2017 NFL Fantasy Football Handcuffs
Dom Murtha breaks down the NFL running back situations and tells you what handcuffs are worthing grabbing this season.
Projected Starter: David Johnson
Top Handcuff Option: T.J. Logan
Also In The Mix: Andre Ellington
Johnson was the clear-cut fantasy MVP last season and thus we kick it off with one of the more underwhelming handcuffing scenarios out there – the Arizona Cardinals. It should be noted that with Andre Ellington making the switch to wide receiver this season, he will not be included in the ground game as much as he has been in the past. Beyond that, Chris Johnson is no longer with the Cardinals, leaving a gaping void behind David Johnson on the depth chart. We are left with rookie back T.J. Logan as Johnson’s top handcuff option this season, and while his incredible collegiate resume as a reliable receiver (one career dropped pass) and as a home run threat (4.37 40-time) are intriguing, there is still a reason that he lasted all the way to the fifth round. He lacks the functional size and nuance as a runner to make headway as a between the tackles runner or even as a traditional goal line option, which will obviously knock his fantasy potential. As stated though, his main contributions will come as a receiver out of the backfield and as a terrier on special teams, however if Johnson were to go down for an extended period of time, Logan appears to be next in line. Take that for what you will…
Projected Starter: Devonta Freeman
Top Handcuff Option: Tevin Coleman
Also In The Mix: Brian Hill
From our most ambiguous backup backfield situation, to our most straightforward one… In Atlanta, things are clear – Freeman is a Pro Bowl running back, while Tevin Coleman serves as the league’s best change of pace weapon. In truth, Coleman would probably start for 20 teams in this league if given the opportunity, but as fantasy owners, even we will remain content with this backfield split… It’s that good. As for someone else in line for some touches provided one of the two aforementioned backs were to get hurt or winded, Wyoming rookie Brian Hill seems to be the only name generating any buzz. Hill has traditional size, adequate speed, and is well rounded in that he can not only carry the football, but he also can catch it out of the backfield and protect the quarterback when called upon. Don’t draft him by any means, but he may be worth a look if either Coleman or Freeman suffer a significant injury.
Projected Starter: Terrance West
Top Handcuff Option: Danny Woodhead
Also In The Mix: Kenneth Dixon
What a mess we have here… Dixon was slated to remain the starter, however a PED suspension is keeping him out of the first four games this season. While the team really likes what Dixon can offer, they haven’t been shy about using Terrance West more than most other teams would. Considering that, West will be our slated starter headed into training camp, however don’t count out all-world scatback Danny Woodhead who the Ravens just threw some money at during this past free agency period. Best fantasy advice is to roster Woodhead regardless of his “starting” status, as he will be heavily featured in the passing game regardless. Beyond Woodhead though, sorting through the between the tackles mess will be a tough task. Consider it a fluid situation throughout the entire season, as West will be given the first chance to start, and then Dixon will have his shot a month later. If neither can contribute effectively, then expect to see more Woodhead and even a glimpse of deep sleeper Buck Allen.
Projected Starter: LeSean McCoy
Top Handcuff Option: Jonathan Williams
Also In The Mix: Joe Banyard
Shady McCoy is coming off of one of his best seasons as a pro, and even despite his incredibly high production, the Bills were so committed to the run in 2016 that even his backup managed to score eight touchdowns and collect nearly 600 rushing yards. That backup was Mike Gillislee, who is now in New England, which creates somewhat of a production vacuum behind McCoy headed into 2017. Logically, second year back Jonathan Williams appears to be the guy to benefit most, as he is the only other back on the roster with a career touchdown. He was an accomplished collegiate back and despite his minimal production in his rookie season, he showed that he has the chops to make it as a pro. He’s the undeniable handcuff option to shady in 2017, while Joe Banyard is next in line based solely off of process of elimination.
Projected Starter: Jonathan Stewart
Top Handcuff Option: Christian McCaffrey
While Stewart is the projected starter, Christian McCaffrey is the guy to buy stock in. You don’t take a player 8th overall – especially a running back – if you don’t plan on using them often as a rookie. So, for the sake of complicating things, consider their roles switched, despite what the “official” depth chart might say out of training camp. As for Stewart and McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker will still see some work – just as he has for the last few seasons – while the deep sleeper is Curtis Samuel – a player who is listed as a WR, but played RB for his entire career at Ohio State.
