Fantasy Football 101: To Handcuff or Not to Handcuff

Evan PettyCorrespondent IJuly 23, 2008

It's the seventh round in your fantasy draft and you've struck gold thus far, snagging Brian Westbrook, a top-notch QB, a couple solid receivers, and another starting running back.  

The last thing you want to do is screw your whole draft in the seventh round so you glance at your queue and see Correll Buckhalter a few slots down.  You're also tempted by that sexy sleeper WR and the league's top Defense on your rankings.  

The clock starts to tick and you take the safe pick and go with Buckhalter just in case your stud goes down with an injury.

This person represents about 80 percent of fantasy football managers around the world.  And like most of them, this was a mistake that could cost them their season.  This is because they made the common mistake of handcuffing.  

As you probably already know, handcuffing is when you draft the backup to one of your main contributors (mainly RB's).  And I'm going to explain why it is a silly technique to practice.  

The logic with handcuffing is simple; if your star player goes down with an injury, you have the player who will step in and get most of the touches in the other player's absence.  While this technique may make sense, it is an attempt not to lose, rather than to win, and should only be used in very certain situations.  

First, let's understand that to win a fantasy league you usually need to beat out 9-13 other teams.  Most likely that will mean you will probably need to hit on a sleeper or two, make very good decisions, and basically have no big busts.

While there certainly are exceptions to this, this is a general description of a championship team.  

Now, by handcuffing for guys like Adrian Peterson, LT, Larry Johnson, Addai, and others is just playing it safe.  Fact is, in order to beat 13 other teams your studs are going to need to stay healthy.  

You won't win a league with guys like Chester Taylor, Correll Buckhalter, or Darren Sproles in your starting lineup.  I don't care how many extra touches they get, they're backups for a reason, and by handcuffing all you are doing is avoiding a complete disaster season.  

So handcuffing your first round guys is just pointless, if they go down with a major injury, you can basically kiss your season goodbye, unless you get a few diamonds in the rough.

This basically means you need to assume your studs will be healthy, so you might as well take a chance on that upside WR or top notch Defense.  

The only times I see it okay to handcuff would be when the player is very injury prone or the backup is formidable i.e. Chester Taylor.  It is also necessary that you can get the handcuff in the later rounds.  

Using a sixth, seventh, or eigth round pick on a handcuff is just silly; I would say a good rule of thumb is that your starting lineup should basically be just about rounded out with the exception of kicker (this also depends on size of rosters).  

So when guys are taking the Ladell Betts' of the world in the sixth round, don't give in, be that guy that takes the Braylon Edwards of this year, that shutdown Defense, or heck, even another Running Back, but please, don't play to not lose; play to win the game!