The top fantasy handcuff options at running back

There's value in backing up a top running back with his backup ... if the backup will have the full job. Brandon Marianne Lee explains and names names.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The top fantasy handcuff options at running back

It wasn’t so long ago that every fantasy player worth their weight in salt would draft a handcuff. Each team would have their starting running backs and their bench would be filled to the gills with backup replacements in case of injury.

Fast forward to today, and most people stack their bench with the fourth wide receiver option from any given team. Perhaps there is a happy medium. At some point, letting Rod Streater fill your fantasy bench isn’t as valuable as backing up your (or another player’s) stud running back.

There is an art to selecting the perfect handcuff. Here are the general rules:

  1. Know the actual definition of a handcuff. A handcuff is a backup who will likely take over for a team starter in the event of an injury. For example, Tampa Bay’s Charles Sims isn’t really a handcuff. He is a pass-catching specialist, and will get used in the same way whether Doug Martin or Mike James (Martin’s actual handcuff) is the primary back. Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles and Theo Riddick are not handcuffs.
  2. A vulnerable depth chart makes defining a handcuff difficult. For instance, will DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry be the starting running back for the Tennessee Titans? And for how many weeks into the season? If you’re drafting one of these guys, you’re hoping the player you drafted will win the job. Your expectation for playing time and fantasy production isn’t dependent on another player’s absence. Sure, one guy will win the job and the other will be the handcuff, but that’s too much conjecture before any players are in pads. Therefore, those players are not in this article.
  3. You want to pick handcuffs from teams that want/need to run the ball, preferably on teams with stout offensive lines. Indianapolis only ran the ball 32 percent of their plays. San Diego’s offensive line graded out at the bottom of the league last year. Getting handcuffs for Frank Gore and/or Melvin Gordon isn’t a priority.
  4. Get handcuffs behind stud, bell-cow backs. If an offense is built for the running game, they will try to continue that style of play, even if a running back has to miss time.

Look over these six players and put them on ice. As it stands now, some of them aren’t guaranteed to be the handcuffs — pay attention to camp reports and such. But the ones who do find themselves in line for the full role can come through in a pinch down the road. The fantasy season is long and filled with surprises, both good and bad. All ADP information comes from

DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers (current ADP: 151, No. 45 RB)

DeAngelo Williams is the gold standard of handcuffs against which all other handcuffs will be judged for the foreseeable future. And frankly, it’s an unfair, lofty standard.

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Brandon Marianne Lee is a PFF Fantasy contributor, a SiriusXM host, co-founder of Her Fantasy Football and was a finalist for FSWA's Newcomer of the Year in 2014.

  • Paradox

    Strongly disagree on the Sims take. He’s the team’s pass-catching RB but that does not mean he wouldn’t have an expanded, traditional RB role if Martin were to go down.

    We should not confuse what a player does with what a player can do.

    • Brandon Marianne Lee

      Really the point is that he already has a role in the offense. Mike James would come in and play a larger role if Martin went down. Even with Martin on the field, Sims is a strong FLEX play. The value is already there and it’s a separate article for players in his category. Thanks for reading!

  • Jason Thomas

    Agree with Paradox – Sims is a great handcuff. Name of the game is putting up Fantasy points, and Sims isn’t far behind Martin even with Martin in the line up. Remove Teach me how to Dougie from the equation, Sims gets a boatload more targets and becomes your RB1.