To Handcuff Or Not To Handcuff: it’s really not a question.


Typing “fantasy football handcuff” into google will result in 13,900 results. Most of the articles are spent on figuring out who the handcuff will be. In fact, the first 10 articles are written that way.

In fantasy football, a handcuff refers to an elite player’s backup on the team. I went back over the last four years to see if handcuffs are necessary. When you draft this year (and every year from now on), you must handcuff any running back you draft in the first two rounds. Your first 2 picks are the most important, so is purchasing insurance in the form of a handcuff necessary? YES!

Quick side note: the purpose of your first 2 picks is NOT to choose the highest-scoring player, but to actually choose the best player that will play the most games.


Here is a summary of the background information for 2010-2014:

Hdcf1_Summary Chart

Let that last one sink in a bit. There is a 54.1% chance that running back you just drafted will miss at least 1 game. You are left with 2 choices: draft another position in those rounds or draft that running back’s handcuff.


When your elite RB misses time, this is what happens:

# of games above131214142555.3% total of games above elite RB avg
# of games below1010151411
Total replacement games2322293136
# of RBs drafted in rounds 1 & 21412131111

Hdcf3_Above or Below

These handcuffs have the same playbook, offense, and coaches that their elite counterparts do. It stands to reason that the elite RB’s success is due more to the others around him than his talent alone. I would guess that sometimes that is correct and sometimes it is not.

If you decide to draft WRs and TEs with your first two picks, you can easily draft handcuffs and wait for them to get their chance.

Hdcf4_Elite-Handcuff Comps

In this table I pulled out Jacksonville in 2012 and Denver in 2014. Maurice Jones-Drew missed 10 games in 2012 and 5 other RBs started during their 5-11 season averaging 53 yards rushing per game. Montee Ball missed 12 games in 2014 averaging 9.1 points per game (PPG). Ronnie Hillman (17.4) and CJ Anderson (24.2) far outplayed Ball.

Don’t worry here is the best graph you’ll see this offseason:

Hdcf5_Updated Handcuff Graph

The next step is evaluating the cost of the handcuff. If you are drafting an elite RB in the first 2 rounds, you must plan on drafting the handcuff at whatever draft position he is currently going at. If that cost is too high for you, then simply don’t draft that player.

Hdcf6_Backup ADP

This graph shows the cost, on average, of handcuff RBs. I included undrafted players in round 26.


Knowing that you must draft your elite RB’s handcuff is huge for your redraft league. I would also implore you to acquire your handcuff in dynasty at a higher cost than market value.

And to those that dabble in daily fantasy sports, when an elite RB is injured, you may want to build a lineup around that handcuff and add additional funds at risk.



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