Who’s My Running Back’s Handcuff?

Many are for it, many against it.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about drafting your stud running back’s back-up, or in fantasy lingo, a “handcuff”.

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Pros: The obvious reason you draft a handcuff is for them to serve as an insurance policy just in case your player gets hurt. We’ve seen it in years past. Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was in handcuff territory once and that season, he had quite a spectacular run and has now cemented himself to some as a top-20 back. This late-round draft choice could serve as excellent trade bait especially as injury news starts to circulate (see Arian Foster).

Cons:  You never know if an injury will happen, which means it could be a wasted draft pick and roster addition. You may end up missing out of some waiver wire studs, and we’ve seen plenty of those over the years (Peyton Hillis, Brandon Lloyd, Cam Newton, etc.). If you are an ESPN insider, check out this piece on more reasons not to handcuff (https://insider.espn.go.com/fantasy/football/story/_/id/9560305/fantasy-football-2013-why-handcuffing-rbs-not-wise-decision) written by LateRoundQB.com’s owner, JJ Zachariason. Be sure to check out his book as well!

Personally, I don’t like owning handcuffs. On my team, I have LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore as my 3-headed monster at running back. I do, however, own Ben Tate who is Arian Foster’s handcuff. This is because Foster’s injury worries me, and as a result, I’m trying to trade him to Foster’s owner before positive reports come back. Who knows, I may be able to cause my opponent to over-pay for Tate.

As we venture into this, think about if this style of drafting is something you might be interested in. Some of these players are cemented as a teams back-up, but a few are educated guesses.

Let’s go!


New England Patriots:

Starter: Stevan Ridley

Handcuff: Shane Vereen/LeGarette Blount

Yes, I kind of defeated the purpose of a back-up right off the bat by listing two players, but reason being, I think Vereen will be more featured in the passing game, almost Danny Woodhead-like, while Blount is more of a bruiser who would probably get the majority of the carries. Vereen is highly valued regardless.

Buffalo Bills:

Starter: CJ Spiller

Handcuff: Fred Jackson

A changing of the guard has come in Buffalo. After a few years of being in Jackson’s shadow, Spiller has emerged as the lead-back in Buffalo and Bills OC Nathaniel Hackett has been on the record saying they will give Spiller the ball “until he throws up”. Now, to me, that sounds like he might get it slightly more than Jackson (sarcasm, of course). Fred Jackson has shown the type of runner he is, and he’s damn good, but has had injury issues which has forced Spiller to become the starter in Buffalo.

Miami Dolpins:

Starter: Lamar Miller

Handcuff: Daniel Thomas

Yuck. As I tweeted recently, I’m coming off of the Lamar Miller bandwagon. Daniel Thomas, in my opinion, is just simply not good, but rookie Mike Gillislee appears lost this pre-season. As a result, Daniel Thomas will see the majority of the snaps in the event of a Miller injury.

New York Jets

Starter: Chris Ivory

Handcuff: Bilal Powell

For years people have been saying Ivory needs more carries and he’ll show everyone he’s a good back in this league. Well, here’s his shot. Presumed handcuff, Bilal Powell, is lighting it up this pre-season. In 16 carries, he has 82 rushing yards (5.1 YPC), though he is scoreless. During last season he had 4.0 YPC and four scores and isn’t the worst back-up. He’s also pretty good in the passing game (17-140-0 last season).



Baltimore Ravens

Starter: Ray Rice

Handcuff: Bernard Pierce

Unquestionably the handcuff given his 2012 statistics, and playoff run numbers. Also not doing too bad this pre-season. Draftable.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Starter: Le’Veon Bell

Handcuff: Jonathan Dwyer

Le’Veon Bell did sustain an injury in Week 2 this pre-season, but he’s the bell-cow in this offense. Though I’m not overly impressed with Dwyer, he is a better back then Batch. Stephens-Howling is a third-down back, though I’m not convinced he’s better than Redman, he is getting the majority of the touches this pre-season.

Cleveland Browns

Starter: Trent Richardson

Handcuff: Brandon Jackson

Dion Lewis would be listed here, but he’s out with a fractured fibula. That launches former Green Bay Packer Brandon Jackson in to the handcuff role. Jackson has been very un-impressive this pre-season in holding only a 1.7 YPC thus far.

