If you're a Jamaal Charles or Le'Veon Bell owner, you know all too well the importance of handcuffing your high-priced (auction) or first-round pick (snake draft) Running Backs. Managing a roster for need as well as future needs can be tough during bye weeks and injuries, but adding backups for "free" in advance can save you from major despair, and keep you from having to pick up and start extremely limited third-down RB's like Eagles Darren Sproles or Lions Theo Riddick.
If you've been blessed with solid health this season, you may already have some of these handcuffs on your team. Handcuffing is not always a cut and dry situation though, as Marshawn Lynch owners learned this year. Many believed Buffalo Bills cast-off Fred Jackson would be next in line if Lynch were to go down, but it was actually Thomas Rawls who became the workhorse when Lynch missed time earlier this year. When a situation isn't crystal clear, and two running backs are on a level playing field, it's best to grab the back with the most talent. Usually they will rise to the top when an opportunity arises (Charcandrick West over Knile Davis in Kansas City for example) (unless you're Christine Michael....) If you've got the room, make it a point to handcuff your starting RB's now that we're getting close to done with bye weeks. That way an injury/suspension/etc won't doom you.
If you missed out on your handcuff and someone else beat you to your guy, it's a good idea to be proactive and seek out collateral cuffs. Ideal candidates are on good teams, with good defenses so they're playing with leads. You can't always find that situation though, and in reality any potential RB starter is valuable and needs to be owned.
Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures
In one league, I'm in the thick of the playoff hunt and recently lost Dion Lewis for the year. I just spent all of my FAAB on Jeremy Langford to stay afloat. Well, Matt Forte will be back at some point to suck the life out of this Langford dominance of the past two weeks, so I started playing a sick and twisted game of adding backups of players I don't own on Sundays before, and then during/after the games. I'm not sure about all platforms, but you can do this through Yahoo! as long as you don't start the player. That way, if an injury occurs I have them for free and don't have to worry about FAAB or waiver priority on Tuesday night.
For example, last week I added Jordan Todman of the Steelers before the noon games. DeAngelo Williams and his sore foot made it through unscathed, so at the end of the noon games I dropped Todman and picked up Spencer Ware of the Chiefs (a Matt Waldman favorite.) Charcandrick West has dominated of late with a huge workload, and Knile Davis was recently made inactive in favor of Ware so it's a worthwhile shot in the dark. West also cleanly navigated his game, so once that was finished I dropped him for Jonathan Grimes of the Texans who has gotten some carries behind the awful Alfred Blue.
None of these moves have ended up being fruitful, and I realize that I'm quite OCD when it comes to fantasy, so this mad scientist game of chance isn't for everyone, but if you're in a bind and fantasy cash-strapped like me, it's "a strategy" you can employ. It's a terrible thing to make moves based on potential injuries, but hey, don't hate the player, hate the game.
With that said, I've provided a batch of intriguing players I think are solid targets right now for the needy (not an all-encompassing list as handcuffing varies):
Persons Of Interest (Yahoo ownership percentages):
Thomas Rawls (25%) - Seahawks
I'm surprised that Rawls is available in 3/4 of leagues. Rawls, (not Fred Jackson, like many assumed as the season began) replaced Lynch early in the year when Beast Mode went down. Hand-picked by Pete Carroll, Rawls has compiled 321 yards rushing and a TD in three starts this year. For awhile last Sunday, we weren't sure if Lynch would play, citing a possible sports hernia (which ended up negative after testing), but grabbing effective backups to guys already dealing with injuries, or with an injury-riddled past is a smart move, even if you're not a Lynch owner.
Jay Ajayi (22%) - Dolphins
Jay was a favorite of many leading into the 2015 NFL Draft. Many envisioned him being an early-round pick, but a medical evaluation of his knee revealed potential long-term issues. Any kind of report like this usually plummets a player, as it did Ajayi to the Dolphins in the fifth round. Lamar Miller is having a very solid, if not resurgent year in Miami. Recently, Ajayi has been active for the first time this season and has carried 11 times for 89 yards. That's 8.1 YPC! Ajayi is an absolute must for Miller owners and a top of the line stash for anyone.
Charles Sims (31%) - Buccaneers
Sims is sort of a post-hype sleeper turned useful this year. He was an intriguing name to take over for a struggling Doug Martin last year, but it never really materialized. This season, he's been quite useful as a receiving back, and has over 500 total yards via the ground and air. Doug Martin is also having a very strong year, so right now Sims is a must-have handcuff for Martin owners but in the event of a "Mr. Don't Call Me Muscle Hamster" injury Sims could be a very strong RB2 with RB1 upside.
