The value of handcuffing is an important factor in fantasy football and something to be fully aware of. Two of the Top-5 rushing yard leaders from last season (Jordan Howard and Jay Ajayi) did not start the season as their teams starting running back. This gives quick evidence of how important handcuffing can be, as Howard and Ajayi both were huge fantasy assets for owners. Robert Kelley, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick, Ty Montgomery, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Mike Gillislee all served as important fantasy pieces during the 2016 season after starting the year in very small roles for their respective teams. Handcuffing the right players can help immensely towards having a strong season. Even handcuffing in positions of strength on your roster can be beneficial down the line as potential big time trades, if the handcuffs role becomes larger. It is important to always be fully aware of each teams depth chart and be ready to add backups who could soon work their way into larger roles. There are a few things to consider when looking at which players to handcuff: Backups for injury prone starters, backups who could potentially vault past the starter, backups to older starters, and finally backups who would likely have success based on the teams system. These are the factors that will normally lead to a handcuff becoming a featured player and either hurting or helping your fantasy roster. You don’t want to lose one of your main players and have no way to bounce back from it. On the other side of it, you want to be able to take full advantage of a handcuff becoming a fantasy scoring stud. We can also look at possibly handcuffs at the tight end and wide receiver positions.


Injury Prone Starters

Melvin Gordon has missed multiple games in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. They haven’t been significant injuries, but enough to sideline him for a few games, in which the backups became must-starts. Right now Branden Oliver is the handcuff to Gordon and he found some success in the 2014 season in a spot starting role, doing solid work in both the ground and passing game. Gordon will see the majority of the touches while healthy making Oliver not worth owning while Gordon is healthy. He would be worth a pickup and play if Gordon does suffer more nagging injuries, making it a situation worth monitoring.

Carlos Hyde has missed three games, nine games, and two games over his first three seasons in the NFL. Showing a pretty well built track record of missing games with injuries. Tim Hightower is currently the first listed handcuff to Hyde and has shown continued success as a handcuff in his career. Rookie Joe Williams could also work his way into a big role, as the 49ers coaching staff is excited with what they believe they have in the fourth round selection. Hyde has been injury prone and ineffective at times in his career, making this one of the most prominent situations to monitor.

Backup with Starter Leapfrog Potential

Thomas Rawls was ineffective last season returning from an injury, but he was a breakout player in 2015 when he rushed for 830 yards on 5.6 yards per carry. If he can find that level of success this season he could work his way back into a larger role. Starting RB Eddie Lacy has been ineffective at times in his career and could struggle with a poor-blocking Seattle offensive line in front of him. Lacy being the heavy-set back that he is lacks the burst to the outside, which could lead to struggles behind a poor offensive line. Not many RBs find success as a starting one-dimensional back.

Older Starters

Marshawn Lynch is an obvious selection here, being 31 years old, and coming out of a brief retirement. This situation will be worth monitoring throughout preseason and into the regular season. His legs should be fresh after the year off, but it is possible that he may have lost a step being away from the game and being up in age for the RB position. Second year man DeAndre Washington is next in line on the Raiders depth chart and played well for the Raiders in his rookie campaign averaging 5.4 yards per carry on 87 rushing attempts.

Frank Gore is now 34 years old and has averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry the last two seasons. 34 is extremely old at the RB position and he has been ineffective for the past few years. It would be surprising to see Gore make it through the entire season as the Colts starter. Robert Turbin is the current backup to Gore but lacks the talent to be the go-to back. Marlon Mack is the player to watch here as he could quickly work his way into being the first handcuff to Gore, and could potentially be the starter by season’s end.

Matt Forte is now 31 years old and seems to be losing a step each season. Last year he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and also saw a 6% drop in his catch percent. Bilal Powell is already the better RB to own on the Jets and should see his role increase as the season progresses. Powell averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season and was a PPR machine out of the backfield with 58 receptions. With averaging 1.8 yards per carry above Forte, an 8% higher catch percentage, and fresher legs, Powell should take over the full time gig this season. 

