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The Running Back Handcuff Hedge - Who To Handcuff

This article was updated on 9/4 to account for the Jerick McKinnon and D'Onta Foreman injury updates.

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 creating opportunity share doubt, 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 (and extremely antiquated) 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 most NFL teams depth charts. Unfortunately, the traditional handcuffing strategy has become a lazy form of oversimplified analysis by too many drafters, and analysts doling out fantasy advice to their unsuspecting patrons. We at RotoBaller 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!

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Redefining The 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 tried and true "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.

Like I did in the 2017 preseason, this article will once again 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, where in some cases the average ADP delta is less than 50 draft slots, 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.

Remember that all of the "ideal handcuff hedge" running backs below 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. This also means they should have at the very least flex running back appeal every week, and will not be a rotting carcass waiting to be shipped back to the waiver wire after 2 weeks of action.


Running Backs That Can Be Traditionally Handcuffed

Primary Running Back Traditional Handcuff Average ADP Delta (Difference)
Alvin Kamara Mark Ingram 48*
Dalvin Cook Latavius Murray 133.8
Matt Breida * Alfred Morris * N/A *updated 9/4/18
Christian McCaffrey C.J. Anderson 100.4
Joe Mixon Giovani Bernard 112.4
Devonta Freeman Tevin Coleman  52.6
Jordan Howard Tarik Cohen  56
Kareem Hunt Spencer Ware 193.1


Tier 1 Running Back Handcuff Hedges

Primary Running Back Ideal Handcuff Hedge Average ADP Delta (Difference)
Todd Gurley Lamar Miller  50.4
Le'Veon Bell Mark Ingram  52.2
Ezekiel Elliott Dion Lewis  55.2
David Johnson Ronald Jones II  58
Saquon Barkley Rashaad Penny  61
Melvin Gordon Marshawn Lynch  57.4
Leonard Fournette Tevin Coleman  60.8
LeSean McCoy Duke Johnson 60


Tier 2 Running Back Handcuff Hedges

Primary Running Back Ideal Handcuff Hedge Average ADP Delta (Difference)
Kenyan Drake Isaiah Crowell 50
Derrick Henry Marlon Mack 52.2
Alex Collins Jamaal Williams 52
Jay Ajayi Chris Carson 60.2
Royce Freeman Aaron Jones 64.8
Lamar Miller Nick Chubb 62.6


Tier 3 Running Back Handcuff Hedges

Primary Running Back Ideal Handcuff Hedge Average ADP Delta (Difference)
Mark Ingram Ty Montgomery 62.8
Dion Lewis James White 65.8
Ronald Jones II Corey Clement 71.7
Rashaad Penny Giovani Bernard 68.2
Marshawn Lynch Peyton Barber 48.7*
Rex Burkhead Matt Breida 77
Chris Thompson Devontae Booker 82.7

* An allowance was made for both Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram (in the traditional handcuff tier), and  Marshawn Lynch/Peyton Barber (in the third tier of handcuff hedges), who came within ~2 ADP slots of the required average ADP delta of 50 or more slots

Even though there are inherently many deeply rooted personal biases regarding the running backs I will personally target heavily, and those that should I'll be avoiding at all costs during my own fantasy football drafts, it was still important to get just about every projected starter minus a few of the following detailed exceptions:

  • I had to cherry pick since there are still many question marks about in-season opportunity shares with players like Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, who independently do not need a handcuff since they are already late round value picks. I also cannot guarantee you which of the three Browns running backs will be the true starter, so it's futile to play that guessing game. That trio of running backs unfortunately eliminates Nick Chubb from usefulness to this drafting strategy, while the only guaranteed thing that remains in Cleveland's stable is Duke Johnson's pass catching role both out of the backfield and slot receiver.
  • Isaiah Crowell is the alleged starter by name for the New York Jets as I write this article on August 21st, but I can almost guarantee that the veteran pass catching specialist, Bilal Powell, will end up outscoring Crowell in PPR formats in 2018 (assuming equal games played). Powell is a tremendous handcuff hedge candidate for literally any starting running back in the top 3 tiers, but his ADP is so depressed at 163.2 that he can't even crack the ideal handcuff hedge list through RB29!
  • Tarik Cohen has tremendous standalone upside in PPR formats at his ADP of 81.4, but I simply do not think he can be a true workhorse, filling in on the ground, if something were to happen to Jordan Howard. That being said, he is still the only true traditional handcuff option in PPR formats simply because even a marginal increase of 5-7 touches per game would raise him above flex appeal value. Once you hit that projectable RB2 level, you definitely qualify as an ideal handcuff hedge.

It obviously 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 Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, Nyheim Hines and Kalen Ballage in this article, the reality is that as of the start of Week 3 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 Kerryon Johnson if Riddick or Blount get injured).


Honorable Mention Handcuff

D'Onta Foreman (HOU) *

* D'Onta Foreman has officially been placed on the PUP list and will miss the first 6 games of the 2018 season - updated 9/4/18  

Unquestionably the most talented back on the Texans, Foreman proved he was poised to be the lead dog in town until he unceremoniously ruptured his achilles tendon in Week 11 of the 2017 season. Although he is still questionable for Week 1 and is at risk of landing on the IR/PUP, if you are drafting this weekend (or until his health status is updated), D'onta Foreman is definitely worth a last round flyer in almost any format; especially best ball leagues. His current ADP in PPR leagues is 157.3 (RB59); the true definition of a dark horse, post-hype, fantasy football snoozer!


More Late-Round, Upside Plays

Some of my favorites, in no specific order:


Fantasy Fool's Gold Handcuff

Adrian Peterson (WAS) - Before AP signed a one year deal to run into the backs of the Redskins offensive linemen, show off his tight hips, fading breakaway speed, and injury prone 33.4 year old body, I wasn't really sure who was going to get the honor of "Mr. Do Not Draft in 2018". Last year was Jonathan Williams who was receiving unwarranted standard handcuff hype during the 2017 draft season, and boy oh boy did I get that must-avoid, fantasy fool's gold, super tout correct! Keep in mind that the former first round pick in fantasy hasn't had a productive season in the NFL since 2015, and only averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry behind an offensive line that was rated third in run blocking efficiency.

I'm sorry to cut this analysis short since I don't have all day (get it?), but I have already put this issue to bed a long time ago, via microphone, on RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio - live weekday mornings from 6-7 AM ET, and on-demand using the SiriusXM App. So instead of giving you the Cliff's Notes in this paragraph, I will provide you with a landslide of entertaining twitter commentary on the issue:

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 is to help you get an edge on the competition, and increase your opportunity to win playing fantasy football in 2018.

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