Handcuffing has become one of the more polarizing topics in fantasy football in recent years.
Some say it's worthwhile because injuries are so prevalent that having your running back's primary backup could be the difference between competing for a league title and missing the playoffs altogether. Critics of handcuffing say it's a bad idea due to the uncertainty of backfield timeshares in the event that a starter goes down and the opportunity cost of stashing handcuffs over other players.
Where do I fall? Somewhere in the middle. Both sides make valid points, but my argument is simply that handcuffing is a valuable tool if used correctly.
Some backups are very good players, while others are not. In the event of an injury, some would be positioned for a clear path to a large share of touches, while others would see only a slight uptick in work. Most of your opponents will only be thinking about handcuffs at running back, so you can gain an advantage by considering those at other positions, as well.
When evaluating handcuffs, the best game plan is to select players with high ceilings, should the player ahead of them on the depth chart miss time. For example, should Dalvin Cook get hurt, Latavius Murray would take on a workhorse role in Minnesota. If Saquon Barkley goes down, however, Jonathan Stewart wouldn't see more than a slight increase in workload and likely would split backfield duties with Wayne Gallman. If you selected Barkley and not Cook, don't cross Murray off your list and force the selection of Stewart. Pick the guy who can win you a league championship, not a player barely worth flex consideration.
Below are 12 handcuff situations worth considering in the middle to late rounds of your draft. You'll notice that I ignored players who will be drafted too early to be considered value picks (such as C.J. Anderson, Tevin Coleman). As the likes of Ben Tate, Derrick Henry and Christine Michael have shown in past years, Anderson and Coleman are prime examples of handcuffing gone wrong. You should be focusing on maximizing your starting lineup early and taking high-ceiling fliers later.
For updated handcuff information and advice throughout the season, be sure to check out our fantasy depth charts.
Golladay made some noise as a rookie after being selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. The 6-foot-4 perimeter receiver hauled in 28 of 47 targets for 477 yards and three touchdowns. His efficiency was terrific; he averaged 6.4 yards after the catch (RAC) and 10.1 yards per target (YPT) despite 26 percent of balls thrown his way registering as "off target." As the Lions' depth chart currently stands, Golladay is stuck behind Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate in a traditionally pass-heavy offense that is expected to be more balanced under new head coach Matt Patricia. Golladay is unlikely to supply much stand-alone value, but he will jump right into the WR3 (or better) mix in the event of an injury to Tate or Jones.
Bernard is a good football player. During his five-year career, he is averaging 4.22 yards per carry (YPC) and 8.96 yards per reception (YPR). He has never finished inside the top 25 at the position in carries, but he has finished in the top 20 in receptions in each of his five seasons. Bernard will enter 2018 clearly behind Joe Mixon on the depth chart, but Mixon dealt with injuries and struggled with efficiency as a rookie. With Mixon limited from Week 13 on last season, Bernard led the position with 24 receptions and ranked ninth in fantasy points in a larger role. If the same situation pops up in 2018, Bernard would make for a solid RB2. Bengals rookie running back Mark Walton is a worthwhile stash in deeper and dynasty leagues.
Godwin is a tricky one. On one hand, it's hard to make a case that he's worth a draft pick simply because he's buried behind Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and likely slot man Adam Humphries on the depth chart. With the likes of tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard and the running backs also in the mix for targets, Godwin doesn't have a path to many looks out of the gate. On the other hand, Godwin finished in the top 15 at the position in both YPT (9.4) and YPR (15.4) as a rookie. He was fantasy's No. 7 wide receiver during the three weeks that he played 70 percent of the team's snaps. The 2017 third-round pick radiates upside and would see a gigantic boost in value in the event of an injury to Evans or Jackson.
Similar to the aforementioned Mixon, Jerick McKinnon has struggled badly with efficiency in recent years but is well-positioned in a feature back role. If McKinnon were to be demoted or go down with an injury, Breida is the early favorite to be the next man up in San Francisco. Breida went undrafted last year, but he racked up 126 touches as Carlos Hyde's backup. His 4.43 YPC was solid, but he struggled badly after contact (1.66 YAC) and caught a position-worst 58 percent of his targets. Like McKinnon, Breida's efficiency is a concern, but his situation is attractive. Both Breida and second-year Joe Williams should be on your radar.
5. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With a deep offense comes good players with upside, but without a clear path to touches. That's the case for the underrated Buccaneers, who have two players on this list. Howard was a first-round pick last season and showed big-time flashes as a rookie, averaging a position-best 11.1 YPT and 16.6 YPR, while scoring six touchdowns (seventh most). Of course, with Cameron Brate handling 75 targets as the team's primary receiving tight end, Howard was limited to 39 targets in 14 games. Brate signed an extension through 2023 during the offseason, which makes it hard to see Howard -- a much better blocker -- managing consistent targets. Of course, if Brate misses time, Howard's pass-catching role would increase and he would immediately join the TE1 mix with massive upside.