Strong Systems

Derrick Henry plays in a strong Tennessee rushing offense. The Titans averaged the second highest yards before contact per attempt in the NFL last season at 2.37. Henry is the handcuff to starter DeMarco Murray and has some slight stand-alone value, but if something were to happen to Murray, Henry would likely have top-10 RB value. The Titans were fourth in rush attempts last season and third in yards, making it an overall strong system for a RB to excel in. Henry played well as the backup to Murray last season, finishing with 490 yards and 5 touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry.

Darren McFadden has no stand-alone for Dallas with the skill set and workload of starter Ezekiel Elliott, but in the system has handcuff value. If Elliott went down with an injury McFadden would be a must play in all fantasy formats. The Cowboys have a strong offensive line that was good enough for fifth in football in yards before contact per attempt in 2016 at 2.02. The Cowboys led the entire NFL in attempts last season at 499. Between volume and the strength of the offensive line this system is built for instant RB success. McFadden had a big 2015 season for the Cowboys when he rushed for 1089 yards and also provided 328 yards in the receiving game.

Low on the Depth Chart RBs to Watch

All of them are rookies and listed third on their team’s RB depth chart or lower. They will all move up the depth charts, and likely become factors this season.

Kareem Hunt

Joe Williams

Wayne Gallman

Marlon Mack

De'Angelo Henderson


Injury Prone #1 WR’s/TE’s

For tight ends and wide receivers you mainly want to focus strictly on injury prone #1’s. Placing your focus here can help find potential breakout players, even if it’s potentially only for a few games.  Getting both the injury prone starter and also the backup can give you a nice safety net if an injury does happen to occur to the starter. 

Dez Bryant has missed a total of ten games over the last two seasons and is trending in the wrong direction as an injury prone player. Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Brice Butler would all see increased targets if Bryant went down with another injury. Rookie fourth round pick Ryan Switzer could also work his way into the mix.

Alshon Jeffery has the talent to be an elite WR; unfortunately he can’t stay on the field. Jeffery has missed 4+ games in three out of his first five seasons. Veterans Torrey Smith, Zach Ertz, and Jordan Matthews would see a large increase in targets if Jeffery misses any games. Smith transitions to his new team after two rough years for the 49ers, so QB Carson Wentz would likely be more comfortable leaning on Ertz and Matthews if Jeffery has another injury plagued season.

Sammy Watkins missed eight games last season and three in 2015 with nagging injuries. Rookie Zay Jones and veterans Philly Brown and Andre Holmes would be the beneficiaries of a Watkins injury. Jones would be the one to own as the others lack the skill set to be fantasy difference makers in a run first Bills offense.

Keenan Allen has had his share of devastating injuries, making him someone to handcuff for. Allen missed 15 games last season and 8 the year before that. Tyrell Williams is an obvious handcuff here after last season he stepped in for Allen and produced 1059 yards and 7 touchdowns. Rookie Mike Williams would also be in-line for increased targets (reports of an injury to his back is worth noting). Travis Benjamin would also be worth monitoring.

Rob Gronkowski has had two seasons in his seven year career where he missed at least half the games, including last season. Gronk has seemingly become more injury prone as his career has progressed and is an obvious person to handcuff for at a weak tight end position. Dwayne Allen is the handcuff to Gronk and while he lacked to produce in a strong Colts offense over the past few seasons would still make for a nice play for any games Gronk could potentially miss.

Jordan Reed, much like Gronk, is an elite talent at the TE position but also very injury prone. He has yet to play a full season in his four year career and has missed a total of 18 games to this point. Veteran Vernon Davis operated at the handcuff to Reed last season and will once again work in that role this year. Davis averaged 3.5 receptions and 47 yards in the four games Reed did not play and would be a must-play for any game Reed misses.