Fantasy Football Strategy: Debunking The Handcuff Theory
To cuff or not to cuff? The more research into running backs and their backups that I do, the more I go back and forth on theory of handcuffing stud running back. I recently wrote an article in support of handcuffing running backs, and in this article I mentioned that the concept of handcuffing is a double edged sword. I’m not a walking contradiction on the subject, there are just so many situations and variables that need to be considered while drafting in regards to a backup that I have to look at the other side of the coin.
Let’s say that, as an insurance policy for your fantasy team, the handcuffing theory applies to running backs with top 5 finishes. This would make them a stud running back, and therefore you must handcuff your stud in the event that he suffers an injury and misses time because you likely spent a high draft pick on him, right? Wrong. Below are the top 5 fantasy finishes over the past three seasons, in order of finish.
|13||Arian Foster||Alfred Blue||65/280/0|
|*- Rested final week of the season|
Whoa. Whoa. WHOA! The table to the right is pretty much full of nothing (applicable). Over the past three fantasy seasons, the only top 5 back to miss relevant time was Arian Foster. It is not even worth analyzing Blue as an effective handcuff because his small sample stat line is inflated by a 36 rush attempt, 156 yard week 11 performance. This visual display of “N/A” is eye opening when you are debating handcuffing your top 5 running back.
Theoretically, this meaningless chart reflects three seasons of fantasy general managers wasting precious bench space on handcuffs with no reward. If a fantasy general manager took running backs with their first pick in their drafts over the past three seasons and spent a pick on their handcuff, they have put themselves at a disadvantage. Bench spots are meant for players with value and upside, reserved for match up based flex plays and bye week fill-ins. To have a player rot on your bench all season that does not contribute points is completely ineffective.
In those middle to late rounds when other owner’s in your league are drafting, and at times over drafting, their handcuff, consider looking at back’s with upside or the right situation rather than burn that pick on your own handcuff. If you really want to drive your league mates mad, grab their handcuff and use him as trade bait to upgrade a weak spot in your roster. Do not shy away from grabbing the lead dog in a committee either. Guys like Chris Ivory are undervalued, and are much cheaper for you to acquire than some of these unproven rookies that are generating buzz. Why spend a pick on Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley when you can wait on someone like Tre Mason or Isaiah Crowell a few rounds later?
The running back position is volatile, and running backs are inherently injury prone due to the nature of their business. With that said, it does not seem worth the roster spot to handcuff a stud. Rather than spend a middle round pick on a Knile Davis type, consider stacking running backs. If you are a zero RB fantasy player like myself, then you go after your stud receivers first, which leaves the running back pool thin. Why not take a shot on locking up a team’s backfield? Doug Martin and Charles Sims could make for an interesting duo on your team, as much as Bishop Sankey and David Cobb or Andre Ellington and David Johnson can. If you are waiting for the value rounds to grab your running backs, stacking could prove to be more beneficial than handcuffing. It comes with risk, but there is no reward without it.
No one could have predicted Adrian Peterson’s situation last season, and he was arguably the most drafted player with the first pick in fantasy leagues. No one could have predicted Matt Asiata’s random multi-score games or the emergence of Jerrick McKinnon. Owners who spend a high draft pick on LeSean McCoy would have made themselves crazy if they handcuffed him with Chris Polk, who did nothing but steal Shady’s touchdowns all season. If you torched a bench spot on Joseph Randle, DeMarco Murray made you pay for it. If we can consider the past three seasons as “historic”, than history tells us not to we should not waste our time handcuffing our first running back off the board.
Check out Gridiron Experts 2015 Running Back Projections here.