Larry Johnson from Penn. St. was drafted in the first round in 2003 by the Kansas City Chiefs as security for the great Priest Holmes. From day 1 Johnson felt uncomfortable because his head coach Dick Vermeil was not in favor of drafting him. This conflict continued into 2004 and rumors were spreading that Johnson wanted to be traded, but by chance Johnson got an opportunity to start when Priest Holmes suffered an injury mid-season. The same opportunity presented itself the next year, and Johnson ended up making the pro bowl and took over the starting job for the Chiefs for the next few years.
This is an example of a “handcuff” in fantasy football, and it has become even more relevant over the years after examples like this have occured. If someone drafted Priest Holmes in 2005, they would be smart to draft Johnson as a handcuff just in case Holmes goes down.
The negatives to this? Say Holmes doesn’t get injured, then you look back and realize you wasted a draft pick that you could have used on someone else that had a starting role and was bound to get carries. The problem is if you drafted Jonson then dropped him for a popular waiver wire addition, then Holmes went down the week after, you are left kicking yourself as you dropped a player that has shown the ability to be special but is only held down from being a star because he is on a team with depth at that position.
When looking at the pros and cons of a handcuff, what is there to make of it? My theory is that a handcuff is only worth a roster spot if he has shown the potential of being something great in this league. It seems to vague when said that way, but in theory there aren’t many stud running backs in the league these days, so there are only so many backups that have the opportunity to be considered great in some peoples’ eyes. If a back-up was “great” in someone’s opinion and was backing up someone mediocre, don’t you think NFL coaches would see that before you did?
I will answer my critics by giving the example of the Cincinnati Bengals this year with Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard. Green-Ellis is clearly not nearly as talented as Bernard, but Bernard is a rookie and is still learning pass protection. And besides that, Bernard is getting reps in games and is producing. He is not a handcuff. Handcuffs barely see the field when the starter is healthy.
This week is a great time to bring this topic up because of the injuries of starting running backs in week 2. Steven Jackson, Ray Rice, and Eddie Lacy are the three that I want to look at because they all have different situations in terms of replacements and fantasy value.
Ray Rice’s back up is Bernard Pierce, and he is perfect example of a valuable handcuff. He has proven to be a talented running back and the coaches have shown full trust in him taking the workload Rice received.
Steven Jackson has two back-ups, with Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling,. These running backs will be impossible to determine between who gets the workload. You have to hope one scores a TD for them to produce fantasy-wise.
Eddie Lacy’s back-up is James Starks, and he isn’t really a handcuff due to Lacy’s lack of production in the league. This isn’t to say Lacy isn’t talented, but he is a rookie with much to prove of being a good running back in the NFL, so Lacy owners shouldn’t feel the need to carry Starks on their rosters at all times. Starks has fantasy value when Lacy goes down of course, but by no means is he stepping into a situation where running backs are vital in the system and will be almost certain to produce like like a stud.