Understand the Costs Before Handcuffing
By Dan Grogan
August 12th, 2011

The concept of handcuffing or drafting two running backs from the same team - the starter and his backup - isn't new and, in fact, has been around for many years. It used to be that you took handcuffing precautions to guard against injury to your starter. However, as more teams have migrated to routinely using two backs, the concept has taken on new meaning.

With many number two backs capable of delivering decent value as fantasy starters these days, drafting your starter's backup is a lot more than just making an insurance pick.

The cost of pairing up two backfield teammates is really the issue here and that's determined by how high you have to draft the number two guy. And only you can reason if making this move makes sense. Obviously, if there are still a few good number one backs on the board when you pick, you should go in this direction. But when you're into that realm of when the backups start to draw attention, it's prudent to know what you're going to do.

As is the case with all draft day strategies, your thoughts and plans regarding handcuffing should be crafted out ahead of time before you find yourself in that situation and you hear the word, "you're on the clock!"

I've taken a team-by-team look at handcuffing possibilities and have tried to address to questions to help you on draft day - is the backup worth it and at what cost?

High Cost

NY Giants - Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs

This is definitely a situation where, if you had to, you could start both guys with few qualms. I'd highly consider this handcuff, but again, this depends on what your options are with this pick. This makes Jacobs a premium as a number two RB since he's much more than simple insurance. Expect him to be an early RB3 pick in this year's draft.

NY Jets - Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson

The fantasy hype has been more about Greene stepping into more of a lead role this year, but that was supposed to be the story last season too so he still has something to prove. That's what makes LT intriguing. While he's not the same LT of a few years ago, I think you'll see him with 10-14 carries in most games and an occasional score in a reserve role - enough to start as a flex if need be. My bet is that he'll command RB3 value on draft day.

San Diego - Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert

With Mathews still having to prove he's an every down back and Tolbert's 11 TDs last season, this is a handcuff worth making. But this one will cost you. Tolbert's 11 TDs last season won't go unnoticed. I think his price tag will be on the high side as an RB3.

Green Bay - Ryan Grant and James Starks

Although Starks showed some good things while starting for the injured Grant late last season, Grant is expected to reclaim his starting job in 2011. While Starks is a valuable backup, I don't think you'll be able to start both in a fantasy lineup. If suspect he'll go as a RB4 pick, but don't be surprised if some one grabs him earlier. I wouldn't attempt a handcuff unless Starks is still around after the RB3s are off the board.

Carolina - DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart

This duo's success may be responsible for the popularity of the dreaded RBBC we're seeing so much of today. Even with the coaching change in Carolina, I think we'll see a similar backfield with Williams as the lead and Stewart seeing adequate playing time behind him. However, what does concern me is the Panthers effectiveness with rookie Cam Newton at QB. With sub-par QB play last season, this team managed just five total TDs inside the 10-yard line. Now they have a running QB too! My gut tells me that the price tag on Stewart (RB3) will be too high for this handcuff.

Philadelphia - LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown

Unless Brown drops to a late RB4 or lower, I think his value as a handcuff to McCoy is overstated. When you look back to last season's stats, none of the backups to McCoy had much impact. In fact, QB Michael Vick was Philly's second leading ball carrier picking up 8-10 carries in most games and stealing away 9 TDs. Pairing up McCoy and Brown in the same fantasy backfield makes little sense. I'd have to see Brown down as a RB5 before considering him.

Denver - Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno

I think by the time the season starts McGahee will be Denver's lead back with Moreno playing second fiddle. But I also think Moreno's price will be too high for what he'll deliver. True, he'll likely see a decent amount of playing time even if McGahee starts and Moreno's superior receiving ability will likely ensure him more time on the field. But the catch is that he'll likely be taken as an RB3 which would be too rich for me.

Buffalo - Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller

It's debatable as to who the starter will be; either guy could emerge. I suspect the Bills will play both guys in tandem, but I'm not convinced the handcuff is worth it. Besides having concerns for the upside of Buffalo's offense, I think it's going to be too costly to land either player in a handcuff. By all indications, both look to be RB3 draftees and I believe there will still be other good prospects elsewhere still available at this time.

