I’ve been getting a few questions on handcuffing running backs, and we aren’t talking about fuzzy pink handcuffs, motel rooms, and dong texts.  How important is it to draft the backup/RBBC member of your starting running back?  Well, that depends. Let’s take a look at the top 25 or so ADP running backs from last season (this may cause agita in Forte, LT and Slaton owners).  I’ll give the total points in non-ppr leagues for each RB on their team to see if drafting the backup paid dividends or not.

1. Adrian Peterson 265, Chester Taylor 70

2. Maurice Jones-Drew 255, Rashad Jennings 26, Greg Jones 2

3. Michael Turner 141, Jason Snelling 108, Jerious Norwood 40

4. Matt Forte 150, Kahlil Bell  20, Garrett Wolfe 16

5. DeAngelo Williams 166, Jonathan Stewart 178

6. LaDainian Tomlinson  146, Darren Sproles 117, Mike Tolbert 51

7. Steven Jackson 180, Kenneth Darby 17

8. Chris Johnson 329, LenDale White 27, Javon Ringer 2

9. Steve Slaton 107, Arian Foster 47

10. Frank Gore 214, Glen Coffee 31

11. Brandon Jacobs 125, Ahmad Bradshaw 127

12. Brian Westbrook 51, Lesean McCoy 103, Leonard Weaver 63

13. Clinton Portis 58, LaDell Betts 46, Quinton Ganther 42

14. Marion Barber 144, Felix Jones 84, Tashard Choice 60

15. Ryan Grant 197, Brandon Jackson 42

16. Pierre Thomas 148, Reggie Bush 103, Mike Bell 86, Lynell Hamilton 26

17. Ronnie Brown 119, Ricky Williams 197

18. Kevin Smith 131, Maurice Morris 63

19. Ray Rice 228, Willis McGahee 136

20. Darren McFadden 53, Michael Bush 72, Justin Fargas 69

21. Marshawn Lynch 63, Fred Jackson 157

22. Joseph Addai 182, Donald Brown 57

23. Reggie Bush

24. Larry Johnson 52, Jamaal Charles 177

25. Thomas Jones 221, Shonn Greene 55

26. Knowshon Moreno 149, Correll Buckhalter 79

So, seven backups of the first 25 drafted starters (not counting Reggie Bush, cuz you never should) outscored the starting back and only 5 of those seven backups scored enough to crack the top 32 running backs list; and only 1 backup outplayed a top 10 ADP starter, Mr. Jonathan Stewart.  Add to that, Jamaal Charles was waiver wire fodder for most of the season.  Haley friggin started Kolby Smith over him after LJ was dismissed with prejudice. Yes, the Kolby Smith who was just dropped for LenDale White on an injury riddled Broncos team, but I digress!

So, out of the 25 I see four RB combos (Cheddar Melt, fries and a large Coke) that it was beneficial to handcuff. DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw, Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams, and Marshawn Lynch/Fred Jackson.

Lynch and Jackson were a no-brainer since we knew Lynch would miss the first 4 games, unless of course you were just grabbing Fast Freddie to screw with the Lynch owner.  DeAngelo and the Daily Show were both going to get work, so grabbing JStew was a good idea depending on where he fell.  And of course with Ronnie Brown’s injury record, grabbing Ricky late was a good idea as well.  Jacobs and Bradshaw barely squeezed into the top 32, but if you drafted Jacobs it was worthwhile owning Bradshaw.

So with only four backups being worthwhile draftees, how do we decide if it’s worth grabbing our starter’s backup this season?

1. Is your running back the clear starter? The answer to that question now is often no, but if it is you then have to ask the next questions.

2. Is there a definite backup to the starter?  And if so, does he suck?  And if so, does the offense allow for sucky running backs to play well?  Let’s take a look at the man-beast Steven Jackson.  His backup will barely be a flex position in all likelihood and could easily  be a committee of suck faces.  So, is the Rams offense the kind that can take a gaggle of suck faces and turn them into productive backs.  Well, you know the answer to that.

But if you take a look at teams like the Jets or the Titans, there is a possibility that the backup, no matter how old (LT) could do something if the starter goes down.  If your number one pick Chris Johnson hits the dirt and stays there, I would want to own Javon Ringer and not have to hope I have the number one waiver wire position.  Oh, and Ringer is pretty good as well.  Now LT on the other hand; if you have to decide between him and a starter in the mid to late rounds, I rather have the starter even if they are somewhat crappy.  This is where it gets tough.  How long do you wait?  The answer is, keep waiting.

