Fantasy Draft Tips: The art of handcuffing a running back
Most people like to grab insurance for their highly drafted running backs by way of a "handcuff" - the fantasy owner grabs his running back's backup in case the starter loses playing time, whether it be due to injury, lack of production, etc. But when should an owner draft a handcuff running back? Here are several aspects to consider when making that decision:
How injury-prone is your starting running back? This is the most important factor in valuing a handcuff running back. When you gamble on an ultra-talented, injury-prone runner early in the draft, you have to protect yourself from having a gaping hole on your roster in the event that your fragile back is sidelined. The lengthy injury history of a player like Darren McFadden (OAK) - who has never played more than 13 games in a season - has turned backups such as Michael Bush and Marcel Reece into fantasy gold. Owners of players such as McFadden, DeMarco Murray (DAL), and Ryan Mathews (SD) should make sure they acquire handcuffs for their running backs.
When determining how injury-prone a player is, don't simply look at his injury history - look at his potential for injury as well. Runners who take on heavy workloads year after year are always more likely to break down, even if they have generally stayed healthy throughout their careers. For example, Arian Foster (HOU) has racked up a ridiculous 1,115 touches over the past three seasons - that's a monstrous 371.67 touches per campaign. Yes, he has only missed three games over that three-year span, but it's likely a matter of time before that workload catches up with him. Foster owners would be wise to secure backup Ben Tate in their drafts.
How talented is the backup? Even if the running back you drafted early is plenty productive, coaches will often have a hard time keeping a talented backup off the field. In addition, a talented backup makes it much easier to bench a starter in the event that he begins to struggle. In a league where talent in the backfield is seemingly at an all-time high, fantasy owners should be sure to lock up a handcuffs for starters who have top-notch backups behind them.
The Bengals have a must-handcuff situation in their backfield, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis as their starter and rookie Giovani Bernard backing him up. Green-Ellis is a plodding runner who makes his living by running hard, while Bernard was the first running back taken in April's NFL Draft. Bernard is much more reliable in the passing game, and has more explosiveness and overall talent, as well. A slight lack of production could land Green-Ellis on the bench, while one big play from Bernard could get the rookie a big bump in carries.
Some of the leagues other top backups include Bryce Brown (PHI), Ben Tate (HOU), Bernard Pierce (BAL), Ryan Williams (ARI), Robert Turbin (SEA), Andre Brown (NYG) and Fred Jackson (BUF).
How fickle is the coach? Some coaches will stick by their players' sides through thick and thin, remaining loyal to a starter even when things aren't going his way. The coaches that fantasy owners must be wary of, however, are the ones who won't hesitate to sit down a struggling starter and give someone else a shot at getting the job done.
In 2012 alone, players such as Fred Jackson (BUF), Donald Brown (IND), Roy Helu (WAS), Isaac Redman (PIT), and Kevin Smith (DET) were drafted by fantasy owners as starters but lost their starting jobs before season's end. Know which coaches are the type to mix things up in the backfield, and if you have that backfield's lead man, grab his primary backup later in your draft.
Mike Shanahan (WAS) is the prime example of a fickle coach, as he has a well-documented history of turning backup running backs into fantasy studs mid-season. Alfred Morris (WAS) has a shot at being great fantasy back once again this year, but a simple fumble at the wrong time could give a backup a crack at heavy carries. If the backup is productive, you never know how long Shanahan will ride that hot hand.