Unlike past years when I wrote about fantasy football handcuffs, designating a true handcuff for 2013 is becoming harder and harder to pin point. Especially 5 that are worth writing about. With teams continuing to use more of a two-back system, or the dreaded Running Back By Committee, distinguishing a worthy handcuff to draft in the later rounds behind a stud running back isn't as easy as it used to be. Many backups are starting to have their own fantasy value, which means the chances of them being snagged by another owner earlier than usual is greater than it used to be.
Aside from those teams who are expected to use more than one running back like the Patriots (Ridley/Vereen) and the Bengals (BGE/Bernard), there are also those other teams who do have a true workhorse, but have backups who I wouldn't trust to get me through one game let alone multiple ones.
So after doing much fantasy football research on the topic, below are the top 5 handcuffs who I feel deserve a shot at getting drafted by the same owner who took a guy like Arian Foster or Ray Rice in round one in their drafts.
1. Ben Tate - Texans
Tate's 2012 was a disaster after closing in on a 1000 yard season in 2011. Multiple injuries to his hamstring and foot, along with competing against Justin Forsett for touches behind Foster, knocked Tate's numbers down big time. His saving grace, however, was that he still averaged 4.3 yards a carry, even if it was on a puny 65 rushes. Tate's 2013 can't possibly get any worse. In fact, he has a lot riding as he enters the last year of his rookie deal. If I take Foster with a top 3 pick, you better believe I will have Tate on my radar. Foster has averaged around 318 carries over the last 3 seasons, so owners might have to fork over a higher-than-usual pick for Tate's services.
2. Fred Jackson - Bills
There is no doubt that C.J. Spiller is one of the most electrifying dual threats in the league. After a disappointing rookie season, Spiller was the hottest fantasy football waiver pick in 2011 after Jackson suffered a fractured fibula in Week 11 against Miami. Spiller went on to continue as the dominant back in 2012, but many people don't remember that Jackson was still a big fantasy player before getting injured. He reeled off 6 100-yard rushing games in the first 10 weeks and amassed 934 yards before being put on injured reserve. Spiller will be the guy again in Doug Marrone's new offense, but Jackson will be one of those guys some owners might forget about as a handcuff. He could wind up being a very strong value pick in the later rounds as my No. 2 ranked handcuff.
3. Michael Bush - Bears
Maybe Bernard Pierce and Bryce Brown have more upside, but Bush's resume ranks him as the No. 3 handcuff on my list. Coming off a 2011 season in which he racked up 1395 total yards and 8 total scores as a Raider, Bush didn't do much last season after signing a 4-year, $14 million contract with the Bears. Biggest reason for that? Matt Forte stayed relatively healthy for most of the season, relegating Bush to true backup duties and 114 total carries, until he was placed on IR with injured ribs. Lovie Smith is gone as head coach, so Forte figures to have another big role in Marc Trestman's new offense. However, Bush has showed us he is just as good a rusher and receiver if healthy. So if you wind up nabbing Forte as your low-end RB1/high-end RB2, grabbing Bush and stashing him away would set my mind at ease.
4. Bernard Pierce - Ravens
Drafted in the third round in 2012, Pierce had a surprisingly strong year behind Ray Rice. He averaged 40 total yards a game, a 4.9 ypc average and had the fifth-best broken tackle rate in the league among running backs at 16.5%. While Rice has been the pinnacle of health over the last 4 seasons playing in all 64 games, there is always that one chance he could be the stud that misses significant time. If so, Pierce is definitely worth a look as a first-time handcuff. Pierce closed out the 2012 season on a strong note, rushing for 123 yards in Week 16 against the Giants and 89 yards against the Bengals in Week 17.
5. Bryce Brown - Eagles
Many will disagree with this choice as my No. 5 for the simple fact that the Eagles say they plan on using Brown and LeSean McCoy a lot this year. But do we really know how Chip Kelly is going to run his offense? Considering he has said, many times I might add, that this offense will not match the one at Oregon, it's hard to distinguish just how Brown fits in the game plan. In my opinion, he has much more upside than guys like Andre Brown, DeAngelo Williams and Toby Gerhart. But on the flip side, many could argue that Brown will have stand-alone value if Kelly does run the ball as much as he did in college. So for now, I'll name Brown as my final handcuff just on potential alone. We saw a glimpse of what Brown could do if given the chance as the lead back when he rushed for 347 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns between Weeks 12-13 of last season. His 3 lost fumbles were a huge black eye, but he's said to be focusing on the issue this offseason.
Outside of a season-ending injury, Brown's 2013 path could wind up going 3 ways:
- He is a pure handcuff to McCoy, which makes him an obvious choice for this list.
- He winds up with a decent sized role, but not big enough to make him an every-week starter. Which, again, makes him a strong choice as a handcuff.
- He and McCoy are used so much, the owner who drafted both could use both in the same lineup.
Don't think I'm crazy on the last point. It's happened before. Just look at Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in 2007. Given the points above, it looks like the McCoy owner would do well by drafting Brown in any scenario that plays out.