Oakland - Darren McFadden and Michael Bush

As good as McFadden is, there are always concerns about an injury with him and that's why you should consider handcuffing Bush. It will be a bit pricey though since I anticipate Bush being drafted as a late RB3 or early RB4.

Miami - Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush

All signs point to the rookie Thomas starting, but you know how risky rookie backs can be. The thing that limits many of them in year one is problems in pass protection. However, even if Thomas falters, I don't think Bush will be the Dolphins' every down back. He should see enough time though to give you RB3/Flex value. I certainly wouldn't draft him higher than a RB3 and if the early mocks are correct, he would be a bargain if found as an RB4.

Moderate Cost

Jacksonville - Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings

Jennings might not be as well known as some of the other high level number two guys, but many astute fantasy owners are well aware of him. At worst, he'll be taken as a RB4. There has been a lot of talk about MJD's knee issues and the likelihood that Jacksonville will try to reduce his load and this is where Jennings comes in. In limited play last season, he showed good stuff scoring four TDs and rushing for 459 yards on just 84 carries (5.5 yards per rush). This is a handcuff worth making.

New Orleans - Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas

I think New Orleans is a situation in which there's a lot of hype about one guy (Ingram) and that's causing a devaluation of the backup (Thomas). It's not officially set in stone that Ingram will be the lead back, but it's looking that way. I know the Saints have got Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory here clouding the picture, but if Thomas is around as a RB5 as some of the mocks indicate, it will be worth the handcuff.

Kansas City - Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones

I've been pleased to see Jones going so low (RB4-5) in several of the mock drafts because this only makes handcuffing him with Charles that much more attractive. I think the high expectations for Charles this season may be overshadowing Jones' value. While Jones' stats were fairly modest last year, he's still capable of handling a strong workload if necessary.

Atlanta - Michael Turner and Jason Snelling

Atlanta is another team talking about reducing the workload for their workhorse back. What that means precisely remains to be seen, but Snelling is a guy that can be had late (RB5+) if you're inclined. However, before you get too enamored with him don't forget about rookie Jacquizz Rodgers whose breakaway ability provides a little something different than the smash mouth running of Turner and Snelling. Rodgers, who probably won't cost you much, may turn out to be the more intriguing handcuff.

Arizona - Chris Wells and Ryan Williams

This one is very interesting. With Tim Hightower now with the Redskins, Wells has a great opportunity to show that he can be Arizona's main back. However, he still has to prove it and there are a lot of positive things being said about Williams. I think Williams will see decent playing time even if Wells is the workhorse, but don't rule out the possibility that things could flip-flop. You early drafters might be able to get a real bargain by drafting Williams as an RB5. I suspect though that Williams' value will become better known and his draft price will rise towards the end of the preseason.

Baltimore - Ray Rice and Ricky Williams

Although Williams gives the Ravens the power running they lost when Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain left via free agency, I don't think you'll find him to be a back you can start routinely. I'm sure Williams will pick up a few scores and because of that, he's better suited as a bye week fill-in. I'd still consider a worthwhile handcuff since he'll likely be around in the RB5 area.

Chicago - Matt Forte and Marion Barber (?)

After fizzling out in Dallas, Barber's fantasy value has lost some of its luster. I think he could still make for decent insurance for Forte should he go down, but I don't think we'll see a lot of these two playing simultaneously. The other factor to consider is the possibility that Chester Taylor will be in the backup role. If Barber is still on the board as a RB5 or later pick, I might chance it.

Washington - Ryan Torain and Tim Hightower

Assuming that Torain starts, I think Hightower could make for an interesting handcuff because he'll likely play a fair amount even as a reserve. I wouldn't draft him higher than a RB4 though, but that's where the mocks seem to be taking him. One caveat though. Rookie Roy Helu could make this for a sticky situation since he has the upside to challenge for playing time as well.

