The handcuff is a bit of a legend in fantasy football. If you draft a stud running back in round one, you damn sure better get his backup. After all, we’ve seen guys like Terrell Davis and Adrian Peterson ruin seasons because of injury or off field issues. You have to protect that early round investment, and all.
But not every elite rusher has a clear backup to trust in, or one to even waste time thinking about. Sure, if Matt Forte goes down in week one, you’ll be rushing to pick up Jeremy Langford, Jaquizz Rodgers and/or Ka’Deem Carey. But not one of them jump out as sure-fire pickups. The same can be said for a lot of guys, while there are the ugly situations like Cleveland, Atlanta and Tennessee, where there isn’t even a true #1 yet. The guys with/behind them aren’t handcuffs and those situations in general are ones to run screaming from.
There are definitely still top shelf handcuffs, though, and you absolutely should be drafting them for various reasons. Let’s go over them as painlessly as possible:
Ryan Mathews (Philadelphia Eagles)
DeMarco Murray is the big dog in Philly. Let’s get that straight. I still think Mathews has a little stand alone value as a Flex or RB3/RB4, but it’s going to be hit or miss week to week. If Murray ever goes down, though, Mathews could quickly become a top 10 back. Mathews has a rough injury history of his own, but he’s a strong North/South runner and fits Chip Kelly’s system beautifully. I love Murray this year, but I get you might be afraid. Don’t be. Just draft his backup as an insurance policy.
Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals)
Same deal here. Gio is absolutely going to have some big games as the change of pace back behind starter, Jeremy Hill. Hill is the early down, short yardage and goal-line preferred option, and for very good reason. He’s the better, more complete rusher. That being said, Bernard is probably the superior athlete and is also slightly better on passing downs. He’s going to be like Mathews where he’s totally draftable even without Hill on your roster. If Hill were to get mangled, though, Bernard would suddenly have top-10 upside.
It probably needs to be said, that not every single backup who could get thrust into a big role automatically has top-10 upside. These dudes are just two very talented running backs who would suddenly be in killer systems. That logic continues on, and is kind of the whole point of this article…read on.
Knile Davis (Kansas City Chiefs)
Davis probably has less value than the two guys above him, as Jamaal Charles is what makes the KC offense go. I’m sure Davis will see more touches than Charles owners would like, but he’s not supplanting one of the best running backs in the league anytime soon. Charles did get nicked up and missed a little time last year, however, and Davis crushed in his absence. If you spend a first round pick on Charles, ease your own nerves and draft Davis later on.
Jerick McKinnon (Minnesota Vikings)
I personally have no real worries about Adrian Peterson. Then again, I didn’t last year, either. Peterson is obviously older than most running backs and with a year away from the game, several different things could POTENTIALLY make him a bad play in 2015. I think he lights the NFL world ablaze, but if you’re taking him in round one, it’s probably still a good idea to snag McKinnon as his handcuff. Matt Asiata would surely factor into the mix, too, but McKinnon is a freak athlete that would without a doubt be the one to own.
Matt Jones (Washington Redskins)
It’s getting a little dicier here, but I’m a huge fan of Matt Jones as a talent and I don’t think he’s far from making a big impact as a rookie. Alfred Morris is pretty productive, but he’s really an average talent with little explosiveness and offers nothing in the passing game. That alone could get Jones onto the field more this year, while the Florida product is Jay Gruden’s guy. I don’t think Jones renders Morris useless just yet, but in the event of a Morris injury or continued regression (ypc dropped in all three seasons), Jones will be a good guy to have stashed at the end of your bench.
Cameron Artis-Payne (Carolina Panthers)
Jonathan Stewart has a huge role to start 2015. I don’t care. Yeah, he’s talented and sure, he could be awesome. He also could suck or what’s much more likely is he misses half the year with injuries. This is a dude that has never carried a full load by himself (THAT is the difference between him and DeMarco Murray) and is constantly injured. I just don’t trust him. Still, he’s a decent value in fantasy drafts these days, so I can’t knock picking him up as a RB2 or even RB3. If you take that dive, just make sure you have Artis-Payne behind him.