Like any other strategy game, the explosion of fantasy football has led to sharper and sharper players. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that virtually everyone is now aware of the handcuffing strategy at running back. If the Jamaal Charles owner doesn’t select Knile Davis, he’s playing with fire.
What many owners aren’t doing right now is handcuffing at other positions. It’s viable in far fewer situations, but can be just as beneficial. To be clear, the purpose of handcuffing is having 16 weeks of high-quality production, regardless of the inevitable injuries that will strike. The idea is that our handcuff – now thrust into a starting role – will score more than any player we pick up off the wire or insert off our bench.
Here are eight situations where I’d apply this strategy:
1. Cody Latimer to Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker or Emmanuel Sanders
Last year, the Broncos had four players with double-digit receiving touchdowns and five with 60-plus catches. Even with the Peyton Manning regression coming, Denver is still a good bet to lead the league in most passing categories. So anyone on the field in this scheme is going to be worth a look – and Cody Latimer isn’t just “anyone.” This a 6’3/215 4.4 guy with elite contested catch ability and velcro hands.
Come Week 1, the Broncos will line up with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as outside bookends to slot man Wes Welker. If Thomas or Sanders go down, Latimer would be an every-down outside receiver. If Welker goes down, Sanders would kick to the slot and Latimer would be an every-down receiver. Given that Welker is one headshot away from a career-threatening diagnosis, I think Latimer is well worth a handcuff investment. He’d be an instant WR2 if pressed into action.
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2. Davante Adams to Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb or Jarrett Boykin
I think Jarrett Boykin did enough last year (5.5 catches, 78.3 yards two touchdowns between Weeks 7 and 12) and will do enough this August to win the No. 3 wideout job, also known as the James Jones spot. But that doesn’t mean second-round rookie Davante Adams can’t play. Packers GM Ted Thompson previously used second-round picks Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, and no one should be surprised if Adams eventually follows in those footsteps. He led the nation last year in receptions (131) and touchdown catches (24) as Derek Carr’s go-to guy. In fact, don’t be surprised at all if Adams takes over a healthy Boykin at some point during the season.
But the bigger payoff will come if any of the top-three wideouts suffer an injury. We know Jordy Nelson can play all over the formation, so he’d likely move inside if Randall Cobb went down. Adams as an every-down receiver with Aaron Rodgers in an offense now devoid of a true pass-catching tight end? Yes please.
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3. Marquess Wilson to Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery
Marquess Wilson entered the NFL as a seventh-round pick with gobs of talent and almost as much off-field baggage. But he’s progressed nicely enough that the Bears were comfortable letting Jay Cutler favorite Earl Bennett walk, essentially penning in Wilson as the No. 3 receiver. The 6-foot-4 Wilson responded by adding a much-needed 20-plus pounds to his frame during the offseason and shining during OTA season.
So if Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery go down, the Bears can plug in a player with similar measurables. Wilson doesn’t have the polish or experience, but he does come with an undrafted ADP in most formats. It’s a small price to pay if you’re making a second-round investment on Marshall or Jeffery.
4. Gavin Escobar to Jason Witten
People will brush this one off as Jason Witten has missed one game in his 11-year career. But note that Roddy White rode a 128 consecutive game streak into last year before his disaster, and Witten is now 32 years old. At some point, Father Time gets everyone.
Gavin Escobar needs to be on our radar because the Cowboys used a second-round pick on him in 2013 because of his ability to catch the football – not block. New offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has already stated that he’d really excited about Escobar because of the “untapped” upside, and his spread scheme is perfect for a player deficient in blocking. Armed with a Tony Gonzalez-esque skill set and NCAA slot experience, Escobar would border on TE1 status if Witten were to go down. There’s not much pass-catching talent in Dallas behind Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. 5. Harry Douglas to Julio Jones or Roddy White
The Julio Jones injury is concerning to me because he’s now broken the same bone in his left foot twice within three years. Roddy White, who will turn 33 in November, showed some signs of breaking down last season while struggling to get past ankle and hamstring woes. Meanwhile, Harry Douglas has no red flags other than being the third wheel behind an extremely talented duo.
