Fantasy Football 2011: The Top 25 Fantasy Football Handcuffs
There's no worse feeling in fantasy football than watching the season go down the tubes as the result of an injury. All your well-laid plans, thorough research and savvy fantasy drafting circle the drain as your stud running back writhes on the field in pain.
However, you can take out an insurance policy of sorts on some players, hedging your bet by selecting their "handcuff," a backup that could potentially ease the pain of losing a star player by posting solid fantasy numbers of their own.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 25 handcuffs for the 2011 season, players that shrewd fantasy football owners will target in drafts as the Plan B that can make the difference between hoisting a championship trophy or hanging your head in defeat.
25. Jacob Tamme: TE, Indianapolis Colts
It's practically unheard of to select a handcuff for a tight end, but after Dallas Clark went down with a wrist injury last year, Jacob Tamme stepped into his role and didn't miss a beat, catching 67 passes for the Colts, scoring four times and finishing in the top 12 at his position. Clark is healthy again, but given the hefty price tag that comes with selecting him, fantasy football owners would be well served to take a look at Tamme towards the end of their drafts.
24. Shaun Hill: QB, Detroit Lions
This handcuff is directed more at fantasy football owners in deep leagues or those where you can start two quarterbacks, but with offensive weaponry like wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Jahvid Best at his disposal, Detroit Lions quarterback Shaun Hill has already shown to be more than capable of posting solid fantasy numbers should Lions signal caller Matthew Stafford miss significant time, as he has in each of his first two NFL seasons.
23. Brandon Jackson: RB, Cleveland Browns
If Cleveland Browns running back Montario Hardesty could stay on the field for more than three plays at a stretch, it would likely be his name listed here, but it's fifth-year pro Brandon Jackson who will open the season in Cleveland as the backup to Peyton Hillis. Jackson, 25, started 13 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2010, topping 1,000 total yards and scoring four touchdowns, and while he rushed for a very pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry last year, he could serve as a serviceable fantasy RB2 if Hillis were to go down with an injury.
22. Donald Brown: RB, Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown so inspires quarterback Peyton Manning with his pass-blocking skills that Manning lobbied Colts management to re-sign running back Joseph Addai, and Brown has yet to top 500 rushing yards or four yards a carry in a season , but Addai has played 16 games only once in five years and Indianapolis possesses a potent offense, so the third year pro is worth a late flier as insurance for Addai owners.
21. Justin Forsett: RB, Seattle Seahawks
Running back Justin Forsett of the Seattle Seahawks has shown the capability to be a productive player both in the NFL and fantasy football, rushing for well over four yards a carry and scoring seven total touchdowns over the past two seasons in a part-time role. Forsett is also an excellent receiver, and while the Seattle offense isn't going to light the world on fire with Tavaris Jackson at the helm, they will almost certainly lean heavily on the running game, making Forsett a fairly valuable commodity should starter Marshawn Lynch get dinged up.
20. Isaac Redman: RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac "Red Zone" Redman may be best known for his goal-line prowess, but the former Bowie State standout has shown flashes of talent when afforded the opportunity, and that opportunity (and the third year pro's fantasy football value) would skyrocket should starter Rashard Mendenhall suffer an injury.
19. Thomas Jones: RB, Kansas City Chiefs
At 33 years old, running back Thomas Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs has clearly lost a step (several, actually), and while he's almost certainly not going to lead the Chiefs in carries this season as he did in 2010, he did manage nearly 900 yards and six scores a year ago and should be targeted later in fantasy drafts as a safety net for owners that spent a top five pick on emerging star Jamaal Charles.
18. Ben Tate: RB, Houston Texans
Derrick Ward is currently listed second on the depth chart at running back for the Houston Texans, but should fantasy stud Arian Foster miss time due to injury, it would likely be second year running back Ben Tate that would receive the bulk of the touches in Foster's stead. Tate's entire rookie season was wiped out by injury, but the 5'11," 219 lb. former Auburn Tiger has looked explosive in preseason action and should supplant Derrick Ward as Arian Foster's backup by opening day.
