Strategy session: Fantasy Football handcuffs
Not every fantasy owner agrees with the handcuff strategy. The key reasoning is that each roster spot should be considered a dart. The more darts you throw at a dart board, the better chances you have to hit the bulls-eye. If one of your "darts" is wasted on a backup, he will never have an opportunity to score meaningful points regardless. Only with the right mix of injury potential, a backup with some real talent and an optimal offensive scheme creates the perfect storm necessary for a handcuff scenario.
Another important factor is the depth of the league. If every team has at least five RBs, you might want to take a shot with a handcuff since almost every starter and backup will be on a roster. This leaves the waiver wire with little to offer, especially as bye weeks pass and injuries pile up. Since it can be assumed that every runner has at least a small chance of serious injury, a handcuff can really pay off when that backup becomes necessary.
So in this piece, I'm focusing on 10 of the RBs available in fantasy drafts and evaluating whether they might require a handcuff.
Adrian Peterson – Toby Gerhart
Congrats on having the first pick in the draft and using it wisely on the game's best player. Peterson needs no introduction and no explanation of his talents. Gerhart, on the other hand, is solid and his value is slightly inflated by association. The Vikings do use Gerhart on all three downs since he can run hard between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. What deters me from liking Gerhart is what will happen to the offense if he is the featured back. Defenses already have little respect for Christian Ponder, so with less attention paid to the run game, I doubt Minnesota's ability to string together long drives. The former Stanford back is a good backup in a sub-par offense, making him unappealing to me to hang onto for multiple weeks.
VERDICT: No, vanilla offense without AP.
Doug Martin –Brian Leonard/Mike James
This time last year, Martin had crept all the way up towards the end of the second round in drafts and the fantasy community was rewarded for their foresight. Martin put up an excellent year that has him challenging as the No. 2 pick in the draft and he is the clear centerpiece for Tampa's power offense. James and Leonard are currently competing for the RB2 job behind Martin. For now, Leonard has the lead, but this could really go either way. Fantasy owners would be better off hoping for Martin's good health while investing that late-round flier in a safer commodity, perhaps the backup of some other injury-prone starter.
VERDICT: No, no clear backup.
Arian Foster – Ben Tate
It's become fashionable not to like Foster this season. He has steadily trickled down from the No. 2 pick towards the second half of the first round. Granted, his back problems and injections should be cause for concern; however, no report has suggested he will not play in Week 1. Would you bench Foster at any point last season if he were questionable and dinged up? Of course not, so why pass on him now? I don't know, maybe I'm a little biased since I like first round running backs. Crazy, right? Tate has proven time and time again that he is a capable back and may just be a Top 20 fantasy back if he weren't stuck in a backup role. Tate didn't play much last year due to injuries and has a lot to prove in a contract year. I'd grab him if the price were right.
VERDICT: Yes, but try to find the good value since he is going in the seventh round.
Jamaal Charles – Knile Davis
If it weren't for All Day's miraculous comeback, more attention would have been paid to all the noise Charles was making. We already knew he was good as a perennial Top 10 pick and last season cemented it. With an improved quarterback, a new head coach and a whole bunch of pass targets likely coming his way, there's even more to like about Charles. If an injury were to take hold, responsibilities would fall back onto Davis, a rookie out of the University of Arkansas who also knows a thing or two about season-ending injuries after missing the entirety of his junior year in 2011 with a serious ankle injury. Davis has been electric in the preseason and it is easy to like his value since he will go undrafted, even in deeper formats.
VERDICT: No, dynasty leagues only.
C.J. Spiller – Fred Jackson
How the tables have turned! The apprentice has become the master! Spiller is poised to add onto his already big breakout 2012 season with even more carries and opportunities to accumulate fantasy points with his blazing speed. Spiller is even going No. 2 in some drafts as many expect him to blow up in a big way. Problem is, as we saw about a week ago, when you move as quickly as Spiller can, it's really easy for him to come up limping. The Bills have really eased him into this starting role and it has finally come to a head this season. If he can't bear the heavy load, Jackson still has a little something left in the tank. It will also benefit the 32-year old since he will be the one staying fresh each week with a limited workload.
VERDICT: Yes, wait for him to fall into Round 10. If he doesn't last, it's OK because there are some other decent options available in that round like Danny Woodhead or Pierre Thomas.
LeSean McCoy – Bryce Brown
Earlier in the offseason, McCoy could be had at the backend of the first round. Reality has returned since then however, and now McCoy is right back where he belongs: closer to the middle of the first. Brown's value has also normalized. An eighth round pick in spring, the former Kansas State runner has fallen down a full round. McCoy is only 25 years old, although he does have a lot of wear and tear in recent years. Securing Brown as your RB4 or even RB5 would be a great fit. He has already proven he can contribute numbers on every down, making him one of the few young backups who nearly match the starter's talent level.
VERDICT: Yes. The Eagles look very committed to the run and Brown could manage to finish the year as a Top 35 RB even without a significant injury to McCoy.