With the preseason quickly approaching, it’s time for many fantasy football managers to study up on players and decide on who they will choose when their time comes. One of the most crucial picks one manager could make is that of a fantasy handcuff pick. A handcuff pick in fantasy football, if you don’t already know, is when you pick a player who is the backup to the starting running back you’ve already chosen. It is unlikely that the handcuff pick will score a lot of points, but if your starter happens to go down due to an injury, then you’ll be glad that you picked up that handcuff player. Then there are the teams in the NFL who are looking for the two-back system, which gives the starting running back the ball most of the time but allows them to rest on the sidelines while the backup does their job.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Last year we saw the beginning of something that may be amazing. It was Williams first year as the official starting back for the Panthers, and alongside him was rookie running back Jonathan Stewart. Williams rushed for 1,515 yards on 273 attempts (5.5 average per rush) and had 18 rushing touchdowns while Stewart rushed for 836 yards on 184 attempts (4.5 average per rush) and had 10 rushing touchdowns. Last year the Panthers ranked 3rd in the league for rushing yards per game, averaging 152.3 yards per game while their passing offense ranked 19th in the league averaging 197.4 yards per game. In my opinion, I think that the Panthers may have the best handcuff situation in the league, and it’s no doubt that they’ll stick with their running game since it has been so successful.
Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, Washington Redskins
With a decent running back like Betts on their roster, the Redskins would seem to have that perfect two-back system. Betts showed his potential in 2006 when he would fill in for the injured Portis and carried the ball 245 times and rushed for 1,154 yards. Lately however, Betts has been off of many fantasy football managers radars because of his poor production the last two seasons where he has carried the ball 154 times, with only 61 attempts last season with 206 yards and 1 rushing touchdown. One reason for Betts’ low productivity is because Portis has been handed the ball over 300 times during the last 2 seasons. In 2007, Portis had 325 attempts (1,262 yards, 11 touchdowns) and that number climbed last season when he had 342 attempts for 1,487 yards and 9 touchdowns. Over the past couple of seasons, Betts has become more of a receiving backup then a rushing one. He had 206 yards on the ground, but in the air last season Betts racked up 200 yards with 22 receptions. If Portis goes down, it’s no doubt that Betts will be called upon again to carry the team. But, unless you choose Portis as one of your starting backs, Betts is a player that you need not to worry about when trying to make a pick late in the draft. The Redskins were 8th in rushing yards per game last season averaging 130.9 yards per game.
Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
The Giants last season were first in the league for rushing yards (2,518) and rushing yards per game (157.4). It’s no doubt that Brandon Jacobs could arguably be one of the toughest, most powerful running backs in the league and last year he had 219 attempts for 1,089 yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns. Those numbers may seem low (except for touchdowns), which they are, but Jacobs was also sharing the pigskin with Derrick Ward (who rushed for 1,025 yards on 182 attempts) and Ahmad Bradshaw (who rushed for 355 yards on 67 attempts). Derrick Ward is now gone and playing for the Buccaneers, so you can bet that Jacobs will be getting more attempts along with Bradshaw. Bradshaw is contending for the #2 spot, but I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll make the spot. I think the Giants, along with the Panthers, may be one of the best handcuff teams in the league. Last season Bradshaw was the #3 RB behind Jacobs and Ward, and was mainly a special teams player but he was still able to have an average rush of 5.3 yards. Bradshaw also had the longest run last season which was for 77 yards. Jacobs is a tough runner, but can be injury prone, and the Giants are known to split carries between their backs which makes Bradshaw a must grab if you have Jacobs as a starter.
LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers
Another team that could arguably have the best handcuff is the Chargers with Tomlinson and Sproles at the helm. Sproles is very fast and has great hands, and he tends to capitalize on any opportunity he is given while we all know what Tomlinson is capable of. I wrote an article about Tomlinson already, on whether he will bounce back this year or not, and it’s going to be obvious that he is going to demand the ball more after his injury prone season last year and lower than expected numbers. We expect Tomlinson to be an all-star each year after the seasons he’s shown the NFL thus far, but it’s not a surprise that even the best have an offseason. Even though he was injured throughout most of last year, Tomlinson still started all 16 games and still rushed for over 1,110 yards on 292 carries with 11 touchdowns. Like I said in my article before, you can expect Tomlinson to bounce back and have a stellar 1,500 yard season with 10+ touchdowns. Sproles will have to wait his turn, or unless Tomlinson becomes injured. Going off of Sproles stats from last year (61 attempts, 330 yards, 5.4 average, and 1 touchdown) he will be a great pickup late in the draft. Sproles, like I said earlier, has great hands and the stats from last season show it when he recorded 29 receptions for 342 yards (11.8 average) and 5 touchdowns. The Chargers ranked 20th in the league for rushing yards (1,726) and rushing yards per game (107.9).
