I Don’t Want A Piece Of You. I Want The Whole Thing!
The point of this exercise is to figure out which handcuffs are worth owning because just having the job isn’t going to guarantee success. Hell, you’re not guaranteed to keep the job for long if you can’t perform. So you need opportunity and talent.
For me, the best handcuffs to have are those that may also have value without an injury. This is usually an indicator of a talented running back on a team that can run the ball. These are cases where if you own both backs, you might be able to start them both a couple of times when the matchups are excellent. These running backs also are in a position where if the running back ahead of them were to go down, they could meet or exceed that running back’s level of production. The more injury-prone the lead running back is, the more interesting the handcuff running back becomes.
TIER 1– The Best of the Best. Draft both of these running backs.
Jonathan Stewart(Handcuff to DeAngelo Williams). Stewart is a beast. We’ve seen it before. He’s not a lock to stay healthy, but he usually ends up playing. With the Carolina offensive line recovered from all of last season’s injuries, Stewart is in a good situation. He could get 800 yards and eight touchdowns even if Williams stays healthy. But should Williams go down, Stewart could put up high-end RB1 numbers. You have to draft Stewart awfully high for a “handcuff,” but the upside is tantalizing.
Michael Bush(Handcuff to Darren McFadden). Count me amongst those last year that thought Bush would finally get the starting job and run with it. Even with McFadden healthy, Bush could get 650 yards and 10 touchdowns. But should McFadden go down, Bush has shown that he can excel with 20-plus carries a game. He’s an underrated receiver out of the backfield and he’s an excellent goal line and short-yardage back. Not to mention that Oakland is a run-first team.
Mike Tolbert(Handcuff to Ryan Mathews). Stewart and Bush were at the top of this list last year. Tolbert? Nobody knew that he would get more touches than Darren Sproles when Mathews went down. With Mathews healthy, Tolbert is probably an RB3 in points per reception leagues. But should Mathews go down, the San Diego Chargers are down to Tolbert, fullback Jacob Hester and rookie running back Jordan Todman. Not to mention Tolbert is a complete back who can catch the ball and punch it in from short distance. It’s unknown how Tolbert would hold up as a feature back over the long-term, but he’s a great short-term own for your team. You’ll be able to start Tolbert as a flex when the matchups are good, even with Mathews healthy.
Brandon Jacobs(Handcuff to Ahmad Bradshaw). Jacobs is a bit different in that he seemed to improve greatly last year when he lost touches to Bradshaw. That just means that the New York Giants would utilize another running back as a change of pace or passing downs back if Bradshaw went down. Jacobs would still be the guy. Not to mention Jacobs could do 800 yards and 10 touchdowns with Bradshaw healthy. Jacobs is a decent flex option most weeks regardless. But with a Bradshaw injury Jacobs would probably see an extra 10 carries a game and would have more scoring opportunities. Jacobs becomes a slightly less important handcuff in points per reception leagues, but don’t discount him entirely just because he doesn’t catch the ball.
Jason Snelling(Handcuff to Michael Turner). Snelling has shown that he can be an effective starting running back when given the chance. Turner continues to slow down and seems to always be dealing with some sort of injury. If Snelling were to become the starting running back for the Falcons, he would be an instant starter in almost all fantasy leagues. He’s also a good receiver out of the backfield.
Ricky Williams(Handcuff to Ray Rice). Williams might not be the youngest kid in the pool, but if Rice were to go down the Ravens would lean on him. Williams showed in 2009 that he’s got some game left in him. It’s unlikely he would hold up for an entire season as a starting running back, but he could probably be effective for at least a few games.
TIER 2– The Rookie Wild Cards. Handcuff if you can.
Ryan Williams(Handcuff to Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells). The Arizona Cardinals want to run the ball. Wells doesn’t stay healthy and has never performed up to expectations. Should Wells get injured or just flat out stink, the Cardinals won’t hesitate to throw Williams into the fire. Williams would probably cede third down duties to LaRod Stephens-Howling but he would still be highly utilized. That makes Williams a nice handcuff, but he probably won’t be usable if Wells is healthy.
DeMarco Murray(Handcuff to Felix Jones). So we all know that Jones never stays healthy. Tashard Choice should be the handcuff. But for some reason, Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys Head Coach and offensive coordinator) hates Choice and won’t use him unless he’s got no other options. That means Murray is next in line to be the starting running back for the Cowboys. That’s a valuable position. Much like Williams, Murray probably won’t be usable if Jones is healthy, but how long will that last for?
Delone Carter(Handcuff to Joseph Addai). This should probably be Donald Brown, right? Pray not. Brown looked terrible last season when given a chance. Mike Hart and a fresh from the UFL Dominic Rhodes both put Brown to shame. Should Addai go down, Brown probably gets a shot, but he’s just a third down back at best. Carter is not usable unless Addai goes down, but as a young back with upside on the Indianapolis Colts, he’s not a bad bench stash.