Projected Starter: Jordan Howard
Top Handcuff Option: Jeremy Langford
Also In The Mix: Tarik Cohen
Jordan Howard burst onto the scene last season as a rookie by finishing as the league’s second leading rusher. In the process, Howard supplanted Jeremy Langford – only a second year back at the time, who was looking to improve on a solid rookie season. Considering this, it is safe to say that their backfield touches are pretty set headed into the season, where Howard will be the lead dog and Langford will spell him when necessary. Beyond that, keep an eye on rookie scatback Tarik Cohen, who has been lauded as “The Human Joystick” since his early days at North Carolina A&T. Initially, his work will likely only come as a kick returner, and while his transition to the NFL game as a legitimate running back is still up in the air due to his slight frame (5-foot-6, 179 lbs.), there is a chance that he starts to get offensive touches if he can make a big enough impact as a return man.
Projected Starter: Joe Mixon
Here, we have three talented backs – all with different skillsets – worthy of starting reps. For years, Bernard and Hill have played to a pretty even split, and while they have been solid, there is a reason that the Bengals went out and grabbed arguably the most talented back in the draft – Joe Mixon. Because of that reality, Mixon is likely the guy that Cincinnati will look to lead their backfield. As has been tradition though, Gio Bernard will continue to see more third down and shotgun reps, while Hill will more frequently use his talents around the goal line and in short yardage situations.
Projected Starter: Isaiah Crowell
Top Handcuff Option: Duke Johnson
Also In The Mix: Matthew Dayes
Crowell experienced the best year of his career in 2016, thus he will maintain the starting gig headed into 2017. As has become tradition, Duke Johnson will serve as an elite PPR option as a receiver out of the backfield. Also in the mix is Matt Dayes, who offers nothing particular to get excited about, however someone has to pick up the slack in the unfortunate scenario of an injury to either Johnson or Crowell.
Projected Starter: Ezekiel Elliott
Top Handcuff Option: Darren McFadden
Also In The Mix: Alfred Morris
Another straightforward backfield situation here, as Zeke will return as the unquestioned starter coming off of a rookie season in which he led the league in rushing, while McFadden will serve as his immediate backup and handcuff. McFadden usually at least gets his own series every game, while he handles third down duties on certain drives as well. The wildcard here is Alfred Morris, as he once again will be slated in as the best third string running back in the league. He may get traded, or he may see some more work with the first team if the rumors about his great shape this offseason are true. Either way though, Morris still should remain unowned in all formats going forward.
Projected Starter: C.J. Anderson
Top Handcuff Option: Jamaal Charles
Also In The Mix: Devontae Booker
Now this is a crowded and muddled backfield. Any of the three listed above can be cut before camp concludes or be thrust into the starting lineup in Week 1, so pay close attention here… It appears that C.J. Anderson has the early edge for the lead gig, being that he has been the starter in Denver for a few years now and did a solid job last year when on the field. Jamaal Charles was on his way to a hall of fame career with the Chiefs before having it derailed through knee injuries over the last few seasons. After signing a “prove it” contract with the Broncos this offseason, the belief is that he will handle third down duties initially and will have every opportunity to seize the starting gig if he can find a way to recapture even half of his 2013 form. Devontae Booker, while still only a second year player, is the least likely to make a huge fantasy impact in 2017. The fact of the matter is that he had the opportunity to start in eight games last season after C.J. Anderson went down for the year, and he failed to eclipse 100 yards in any of them, or even to maintain a season-long 4.0 yards per carry average. Having said that though, he will still likely be in play for a waiver addition later on in the season in most formats, as he is sitting third string behind two backs that stayed healthy for a collective nine games in 2016.
Projected Starter: Theo Riddick
Top Handcuff Option: Zach Zenner
Training camp is going to be huge for this Lions backfield, as right now there are just too many guys and too few available roster spots. Five running backs are listed here, and there is very little chance that they enter Week 1 with more than four on the roster – even that would still be a high number though. The only one you can really count on is Theo Riddick, as he has emerged as the league’s best PPR threat out of the backfield. While it may not be the case on the “official” depth chart, Riddick is our starting back for the purposes of fantasy interests. Next in line may be a surprise, but Zach Zenner showed some real talent down the stretch of last season as a potential perfect compliment to what Riddick offers. Think back to Christmas when he gave the Cowboys – the league’s number one ranked rushing defense – absolute fits to the tune of two rushing touchdowns and over 60 yards. Beyond Riddick and Zenner, there is going to be a tough decision to make in training camp. You'd have to think that Ameer Abdullah is safe being that the former second round pick is only going into his third season and didn’t have much of a shot last season after injuring himself for the year after just two games. Dwindling it down to the final two, Matt Asiata and Dwayne Washington – both possess the same skillset, and both do it seemingly worse than Zach Zenner. Considering Asiata was just signed during free agency this offseason you'd have to assume that he is the favorite of the two right now, however Washington is only going into his second season with the team after being drafted just last year by Detroit. Gun to my head, Washington is going to get cut, but for the purposes of this article, keep in mind that only Riddick, Zenner, and maybe Adbullah will be fantasy relevant this season.
