Breaking Down the Top 5 Fantasy Football Handcuff Situations in 2013
In fantasy football, nothing can ruin a season faster than watching in horror as your first-round running back goes down in a heap in Week 3.
That's it. Season's over, right?
Maybe not, if you purchased insurance against injury by "handcuffing" your star tailback with his backup.
On some NFL teams, the backfield situation is just too muddied for there to even be a handcuff. It's a committee, and the only way that having both backs will pay big dividends is if one goes down with an injury.
Think Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Cincinnati, or DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina.
There are also situations where locking up both halves of a tandem backfield can be a very expensive proposition, such as with David Wilson and Andre Brown of the New York Giants.
This isn't to say that having both backs in such a situation is a bad idea. Any player is worth drafting at the right price.
However, the better handcuff situations fall into one of two categories.
First, there are the clear backups who can be had very late in drafts. These players have little value other than as handcuffs, making it easier to acquire them without breaking the bank.
If you have to spend big on a backup, you want one with big-time upside, a player who has already shown he's capable of carrying the load.
It's those types of situations we'll examine here, with a look at the top fantasy handcuffs of 2013.
The Bargain Bin
These handcuff situations appeal to fantasy owners mainly because the reserve running back can be acquired late in drafts.
Darren McFadden/Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
Murray appears to be the leader to serve as Darren McFadden's primary backup this year. Given that McFadden hasn't made it though a 16-game season yet in his career, that puts Murray squarely on the fantasy radar, especially for owners who roll the dice on McFadden as an RB2.
DeMarco Murray/Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of fantasy RB2s who can't stay on the field, Murray has missed nine games over the past two seasons. His pledge to play in all 16 games this year notwithstanding, fantasy owners who invest an early pick in Murray would be well-advised to add Randle later on.
Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings
In most fantasy leagues, the only team with any interest in Gerhart is the one that owns Peterson. That may tempt you to just leave him on the waiver wire, but were "All Day" to go down, the odds of landing Gerhart then are slim. Burn the late pick on Gerhart, who you can always cut loose later if you need the roster spot once the bye weeks hit.
5. Chris Johnson/Shonn Greene, Tennessee Titans
It pains me to do this, but I'm about to advocate drafting Tennessee Titans running back Shonn Greene, at least if you also expend a pick on Chris Johnson.
Greene's arrival in Tennessee was one of the weirder developments of the NFL offseason, with the Titans paying the 27-year-old more than $3 million a season to back up Johnson.
Greene will serve as the short-yardage and goal-line back for the Titans, a role that has knocked Johnson from first-round consideration in most fantasy drafts.
However, it appears that many fantasy owners also agree with Johnson, who told Will Brinson of CBS Sports that he's "not worried about him (Greene) taking any carries."
Greene is currently the 60th running back off draft boards, according to My Fantasy League, with a 15th-round average draft position (ADP).
That's a pretty minimal investment for security against a Johnson injury. Yes, Greene is about as explosive as a wet bag of ramen noodles, but that doesn't change the fact that he topped 1,000 yards on the ground each of the past two years with the Jets.
That sort of production would look pretty good if Johnson gets hurt.
4. C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller is a trendy pick as this year's fantasy "breakout" candidate at his position—and for good reason.
Spiller finished sixth among fantasy backs in leagues that award a point for receptions in 2012, gaining over 1,200 yards on the ground and averaging six yards a carry.
Fred Jackson, on the other hand, has fallen to the 12th round of early drafts, according to the ADP data at My Fantasy League.
That's not a bad investment for insurance against an injury to a back who will all but certainly be chosen in the top 10 of most fantasy drafts.
After all, Jackson gained nearly 1,400 total yards in 2011, and while he's 31, his 932 career carries is a low number for a running back his age.
Jackson will also see the field this year as a complementary player, and even if Spiller stays healthy, Jackson should get enough touches to at least be a serviceable bye week fill-in.
3. LeSean McCoy/Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
With LeSean McCoy sidelined with a concussion last year, Bryce Brown was the talk of fantasy football for a short time.
In Weeks 12 and 13 of the 2012 season, Brown carried the ball 43 times for 347 yards and four touchdowns, providing fantasy owners with a late surge that may have gotten many teams into the playoffs.
Of course, Brown's 12 carries for six yards in Week 14 promptly knocked those teams out of the postseason, but them's the breaks.
This year, McCoy is back and healthy, which would seem to portend a return to obscurity for Brown.
Or then again, maybe not.
New head coach Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense features a ton of running the ball. Between the sheer volume of touches and the tempo of the offense, there should be a role for Brown, according to what he told Bo Wulf of the Eagles' website:
I think with the staff we have here and the things that they have in place here, I think it allows me to really focus on the details, put us in position to be successful, not just me but all the players that we have here. Just learning this whole new offense, it's amazing.
At any rate, Brown's 10th-round ADP isn't a bad price for some "Shady" insurance, especially after Brown showed he's more than capable of picking up the slack.
2. Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice should be grateful he signed that five-year, $40 million contract last July.
After the way Bernard Pierce played last year, Rice probably wouldn't get it this summer.
That's no knock on Rice. He's one of the more talented running backs in the NFL, and in 2012, the 26-year-old topped 1,600 yards for the fourth consecutive season.
When given the chance, Pierce showed he has the ability to be a featured back in the NFL as well.
The second-year pro topped 500 yards in part-time duty a year ago, averaging a robust 4.9 yards a carry.
Pierce also topped the century mark in two games, gashing the New York Giants for 123 yards and rumbling for 103 in the Ravens' playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Pierce's strong showing as a rookie should mean a larger role in 2013 for a player whom Baltimore running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery called "the poor man's Adrian Peterson," according to Robert Klemko of USA Today.
For the price of a 10th-round pick (Pierce's ADP at My Fantasy League) that upside is certainly worth a look from Rice owners, and frankly Pierce is a solid "sleeper" target in his own right.
1. Arian Foster/Ben Tate, Houston Texans
A great deal can change in both the NFL and fantasy football from year to year.
At this point last year, one of the top three picks in most fantasy drafts (Tampa Bay's Doug Martin) was just entering the NFL. Another (Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings) was coming back from an ACL tear.
The third? That would be Houston's Arian Foster, who remains one half of the most important handcuff situation in fantasy football, along with backup Ben Tate.
Yes, Foster's 4.1 yards per carry last year was the lowest total of his career, but Foster also carried the ball more than 350 times and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground.
Meanwhile, Tate struggled through an injury-marred season, but the 24-year-old gained almost 1,000 yards rushing in 2011 and is entering a contract year.
So long as Tate's healthy, the Texans are going to give him the ball with regularity. Another 350-plus-carry season for Foster isn't in the team's best interest.
That makes Tate a serviceable fantasy "flex" option and a must-have insurance policy for folks who burn a top-five pick on Arian Foster in fantasy drafts this summer.