We only have to look back to last season to know Douglas is capable of putting up numbers when called upon. In the 11 games following Jones’ injury, Douglas averaged 6.2 catches for 77.0 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. Given the Falcons’ shoddy defense and elimination of the “F” (move tight end) spot from their offense, Douglas would sustain low-end WR2 value if Jones or Roddy miss time. Owners gambling on Julio in the second round should make Douglas a priority.
6. Brock Osweiler to Peyton Manning
This is a tough one because we’ve never seen Brock Osweiler play in a meaningful regular season situation. All we have to go on is preseason action, during which he’s gone an unimpressive 54-of-91 (59.3 percent) for 507 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. But the Broncos continue to rave about him as a high-upside prospect, with reports streaming in about how much improvement he’s made recently and how confident they are if Peyton Manning went down.
It would have to be a really deep league, likely a two-quarterback format, for me to make this handcuff. The depth at the position is just so massive. But Osweiler is a 6-foot-8, strong-armed pocket passer with plus athleticism. The scheme and weaponry here is ripe for statistics.
7. Jordan Matthews to Jeremy Maclin
I like Jordan Matthews as a standalone pick. Jeremy Maclin is coming off a torn ACL, Riley Cooper is a role player and DeSean Jackson is gone. Matthews will start off as an oversized slot man and grow his role from there. That growth will become an avalanche if Maclin can’t get his knee right, something that’s certainly within the realm of possibility considering he’s only a year removed from his latest reconstruction. The 6’3/212 Matthews was the star of Eagles OTAs, drawing Terrell Owens comparisons in the process.
8. Jacob Tamme to Julius Thomas
Last year, Julius Thomas was sidelined for two games (Weeks 12 and 13). In Week 12, Jacob Tamme played on 30-of-90 snaps and posted a 5-47-1 line. In Week 13, he played on just 19-of-71 snaps and burned owners with 1-3-0. We learned that Tamme is strictly a situational pass-catcher, not an every-down player like Thomas. But when Peyton Manning and the Broncos think the matchup is right, they won’t hesitate to go to Tamme as a third or fourth option. That’s enough for a little protection if you miss out on the high-upside later-round tight ends like Zach Ertz, Ladarius Green. I’d rather start Tamme (if Julius is out) than guys like Jared Cook or Antonio Gates.
RB HANDCUFFS I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
Mike Clay will have more on this, but I wanted to put my rankings out there. These are based on a combination of the backup’s talent, his expected usage in the event of a starter injury, and the likelihood of a starter injury. Backs that are already part of a committee (Chris Ivory, Jeremy Hill, Terrance West, Devonta Freeman, etc.) have been omitted.
1. Knile Davis, Chiefs: With Jamaal Charles resting in Week 17 and getting concussed in the Wild Card playoff game, Davis totaled 45 carries and nine catches.
2. Christine Michael, Seahawks: One of the league’s most run-heavy offenses has a powderkeg ready to explode. Marshawn Lynch’s holdout can’t help his chances of staying healthy.
3. Carlos Hyde, 49ers: Kendall Hunter (ACL) is done for the year, it appears unlikely Marcus Lattimore will regain his old form anytime soon, LaMichael James is a return man and Frank Gore has 2,518 career touches.
4. James Starks, Packers: Starks quietly excelled last year by averaging 5.55 YPC on his 94 carries (including playoffs). The Packers want to run Eddie Lacy into the ground.
5. C.J. Anderson, Broncos: Put this one in pencil as Anderson has to beat out Ronnie Hillman and some UDFAs before winning the No. 2 job behind Montee Ball.
6. Chris Polk, Eagles: If LeSean McCoy gets hurt, Darren Sproles’ role will not change. And with Bryce Brown in Buffalo, the feature back spot will fall to the intriguing Polk.
7. Ka’Deem Carey, Bears: Assuming Carey separates from Michael Ford, he’s an all-around back that could operate as a poor man’s Matt Forte.
8. Lance Dunbar, Cowboys: Not capable of carrying a full workload if DeMarco Murray goes down, but would get a big bump in touches. Dunbar buzzed throughout the offseason and is way ahead of Joseph Randle.
9. LeGarrette Blount, Steelers: Clear-cut No. 2 behind Le’Veon Bell, but note that Blount offers zero in the passing game.