Fantasy Football Handcuff Rankings
Fantasy owners always have a difficult time deciding on when to pounce on a “handcuff” as opposed to players with true standalone value in drafts. This article is designed to highlight some of the particular values that arise from the way the fantasy football handcuff depth charts are shaking out in 2019.
Ricky Sanders took a look at the RotoExperts model’s ranks of players whom he considered to be the team’s “handcuff” (although many of these of quite subjective as some teams’ second backs on the depth chart has a true role on the team). One back was designated as a team’s “handcuff” per team and then those backs were ranked from 1-32. Here is how Ricky’s rankings compared to the RotoExperts rankings and an explanation of Ricky’s outlook on each player:[table “2808” not found /]
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- Tarik Cohen, Bears – Historically, Coach Matt Nagy has relied heavily on one back, so last year’s timeshare was a bit of an anomaly. However, Nagy is a good enough coach to realize the weapon he has in Tarik Cohen and it is unlikely, even with the Bears having drafted a RB at pick 73 in this year’s draft, to be phased out of the offense any time soon. While not a fantasy football handcuff in a strict sense, he is still the second-drafted Bears running back.
- Royce Freeman, Broncos – Philip Lindsay broke out in his rookie year and yet he carried the ball more than 14 times just once in his seven games. Broncos offensive coordinator compared his backfield to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman so it is obvious he views this backfield as a timeshare and Freeman should have standalone value regardless of Lindsay health (who is small and broke his wrist in Week 16 of last year). The signing of Theo Riddick takes away a little market share from both running backs.
- James White, Patriots – Coach Bill Belichick backfields are never simple but James White led the Patriots’ backfield in offensive snaps by almost 300 last season. Sony Michel will get drafted ahead of him because of the TD potential but White received the second-most targets of any running back (RB) last season behind only Christian McCaffery. Damien Harris will have fantasy value in the event of an injury to White or Michel (and the same for Rex Burkhead).
- Austin Ekeler, Chargers – In the three games Ekeler played that Melvin Gordon missed a season ago, Ekeler averaged 11.33 carries per game and 5.33 targets, and coaches keep hinting Justin Jackson will be more involved this year. Ekeler possesses some standalone value, and there is a possibility Gordon’s holdout extends into the regular season, but there is no clear path to him being a workhorse barring multiple injuries in the backfield. Justin Jackson is also fantasy relevant in 2019.
- Rashaad Penny, Seahawks – Chris Carson finally returned to practice on Jul. 25 following a “little work done on his knee” in the offseason and Penny was drafted in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft. Carson was a great surprise in the short term but Penny is the long term plan at the position once he figures it all out.
- Latavius Murray, Saints – Another coach who likes a one, two punch in the backfield is Sean Payton and Murray possesses the skill set to work at least part-time as the goal line back. Ingram averaged 11.5 carries and 2.5 targets per game a season ago with seven TDs in 12 games, and it seems fair to project Murray fora similar role in the 2019 season.
- Ronald Jones, Buccaneers – After all the positive offseason reports about Jones’ progress, Pewter Report’s Mark Cook reported the starter’s role is “Peyton Barber’s to lose.” Considering Barber became the first player since 2013 to receive more than 250 touches and fail to reach 1,000 yards from scrimmage, it is clear his grip on the job is fragile at best.
- Jerick McKinnon, 49ers – This SPARQ darling tore his ACL in the preseason last year and has come back to a crowded 49ers backfield. However, this backfield is crowded and it is possible his opportunity has passed, and he will need to beat out Matt Breida to remain active on gamedays.
- Jaylen Samuels, Steelers – The team has already stated James Conner will not play as many snaps this year but he hardly ever left the field last year. From weeks 1-13 (prior to injury), Conner played 81.1-percent of the offensive snaps, which ranked sixth highest amongst backs during that stretch (behind only Christian McCaffery, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, and Todd Gurley). Even if Conner’s workload is toned down a bit, it would still take an injury for Samuels to be fantasy-viable, and he is not the type of talent to step into a full workload (as pass-catching is his specialty). We also think Benny Snell would play a role in the event of an injury.
- Dion Lewis, Titans – Derrick Henry will be the focus of the rushing attack with sporadic sprinkles of Dion Lewis. Even in a scenario in which the starter goes down, the team likely still looks to complement Lewis with a power back. There is really no other capable running back on the roster other than Jeremy McNichols.
- Carlos Hyde, Chiefs – Damien Williams is expected to be the bellcow but he sort of fell into that role by accident last year so a timeshare could develop if Hyde shows flashes in the early-going. If anything were to happen to Williams, Hyde would become a starting RB on one of the best offenses in football so it is hard to not at least imagine the possibilities when selecting him. UPDATE: According to reports, Carlos Hyde may be on the roster bubble as both Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson have been playing well. If this report holds weight, Thompson may be the handcuff here, and an injury could lead to him being unleashed in one of the league’s top offenses. The situation would not be as clear-cut if Hyde did not make the roster and it sounds like it may not be clear-cut regardless behind Damien Williams.
- Ito Smith, Falcons – The Falcons have long used a committee in their backfield but recent reports from the Falcons’ website suggest fifth-round rookie Qadree Ollison could steal some short-yardage work. If this turns in to a three-headed monster then Smith could be a frustrating player to own outside of best-ball leagues.
- Darrell Henderson, Rams – Something is clearly up with Todd Gurley’s knee as he only carried the ball a combined 14 times in his final two playoff games last year (including the Super Bowl) and is unlikely to play in the preseason because of it. Multiple reports have suggested his playing time will be down this year and it is possible his knee is more concerning than the team is leaning on. Either way, Henderson will be the beneficiary, and his potential is huge in this offense if the knee causes real problems.
