As a majority of NFL teams continue to employ a RBBC (Running Back By Committee) system, handcuffing an elite running back has become an increasingly popular fantasy football draft strategy. If you are unfamiliar with the term, handcuffing is selecting a top running back and their backup. By drafting both players, you reduce the risk of being down a starting back in the event your top pick gets injured or benched. Think of a handcuff as an insurance policy.
While handcuffing your stud running back is far from a new or unique concept, it can be effective in deep leagues where starters are at a premium and it helps put owners at ease knowing they have a “security blanket” player on their bench. While this strategy does help provide some damage control if you lose a star player to injury, it also can limit a team’s overall upside by occupying a roster spot with a player that has very little value unless your stud gets hurt.
Here are a few questions and guidelines to keep in mind if you are considering the handcuff strategy.
Simply put, in a league with 10 teams or less, we’d recommend against it. In smaller leagues you should be able to draft enough depth at the running back position in the early rounds to be able to use your late-round draft picks to take chances on high-upside players. In shallower leagues, diversifying your team and maximizing upside is more important than using up a roster spot to stash a player that will only have value if another player gets hurt.
On the other hand, if you are in a deeper league with 12 or more teams with 20+ roster spots, its not a bad idea to protect your early-round investment with a late-round insurance pick. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain running back depth in deeper leagues and often times a reliable backup filling in for an injured starter could be a better option than anyone available on the waiver wire.
It is obviously not necessary to handcuff each running back on your team. Handcuffing should be reserved for teams that still rely on one primary back for the bulk of the rushing workload.
A majority of NFL teams employ at least a partial two-back system. When we talk about handcuffs, at least for this article, we’re talking about late-round insurance picks for top RBs on a featured-back team, not two players from the same team in a timeshare situation, where both players are likely to get a fair amount of work in the team’s offense and both have fantasy value independently of one another. Drafting backs in a committee system is a whole different conversation that we’ll reserve for another article.
Of course it is impossible to predict injuries, but you have to take this into consideration if you choose to protect an early-round pick.
If you are considering drafting a handcuff, keep in mind that in many instances other managers will have little interest in selecting another team’s handcuff. A handcuff player has much more value to the manager who owns the starter than he does to anyone else. That being said, don’t get anxious and reach for those guys in the early rounds ahead of players with more upside. Wait until the late rounds to make your handcuff pick.
If you have any fantasy football questions about a handcuffs, sleepers, busts, or who to draft, feel free to post them in our Fantasy Sports Forum.