17. Vince Young: QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Former rookie of the year Vince Young will try to resurrect his NFL career in much the same way the man he's now backing up, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, did, signing with Philadelphia as a reserve in the hopes that an opportunity to play develops down the road. Young isn't going to post the sorts of eye-popping fantasy stats that Vick did in 2010, but given the offensive firepower in the City of Brotherly Love and Vick's extensive injury history Young is a solid fallback plan for owners gambling a high draft choice on Vick.
16. Willis McGahee: RB, Denver Broncos
Willis McGahee moved from the Baltimore Ravens to the Denver Broncos, where the ninth year veteran will serve as the backup to starter Knowshon Moreno. McGahee isn't the same player who rushed for over 1,000 yards three times in four seasons from 2004-2007, but Moreno has been lackluster as a pro to this point and may find himself on a relatively short leash, so fantasy owners who select Knowshon Moreno in drafts would be wise to back their play by taking McGahee later on.
15. Marion Barber III: RB, Chicago Bears
After three seasons as the starter at running back in Dallas, Marion Barber fell out of favor and was jettisoned by the Cowboys, finally landing with the Chicago Bears as the backup to Matt Forte. Barber's yards per carry has dropped from 4.8 in 2006 to a woeful 3.3 in 2010, so while he's probably not going to be the top 10 fantasy option Forte was in 2010, should Matt Forte go down, Barber should be capable of serving as a so-so RB2.
14. Toby Gerhart: RB, Minnesota Vikings
Toby Gerhart is the primary backup to star running back Adrian Peterson with the Minnesota Vikings, and while the second year pro hasn't seen a lot of action, he has shown glimpses of ability, including racking up 95 total yards in a start against the Bears last season. A serious injury to Adrian Peterson would still be a crushing blow to his fantasy owners, but smart owners will have softened the blow a bit by handcuffing Toby Gerhart.
13. Bernard Scott: RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Running back Cedric Benson is the starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, but his backup, third year pro Bernard Scott, may well be the more explosive playmaker. Scott has had some injury concerns in the past, and the Bengals offense will likely struggle under rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, but even should Benson stay healthy, if he continues to flounder as he did for much of last year, Cincinnati may look to the future with Bernard Scott in the backfield.
12. Jerome Harrison: RB, Detroit Lions
The season-ending injury suffered by rookie running back Mikel LeShoure sent Detroit scrambling to find a backup for Jahvid Best, and the Lions settled on sixth-year veteran Jerome Harrison to fill that role. One has to wonder why Harrison has been cut loose by the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, but he's shown to be capable of posting big fantasy numbers in the past (including a three game stretch at the end of the 2009 season in which he rushed for over 450 yards for the Browns), and taking into consideration Best's durability issues, fantasy football owners who select Jahvid Best are advised to make Jerome Harrison a late addition to their rosters.
11. James Starks: RB, Green Bay Packers
Running back James Starks was a large part of the Green Bay Packers' run to the Super Bowl a year ago, as the second year back ran for nearly 80 yards a game in the postseason for the Pack. With Ryan Grant now healthy and back atop the depth chart in Titletown, Starks returns to a reserve role, but he remains just a Grant injury away from being the lead back for one of the NFL's most prolific offenses.
10. Pierre Thomas: RB, New Orleans Saints
Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints slogged through a miserable 2010 campaign, with the 26-year-old running back playing in only six games and rushing for the fewest yards since his rookie season. The Saints traded up in last April's NFL draft to select former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, bumping Thomas to the bench, but with a 1,300 total yard season under his belt, the 5'11", 215 lb. Thomas, who is a solid receiving threat, has shown the ability to rise to the occasion should Ingram falter.
9. Mike Tolbert: RB, San Diego Chargers
As running back Ryan Matthews struggled with an assortment of injuries during the 2010 season, fourth year pro Mike Tolbert was asked to pick up the slack and performed well, gaining 735 yards on the ground, notching 11 touchdowns and finishing among the top 25 at his position. Matthews returns for his second season as the nominal starter in San Diego, but this could easily devolve into a committee situation, making it a wise move for fantasy owners who acquire Matthews to grab Tolbert as well a few rounds later.
