Draft Strategy

4 Fantasy Running Backs That Must Be Handcuffed in 2017

Fantasy Football Handcuffs

We are now edging ever closer to the 2017 NFL season, and this means that fantasy football drafts are just around the corner. For the majority of people, leagues are won in the early rounds, but some like to be strategic with their late round picks in order to maximize their chance of victory. One thing many fantasy players like to do with their late round picks, is ‘handcuff’ their running backs. For any newbies to the sport, a handcuff involves drafting the back up to your early round running backs in order to protect yourself from injury. Last year was a good year for people who used this strategy, as both Rob Kelley and Jordan Howard broke out during the season to become reliable starters in fantasy football. The following list contains four running backs of whom I believe it is wise to pair with their backup in this coming season.

Doug Martin

Average Draft Position: 5.06 | RB23

Doug Martin is a popular mid round pick this year purely because of the fact his suspension has seen him slide from the top three rounds, and he appears to be a zero-RB darling in 2017. His ADP is currently at 5.06 in standard leagues and has risen as high as 4.06 in recent weeks. Which is a dramatic difference, as he was previously a late fifth-sixth round player. Two years ago Doug Martin was a League winner for many as very few bought into him, but his 2016 campaign was blighted by injury, drug use and he was largely outplayed by Jacquizz Rodgers.

From a schematic perspective, Martin is a rarity because he actually performs better when he has defenders around him, so the Buccaneers sub-par offensive line will not really affect him. Regardless of this, Doug Martin is a very risky player this year purely because he has a mix of injury and personal issues that are tarnishing his reputation in the short-term.

On the whole, I can see the infatuation with Martin, he is a good runner and he is part of an offense that will have very few men in the box due to a variety of receiving weapons, and the fact teams traditionally don’t stack the box against a team with DeSean Jackson. But overall, he is risky purely because he has been inconsistent throughout his career, and he is a player that needs to be handcuffed. The obvious reason for the handcuff is because he will miss the opening three games of the season, but it is unlikely that he will become a full-time starter immediately on his return, and it is also hard to fully buy into him after how bad he performed in 2016.

[the_ad id=”71961″]Jacquizz Rodgers currently has an ADP of 9.07 which wouldn’t be a sexy pick by any means, but he could be a reliable starter for the first couple of games. However, the real value pick is Jeremy McNichols, who is currently going undrafted. McNichols comes from a great college program in Boise State, and the fact he is a superb pass blocker means he should see many snaps in Dirk Koetter’s vertical offense. McNichols is worth a flier in the late rounds, and he really has the ability to be able to displace Doug Martin, who has been nothing but inconsistent in his NFL career to date. This is a good run game to invest in, but I would keep an eye on news out of training camp, as McNichols’ value will sky rocket if there is any indication he is bettering Jacquizz Rodgers in the Buccaneers pre-season camps.

Spencer Ware

Average Draft Position: 4.02 | RB18

Spencer Ware was a fantasy hero towards the end of the 2015 season, but his 2016 campaign was rocky and inconsistent. Andy Reid’s offense was expected to be built around his ability as a dual threat, but he was poor for the majority of the year and only scored five touchdowns. Additionally, he put up less than ten points in both fantasy playoff weeks. Ware still finished as the RB16 which was not bad, but the fact he struggled for efficiency means that Andy Reid may look to ease a different running back into the rotation in the 2017 season. Ware’s decline was gradual, as he only averaged over four yards per carry in one of the Chiefs final five games. Charcandrick West is nothing more than a backup, so Kareem Hunt is the obvious candidate to step up and start to eat into Spencer Ware’s carries in the coming season.

The Chiefs run game is a good one to invest in, purely because Andy Reid is a coach who is very creative and a coach who has always committed to running the ball. The Chiefs were 19th in pass percentage last year, and due to the fact Alex Smith is clearly getting worse, that number may once again decrease. Hunt could be the main benefactor of extra carries in Kansas City, and beat writers have been hearing great things about his progress over the summer.