Dallas - Felix Jones and Demarco Murray

Dallas' handcuffing possibility could make for a sneaky play on draft day. Jones is definitely not an every down back so an opportunity exists. Recent rumors have Tashard Choice on the trading block and if a deal comes to pass then the rookie Murray could bring good value at a low price.

St. Louis - Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams

This is another situation where a team has said it wants to alleviate the workload of their main back. But what teams say and do can often be different things. The Rams aren't deep at RB so I think Williams will indeed be Jackson's backup. However, I question a great deal of playing time for Williams unless there's an injury to Jackson so I wouldn't draft him above an RB5.

Low Cost

Low cost doesn't always mean a good bargain. While these situations offer low cost handcuffing maneuvers, you still have to be careful here since there are other risks. In most cases, you don't have the luxury of starting both backs in a fantasy lineup and you also have to be careful that the apparent backup might not turn out to be the guy that steps in fully if there's an injury.

Pittsburgh - Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore (?)

Although Moore filled in as the starter with some acclaim a couple of seasons ago, he's not really viewed as a week in, week out starter. He'll come cheap (late rounds), but there's little certainty with him.

San Francisco - Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon

The key to Dixon's role in 2011 will be what the 49ers do with Brian Westbrook. Remember, it was Westbrook and not Dixon who took on a greater workload last season when Gore went down. In Dixon's favor though is the fact that, at the time of this writing, Westbrook remained an unsigned free agent. If the Niners don't resign him, I'd definitely look at handcuffing Dixon with Gore and I think you can get him cheap (RB5).

Tennessee - Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer

Ringer saw very little action last season and provided Johnson ends his holdout, I doubt his role will change this year. So, Ringer fits the more traditional description of a handcuff candidate - for injury insurance purposes only.

Seattle - Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett

I think this is an OK handcuff situation particularly since Forsett will likely be around in the later rounds following unimpressive play last season. Keep in mind too though, unlike last season, Seattle will also have the services of Leon Washington.

Cleveland - Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty (?)

As long as Hardesty's knee problems don't linger into the season, he'll probably be around later in the draft and make for a very while handcuffing option with Hillis. If the knee issues persist then Brandon Jackson might be the second back.

New England - BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen, Steven Ridley and Danny Woodhead

As you can see, there are just too many guys in the mix here to worry about a handcuffing situation. Heck, even BJGE might not be the full-time starter.

Houston - Arian Foster and Derrick Ward (?)

Ward is projected to backup Foster, but you can't rule out Ben Tate for this role. Both will probably be around late in the draft, but even then, it would be good to know who will be the number two guy.

Cincinnati - Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott

I think Scott can be had late in most drafts, but be wary of the fact that the Bengals really don't regard him as an every down back.

Indianapolis - Joseph Addai and Donald Brown (?)

The Colts were disappointed in Brown last season and that's why they drafted Delone Carter. Both Brown and Carter will likely be later round selections, but it might be a guessing game as to who will play behind Addai.

Detroit - Jahvid Best and Maurice Morris (?)

The season-ending injury to rookie Mikel Leshoure dashed the Lions' plans for him being the number two back so Detroit is on the lookout. Free agents Mike Bell and Jerome Harrison have been brought in so Morris is by no means safe. Given Best's injury problems last year, the Lions really want to off-load some of the work to their number two guy. In any case, the handcuff won't cost you much, but the real issue is finding out which guy to draft.

Minnesota - Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart

It's not a bad idea to handcuff Gerhart with Peterson. He'll come relatively cheap (RB5+). Although I don't think Gerhart will see enough action to make him a legit fantasy option unless Peterson goes down. In two starts last year, Gerhart ran for 76 yards and a TD versus Washington and had a 77-yard game against the Bears.

Tampa Bay - LaGarrette Blount and (?)

With Cadillac Williams now in St. Louis, I don't think Tampa's number two back is on the roster yet. Outside of Earnest Graham, who's not regarded as an every down guy, there's a lot of inexperience in the Bucs' backfield. A handcuffing opportunity will depend on whether a free agent is signed and who that might be.

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