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Tip Drill: Stuffing the handcuffs, dumping the caddies

Nothing gets my dander up quite like the idea of wasted resources. I hate seeing a good offensive team bunt in major-league baseball. I routinely pass when I'm offered some flimsy extended warranty for my moderately-priced electronics purchase. It makes me sick to think of how many miles I threw away before I finally got on-board with a frequent-flier program.

And when it comes to Fantasy Football, I almost never handcuff my running backs. It's a waste of time. Better said, it's a waste of resources, and it limits the theoretical upside of my teams.

Before you attack me in the comments, stay with me through the argument.

We held the Yahoo Friends & Family Draft back on Tuesday, a 14-team bloodbath (analysis here) where everyone knows their stuff and plays for blood. You only get four bench spots in that league, one of the more challenging elements to the format. You need to use those spots carefully, you need to have a plan; roster composition is a key element here.

I didn't get high-quality running backs (my first two picks were Andre Johnson(notes) at 1.08 and Greg Jennings(notes) at 2.21), but I did make five running-back selections. I swung for the fences, I took a shot at upside players. I need a few of them to get lucky, sure, if I want to contend.

But I did not get involved in handcuff situations; I avoided them like the plague. I didn't handcuff anyone to Shonn Green, I didn't handcuff anyone to Beanie Wells(notes), I didn't handcuff anyone to Tim Hightower(notes).

What's wrong with handcuffing, anyway? Glad you asked. Let's break you of this nasty habit. 

• Handcuffing burns two roster spots for the theoretical maximum of one productive player

Okay, in some rare instances, two backs on the same offense might be somewhat usable, but it's rare. If you have two runners on the same club, it's very unlikely they'll both blossom into startable options for you. Handcuffing is a little like bunting in baseball - you're playing for one run, and that's probably the most you'll get.

I'm more likely to be open minded to a handcuff if I'm working with a very large roster base. Then again, what fun is that? If you ask me, fantasy football (or fantasy anything) is most fun when you have a large starting lineup and not a lot of bench spots. But I see too many football leagues out there that ask for tiny starting requirements and allow for a gigantic bench. That's backwards, gamer. You want to face difficult decisions, not easy ones; you want a lot of data points determining your win or loss.

Back to the backfield, let's be clear on one thing: I've got nothing against high-upside backs, lottery tickets, non-starters with big upsides. You should scout these players, get to know these players, and draft some of them (or pick up some of them) when the time is right. But when in doubt, I want a diversified portfolio with respect to this type of gambit; I want to dip my toes into as many different pools as possible. I don't want to use two spots to hopefully find one starter, I want to give myself a chance to get lucky and nail a productive player with each pick.

• It's not always clear who stands to benefit when a starter goes down

We see this issue all the time when save-chasing in baseball. We think we know who the Plan B is, we chase that guy ahead of time, and then the rug gets pulled out from under us and someone closes out of the blue. Did anyone like Javy Guerra in March? Did anyone see Mark Melancon's rise coming a year ago? Find me one positive story on John Axford that's dated before the 2010 season began. The closer-in-waiting market has turned into a crummy place to invest your money.

An NFL club doesn't stock the RB position as much as a baseball team fills the bullpen, but the concept is the same. Runners emerge from everywhere, and coaches often take a "go with the flow" approach to finding new starters (and new stars) in the big chair. The man who sits No. 2 on the depth chart doesn't necessarily have the job if the main guy loses his way. Sure, we all love to complain when a Mike Shanahan trips us up, but his way of thinking is more mainstream than a lot of people realize. Coaches aren't in the business of keeping us informed, and some personnel decisions won't be made until the game situation arrives.

• Some handcuffs don't have enough upside to be worth it

The only time I will handcuff a player is if the main player is a star and the understudy has a similar upside. Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson were a worthwhile handcuff in the Kansas City days. If Jonathan Papelbon were to hit a rough patch in Boston, I'd consider a Daniel Bard handcuff in a shallow mixer — respectful of Bard's awesome skill, his defined position as the No. 2 in town, and the upside of closing for an American League powerhouse. But I'm not going to bother handcuffing scrubby backs to scrubby backs. Some things simply aren't worth insuring.

• Handcuffing is a major pain when the bye weeks come

I know, I said earlier this summer that bye weeks aren't that big a deal, and they aren't, not really. But having a pair of Siamese running backs joined at the hip is really annoying when their holiday week comes about. If I justify a handcuff situation in the F&F, I'm down at least 50 percent of my bench strength the week they don't play. And maybe one of those players has been tagging along merely as insurance all along. Bah, not for me.

Tip Drill: Stuffing the handcuffs, dumping the caddies• A word about a similar problem: "caddying"

I use the term "caddying" to describe a situation where one of your key players needs a mandatory fantasy backup, someone who is likely on a different NFL club. If you're tied to Peyton Manning(notes) this year, you might have a caddy for him - say Mark Sanchez(notes) until Manning shows he is right. A Michael Vick(notes) owner might preemptively grab another QB, just to be safe. A Percy Harvin(notes) owner might constantly be searching for a receiver in the same time zone, just in case the game-day migraines show up again. Some high-risk players require a roster companion at all times.

I realize sometimes there's no way around caddying, but I still hate doing it. I try not to take any big-ticket item that needs a caddy; again, it's a matter of not wanting to throw roster space down the drain. And it's also why I seldom take name-brand defenses or kickers; I don't want to get attached to anyone I don't feel comfortable dropping during a bye week. Occasionally I'll make exceptions, but in most pools, you can hustle up defense and kicker points every week simply by playing the waiver wire and working the matchups.

Did we crack the code? Did I sour you on handcuffs to some extent, or are you going to tell me why Ned Ryerson's Dismemberment Plan is the way to go? We can discuss in the comments.


Images courtesy Associated Press

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