Should you draft a non-starting quarterback in most season-long fantasy leagues? No, you shouldn't. But Jackson is a player who should never leave your radar during the 2018 season. If there's chatter that he could be promoted ahead of struggling Joe Flacco, get the rookie on your bench. We certainly don't know just how well Jackson will adjust to the NFL, but his fantasy upside can't be ignored. He ran for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns during 38 games at Louisville, and he has the most playmaking upside as a rushing quarterback since Michael Vick. Jackson will be risky, but he will offer QB1 upside the moment he makes his first NFL start.
This one almost feels like cheating because we already saw it in play in 2017. Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL in Week 4, and Murray was 15th at the position in fantasy points from Week 5 on. Oh, and that was with Jerick McKinnon handling 183 touches and posting top-10 fantasy production during the same 12-game span. McKinnon is gone, meaning that in the event of another Cook injury, Murray would be left to compete with the likes of Mack Brown and Roc Thomas for touches in a Minnesota offense that figures to be one of the league's best. Murray, who ranks second in the NFL with 20 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, can be had late in drafts and offers fringe RB1 upside if called on to start.
Ridley was a luxury pick by well-stocked Atlanta in the late stages of the first round of April's draft. Expected to land in a situation where he would immediately be an every-down featured target, Ridley instead finds himself third on the depth chart behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. That's sure to cap the rookie's fantasy upside out of the gate, but he is one injury away from that aforementioned featured role in one of the league's best offenses. Ridley is already 23 years old and should be polished after spending his college years in Alabama's pro-style offense. He would be a good bet for WR3 (or better) numbers if positioned for a larger role.
A seamless transition from Ridley, Washington was an early-down selection in April's draft who is currently positioned as a No. 3 wide receiver in one of the NFL's top offenses. Washington is a strong bet to replace Martavis Bryant's field-stretching role behind Antonio Brown and second-year slot man JuJu Smith-Schuster. Washington will be hard-pressed to manage consistent targets with Le'Veon Bell and even Vance McDonald also in the mix. Of course, as we saw with Smith-Schuster last season, Washington would vault into starting-lineup consideration in the event of an injury ahead of him on the depth chart. Pittsburgh has an impressive résumé in terms of drafting and developing wideouts, which just adds to the appeal of Washington as a late-round flier.
Foles played a majority of the Eagles' snaps in five games, including three playoff affairs, last season. He averaged 274 yards passing while tossing 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Foles averaged 20.4 fantasy points per game, which would have ranked fourth in the league during the regular season. Doug Pederson's scheme busted through the restraints of conventional NFL offenses, allowing Carson Wentz and Foles to combine for the second-most fantasy points posted by a quarterback unit. Philadelphia's offense remains loaded in 2018, so if Wentz is unable to return from a torn ACL for Week 1 or suffers another injury, Foles will surely land right back in the QB1 mix.
Ivory might not seem like the most exciting fantasy asset, but it's hard to ignore his standing as the clear-cut handcuff to LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. McCoy appeared in all 16 of Buffalo's regular-season games in 2017, but that marked only the third time he has achieved that feat over the past eight seasons. Additionally, he averaged a career-worst 3.97 YPC and 1.28 YAC, and he is now 30 years old. Especially with a shaky/inexperienced quarterback group, Buffalo is likely to continue with the run-first philosophy utilized in Sean McDermott's first season as head coach. If McCoy misses time, Ivory would be in line for a starting duties and a majority of the team's carries. Travaris Cadet is the favorite to handle passing-down duties in that scenario, but Ivory's rushing volume alone -- even in a low-scoring offense with a questionable line -- would be enough to land him in the RB2 mix.
Ware is an important name to monitor throughout the offseason, as he sports elite handcuff upside, but he is not yet at full health. Ware tore his posterior cruciate ligament last offseason and missed all of 2017. He is expected back in time for 2018 but is still recovering, while the team added Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams to a backfield that already includes starter Kareem Hunt and veteran Charcandrick West. Ware has proved to be an effective back, averaging 4.63 YPC and 2.20 YAC during two seasons in Andy Reid's offense, both of which are in the top eight in the league. Reid's offenses have always been a fantasy paradise for running backs, so a healthy Ware would skyrocket in fantasy value in the event of a Hunt injury.
More handcuffs to know:
Tre'Quan Smith (New Orleans Saints): The third-round rookie is on the doorstep to a role in an offense led by the league's most accurate passer.
Wayne Gallman (New York Giants): Jonathan Stewart might be second on the depth chart, but Gallman's receiving chops could make him the better fantasy back if Saquon Barkley goes down.
Vernon Davis (Washington Redskins): Jordan Reed's durability concerns keep Davis on the fantasy radar, especially considering that new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith had previously helped Travis Kelce to the most fantasy points by a tight end over each of the past two seasons in Kansas City.