To have and to handcuff: Which reserves you should target in your fantasy draft

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This time of year the lexicons of fake footballers expand to include such words as “snipe,” “bust,” and “flex.” For the most part, each of these colloquialisms is easy to understand.

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Recently, however, I’ve heard fans of the virtual game throwing around the term handcuff … and it’s had me shaking my head. To be clear, a “handcuff” is a player (usually a running back) that a fantasy owner drafts in the hopes of safeguarding the value of a different player taken at a higher pick. Ideally, this handcuff is the direct backup to the starter. For example, Knile Davis is the RB2 behind Jamaal Charles. A Charles owner may choose to additionally draft Davis as insurance, aiming to secure the production of Kansas City’s backfield were Charles to be sidelined.

But with an increasing number of teams employing a running back by committee approach, handcuffs aren’t as obvious as they once were. It’s entirely possible that if a starter were to go down, a platoon of players would be called upon in the absent player’s stead. The Texans’ situation illustrates this perfectly.

While Arian Foster is recovering from groin surgery, a combination of Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, Jonathan Grimes, and maybe even Kenny Hilliard may step in to replace him. Throwing a dart at one of these guys and spending a roster spot – especially in a league with a shallow bench – doesn’t make strategic sense.

Additionally, in most cases, the backup isn’t as good as the starter. Therefore, the production you’ll receive won’t be commensurate to that of the initially selected player. Depending on the cost of the handcuff (meaning where he’s drafted) it might be better value to focus on a different position or add more upside to your roster.

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Two main questions to ask yourself when considering adding a handcuff to your squad are:

1) Is this guy the clear-cut backup ?

2) Is he worth the price?

It’s my belief that there are only two must-own handcuffs in 2015:

Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs
Much to the relief of Chiefs fans, Davis has only needed to start two games since being drafted by the team in 2013. In those two outings, however, the Razorback proved he was worth the third-round pick, rushing for a combined 213 yards and three touchdowns. The junior to Charles by five years, Davis is a crackerjack of a substitute for the elite fantasy RB.

James Starks offers insurance in case Eddie Lacy goes down. (Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images)
James Starks offers insurance in case Eddie Lacy goes down. (Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images)

James Starks, Green Bay Packers

The 29-year-old back doesn’t have much value outside of potentially spelling Eddie Lacy. That said, when called upon he does deliver. Having averaged 4.3 YPC over his career, Starks still has the speed and burst to get the job done. He’s also a palatable price in the bottom of the thirteen round.

And three more potential steals for ‘cuff loving owners:

DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s a bit ironic that Williams is being touted as a handcuff, considering he hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2008. But he’ll only need to stay healthy for the first two outings of 2015. In line to take over the lead back duties while Le’Veon Bell serves a two-game suspension, D-Will could see 14-16 touches per game. An 11.01 ADP is a bit pricey for me, but certainly an option for the skittish Bell owner.

Khiry Robinson, New Orleans Saints
He may not be fast, but Robinson can make defenders miss. Had New Orleans not paid Mark Ingram or added C.J. Spiller, his stock would be through the roof. While he’s currently buried on the Saints depth chart, neither back ahead of him is without considerable durability concerns. Robinson proved effective when subbing in for an injured Ingram Weeks 3-5 of last season, rushing for nearly 250 yards and one TD. Largely undrafted, he’s a sneaky stash for prudent fantasy managers.

Matt Jones, Washington Redskins
A thick bodied bruiser, Jones is a powerful runner with impressive lower body strength. He’s not terribly elusive, but he can truck a fool. Currently the No. 2 to Alfred Morris, the rookie would be elevated to workhorse status if Alf were to falter.

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There are a few running back duos in which the secondary back may be worth rostering regardless of whether or not you own the team’s primary RB. The one-two punch of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard is a great example of this. Both of these backs project to be fantasy starters. That’s why Bernard will cost you a fifth or sixth round pick.

Here are three pass-catching backs that could be used as handcuffs or potential lotto tickets, at a much cheaper price (especially in PPR formats):

Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers
Woodhead’s 2014 was cut short after he broke his right leg in Week 3. Last week, however, the diminutive RB proved he was back, scoring an 8-yard touchdown in the Chargers first preseason game. A favorite amongst PPR enthusiasts, Woodhead could catch as many as sixty balls in 2015. If Melvin Gordon were to go down, Branden Oliver would see the largest uptick in touches, but Woodhead’s volume would also likely increase. His role on third downs and in the passing game is secure. 

Roy Helu, Oakland Raiders
The extent to which I have been charmed by Helu’s value is well documented. He’s a versatile player who fits nicely into offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s system and is currently behind a back with a fair amount of injury concerns. The bulk of his fantasy points will come via receptions, which - when considering potential game scripts - should be plentiful.

Reggie Bush, San Francisco 49ers
Bush had trouble staying on the field last year, but when he did play he was effective. Most of his numbers came from the passing game, as he averaged nearly four receptions per outing. The 49ers backfield is full of questions, but we do know they’re likely to pass. A lot. That should mean good things for Bush, and could eat into Carlos Hyde’s volume. Personally, I’d pass on Hyde’s current fourth-round ADP and take a flier on Bush in the double-digits.

Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF

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