3. Is the starter injury prone?  You already saw how drafting Ricky was a good idea if you drafted Ronnie.  The same thing holds true this season, but it will cost you a little more to get Ricky this season.  If you are high on Felix Jones, it would still be a good idea to get Barber or at least Choice.  Not because they will be in a committee, but because Jones can be peanut brittley.

4. Is the running back in a committee situation?  If the answer is yes, it comes down to ADP and your prognostication skills.  Let’s look at the Raiders. They could easily be in a RBBC.  Say you grab Michael Bush because, like me, you think he’ll do better than McFadden. So McFadden would be the handcuff, but he’s going ahead of Bush! So you don’t get a handcuff there. Don’t even worry about it.

But say you really like Beanie Wells to break out this season, how hard do you go after Tim Hightower?  Or Jamaal Charles and Tom Jones? For myself, I am going with who I think is the better back and sticking with my decision.  If Wells or JC has a season ending injury, yes Jones and Hightower will have value, but how much?  I don’t think enough to waste a pick on when I could be going with someone I think has more upside.

So a lot depends on the situation. I am not someone that must get the backup of my starters, but will if they fall enough and I don’t have someone else I really want in that spot.  I think the data from last year backs up that.  But at the same time it is hard not to want to be safe.  And I can understand that.  Just don’t reach for the feeling of safety.  It’s all an illusion!

And on a side note, don’t worry about trying to hurt another team by taking their starter’s backup unless you think that backup is the better player and could win out over the long haul.

In another post I will go through all the starters and their backups and give you my analysis on how important it is to grab who and where.  Stay tuned!

  1. Z says:
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    Nice analysis, but one big caveat missing.

    You draft handcuffs for the same reason you get insurance – to protect an asset against accidents. If the asset ends up not needing protection, all the better, but it looks like in a number of cases owners could have benefited from having the second guy.

    So what you really should look at is how many points per game missed by the starter did the handcuff earn you. That’s the value of the insurance payout. Compare that to premium paid (i.e., who did you NOT draft because you picked the handcuff).

    Cheers!

  2. TheTinDoor

    JTIN says:
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    Can you point to a good set of free, downloadable season projection numbers? Preferably in Excel?
    I want to play with the projections, scoring, etc, but would rather not enter all the raw data from scratch – if you have (or know of) an existing, well-respected projection set, I would be very interested.

  3. Doc

    Doc says:
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    @Z: Yes, the analysis could go into more depth. And it would be nice to go back a couple years as well. But I do think that backups are often backups for a reason. I would rather have selected a possible starter in a RBBC than Darby or Betts or Norwood, etc… There just aren’t many examples of a backup RB producing well enough to win you championships, maybe keep you afloat, but not championships.

    I would like to look at the weekly numbers of replacement RBs, but I don’t know if time will allow me.

  4. BAM says:
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    Hey Doc,

    This question isn’t directly related to this post…more of a general draft question. Can you list a few guys that are flying under the radar that you think will definitely be available in the 7th and 8th rounds of most drafts? I’m in a 12-team, PPR league with a 16 round draft and I’m in need of some advice here.

    Thanks,

    Marv

  5. Doc

    Doc says:
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    @BAM: I like these guys from the 7th to the 13th Floyd, Cutler, Bradshaw, Wallace, Michael Bush, Knox, Donald Brown, Mason, Arian Foster, Devin Hester, Zach Miller, Maroney, Jacoby Jones

  6. herschel says:
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    @Doc: how do you rank gore, jackson, turner and charles in a ppr league? thanks.

  7. Doc

    Doc says:
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    @herschel: Gore, Charles, Jackson, Turner

  8. Calogero says:
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    11th pick – do you go Greene and hope Moss isn’t picked off in picks 12/13 or go Moss and hope Greene isn’t picked off?

    In other words:

    1. who is more likely to slide?
    2. which is the bigger downgrade – Greene to Charles/Grant/Mathews/DeAngelo or Moss to Wayne/Fitzgerald?

  9. Doc

    Doc says:
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    @Calogero: I think you’ll have a better shot at getting Greene later than Moss.

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