2020 NFL Draft Guide: Handcuff Report (FREE)
Howard Bender shows you who the proper handcuffs are on each team and who you need to know on Draft Day.
By now, you should have already read “Running Back Depth & the Value of Handcuffing” in our Fantasy Football Strategies section. If not, it is recommended you go back and read it before continuing here.
::sits back, waits patiently::
While that piece explained to you why you should employ handcuffing into your draft and in-season strategy, this one will detail some of the finer points to implementation. Not every running back has a true handcuff and, in some cases, the player many believe to be the handcuff, actually isn’t. The evolution of backfields has brought you such wonderful (and frustrating) additions like the change-of-pace back, the complementary back, the third-down back, and the ultimate fantasy-killer, the short-yardage/goal-line back. The number of true every-down backs (bell-cow backs as to which they are often referred) continues to decline in the modern NFL, so understanding the roles of the others is paramount.
Change-of-Pace – a player whose skill-set, running style and physical attributes are not the same as the team’s primary runner, but is used often enough to have fantasy relevance. Latavius Murray of the Saints is a great example, as is either Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley, depending on which guys wins the job.
Complementary -- a player with a similar skill-set as the primary who is worked into the backfield in an effort to rest the primary and get some fresh legs into the game. The 49ers have Jerick McKinnon to complement Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert while the Colts have both Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor.
Third-Down Back – often referred to as the pass-catching back who is usually lined up on third-down passing plays. Will you see him on the field on second down? Perhaps, depending on the play-call. Jalen Richard plays this role for the Raiders as will Matt Breida in Miami.
Short-Yardage/Goal-Line – easily the most frustrating for fantasy owners as there is nothing worse than watching your guy do 95-percent of the work only to see the coach bring someone else in to punch it into the end zone. We aren’t seeing these as often as we used to, but beware of Frank Gore in New York, A.J. Dillon in Green Bay and even Zack Moss in Buffalo.
These descriptions and a look at the grid below should provide you with enough information to know just which players you need, not just as handcuffs, but to handcuff for that matter. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explore a number of situations in more detail to be sure you’re on the right path.
Know the Proper Handcuff
Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Mixon is the primary running back. Giovani Bernard is the third-down back. At times, he can be considered the change-of-pace back. However, if you draft Mixon, the proper handcuff is Trayveon Williams, not Bernard. Should anything happen to Mixon, you can expect Williams to be the guy used in the early downs and to take it between the tackles because Bernard is just not big enough, nor does he have the durability.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons went out and spent $5.5M on Todd Gurley ’s arthritic knee. Knowing who the proper handcuff is in Atlanta is paramount to not getting screwed over should the knee start barking and Gurley needs to miss time. While you’ll likely see a fair amount of Ito Smith , the proper handcuff is actually Brian Hill . He’s not the greatest RB to use as he showed fantasy owners last season, but Smith is just too small to use as an every-down back. Hill will likely see the majority of early-down touches should Gurley get hurt.
Teams with Must-Handcuffs
Minnesota Vikings – While expectations are running high, once again, for Dalvin Cook , you would be remiss to put all your eggs into his basket without handcuffing him to Alexander Mattison. Cook spent his first season on IR with a torn ACL, followed it up with only an 11-game sophomore campaign due to chronic hamstring issues and then missed a couple of late-season games last year with a shoulder problem. On top of that, there is still talk of a potential hold-out. You have to protect yourself from injury or anything else by adding Mattison in the later rounds. The Boise State product was explosive in college, has filled in well in the short-term and should be able to shoulder the load if called upon.
Los Angeles Rams – There had been a lot of back-and-forth debate regarding how the Rams were going to handle their backfield and while most had Cam Akers pegged to be the guy, Darrell Henderson truthers had their moment in the sun when head coach Sean McVay announced he would use a committee approach to open the season. Yes, Akers truthers. It’s like getting slapped in the face with a wet towel full of COVID. We are firm believers in the cream rising to the top, so while we might see a shared backfield to start, we believe Akers will end up being the man to own. For now, you have to own them both. Their ADP numbers are far enough apart to not be over-investing, but you shouldn’t have one without the other. We can probably leave Malcolm Brown out of the conversation for now, but this is going to be a tricky situation to navigate to open the year.
Jacksonville Jaguars – There is an abundance of rumors circulating about how the Jaguars are going to unload Leonard Fournette at some point. They’ve been shopping him around without any success, but that could change once we start hearing which players have the COVID and which players are opting out. If the Jaguars are successful and able to deal him, Ryquell Armstead will be the one to see the bulk of the touches. Chris Thompson will serve as the third-down back, but Armstead is the guy who will be able to take it between the tackles. It’s a super-late pick to make so don’t rush into it. Just be prepared for when the Fournette trade actually happens. UPDATE 9/6: Well this situation got all sorts of convoluted, didn't it? Fournette is gone and Armstead is on the COVID list which means the backfield is owned by Devine Ozigbo and James Robinson with Thompson serving as the pass-catching back. Hard to say whether Ozigbo or Robinson will have it in him to take control of the job and who knows what the team does when Armstead returns. If there's one thing we do know, it is that Thompson will see regular touches, especially with the Jags likely in catch-up mode most games and using a pass-heavy scheme.
Seattle Seahawks – Chris Carson is still recovering from a hip fracture he suffered last season. He also fumbles a lot. Rashaad Penny is still trying to work his way back from a nightmarish knee issue. We say nightmarish because there was a world of damage beyond just the torn ACL. Say hello to Carlos Hyde . Yes, that same Carlos Hyde who rushed for over 1,000 yards behind a suspect offensive line in Houston last year. Carson is still the No. 1 guy, but it’s very difficult to think he has the same job security he enjoyed over the last two years when the team failed to roster a bona fide back-up. This time they’ve got Hyde and if you want a piece of this ground game, you should handcuff Carson to Hyde. Penny won’t even be able to start the season on time and is a third-down anyway. Should Carson struggle out of the gate, expect Hyde to take over.
Now here’s a look at the full 2020 Running Back Handcuff Grid:
UPDATED: Sept. 6 @ 3pm ET