2013 Fantasy WR Handcuffs: A Viable Strategy? Part One
We have all heard the pros and cons of handcuffing running backs. Whether it be injuries or maybe a split backfield, fantasy owners are encouraged to have contingency plans. The handcuff strategy can also carry over to the wide receiver position, but it works in a couple different ways.
In year's past, Boldin/Fitzgerald and Harrison/Wayne were examples of WR handcuffs where you could start BOTH receivers on any given week. This year's example would be pairing New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Obviously, this is an extreme example since both players will be drafted very early in your league. In a typical game, it is safe to assume the WR1 will receive the most targets and the WR2 will receive the second-most targets. On occasion though, the WR1 will have a down game or face a tougher matchup, which might push targets to the WR2. Paired with a top Quarterback, having both the WR1 and WR2 on your roster helps eliminate some of the position's scoring volatility.
The other example of having a wide receiver handcuff would be to pair New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle with either Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz. If either Nicks or Cruz is injured, Randle becomes a hot commodity and suddenly goes from a bench player to a potential starter.
So there you have it. That is two wide receiver handcuff possibilities for you. Let's walk through the other marquee WR handcuffs to consider.
Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson :: Ryan Broyles
Of course, no player on the Lions could possibly fill Megatron's shoes if he were to be out for one play or the full season, but Broyles is a legit deep sleeper. Detroit attempted 740 passes a year ago, nearly 70 more than the next team. Every PPR owner's mouth should be drooling right now. Sure, the running game should be improved with the addition of Reggie Bush, but let's not act like he is going to suddenly become a 300-plus carry kind of guy. Even without an injury to Johnson, Broyles makes for an intriguing handcuff. Johnson of course needs no validation. If you were one of the fantasy owners, like myself, that felt Titus Young was a sleeper last year (you know, before he lost his mind) then there's no reason to think Broyles doesn't have the same potential.
Cincinnati Bengals A.J. Green :: Mohamed Sanu
For the sake of concision, let's assume Sanu wins the WR2 job over Marvin Jones. Sanu saw limited playing time as a rookie. He doesn't have the physical gifts of Green, but he does possess a muscular frame that can work the middle of the field. The Bengals may opt to use Sanu in the slot and put Jones on the outside since he can better stretch the field vertically. Considering Sanu's bargain basement price and likelihood that he may go undrafted altogether in your league, he is a buy-low candidate hovering just off the radar. Green's crazy talent will also make things easier for his teammates. With defenses focusing their coverage on Green's side of the field, this allows Sanu to work one-on-one in some possible mismatches.
Dallas Cowboys Dez Bryant :: Miles Austin – Terrance Williams
See that hyphen in the previous line? I'm using that to indicate you'll either want to pair Bryant with Austin or Williams. Having Austin and Williams lacks a high ceiling. This trio is similar to the aforementioned grouping of Nicks, Cruz and Randle. You either want to lock down the best two Dallas receivers (Bryant and Austin) or snag Bryant and wait patiently for Williams very late in your draft. The Cowboys have a history of finding production out of their WR3 spot (Laurent Robinson in 2011 and Kevin Ogletree in 2012, if only in Week 1). Williams put up crazy numbers in his senior season with the Baylor Bears. He caught 97 passes for 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns. Austin battled nagging injuries that never seemed to take him out of games, but limited his contributions. Those persistent injuries are what may push Williams into action sooner rather than later.
Chicago Bears Brandon Marshall :: Alshon Jeffery
You may be noticing a theme here and this is just how most NFL rosters work. You have the established star and the young'n waiting in the wings. Common sense should tell you that not every young receiver in the league is going to breakout, but a few will. So you'll need to identify which situations you find appealing and what fits for your league. In any case, Jeffery has a ton of potential. Even though Marshall is a beast, his 194 targets in 2012 seem very difficult to replicate. If we can assume that Jeffery will be at least slightly better in his sophomore season, some of those Marshall targets should go to Jeffery.
Atlanta Falcons Julio Jones :: Roddy White
Or is it Roddy White and Julio Jones? Regardless of which guy you like more or who is officially or unofficially listed at the top of the depth chart, you would be in an enviable position if your roster was blessed with both of these guys. I don't need to expound on the virtues of owning either player, yet I will anyway. White has been as durable as they come (knock on wood), so the injury concern isn't a factor. Jones is entering his third year and has all the talent in the world. What is the concern is that both players tend to alternate having great games. A year ago, both receivers eclipsed 100 receiving yards in only one game. Even with the presence of Tony Gonzalez, White and Jones are the premiere receiver duo in the NFL. There will be fantasy points aplenty in your future if you can grab either one or both if you are so inclined.
Denver Broncos Demaryius Thomas :: Wes Welker :: Eric Decker
This is the trickiest handcuff situation. Demaryius Thomas made a huge statistical leap in his third season and benefitted in a big way from the presence of Peyton Manning. Any pair here can work for your fantasy squad; however, you should still pursue Thomas and Welker in the short-term since they both have more fantasy value than Eric Decker. Although a good portion of the fantasy community strongly believes in rookie RB Montee Ball, the Broncos' backfield is far from defined. It is entirely possible that Denver opts to throw the ball more. Manning's 583 pass attempts may have been the third-highest of his career, but in today's NFL, he ranked seventh. Point being, the Broncos could still pass more frequently, so concerns about there being "too many mouths to feed" may be exaggerated.
There are some interesting wrinkles here: new quarterback, new running back, new offensive scheme and what may be most important, the same dominating Larry Fitzgerald. You've likely already heard and seen what Bruce Arians did with the Colts' vertical passing attack last year. Arizona's offensive line may not be the best at giving their QBs a lot of time, but Palmer is arguably the best passer they've had since Kurt Warner's departure. The key here is the continued development of Michael Floyd. He blew up in Week 17, catching eight passes for 166 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco. Expectations for Floyd are on the rise in his second year as he should find his way into the starting lineup.
Green Bay Packers Randall Cobb :: Jordy Nelson :: James Jones
As long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, this talented triumvirate has the potential to score tons of fantasy points. One small concern I have, if I may play devil's advocate is that Rodgers threw the ball an inordinate number of times near the goal line, which may not happen. In fact, the Packers only scored nine rushing TDs all season and Rodgers was tied for the team lead with 2. So there's a good reason they added two rookie runners. With that in mind, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson (who also missed four games) scored 29 touchdowns combined. Grabbing any two of these guys is huge. Rodgers has been on fire basically since Day 1. You can't go wrong with any set of Packers' cuffs.