Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Fantasy Handcuff

Ricky Williams has been handcuffed enough.
Stally's Goal Line Stand

Last weekend, I got a text from one of the new managers in our keeper league (in which Austen is also new) asking why if Austen was such a fantasy guru, he hadn't handcuffed Arian Foster, Ray Rice or Knowshon Moreno.

The simple answer, Billy Tecklenburg, is because, as you already said, Austen is a fantasy guru.  He understands why that's more of a hindrance than a help.  The more complex answer, well that will take sometime, so let's dig our heels in for this week's goal line stand.

For those of you, like Kelli Walters, who aren't familiar with the concept of a handcuff.  It basically means that you draft your stud running back's back-up and waste a spot on your bench week in and week out in case something ever happens to that stud.  The theory is that the back up can step right in and pick up the important numbers for your fallen star.

Now, if you don't know much about fantasy, you're probably asking all the appropriate questions:

-How many spots are there on the bench and is it worth keeping that guy on your team the whole year if he never plays?
-A standard league has five spots, so, no, it's not practical to reserve a spot for a guy you hope you will never have to play.  This isn't college fantasy football, you can't red shirt some reserve to gain an extra spot.

-What happens if the back up gets hurt also?
-Good question.  Unless the starter is out for the year, it wouldn't make sense to handcuff your handcuff.  You'd probably end up having to drop the guy you wasted space on all year to open up enough room to add someone healthy.

-Is it just running backs that you'd handcuff?
-Another good question.  Most people only seem to do this for running backs, which begs the question why they do it at all.  Some might argue that since you only need one quarterback and with 10 teams in the fantasy league and 32 teams in the NFL, mathematically, your back up should be in the top-20; in most leagues, the No. 2 wide receiver on a team is already owned; tight ends, well, people don't think they produce enough points to handcuff.  If you're getting lost or confused, don't worry, this is why the handcuff isn't logical!

-If this handcuff couldn't crack the starting roster for any of the 32 teams in the NFL, what makes him good enough to start in your 10-team fantasy league?
-Nothing.  That's the thing!

Last year, Packers' RB Ryan Grant went down for the season in Week 1.  There was a mad scramble to the waiver wire by all those that didn't handcuff him and all those that desperately needed a lucky move to build up their running back depth to add his back up, Brandon Jackson.

At this point, you're probably trying to refresh your memory on who Brandon Jackson is and if you've gotten that far, you're desperately trying to figure out where he is now.  He was a star player for Nebraska and was expected to supplant long time Packer standout Ahman Green.  He never did.  A lesser heralded star named Ryan Grant ended up the starter.  Grant's injury immediately caused a resurgence in the long lost buzz over Jackson.  It didn't actually lead to Jackson's resurgence.

As the back up turned starter in 2010, Jackson only twice rushed for over 65 yards in a game and only once got to the 20-carry plateau, which is widely considered the status of a full-time starter.  On the negative side, he scored just four total touchdowns and on four occasions he couldn't even muster together 20 rushing yards.  He eventually gave way to James Starks, who carried the ball at least 20 times in three of four playoffs games, en route to a Super Bowl championship.  Despite not touching the field until Week 13, Starks has now escalated into a time share with a healthy Grant.

Jackson, on the other hand, was sent packing to be a backup on the less-than-average Cleveland Browns where he was expected to compete to be Petyon Hillis' back up with up-and-comer Montario Hardesty.  Jackson got hurt and is now on injured reserve.

The point of this long story: whether you owned Brandon Jackson as a handcuff or scrambled to pick him up before Week 2, he didn't do you any good at any point.

Take a look at some of the top running backs in the league this year:

-Chris Johnson is backed up in Tennessee by Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper.  No one's sure which one would get the lion's share if he got hurt. Neither one is anywhere near as good as Johnson anyway.
-Ray Rice's back up is Ricky Williams.  Yeah, the 34-year-old that once temporarily retired so he could smoke weed without flunking drug tests.
-Arian Foster, who's currently hurt, is backed up by Derrick Ward and Ben Tate.  Ward was announced as the Week 1 starter, Tate got more carries.

You can see how this gets confusing quickly.  It only reaffirms that in the late rounds, I want to scoop up someone that might have some value to me and not just sit idle behind my star.  Perhaps, a young running back that just needs a chance to get on the field (Roy Helu, Daniel Thomas and the afore mentioned James Starks).  Perhaps, a goal line vulture that scores a lot of touchdowns and sees a decent enough amount of carries to fill up the stat sheet each week (Mike Tolbert, Willis McGahee and Brandon Jacobs).

The one thing I don't want to do, contrary to what Billy asked of Austen, would be to handcuff some borderline starting running back like Knowshon Moreno to McGahee.  Why would I want to own two running backs on the same team when I wasn't sure which one would get the stats that week?  That'd be like taking a two-seater and a four-seater car on a road trip, when you had a six-person van available.  You're wasting money on gas, parking and tolls on the car; you're wasting space on your fantasy team.

Anyway, this has been a long goal line stand.  There must have been a few pass interference penalties and a TV timeout to warrant this much of an allotment.

Just keep in mind that when you strap handcuffs on your team, you're quickly going to run out of enough free hands to help you climb your way to the top.


  1. stally - a few things.
    1. tecklenburg a journalist you should know better than to disrespect somebody by making an error in spelling a name.
    2. your very own league that i am a part of (and will win) has 6 bench positions ...big difference.
    3. im accustomed to a 12 team league that has 18 roster spotss (thus 8 bench positions). in that league handcuffing is a viable strategy as the waiver pool is slim.
    4. ive never said to handcuff every back ...just those with a clearly defined backup.

  2. Thanks for checking it out Billy. Sorry about spelling your name incorrectly, always one of my pet peeves and it's been fixed.

    You're right that our league has six, but in a ten team league with six roster spots, my sentiments still stand.

  3. I wouldn't entirely disagree except in a case like Ronnie Brown and Lesean McCoy in PHI. Brown would replicate McCoys stats if he went dow. Your example of the DEN backfield is sensible in this format. In a 12 team league with 18 roster spots and 56 more rostered players, handcuffing is a necessary strategy.

  4. great explanation for those of us in the cheap seats. i'll remember to never handcuff people in fantasy. only in real life. (shout out to danny woodhead--call me.)