Green Bay Packers
Projected Starter: Ty Montgomery
Top Handcuff Option: Jamaal Williams
Also In The Mix: Aaron Jones
Prior to Montgomery’s fulltime position switch, the Packers were an absolute train wreck at the running back position last season. This year, they seemingly have turned it into a strength, as they not only maintained Montgomery, but they also added two more than capable rookies at the position. In all honesty, The guy to own in this backfield is rookie Jamaal Williams, as his collegiate production and well-rounded skillset at the position make him an excellent fit as the Packers lead dog. Headed into the season, Montgomery is going to be considered the starter, however it won’t take long for Williams to supplant him. Either way, if you own one, you should do your best to draft the other. That is how close to a split this backfield may end up being. As for Aaron Jones, he is another talented rookie back from this past draft class, and will do a rock solid job learning the game early on and then serving as an insurance policy in case of injury to either of the top two options.
Projected Starter: Lamar Miller
Top Handcuff Option: D’Onta Foreman
Also In The Mix: Alfred Blue
Lamar Miller was a high-priced free agent acquisition last season, and while he lived up to his end of the deal for the most part, it became evident that he needed help inside the red zone. Last season, Alfred Blue was Miller's immediate compliment. He was okay, but still couldn't provide an adequate punch in areas that Miller was lacking. The addition of rookie D'Onta Foreman should properly compliment Miller in 2017, as his massive frame and between the tackles forte are the exact traits that the Texans have been looking for. Consider the Texans backfield order just as it is laid out above, with Foreman serving as one of the elite "touchdown vulture" options this season.
Projected Starter: Frank Gore
Top Handcuff Option: Marlon Mack
At this point you know what you are getting in Frank Gore -- a once great running back, with a well-rounded skillset. It has become evident that while he is still rather well-rounded and one of the league's hardest workers, father time has caught up. He has needed help for the last few years and the jury is still out on whether the Colts have gotten him that or not. Of the players on this roster, we at Fantasy Alarm have the most faith in rookie Marlon Mack, who went as one of the most unsung players in this year's incredibly deep running back class. Below him are a host of has been's and never were's, as any of Christine Michael, Josh Ferguson, or Robert Turbin can be cut this summer.
Projected Starter: Leonard Fournette
Top Handcuff Option: T.J. Yeldon
Also In The Mix: Chris Ivory
The Jags made a huge identity shift this April by taking Leonard Fournette 4th overall. No longer are they going to try to win games by following Blake Bortles and his sinking ship, but rather they are going to rely upon the fearsome attack of Fournette offensively and their young, hungry, and expensive defense. As for beyond Fournette, the belief is that T.J. Yeldon still has a place on this team as the Jags primary receiver out of the backfield, while the same can't exactly be said for last year's free agent signing Chris Ivory. In a scenario where Fournette were to miss a game, Ivory would share the load with Yeldon, but outside of that, he holds not nearly as much value as the PPR threat of Yeldon.
Kansas City Chiefs
Projected Starter: Spencer Ware
Top Handcuff Option: Kareem Hunt
Despite Spencer Ware's inability to get into the end zone consistently last season, he still had a solid season and remains the Chiefs best between the tackles runner. Because of that, he will maintain his starting gig headed into the season, however his days are numbered. Right on his heels is rookie Kareem Hunt, who offers good size, adequate speed, and a devastating jump cut. Hunt's potential and elusiveness will make him the go to handcuff of Ware this season, while C.J. Spiller will look to fill in as a receiving back and a special teams stalwart has he has in seasons past.
Los Angeles Chargers
Projected Starter: Melvin Gordon
Top Handcuff Option: Branden Oliver
Melvin Gordon had a breakout 2016 in terms of racking up fantasy production. Having said that, he still failed to eclipse 4.0 yards per carry, which means that he is somewhat on notice in this, his third career season. For our purposes however, Gordon remains an excellent fantasy option because he offers not only touchdown upside and receiving production, but he also has limited competition. Brandon Oliver is a nice player, but isn't someone who will push Gordon. Backed into a corner, Oliver is Gordon's "handcuff" but in reality this job is clearly Gordon's barring injury. Kenneth Farrow will offer production only in emergencies -- like he did last season -- while Kenjon Barner is likely to offer special teams production only.
