the Saints are two seasons removed from having two running backs finish top 10 at the position. Ingram still finished in the RB3 range last season (RB32), after a dip in his usage and a PED suspension. The Saints still hold the same Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach combo dating back to 2009. Mark Ingram moved on to Baltimore in free agency, queue Latavius Murray to New Orleans. Scheme and opportunity present a path for Murray to produce viable fantasy numbers even with Kamara toting the rock as the lead dog. Not to mention, the Saints have transitioned to a running team as Drew’s arm continues to rack up the mileage. Sean Payton’s offense finished 2018 with the #4 highest rushing rate in the NFL (47%). Murray has posted the following RB finishes dating back to 2015: RB37, RB25, RB13, and RB10. Two top 10 RB finishes in NO is unlikely, but Murray will be a viable flex option in this offense. The Saints, with appearances in back-to-back NFC Championship games, will want to keep their star back up right for a late season playoff run, another plus for Murrays role. If Kamara were to get sidelined, then Murray has a clear path for RB1 production. Sound familiar? Scheme Based Handcuff…
Tevin Coleman is the projected starter in this backfield and is getting drafted as such, 20 spots ahead of Matt Breida. Kyle Shanahan is notorious for utilizing a two headed backfield, dating back to his days as the OC in Washington and Atlanta. The 49ers were plagued with injuries at the running back position last season but Kyle was able to make practice squad back, Jeff Wilson, fantasy relevant. His offensive scheme is running back friendly. As OC for the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, Shanahan had Devonta Freeman finish RB6 and Coleman RB20. Jerrick Mckinnon is still fighting his way on the field and does not present an immediate threat to either Coleman or Breida. Matt boasts a 5.0 yards per carry for his career and finished 2018 with a strong 5.3 ypc. 2018 was Coleman’s first full season without missing a game since entering the league in 2015. Breida fits both handcuff categories and I like him at his current price, back end of the 10th round.
One of the biggest values on this list, Dion Lewis’ season was overshadowed by Derrick Henrys monster finish to 2018. Rightfully so, but Lewis quietly finished as the RB27 last season. Now, with Derrick Henry hype in full effect, Lewis is the forgotten man in this backfield with an ADP outside of the top 150. Rudy has Lewis projected to finish 2019 as RB29, in that high end RB3/Flex range. Henry is a non-factor in the passing game which secures Lewis’ role in this offense on passing downs and potential hurry up situations. Lewis has averaged over 10 fantasy points per game the last two season. The Titans also return the same Head Coach and promoted their TE coach to OC, don’t expect much change in this offensive system. Tennessee finished with #2 highest rushing rate in 2018.
Similar to Lewis, Hines is overshadowed by his lead back. Rightfully so, Marlon Mack is the lead dog in a high powered offense (hopefully Andrew Luck starts week 1). Flying under the radar, Hines finished 2018 as RB28, averaging 10.1 fantasy point per game. Like Henry, Mack is not utilized much in the passing game. In his first two season, Mack as averaged under 30 targets per season and under 20 receptions per season. Rudy has Hines projected to finish 2019 as RB33, in the RB3/Flex range. I get it, Hines and Lewis don’t provide us with a sexy late round pick, but neither team added a threat to their role, nor are either team expected to have avdrastic change to their offensive schemes. We can project similar roles for both backs in 2019. You want to build your roster with a good mix of high upside guys and reliable/”safe” picks. Don’t draft them as your #2-3 back on your roster, but they are good depth builders that have proven to provide flex starts throughout the season, in PPR leagues.
We can make an argument for Mattison to fit both the traditional handcuff and scheme based handcuff bucket. This actually makes him a more attractive pick than the two names above. Starting Minnesota back, Dalvin Cook has failed to log a full season since entering the NFL. Cook is projected for a huge role in this offense, Minnesota is expexted to establish the run under new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Our boy Zach does a great job of breaking down the potential impact of Stefanski in MIN, read here. If the Vikings want to protect their first round asset, Cook, then it will be in their best interest to sprinkle in young rookie Alexander Mattison. In Stefanski’s first week as OC last season, week 15, both Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray had over 15 touches. The following week both backs had over 10 touches. Yes, Cook will be the lead back but Mattison has a chance to provide us with flex numbers and will shoot up to RB1/2 status if Cook were to miss any time. This is the sexy late round/upside pick y’all wanted. Go ahead, get you some shares of Mattison.