Debunking The RB Handcuff Theory

Debunking The RB Handcuff Theory 4

Fantasy Football Strategy: Debunking The Handcuff Theory

Adrian Peterson

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.

2014
Games Team Running Back Handcuff Statline
16
Le’Veon Bell
16
DeMarco Murray
16
Matt Forte
16
Marshawn Lynch
13
Arian Foster Alfred Blue 65/280/0
2013
Games Team Running Back Handcuff Statline
15*
Jamaal Charles
16
LeSean McCoy
16
Matt Forte
16
Marshawn Lynch
16
Knowshon Moreno
2012
Games Team Running Back Handcuff Statline
16
Adrian Peterson
16
Doug Martin
16
Arian Foster
16
Marshawn Lynch
16
Alfred Morris
*- 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.

Fantasy Football StrategyTheoretically, 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.

 

About the author

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Jen Ryan

Jen happily calls northern New Jersey home, and despite MTV's greatest attempt to tarnish her home state, she is a proud Jersey girl. She can't get enough of MFL10's, loves her competitive family redraft league, and is thrilled to be a part of Ross Tucker's Fantasy Feast Eatin' League for this upcoming season. Jen considers herself a classy deJenerate, and can't wait for DFS football to begin. The Draft Kings and Fan Duel commercials told her that she could be a millionaire and, considering she is gullible and loves to gamble, she is so excited to chase that million in 2015. Accounting pays her bills but crunching fantasy numbers, analyzing them, and writing about them is where her heart is. Jen is also one of the craziest Cowboy fans you will ever meet and will go to her grave swearing that it was a catch

4 Comments

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  • Thanks for the feedback, Theone! While it make seem logically incorrect, the fact that I was trying to point out was that if you handcuffed your top five running back over the past three seasons, you simply wasted a bench space. Naturally, fantasy owners would not have realized this until after the season, therefore it’s mainly a cautionary tale on the notion that it is mandatory to handcuff your first round running back. I like the idea of exploring those non-first rounders you mentioned.
    I agree with your criteria – why handcuff a running back if the backup job will likely be left to a committee? That would be even more of a waste of a coveted roster spot on your team. I especially like your third criteria, and immediately Jonathan Stewart came to mind, as you can likely acquire Cameron Artis-Payne in the late teen rounds.
    Mostly, I appreciate you taking the time to read this. It’s these sort of conversations that keep the brain constantly strategizing! Thanks Theone!

  • I read both articles on handcuffing and enjoyed them. I have a couple of notes. First, the basis for this article is logically incorrect. A top 5 RB will almost always not miss significant time. By definition, a handcuff will have little to no value when the primary RB does not miss time. This does not provide evidence as to whether one should handcuff a RB. The goal of a handcuff is to insure a starting RB position on your fantasy team when the starting RB is injured. A better way to look at the issue is examining players like Davis, Miller, and Hill when the starting RB was injured. Each became starting quality RBs while the initial starter injured. Second, I recommend a few criteria when considering a handcuff. 1. Is there near certainty as to who the handcuff is? Teams such as DEN and NYJ have multiple RBs who could become the backup and thus are not good candidates for handcuffing. 2. Can the handcuff become a RB2+ if given the opportunity to play? A player like Knile Davis qualifies under this requirement. Players like Gio Bernard and Ryan Mathews also qualify but have additional potential flex/RB2 value and accordingly higher cost. A handcuff not likely to start for your team even if the starter is injured is not worth the roster space. 3. The price for the handcuff must be low. It is not worth much in draft capital to spend on a player who is unlikely to provide much return.

    Overall I generally find it is not worth handcuffing players as they are not worth the roster spot but will depend on roster limits.

    Thanks for taking the time to write and I look forward to more of your articles.