Spencer Ware is a useful fantasy running back, but is not someone that Andy Reid will see as a definite starter going into training camp, as he is simply not that good. He is being horribly over-drafted at the 3/4 turn, and the pick only makes sense to me if you completely invest in the Chiefs run game and add Kareem Hunt on top of him. Hunt is a great fit in the spread offense Reid likes to run, and he should get a lot of looks out of the back field as Andy Reid’s playbook has a lot of opportunities for this kind of play.

At this point, I would not draft Ware as anything more than a flex, but if I were to draft him, then I would double down by adding Kareem Hunt as this is a good run game to invest in. Hunt is currently going in the 8th round, and using a quarter of your top eight picks on the Chiefs run game is a big commitment, but it is one that could pay off come the end of the season.

Frank Gore

Average Draft Position: 7.04 | RB33

Frank Gore seems to be a never ending supply of fantasy points, but at some point, this will likely change. Gore was unheralded going into last season, but he finished 12th in overall fantasy points, and he once again managed to play 16 games. It is for this reason that he is still an attractive add in fantasy leagues, as his current 7th round projection is good purely because he goes into the year as an RB1

For the record, I am still a Frank Gore believer, but due to the fact he is about to turn 34, he becomes a must handcuff player. Robert Turbin ate into his goal line carries last year, and the rookie Marlon Mack is a versatile player who could, in theory, gain a bigger role as the season progresses.

Gore’s decline was quite evident at times, as he broke 30 fewer tackles in 2016 than he did in 2015, and he only really seemed to get the yards that the offensive line generated for him. When he gets a gap he is still capable of doing damage, but he is not the stud he once was, and Marlon Mack will likely take his job sooner than later.

From a purely schematic perspective, Mack is much more versatile than Gore as he suits the spread offense that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is trying to run. Gore is limited to power concepts as his age, which makes the Colts a slightly more predictable offense. Per Pro Football Focus, Marlon Mack was fifth amongst all college running backs in Breakaway percentage, which is a number of yards generated in runs over 15 yards. This means he could likely start for the Colts because they were 26th in ‘big plays’ generated from the run game last year.

Gore is still a good add purely because he will likely enter the season as an RB1 in a loaded offense, but he is someone that should be handcuffed because his shelf-life doesn’t seem to be that long at this point. He doesn’t really generate his own yards anymore, and Marlon Mack seems ready made to take his spot sooner rather than later. Robert Turbin’s efficiency as a red-zone back to some extent will eat into the value of both Mack and Gore, but these two are the ones who will get the majority of open field carries in 2017, so get them both if you can.

Le’Veon Bell

Average Draft Position: 1.02 | RB2

[the_ad id=”72106″]Bell is probably the best all round runner in the NFL but has missed a huge chunk of time in recent years which has led to his backups being fantasy relevant. Bell has missed 14 games in the last two years, so fantasy players should add as much insurance as they can after using a top-three pick on him.

James Conner is nowhere near as rounded a back as Bell, but he would be coming in behind the best line in the AFC in the case of a Bell absence, and he is a powerful runner capable of breaking tackles. The Steelers have been pass heavy in recent years, but they will likely start to use the run game more often purely because of the fact Ben Roethlisberger isn’t a QB who should be close to the top of the NFL in pass attempts anymore.

Whilst Le’Veon Bell was out last year, DeAngelo Williams was the fantasy RB1 by a distance, and although James Conner may not be as impactful as Williams based on the fact he is a rookie, the Steelers offense is very friendly to running backs. They have a line that blocks well, and Todd Haley’s run game might be the best designed in the NFL. Also, they have receivers who help turn good gains into great ones.

Le’Veon Bell is someone who should absolutely be targeted as high as humanly possible, but he absolutely has to be handcuffed. James Conner currently has an ADP at the end of the 13th round, which is too low. Bell’s injury and suspension history is blatant at this point, and I would target Conner as high as the 12th round just so I could secure the entirety of the Steelers run game. Conner has very little competition to be the RB2 in Pittsburgh as Knile Davis and Fitzgerald Toussaint are nothing more than rotational guys, and he has the potential for huge games if history repeats itself for Le’Veon Bell.

A 12th round pick isn’t that valuable in the grand scheme of things, and James Conner is the best handcuff option this year purely because of history, and because of the situation, he would be walking into.

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