The Running Back Handcuff Hedge - Who To Handcuff

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We have learned over time that the running back position is without question the most volatile in fantasy football. This understanding is based upon the percentage of injuries versus the other skilled positions, NFL teams increasingly using split back committees, and also takes into account weekly fantasy scoring consistency. Along with this natural order of chaos, the general fantasy football playing public often assumes that handcuffing work horses with the next man up on their primary back's own team depth chart is the only viable strategy on draft day.

While the traditional handcuffing strategy can work in some unique situations around the NFL (detailed below), it is highly unreliable in most due to various factors such as the inexperience or ineptitude of the RB2 on a team's depth chart. Unfortunately, the traditional handcuffing strategy has become a lazy form of oversimplified analysis by too many drafters and experts doling out fantasy advice to their patrons.

We are setting out to change that mindset and rebrand the definition of what a running back handcuff could truly be for your fantasy football team.

Editor's note: Purchase any NFL Lineup Optimizer pass (including daily DFS cheat sheets), and you also get access to NBA and NHL Optimizers and DFS cheat sheets.

 

The New Running Back "Handcuff"

By analyzing the current fantasy football preseason drafting trends via average ADP, and comparing them to the RotoBaller staff rankings in an attempt to unearth dark horse running back production upside, we can make some compelling cases to dispel the traditional handcuff strategy in favor of the upstart "handcuff hedge" theory.

You no longer should have to look for a backup to your stud running back from the same NFL team when there are so many better upside options elsewhere around the league, that will be arguably be more productive in case of emergency, but will also have standalone value week to week on your fantasy football roster.

This article will break down the tiers of handcuff hedges based on the severity of player valuations, and the need to employ the strategy in each unique NFL team's running back situation. The first block will only include the instances where we advocate the traditional handcuffing strategy, while tiers 1-3 will highlight the best uses of handcuff hedging.

The main factor to take into account is that we are trying to achieve the best possible draft capital value for our handcuff hedges (defined as an average ADP delta of 50 or more slots), while only recommending "handcuff hedges" that have some level of stand-alone roles as projected secondary or pass catching backs in their team's offense. This exercise is based around point per reception (PPR) scoring formats and the theory is best applied to those league types. It is also important to mention that we are not taking potential future injuries into account; since we cannot predict the future, we project production and viability for a 16 game sample size.

 

Running Backs That Can Be Traditionally Handcuffed

Primary Running Back Traditional Handcuff Average ADP Delta (Difference)
Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman 63.4
DeMarco Murray Derrick Henry 67.4
Isaiah Crowell Duke Johnson 63.9
Marshawn Lynch DeAndre Washington 125.9
Mike Gillislee Rex Burkhead 96.3
Bilal Powell Matt Forte 66.4
C.J. Anderson Devontae Booker 148.6
Dalvin Cook Latavius Murray 99.4

 

Tier 1 Running Back Handcuff Hedges

Primary Running Back Ideal Handcuff Hedge Average ADP Delta (Difference)
David Johnson Mark Ingram 59.7
Le'Veon Bell Ameer Abdullah 54.6
LeSean McCoy Bilal Powell 51.6
Melvin Gordon Adrian Peterson 54.4
Jordan Howard Tevin Coleman 57
Jay Ajayi Theo Riddick 60.1
Todd Gurley Derrick Henry 62.8
Ezekiel Elliott LeGarrette Blount 53.1

 

Tier 2 Running Back Handcuff Hedges

Primary Running Back Ideal Handcuff Hedge Average ADP Delta (Difference)
Lamar Miller Derrick Henry 53.6
Leonard Fournette Tevin Coleman 51.8
Christian McCaffrey Frank Gore 54.2
Ty Montgomery Rob Kelley 54.9
Carlos Hyde Duke Johnson 51.8
Danny Woodhead Jacquizz Rodgers 55.7

 

Tier 3 Running Back Handcuff Hedges

Primary Running Back Ideal Handcuff Hedge Average ADP Delta (Difference)
Joe Mixon Duke Johnson 55.3
Kareem Hunt Thomas Rawls 75.3
Frank Gore Latavius Murray 52
Ameer Abdullah CJ Prosise 50
Paul Perkins Darren Sproles 58.5
Eddie Lacy Jeremy Hill 53.1
Rob Kelley Giovani Bernard 52.9

 

Even though there are many deeply rooted personal biases regarding the running backs I will target heavily, and those that should be avoided at all costs during a fantasy football draft, it was still important to get just about every projected starter (minus a few exceptions like Jonathan Stewart who does not need a handcuff because he's already a late round value pick) into these tiers. Remember that all of the "ideal handcuff hedge" running backs were chosen because they will have a projected stand alone role in their team's offense, as a 3rd down pass-catching back or goal line specialist, at the very minimum.

It also goes without saying that some of these players may not pan out as viable fantasy football contributors this year, as it happens every season, but this entire article is based on the actual player valuations that the masses have assigned to these running backs based on current average ADP.

While it was tempting to use rookies with upward mobility such as D'Onta Foreman, Samaje Perine, Jamaal Williams, De'Angelo Henderson, Joe Williams, Marlon Mack or Alvin Kamara in this article, the reality is that as of the start of Week 2 in the NFL preseason, none are close to having a guaranteed role in their team's offense (although I personally do love the upside of a few of them for the 2017 season).

 

Honorable Mention Handcuff

Damien Williams - This kid showed he was a viable NFL running back in 2016, even in a limited role for Miami. We love his speed (4.45 40-yard dash) and production premium metric a lot. He has standalone value as the Dolphins 3rd down back and could have a large role if something were to happen to Jay Ajayi. That being said, you can still draft him alongside our listed "ideal handcuff hedge" Theo Riddick in the 28th round; mostly a best ball league target draft pick. He would also be the first player off the waiver wire in the case of Ajayi going down with an injury.

 

Fantasy Fool's Gold Handcuff

Jonathan Williams (UPDATED: 9/3) - It's bad enough that the Mike Gillislee hype coming out of his 2016 backup role in Buffalo has caused his ADP to hover in the mid 50's range. Even worse is that Gillislee's marginal success has caused fantasy owners planning on investing first round draft capital in Shady to think they can wait until the late 13th round to protect their prized work horse with Jonathan Williams (who was just released on 9/3). Keep in mind that Williams is extremely underwhelming in terms of athleticism, was highly inefficient in 2016, and is far from being a workout metrics darling. Banking on him as a traditional handcuff to LeSean McCoy may result in a fantasy football death sentence (for many of you who already drafted him as a handcuff, it has already taken a turn for the worst since his release on 9/3)

 

If you have any further questions about the "handcuff hedge" theory after reading this article, or anything relating to fantasy football, feel free to hit me up on twitter @RealTalkRaph or book a premium expert chat session at anytime. Our goal at RotoBaller.com is to help you get an edge on the competition, and increase your opportunity to win playing fantasy football in 2017.


Check out all of RotoBaller's 2017 fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.