- Kalen Ballage, Dolphins – Ballage is working with the starters early on in training camp as apparently, no coach appreciates the skill set of Kenyan Drake. What ultimately matters here is how the coaches feel about Drake and the initial signs are not great. Myles Gaskin, a college workhorse, could factor into this backfield as well though the coaches are clearly smitten with Ballage.
- Justice Hill, Ravens – According to playerprofiler.com, his best comparable player is Reggie Bush on an offense that needs to find creative ways to make plays with a run-focused quarterback (QB). Since the team will be running so often, Mark Ingram will likely not exceed 70-percent of snaps even if healthy, so Hill should hold a role in this offense regardless. In the scenario in which something happens to Ingram, Hill, an explosive talent, would see a huge uptick in workload in a run-focused offense with an above-average offensive line.
- Jordan Howard, Eagles – This backfield, like most Coach Doug Pederson backfields, is going to be a pain in the ass especially following the return of Darren Sproles. The plan is for this backfield to be a rotation but Howard ineffectiveness or Sanders effectiveness could change the hierarchy rather quickly.
- Kareem Hunt, Browns – If it were not for his off-the-field issues, Hunt would still be being talked about as a top fantasy back. Unfortunately, his problems keeping his hands to himself has led him to the likely wrong end of a timeshare, albeit on one of the league’s top offenses. One issue for Hunt could be that Dontrell Hilliard has earned a lot of respect from the coaches over the course of the offseason.
- D’Onta Foreman, Texans – Lamar Miller is the definition of mediocrity so it should not be long before Foreman is given a shot to put his skills on display. He is the best back in this backfield and it is just a matter of time before the coaching staff notices.
- Jamaal Williams, Packers – Clear backup to Aaron Jones but New Packers coach Matt LaFleur said a “committee approach” is the most effective when it comes to the backfield. Williams will almost assuredly be on the low-end of around a 70/30 percent market share split that could tilt heavier to Jones when the new coach realizes he is the much better player. Still, Williams would clearly be the guy if anything happened to the starter.
- Alexander Mattison, Vikings – Profiles as a solid pass-catcher and short-yardage back so he could step into the Latavius Murray role rather quickly. Dalvin Cook’s hamstring has had issues dating back to college so his fragility should be a concern to those drafting him. Our Ultimate Guide to Zero RB Drafting likes Mattison as a target.
- Adrian Peterson, Redskins – The ageless wonder is part of a run-heavy Redskins scheme and Derrius Guice is coming along slowly. On Jul. 25, he finally participated fully in practice, which should put him on pace to be top dog in this committee come the start of the regular season (although he will have to avoid more setbacks). Peterson is still in fantastic shape and is going to drop in drafts due to age alone. Bryce Love is also likely to start the year on the inactive PUP list.
- C.J Anderson, Lions – The team released Theo Riddick which unclutters the backfield a bit and Anderson is built for short-yardage/goal-line work. From weeks 16-21 last year, he posted a 89-488-4 rushing line, so selling him as just short yardage only guy could be underselling him. If Kerryon Johnson were to get injured, Anderson would likely be a full-time running back for Detroit.
- Ryquell Armstead, Jaguars – Leonard Fournette has dealt with his fair share of injuries since college, including multiple hamstring injuries and ankle issues last year, so his backup will always be an intriguing proposition. There is always a potential for Fournette to miss multiple games. Armstead was a productive runner out of Temple University and is a solid Zero RB target.
- Devin Singletary, Bills – All the other backs in this backfield are old or decaying in skill but this is going to be an ugly, three-headed committee and Josh Allen should take a healthy chunk of the rushing market share for himself. Singletary is just the one in the backfield with any semblance of upside.
- Chase Edmonds, Cardinals – The Cardinals’ fast-paced offense should be conducive to fantasy production all over the place and, while Edmonds will start as only a situational back, any sort of wear and tear for Johnson would lead to more playing time for him.
- Tony Pollard, Cowboys – Fantasy owners are going to need an injury or suspension for Ezekiel Elliott, or for his holdout to extend into the season, for this investment to pay off. The team does seem to like Pollard and our own Davis Mattek does as well.
- Jalen Richard, Raiders – Not much upside to his game but at least Coach Jon Gruden has stated Josh Jacobs will have to earn his role. This is clearly coach speak and Jacobs is the guy but maybe Richard finds a small pass-catching role regardless. Doug Martin is basically toasted at this point.
- Elijah McGuire, Jets – Le’Veon Bell is a great pass-catching back (likely three-down back) which limits the potential for McGuire to be on the field as a back unless they use two-back sets. If Bell were to go down, Montgomery would have some competition (Ty Montgomery, Bilal Powell and Trenton Cannon on the roster) so there is no clear path to a huge role.
- Rodney Anderson, Bengals – Giovani Bernard is expected to take on an expanded role in the passing game which leaves Anderson as the true backup for just the Mixon role. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Bernard would simply morph into a bellcow if any issues arose with Mixon. Anderson is nothing more than a shot in the dark.
- Jordan Scarlett, Panthers – Christian McCaffery led all backs in snap percentage last year so it would take an injury for any other back on the roster to emerge as remotely fantasy relevant. The coaches have talked about resting CMC a bit more but it is likely to happen.
- Wayne Gallman, Giants – This is Saquon Barkley’s world and we are all just living in in it. Barkley is going to dominate the touches if healthy, and if he were to miss any time with injury, this offense would just be a mess as they will already be without WR3 Corey Coleman (torn ACL) all year and WR1 Sterling Shepard (dislocated finger) in the early-going. Paul Perkins has also earned some likely playing time this year.
- Jordan Wilkins, Colts – Even if starter Marlon Mack were to go down, Nyheim Hines would still be heavily involved, so there is very little potential upside with this pick.