Cincinnati Bengals

Starter: Giovanni Bernard

Handcuff: BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Yes, to open the season it will be a bit more of a running back-by-committee (RBBC). Over time however, Mr. Bernard will be awarded the job given his athleticism and ability in the passing game. We all know Green-Ellis’ game and that he hardly ever fumbles. Both are draft-able as of right now.



Jacksonville Jaguars

Starter: Maurice Jones-Drew

Handcuff: Denard Robinson

Remember at the beginning of this I said a few would be educated guesses? Well, here’s one. Second on the depth chart right now is Justin Forsett, but I don’t view him as an every-down back. While I don’t think Robinson has every-down ability, this debate pretty much comes down to potential, and Robinson has miles more potential than the likes of Justin Forsett and Jonathan Grimes.

Indianapolis Colts

Starter: Ahmad Bradshaw

Handcuff: Vick Ballard

Vick Ballard was the starter before the signing of former Giant great Ahmad Bradshaw, but due to Bradshaw’s ability to block, Bradshaw will be the starter. Ballard is a very good running back and is a top-10 handcuff.

Houston Texans

Starter: Arian Foster

Handcuff: Ben Tate

Arian Foster is banged up, and Ben Tate is pretty good. That is all.

Tennessee Titans

Starter: Chris Johnson

Handcuff: Shonn Greene

If I told you Shonn Greene, in a .5 PPR format out-scored LeSean McCoy, would you believe me? Well, he did. Shonn Greene has been bashed continuously, but he’s actually pretty good. He had nearly 1,100 yards last season and did record eight scores. Not bad. Draft him.



San Diego Chargers:

Starter: Ryan Mathews

Handcuff: Fozzy Whittaker

This was a tough one, and ultimately, a gut call. I’m choosing Fozzy is based on volume of touches this pre-season. He’s made two catches this pre-season, and had a decent amount of catches in college in 2010, hauling in 34. This could very well turn in to a RBBC in the event of a Mathews injury.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Starter: Jamaal Charles

Handcuff: Shaun Draughn

I’m not sold on Knile Davis. He’s been heavily injury-prone, is not an “up the gut” runner and is very soft given his size. Draughn has more experience. He wins the job.

Denver Broncos:

Starter: Ronnie Hillman

Handcuff: Montee Ball

Yes – Hillman WILL be the starter Week 1. Montee Ball, over time, could supplant Hillman, but right off the bat, it’s Hillman. I’m not convinced Ball is a great pass-blocker, either.


UPDATE: Montee Ball has been promoted to the first team. This leaves Ronnie Hillman’s value in a state of disarray. Enter Knowshon Moreno as a potential handcuff and possibly, down the line, the most valuable Denver running back. This starting to look like a RBBC.

Oakland Raiders:

Starter: Darren McFadden (DMC)

Handcuff: Latavius Murray

I love me some Murray! No, not DeMarco, Latavius! While Rashad Jennings is having a slightly better pre-season, Murray is my guy if I’m Dennis Allen. Jennings has been given numerous opportunities to be the guy dating back to his time in Jacksonville and will, if given the chance, show he’s not good.



Green Bay Packers:

Starter: Eddie Lacy

Handcuff: DuJuan Harris

The other rookie – Johnathan Franklin – is a pass catcher. Case and point. DuJuan Harris is actually a fairly effective runner. He was viewed as the starter earlier this pre-season, but the job will be won by Lacy. Not exactly a problem to have in Green Bay. They have a stable of capable backs.

Detroit Lions:

Starter: Reggie Bush

Handcuff: Mikel LeShoure

Recent reports are listing LeShoure as a casualty of the salary cap rules. What does that mean? He could be cut due to the amount of money owed to him. But, until then, he’s the handcuff. He will also serve as a goal-line back potentially, and will find the end-zone. I like LeShoure. A lot.

Minnesota Vikings:

Starter: Adrian Peterson

Handcuff: Toby Gerhart

At this point, you could rip AP’s legs off and he’ll play. In all seriousness, like recent years, the under-productive, not very good Toby Gerhart will be his back-up. In the event of another injury, Gerhart will be a starting running back in the NFL, and that holds some value.

Chicago Bears:

Starter: Matt Forte

Handcuff: Michael Bush

Marc Trestman has actually been giving Forte goal-line carries, so that could minimize Bush’s value from a potential flex to maybe a bench guy. Forte has been injured in the past, and Bush is a damn good back to have. Just look at his Oakland stats.