Los Angeles Rams
Projected Starter: Todd Gurley
Top Handcuff Option: Malcolm Brown
Also In The Mix: Lance Dunbar
With an improved offensive line, the Rams are looking to jumpstart Todd Gurley in 2017. What that means is that having his handcuff becomes less useful wee-to-week, however critically necessary in case of injury. Malcolm Brown appears to be the lead between the tackles option as Gurley's backup, however don't sleep on Lance Dunbar -- a back who the Rams threw some legitimate money at this offseason in order to pry him away from the Cowboys. Look for Los Angeles to try and use him in a similar way that the Lions use Theo Riddick.
Projected Starter: Jay Ajayi
Top Handcuff Option: Kenyan Drake
Also In The Mix: Damien Williams
The J-Train was off and running last season, as he eclipsed the 1,200 yard mark and tallied eight touchdowns in just his second year in the league. While he had himself his share of duds, Ajayi also showed that he can take over a game with his back-to-back 200+ yard performances in the middle of last season. His emergence dimmed the spotlight that was supposed to shine on former second round pick Kenyan Drake, and while Drake is now out of sight and out of mind for most fantasy owners, he still has a place in PPR formats. Consider Drake Ajayi's top handcuff alternative. Damien Williams will serve as the reserve back in this scenario.
Projected Starter: Latavius Murray
Top Handcuff Option: Dalvin Cook
Also In The Mix: Jerick McKinnon
This one is easy. Once the Vikings realize what a mistake they made in signing Murray, and what a steal they got in Cook, their roles will be reversed. Beyond that, McKinnon offers PPR relief when called upon, but nothing much more.
New England Patriots
Projected Starter: Mike Gillislee
Top Handcuff Option: Rex Burkhead
As usual, the Pats have themselves a jumbled mess in the backfield -- or do they always have an abstract Piccaso? Regardless, it always works out for them and rarely works out for fantasy owners. Lets call it this way headed into the season... Gillislee serves as the goal line vacuum, sucking up all of the touchdowns that LeGarrette Blount left behind. Rex Burkhead will be his handcuff after getting a nice deal from the Pats in free agency. When New England goes shotgun, Dion Lewis and James White will split the reps evenly until a hot hand is found each game. If you are rostering Gillislee you need Burkhead, and if your rostering Lewis you need White; it's that simple. Make sure to follow the injury report closely each week, as that typically is the biggest deciding factor in which hand gets fed -- or sometimes it just depends on which way the wind is blowing that day.
New Orleans Saints
Also In The Mix: Alvin Kamara
It sucks having to be indecisive, but honestly, right now this starting job is in a dead heat. On the one hand, the Saints have a quality running back returning to the team, coming off the most productive and healthiest season of his career. On the other hand, they brought in a hall of fame running back with a lot to prove. Word out of OTA's is that AP appears to be in the best shape of his life, while nothing negative has come out of Ingram's camp either. Right now money is on an even backfield split, which makes both players each other's handcuffs. Want a wrench thrown into everything? Consider the Saints acquisition of Alvin Kamara in the third round of this past draft. He will play a role as a receiving threat out of the backfield at the very least, considering the investment the Saints have in him.
New York Giants
Projected Starter: Paul Perkins
Top Handcuff Option: Wayne Gallman
Also In The Mix: Shane Vereen
Paul Perkins is the unquestioned starter after his conquest of the position towards the end of last season, however rookie Wayne Gallman is slated to be one of the most valuable handcuff options this season. His skillset as a decisive down-hill runner and well-rounded ability make him the perfect compliment to Perkins' sudden change of direction and bounce it outside style. Shane Vereen in theory is to play as the Giants PPR threat, but chances are that Perkins and Gallman dominate the touches in 2017.
New York Jets
Projected Starter: Bilal Powell
Top Handcuff Option: Matt Forte
Also In The Mix: Elijah McGuire
Bilal is one of our favorite sleeper options this season because he proved last season that he not only is a devastating PPR threat, but that he can also get the job done between the tackles. With that in mind, the Jets are going to give him a chance to handle the lead back duties, while Matt Forte will take a step back. In reality though, Forte's experience, savvy, and well-rounded skillset will still keep him fantasy relevant, so make sure to draft him if you invest in Powell. Beyond those two, Elijah McGuire seems to be the only other name being mentioned. He's out of the question on draft day, and should only be considered in the case of an injury to Powell or Forte.
