In recent years, fantasy football owners have been taught that if you lock up a top running back you must solidify his value with a handcuff. Not anymore.
The landscape of the NFL backfield has been changing drastically. I've said many times in the past that the "true" three-down back is disappearing due to injuries and teams going towards a more pass-oriented offense. Head coaches, while having enough confidence giving their main back the ball, don't want their prized offensive piece running on fumes by the time playoffs roll around.
An example of this is Eagles RB LeSean McCoy. In 2014, McCoy touched the ball 366 times. Knowing that he can't do that every year, Chip Kelly brought in Darren Sproles. Now if you're a fantasy owner, you think to yourself "Okay, if I'm drafting McCoy, I have to handcuff Sproles." It doesn't work that way. Even though Sproles will be the No. 2 in Philly's backfield, he should have enough of his own PPR value that he'll be gone before you pick him. Do you really want to waste a pick before the 10th round on a player who will sit on your bench while starting receivers are still plentiful? Not me. If I take McCoy with a top 5 pick, I'll let someone else take Sproles.
In previous articles, I had a very confident list of must-have handcuffs every year. This year just isn't as precise. Former must-have Ben Tate is now in Cleveland. If you draft Texans RB Arian Foster, you shouldn't feel comfortable enough wasting a roster space on current backup Andre Brown. Brown's latter days with the Giants weren't fruitful, nor is he even close to an upgrade over Tate.
The same goes for Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. Like Tate, Toby Gerhart was a must-have handcuff every year. Now that Gerhart landed himself a starting job with the Jaguars, do you really feel the need to draft Peterson's backup "just because?" You'll think you'll be gambling a roster spot for a potential starter just to give yourself insurance. But are you really? Do you think the Texans or Vikings will rely on one running back if Foster or Peterson miss time? It could happen, but it's not as likely as previous years.
If you look at every team in the league, there is barely a handful of players who are handcuff worthy. And even those players aren't 100% draftable. Do you really believe enough in Steelers backup RB LeGarrette Blount or Chargers RB Donald Brown? While both have shown fantasy worthiness, I wouldn't trust either as a handcuff. The value simply isn't high enough.
Lastly, there are those teams who have a starter. But like the Eagles, they have a backup who is almost just as good and will take touches from the guy ahead of them. I listed these in my "Backfields To Avoid" piece. The handcuff rule clearly doesn't apply to any of these guys because each player has the strong possibility of giving value on their own. To secure these guys, you'll be giving up much higher picks. Plus, you'll be stuck with two guys who knock down each others value.
In the end, if you wind up drafting one of the top 5 running backs in the league, do yourself a favor and use a roster spot on REAL value. In 2014, it will be too much of a gamble to draft a handcuff when that player might not see the field or be good enough if given the starting job for a couple games.