St. Louis Rams:

Starter: Daryl Richardson

Handcuff: Zac Stacy

Actually, it was announced today (8/20/2013) that Daryl Richardson will be the Rams starting running back. Many speculated Pead, though I think it’ll be Stacy. Pead’s suspension has put him in Jeff Fisher’s dog house and Stacy is a stud. I love him.

Seattle Seahawks:

Starter: Marshawn Lynch

Handcuff: Christine Michael

Yes – they have Robert Turbin, but Christine Michael is so much more talented. To me, Turbin is a reliable pass catching option and return man. He could also serve as a change-of-pace, or third-down back. Michael’s 5.6 YPC this pre-season is stellar as opposed to Turbin’s 3.9. Michael is a great add and great dynasty format option.

San Francisco 49ers:

Starter: Frank Gore

Handcuff: Kendall Hunter

Kendall Hunter is a very solid back-up. If given a starter’s role, he could be a top-20 back. LaMichael James is also serviceable. If Gore were to be hurt, I think we’d see a split in carries.


Arizona Cardinals

Starter: Rashard Mendenhall

Handcuff: Stepfan Taylor

Taylor is the best back not named Rashard Mendenhall on the Cardinals’ roster this pre-season, and has the most carries. The Cardinals have other backs such as Andre Ellington and Alfonso Smith, and Ryan William is basically dead. In the case of a Mendenhall injury, which is likely, Taylor might get the reigns first, but could easily lose the job very quickly. It’s also possible to see a RBBC.


Washington Redskins:

Starter: Alfred Morris

Handcuff: Roy Helu Jr.

Before last season, Helu had a shot at being the starter. Obviously Morris was the right choice. But look, let’s be real. He’s been the starter before and had nearly 50 catches his rookie season. If Morris was injured, we could experience the “Shanahanigans” like we used to in the past, but I’d put the most stock in Helu. He has been assigned the No. 2 back role and Kyle Shanahan is excited to have Helu at his disposal.

New York Giants:

Starter: David Wilson/Andre Brown

Handcuff: Michael Cox

We know that Andre Brown will be the goal-line guy and this might be split-carry central. Brown and Wilson are total polar-opposites, and if one were to get hurt, Michael Cox would fill the handcuff role and he’s been sick this pre-season. He’s a guy to watch.

Dallas Cowboys:

Starter: DeMarco Murray

Handcuff: Phillip Tanner

Randle is listed as the fourth-string back, and Dunbar is hurt. Tanner has the second most carries this pre-season with a nice YPC at 4.9 and does have a score. Murray has vowed to play all 16 games, and I’ve also vowed to win the lottery one day. Neither are happening. Lock Tanner up.

Sidenote: Lance Dunbar is a Darren Sproles clone.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Starter: LeSean McCoy

Handcuff: Bryce Brown

If you asked me this question three weeks ago, I’d have liked Chris Polk a lot, but Bryce Brown is tearing it up and remember last season? Pretty damn good. Chris Polk will serve as third-string leaving Felix Jones in danger of being cut.

Editor’s update: Felix Jones has been traded to the Pittsburg Steelers.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Starter: Doug Martin

Handcuff: Peyton Hillis

Yuck. I hope Martin doesn’t get hurt, because Hillis doesn’t get my blood flowing. He’s not his 2011 self and seems very un-motivated. I’d stay away.

New Orleans Saints:

Starter: Pierre Thomas

Handcuff: Mark Ingram

There really isn’t a cemented starter, but I think Pierre Thomas outscores Mark Ingram in Fantasy Points by year’s end. Both aren’t bad to own as each might go off randomly throughout the season. Safe to say, if you want a Saints running back, draft Darren Sproles. He won’t get a ton of carries, but in PPR formats he has been and always will be, a stud.

Carolina Panthers: 

Starter: DeAngelo Williams

Handcuff: Tauren Poole

Of course, if Jonathan Stewart could see the field, it’d be him, but behind DeAngelo Williams, there really isn’t anyone. I picked Poole just for the fact he’s better built for more carries than Kenjon Barner. But, let’s be real, Cam Newton is the Carolina running back you want. Ha!

Atlanta Falcons:

Starter: Steven Jackson

Handcuff: Jacquizz Rodgers

There isn’t another suitable back. ‘Quizz is the guy. He has a score this pre-season, and is a great pass catcher. Lock him up!




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