One of the biggest dilemmas fantasy football owners face during fantasy football drafts are drafting handcuffs along with players who have a history of missing a game or two because of injury. Players who really aren’t known for the injury bug still have a hard time avoiding the sidelines. Last year, Adrian Peterson, who missed one game from 2008-2010, wound up missing four because of a knee injury. That’s why owners who draft a running back with a high pick should do all they can to nab his handcuff. AD owners who were able to grab Toby Gerhart in the later rounds were sitting pretty in their fantasy football playoffs.
Once again, 2012 sees a plethora of handcuff opportunities. We saw some running backs go from three-down players to possible committee backs with one pen stroke on a contract during free agency. There are a couple names who haven’t changed from 2011, but lets take the best fantasy handcuffs the NFL has to offer and some of the new faces who should be on your rankings sheet once you nab the guy ahead of them on the depth chart. For many of these players, you will have to use a much higher pick to ensure someone else doesn’t piss in your beer and make you try and trade for him.
1. Ben Tate (Houston Texans) - With four 100-yard games under his belt in 2011, Tate not only proved to be an invaluable handcuff for Arian Foster owners, but he also showed the NFL that he can be a lead back if given the chance. In the first three weeks of the season, Tate averaged 22 carries, 100 rushing yards and a 4.5 ypc average. There was a small rumor earlier in the offseason that the Browns were considering making an offer for Tate as their next starting running back. But with Trent Richardson expected to be drafted with Cleveland’s No. 4 pick this week, Tate will stay on as Arian Foster’s backup and the No. 1 fantasy handcuff in all leagues again this year.
2. Michael Bush (Chicago Bears) - Having been stuck behind Darren McFadden in Oakland, I was hoping Bush would finally get a chance to be a lead back somewhere else. But with running backs not getting the attention they used to, Bush settled on a four-year, $14 million contract with the Bears. For Bush owners, the signing isn’t exactly all gloom-and-doom. Current starter Matt Forte is entrenched in a holdout after being slapped with the franchise tag. Signing Bush gives the team plenty of leverage in contract talks. There has even been some noise that the Bears could consider trading Forte if the price was right. But with Forte’s contract demands, that idea is doubtful. Either way, for those owners who like to take risks, you had better make room for Bush if you take Forte in the top 2-3 rounds. He is a huge upgrade over Marion Barber from 2011.
3. Felix Jones (Dallas Cowboys) - The situation in Dallas’ backfield is one I’d rather try and avoid. But if DeMarco Murray is still available past his average draft position this summer, it’d be hard not to pounce on him. With that being said, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that I would have to draft Jones with him. Murray has had a history of injuries dating back to his college days. That continued into his rookie season after he missed the last three games of 2011 with a fractured right ankle and high ankle sprain against the Giants. Jones wasn’t great as a fillin, but he did rack up 108 yards in Week 15 against the Buccaneers and seven receptions in the Week 17 rematch against the Giants. There has been talk that the Cowboys have had inner conversations regarding trading Jones. But as of now, I’d feel somewhat comfortable taking him if I did wind up taking Murray. Especially in PPR leagues.
4. Daniel Thomas (Miami Dolphins) - As a player I told owners to avoid in my Top 5 Running Backs To Avoid article, was Reggie Bush’s breakout 2011 season a fluke? Is it possible he can match the 1382 total scrimmage yards? Yell at me all you want, but I still don’t see it. Bush won’t have as easy a time getting those yards without anyone on the offense to take attention away. While many Dolphins fans consider Brian Hartline, Devone Bess and Clyde Gates up-and-comers, none of them strike fear in defensive coordinators like Brandon Marshall did. If defenses wind up throwing the kitchen sink at Bush, I don’t see him being durable enough to last an entire year. Thomas had a disappointing rookie season after getting so much fantasy hype after the 2011 NFL Draft. But with a full year as a pro under his belt, I could see him taking another step in his progression and, at least, becoming a bonafide handcuff should Bush’s injuries start catching up to him.
5. Brandon Jacobs/Kendall Hunter (San Francisco 49ers) - For the first time since 2006, Frank Gore finally managed to get through an entire season and rewarded his owners with 1211 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. Unfortunately, I don’t see Gore being able to maintain a second-straight sixteen-game season. Which is why he is another player I listed in my Top 5 Running Backs To Avoid article. But if you do wind up taking Gore, who do you take as his handcuff? If you are an owner who has to draft right now, you might lean more towards Jacobs simply because he has a bigger resume’ from his time in New York. However, I ponder the question of whether or not he will be able to beat out Kendall Hunter in training camp. It’s not like the 49ers gave Jacobs a huge contract, so he can easily be cut if he doesn’t beat out Hunter or Anthony Dixon in training camp. Unlike the four players I listed previously, I don’t feel comfortable having any of these guys if I somehow get stuck with Gore. The 49ers could go full-blown committee if Gore goes down.
BONUS HANDCUFF FOR YOU MUTHAFUCKAS!!
Now that I got your attention, Raiders RB Mike Goodson is another guy I would look at. Darren McFadden is expected to take the brunt of the work in 2012 with Michael Bush gone, but his ability to stay healthy all year has always been questionable. Goodson looked good in Carolina when both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were healing from their various injuries back in 2010. He averaged a solid 4.4 yards a carry and also racked up 40 catches. And this was behind a suspect offensive line. If I were to take McFadden at the end of the first round, or somewhere in the second round, I’d almost have to take a flier on Goodson late. Luckily for owners, Goodson likely won’t be as high on the handcuff radar as the others guys I listed above.