Steve Slaton and Chris Brown, Houston Texans
The Texans have been a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs, but rumor has it that their team has been getting better and better and I believe this next season the Texans will be a playoff contending team. One reason why I believe this is because of their stellar starting back Steve Slaton. Slaton was a rookie last season and he carried the ball 268 times and rushed for 1,282 with 9 touchdowns. He’s going to become something special in this league as long as the Texans provide a healthy line for him to run behind. Slaton will be sharing the ball with unknown Chris Brown, who has spent his entire career with the Titans. Brown has never played more than 12 games in a season, except for his last season in 2007 when he rushed for 462 yards on 102 attempts with 5 touchdowns. He didn’t play last season due to a back injury, and that may be a concern for many fantasy managers. It’s obvious that Brown has the talent to play in the NFL, but he is very injury prone and therefore is still an unsafe pick for anyone in the draft. The Texans ranked 13th in the league last year for rushing yards (1,846) and rushing yards per game (115.4).
Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, New York Jets
I’ve actually handcuffed these two players in a few mock drafts on mockdraftcentral.com, and the results were very good as I expected. Thomas Jones has been a consistent runner, rushing over 1,000 yards the past 2 seasons. In 2007, Jones ran for 1,119 yards on 310 attempts but only had 1 touchdown. Last season however, Jones had less attempts with 290 and ran for 1,312 yards and a significant increase in his touchdowns with 13 of them. On the other hand, Leon Washington has become more and more of a valuable player throughout his career – especially on special teams. Last season Washington carried the ball 76 times and ran for 448 yards with 6 touchdowns. Washington also has the ability to get out of the backfield and be a receiving back as well. Last season Washington had 47 receptions for 355 yards and 2 touchdowns. Currently these two backs aren’t happy with their contract situation, especially Washington – who is still under his rookie contract. Look for Washington to tear it up this season because he will be showcasing his abilities for other franchises to look at in case the Jets don’t renegotiate his contract. The Jets ranked 9th in rushing yards (2,004) and rushing yards per game (125.2) last season.
Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, Minnesota Vikings
We all know that Adrian Peterson is going to be selected #1 overall in most drafts, so it is unlikely that many will need to handcuff Taylor unless you are a Peterson owner. In the case that you do pick up Peterson, then you are in luck because Taylor is quite possibly one of the best backups in the NFL. While Peterson is a pro-bowl running back with his stats of 363 attempts and 1,760 yards and 10 touchdowns, he can thank Taylor for taking some of the load off. Taylor is in a contract year, which may motivate him to be better than last year where he only had 101 attempts for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns. We should hope to see the Chester Taylor we saw in 2007 where he had 157 attempts for 844 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Vikings ranked 5th in the league last season with rushing yards (2,338) and rushing yards per game (146.1).
Frank Gore and Glen Coffee, San Francisco 49ers
Last season the 49ers went through many changes and they still are trying to figure out who will be their starting quarterback, even though many speculate Shaun Hill to start. One thing is for certain, and that is their running game. Last season, DeShaun Foster sat back and watched Frank Gore do most of the grunt work until late in the season. As the backup, Foster carried the ball 76 times but only ran for 234 yards with only 1 touchdown. On the other hand, Gore had his 3rd straight 1,000+ yard season with 1,036 yards on 240 attempts and 6 touchdowns. He also caught the ball 43 times for 373 yards and 2 touchdowns. One thing Gore must work on is protecting the ball better, as he fumbled it 6 times last season and lost it 3 times. Coffee played his college ball at Alabama and actually passed Shaun Alexander’s single-season rushing total, and he was drafted by the 49ers in round three of this year’s draft. For this season, Coffee will more than likely not be a great fantasy pickup, but more of a help to keeping Gore fresh throughout the season. The 49ers ranked 27th in the league for rushing yards (1,599) and rushing yards per game (99.9).
Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
In his rookie season, Jamaal Charles rushed for 357 yards on 67 attempts (5.3 average) but have 0 touchdowns, and also had 27 receptions for 272 yards and 1 touchdown. Charles did play in all 16 games last season, starting 2 when Johnson was out due to an injury – which has seemed to plague him the past 2 seasons. Larry Johnson had his breakout season in 2006 when he rushed for over 1,789 yards on 416 attempts but since then he hasn’t been able to get past 900 yards, or 200 attempts. Last season Johnson rushed for 874 yards on 193 attempts and had 5 touchdowns. In the only game that Jamaal Charles had over 7 attempts, he finished with 18 attempts for 106 yards. With a full season under his belt, Charles could be a great contributor to the Chiefs this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chiefs leaning towards Charles to carry the ball more if Johnson can’t perform up to par. The Chiefs ranked 16th in the league last season for rushing yards (1,810) and rushing yards per game (113.1).
Chris Johnson and LenDale White, Tennessee Titans
The Titans went 13-3 last season and showed the league just who Chris Johnson really was. Johnson, in his rookie season last year, rushed for 1,228 yards on 251 attempts and had 9 touchdowns while also having 43 receptions for 260 yards and 1 touchdown. Johnson’s backup, LenDale “Thunder” White has slimmed down since last season when he admitted to weighing over 260 pounds. White, thus far this season, has been working harder than before maybe due to the fact that Johnson passed him on the depth chart and the Titans drafted running back Javon Ringer, and it’s also his contract year. White did finish 19th in fantasy points in 2008 with 200 attempts for 773 yards and 15 touchdowns. If you select Johnson as your starter, White is worth the handcuff pick around the late 5th to 7th round. The Titans ranked 7th in the league last season for rushing yards (2,199) and rushing yards per game (137.4).