8. Javon Ringer: RB, Tennessee Titans
At first glance, running back Javon Ringer may seem to possess minimal fantasy football value mired on the depth chart behind uberstud Chris Johnson with the Tennessee Titans, especially given that Johnson has missed all of one game due to injury in his three year career. However, with Johnson and the Titans presently embroiled in a nasty contract impasse, and Tennessee's first game getting closer by the day, fantasy drafters who burn a top three pick on CJ4.24 would be foolish not to target Ringer later, as insurance should the holdout extend into the regular season.
7. Jason Snelling: RB, Atlanta Falcons
Running back Jason Snelling returned to the Atlanta Falcons after testing free agency, where he will once again serve as the primary backup to running back Michael Turner. Turner is beginning to show signs of decline (his 4.1 yards per attempt in 2010 was the lowest of his career), and should he fall by the wayside, Snelling, who is a very capable runner and receiver in his own right, would possess solid RB2 value.
6. Ronnie Brown: RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Ronnie Brown was part of the free-agent bonanza reaped by the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason, with the seventh year running back coming over from the Miami Dolphins to back up LeSean McCoy in Philly. Brown is a classic handcuff, as the 29-year-old will have minimal fantasy value unless McCoy gets hurt, at which point he could excel in the Eagles high-flying offense, making him a very worthwhile addition for McCoy owners on draft day.
5. Ricky Williams: RB, Baltimore Ravens
Running back Ricky Williams continues to defy Father Time, with the 34-year-old running back joining the Baltimore Ravens this season as Ray Rice's backup. The 11th-year veteran topped 1,100 yards rushing in 2009 while in Miami and rushed for nearly 4.5 yards a carry over the past two seasons with the Dolphins, so he should provide Ray Rice owners with a decent cushion should the Ravens' star RB be sidelined.
4. Rashad Jennings: RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Rashad Jennings finally got a chance to show what he could do in the NFL in 2010 with Maurice Jones-Drew hampered by a knee injury, and the Jacksonville Jaguars running back responded, rushing for 5.5 yards per carry, scoring four touchdowns and notching two 100-plus yard rushing games for the Jags. Jones-Drew is back and reportedly healthy, but the troublesome nature of his injury makes it essential that fantasy owners selecting MJD make the safe play and handcuff Jennings in the middle rounds.
3. Brandon Jacobs: RB, New York Giants
New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs isn't a handcuff per se, as the seventh year bruiser has rushed for at least 800 yards each of the past four seasons, scoring 33 touchdowns and finishing as no worse than a fantasy RB3 during that span. Jacobs returns to sharing carries in the New York backfield with Ahmad Bradshaw, and while the price to acquire both backs in fantasy football drafts is substantial, owners that do so would hit the proverbial jackpot should either back get injured.
2. Jonathan Stewart: RB, Carolina Panthers
Like the aforementioned Brandon Jacobs, Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart is as much a viable fantasy football option in his own right as handcuff, averaging over 1,000 total yards and eight touchdowns a season for his three year career. DeAngelo Williams' return to the Panthers put the brakes on Stewart's coronation as lead back for Carolina, but many fantasy football owners believe it a valid draft strategy to select both backs in the middle rounds of drafts, and it's not inconceivable to see some fantasy teams actually start both backs in a given week.
1. Michael Bush: RB, Oakland Raiders
As with Brandon Jacobs and Jonathan Stewart, Oakland Raiders running back Michael Bush has shown to be more than capable of solid fantasy football production, demonstrating big-play ability and averaging well over four yards a pop for his career. Unlike those backs, Bush will likely not see the opportunity to make a significant contribution to fantasy teams unless starter Darren McFadden gets hurt. The Raiders figure to feature a run-heavy attack, and McFadden has had some durability issues in the past, so fantasy drafters who make McFadden their first selection would be foolish not to add the top handcuff in the land a bit later.