NFL Fantasy Strategy: 5 Players With Valuable Handcuffs
Splitting carries, sharing time, and running-back-by-committee are all phrases that fantasy owners do not like to hear. Let's face it though, that is how it is in the NFL now.
The days of the featured back are almost a thing of the past. Instead of shying away from the philosophy, fantasy owners should embrace it.
This is my list of running backs who, if you draft them, you should consider targeting their handcuff in the draft. Before we move on, I do have a few rules I use when handcuffing a running back I drafted.
1. Do not handcuff more than one running back. This will limit the depth of your roster, and could end up hurting your team during bye weeks.
2. For the most part, draft the handcuffs in later rounds. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but not many.
3. Don't just handcuff the first running back you draft simply because he is your top guy.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson/ Darren Sproles
This duo makes the top of my list for two reasons.
First, LT turns 30 this year. He has been plagued by injuries, and last season was the worst he has had since his rookie year. I don't think that LT is quite yet ready to fall like Shaun Alexander did, but, LT no longer warrants being drafted in the top spot in fantasy drafts.
Most likely he will drafted in the late first round to early second round, and even as late as the third. In some cases he will be the number two RB on fantasy rosters. Ultimately, LT is now a high-risk, high-reward player, which makes him a perfect candidate to consider his handcuff, the small speedster Darren Sproles.
Now the second reason this duo is on top of my list is that LT's handcuff is Darren Sproles, who proved last year that he can get the job done.
Not only does Sproles provide insurance for LT, but he can provide insurance for the rest of your backfield as well with his ability to make big plays. Even with limited reps he can be a fantasy stud.
If you happen to draft this running-back-by-committee, then you could have a lethal combination during the season.
2. Marshawn Lynch/ Fred Jackson
One thing about fantasy football is you can never predict if, and when, injuries will happen.
With this duo, predicting that Lynch will miss games is not a far stretch. In fact, you are guaranteed a three-game suspension, meaning that our handcuff Fred Jackson will start in at least three games. That is the reason this running back combo is second on my list.
Last year, before the start of the season, there was a lot of hype around Marshawn Lynch. He was supposed to be one of the few featured backs in the NFL. Well, that did not happen, and he ended up splitting carries with Fred Jackson. Lynch did not live up to expectations with barely 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns.
During this off-season he also lost his best offensive tackle in Jason Peters. Combine that with the fact that he is suspended for three games, and that means he could be a steal in a lot of drafts this year. A lot of people will avoid him like the plague.
On the upside the team did add T.O. this off-season, and with T.O. on one side, and Lee Evens on the other, it is going to be hard to put eight men in the box. This means better production this year from Lynch and Jackson.
Oh yeah, and the suspension might not be that bad for your fantasy team either. The most important thing during the regular season of fantasy is to make it to the playoffs. Then it is all about how your team performs. With Lynch missing the first three games, his legs will still be fresh at the end of the season.
Also, during that point in the season it is really cold in Buffalo, and the Bills like to grind the ball a lot with the run. If you draft Jackson as well then you have the first three games covered.
3. Brian Westbrook/ LeSean McCoy
Out of all the running backs on my list, Westbrook should be the one taking in the most drafts this year.
Like LT, his stock has fallen some since last year, but he should go mid-to-late first round in all leagues.
Everyone who has had Westbrook on their fantasy teams in the past have learned two things. First, when healthy, Westbrook is a fantasy stud who can produce monster numbers. I do not see that changing at all this year, especially since Philly upgraded to arguably the best offensive line the NFL. Philly also added more weapons to the offense, which will help take pressure off of Westbrook.
If you have ever had him on your roster, the second thing you learned is that he always gets hurt at some point in the season. In fact, he has never played 16 games in a season. The only question is when will it happen and for how long?
Westbrook's handcuff is rookie LeSean McCoy. McCoy is a running back that is very similar in style to Westbrook, so he will fit into the system quite nicely.
That monster offensive line that Philly now has should create a lot of opportunities for McCoy to produce solid numbers while he is in. This should help your fantasy team to produce while you wait for the return of Westbrook.
4. Darren McFadden/Michael Bush
Darren McFadden was the biggest rookie disappointment of 2008.
This time last year, there was a lot of hype surrounding him in fantasy circles. Expectations had him pegged as the next Adrian Peterson.
With two toe injuries that led to a season with less than 500 yards rushing, his rookie campaign was far from from that of Peterson's however.
You might be asking, why is McFadden on this list?
Well, let's face facts. He has all kinds of potential to become a fantasy stud.
Despite the Raiders having some miserable seasons, they have been able to produce one of the top rushing offenses the last couple of years.
The Raiders drafted a rocket-armed QB in 2007, and they over-reached by drafting a WR who ran the 40 yard dash faster than anyone in NFL history, but that will not be important to their success this year.
The only thing other than Al Davis saying the words "I am actually going to retire" that will give the raiders any sort of success this year is their ground game. That is why I have Darren McFadden with his handcuff Michael Bush on my list.
In most leagues, McFadden will drafted as a number two or two RB. He should be at least a solid number two with upside. Now, for some reason he does not pan out like last year, you can draft Bush in the later rounds and still have a key piece to what should be a frequently used ground attack.
5. Larry Johnson/ Jamaal Charles
In the last article I wrote entitled, "Who Will Be This Year's Michael Turner? Five Fantasy Football Sleepers For '09", I named Jamaal Charles as one of my top sleepers for this year.
I have Charles picked as a potential sleeper this year for the same reasons that the tandem of Johnson and Charles made this list.
In my opinion, if you draft Larry Johnson this year you are in for a disappointing season. He is almost out of gas, unhappy, and on a team that is looking for change. I do not think Johnson will end the season as the starter for the Chiefs.
If you draft Johnson this year, you really have to consider targeting Charles in the later rounds. Charles could end up being the best insurance policy of the year.