Projected Starter: Marshawn Lynch
Top Handcuff Option: DeAndre Washington
Also In The Mix: Jalen Richard
DeAndre Washington has been a pet cat of mine since his college days, and after Latavius Murray left town this offseason, there seemed to be a serious chance that Washington would get a shot at the lead back gig. Instead, the Raiders lured Beast Mode out of retirement and the rest is history. Lynch will serve as the lead back for Oakland, while Washington and Jalen Richard will split the spell duties just as they did during Latavius Murray's tenure.
Projected Starter: LeGarrette Blount
Top Handcuff Option: Donnell Pumphrey
Once it became clear that Ryan Mathews was no longer in the Eagles long term plans, it became even clearer that they needed a back bigger than 5-foot-8, capable of pounding the rock between the tackles. Fortunately for them, the league's touchdown leader was available in free agency, and they managed to ink him to a very favorable deal. As for the rest of the backfield layout, indications are that rookie Donnell Pumphrey will be the second in line for touches, while Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood will continue to pick up the third down scraps and special teams reps.
Projected Starter: Le'Veon Bell
Top Handcuff Option: James Conner
Also In The Mix: Knile Davis
While Le'Veon Bell is one of the most productive fantasy backs ever, the reality is that he usually misses a few games per year -- whether through injury or suspension -- one way or another. D'Angelo WillIams has done an excellent job over the last few seasons as his ideal handcuff, however he did not return to the team this offseason, leaving a void behind Bell. Enter James Conner -- rookie out of Pittsburgh. Conner was at one time considered a top-60 lock after a record breaking season with the Pitt Panthers. Unfortunately a bout with cancer derailed those hopes, but after a hard fought battle, he recovered fully and got himself drafted to his hometown team. Conner is a load at over 230 lbs. so his best work will be done around the goal line. Make no mistake though, he is a guy who can handle a starting workload as well. Behind him will be Knile Davis -- a player expected to contribute most on special teams.
San Francisco 49ers
Projected Starter: Carlos Hyde
Top Handcuff Option: Joe Williams
Also In The Mix: Tim Hightower
Carlos Hyde has been the unquestioned starter in San Fran for the last few seasons, but now he has competition in the form of a rookie. Many are speculating that Joe Williams may end up being the best value in this past draft considering his tremendous collegiate production and surprising slide to the fourth round. With that being said, it is safe to say that Williams will be Hyde's top handcuff option, while Hyde should recognize that he is on notice. Tim Hightower brings experience and a well-rounded skillset to the reserve role, as he should be considered "in the hole" if either of the top two backs were to get hurt.
Projected Starter: Eddie Lacy
Top Handcuff Option: Thomas Rawls
Don't get it twisted, Eddie Lacy is rather overrated, however he is still the best back on this team. He will serve as the starter headed into the season, while a whole host of guys will be looking to come for his iron throne. Thomas Rawls has the best claim to his handcuff, however much more is invested in both Alex Collins and C.J. Prosise. Collins is more likely to supplant Rawls as the immediate handcuff, while Prosise has a chance to emerge as a PPR threat on third downs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projected Starter: Jacquizz Rodgers
Top Handcuff Option: Charles Sims
This is a messy situation because while the Buccaneers have a ton tied up in Doug Martin, he is coming off of a very disappointing 2016 and will not be available for the first three games of 2017 due to suspension. This scenario enlists the more than capable Jacquizz Rodgers to keep his seat warm, while some reports are claiming that if he does a good enough job he can maintain the starting gig. Charles Simms is always a name that fantasy owners know but rarely care about, but unfortunately due to the circumstances, he will be the handcuff option to own for the first three weeks of the season. An interesting player to keep an eye on is rookie Jeremy McNichols, who is reportedly an explosive talent with huge PPR upside if given the opportunity. Initially, the expectations are that he will play on special teams, but come later in the year he may be able to carve out a role for himself in this offense.
Projected Starter: DeMarco Murray
Top Handcuff Option: Derrick Henry
Also In The Mix: Khalfani Muhammad
A straightforward analysis here... Murray is the starter and Henry is his understudy. The touch splits will be closer than last year, while the eventual goal is to have Henry take over for the aging Murray. Khalfani Muhammad is in line for reps if either gets hurt.
Projected Starter: Robert Kelley
Top Handcuff Option: Samaje Perine
Fat Rob is the starter headed into the season, but Samaje Perine is the most talented back on this roster, with Chris Thompson in a close second. Perine should always own the goal line reps from the start of the season, while the expectation is that he will take over the starting reps as the season wears on. Because of this, he is the back to own, while Kelly in reality is the handcuff. Regardless of what you want to call it, those are the two, while Chris Thompson is slated for PPR duties once again this season. Matt Jones is a long shot to make the team, but if he does, expect him to be the emergency starter.