Javorius Allen (4%) - Ravens
Javorius "Buck" Allen is the clear handcuff to Justin Forsett in Baltimore. Forsett has seen carries in the low-to-mid teens of late, mainly due to the Ravens defense hemorrhaging points and falling behind. With that said, even if Forsett goes down the volume and game script might not allow for massive totals, but Forsett is 30 years old, was a journeyman before settling in B-More so clear-backup Buck isn't a bad add.
Jordan Todman (2%) - Steelers
Starting at Running Back for the Steelers is a bountiful bevy of fantasy points. Le'Veon Bell is a monster, but DeAngelo Williams has also been a saint for fantasy owners. If Williams were to go down (and he did have a foot ailment before last week's game) journeyman jitterbug Jordan Todman would be next in line. He's a must for D-Will owners and intriguing for the rest of us.
Rod Smith (0%) /Robert Turbin (1%) - Cowboys
There has been a lot of movement here in the past 24 hours. Christine Michael was jettisoned, Rod Smith was elevated to RB2 and then the Robert Turbin was signed today. I'd lean Rod Smith as the 'cuff for now, but Turbin could potentially be that guy. Darren McFadden has seen just over 26 touches per game over the last four, so anyone inheriting his role would be in for a big workload. Two things I like about this situation is that McFadden has a history of injury and brittleness, and the Cowboys offense only can go up from here with WR Dez Bryant back and rounding into form as well as QB Tony Romo returning this week.
Tevin Coleman (24%) - Falcons
Coleman, not Devonta Freeman was anointed to be the starter for the Falcons this year but an injury to TC early opened the door for Devonta and holy cats has he blown through it with fury. Tevin will not be getting his job back unless Freeman gets hurt, so Tevin is more of a pure Freeman handcuff, but the offense and workload are lucrative so he also is worth an end of bench stash spot if you need it.
Spencer Ware (0%) - Chiefs
I'll admit, I don't know much about Ware at all. Anyone who follows Matt Waldman knows he spews truths and drops knowledge. Matt is fond of Ware. A no-nonsense punisher of bodies, Ware is not electrifying like Jamaal Charles, nor slick and crafty like current starter Charcandrick West, but it is evident he'd be next in line for a large workload should Mr. West succumb to any ouchies. Previously entrenched backup Knile Davis was inactive last week and it looks like Ware has taken that role moving forward.
Joique Bell (31%) /Ameer Abdullah (54%)
This is one to monitor a little bit. The Lions recently have gone back to the glass-half-empty Joique Bell well. He rewarded such a notion with 14 carries for 17 yards against the beatable Packers run defense this past weekend. During the pre-season Abdullah was a very popular RB2 pick with RB1 upside. He has sputtered, no doubt, but the talent is definitely there. If either (or both of them) are in your Free Agent pool I'd probably add Bell if you need a contributor right now, and Abdullah if you're decently set at RB but want some upside depth.
Tre Mason (7%) - Rams
Mason is actually pretty good football player, and one of the better backups in the league. In twelve games last year he totaled 913 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. If Todd Gurley weren't a generational talent, the Rams really didn't need to take a Running Back in the draft last year. But, they did, and Mason has been stranded on the sidelines during Gurley's utter dominance. With that said, Todd Gurley does have a major knee injury in his recent past which caused him to miss the start of the year. That, combined with Mason's ability make him a high-quality stash.
Ahmad Bradshaw (4%) - Colts
Bradshaw wasn't even playing for a decent portion of this year, but he's slid back into his pass-catching role for the Colts pretty seamlessly. Given that they'll be without QB Andrew Luck for 2-6 weeks and also that their defense isn't very good, the game script should allow for Bradshaw to pile up some usable point totals regardless for a bit. Ahmad isn't the youngest of cats out there at 29 but current starter Frank Gore is 32 himself. You've got a solid situation, plus an old starter in front of him, which makes a nice case for a pickup in the desperate-for-RB/handcuff game.
Denard Robinson (2%) - Jaguars
This one is more of a time-sensitive thing than a great talent-in-waiting or situational thing. Starter T.J. Yeldon was recently seen in a boot early this week, but should play Thursday. Still, anyone who was in a boot early in the week and plays Thursday is at risk for reinjury. Denard is an exciting little player who's more of a gadget than true RB, but he has performed well as the starter before. Grab him if you own Yeldon for sure, and not a bad ad for anyone else needing RB.
Jonathan Grimes (1%) - Texans
Alfred blue, the current starter for Houston sucks. He had one blowup game with a billion carries earlier this year, but has averaged 2.3 YPC over the last two tilts filling in as starter for injured Arian Foster. On Monday night, recently elevated to RB2 Jonathan Grimes ran seven times for 33 yards. He also snagged a pass for 12. I could see the Texans swapping Blue and Grimes, especially since they're in the running for the AFC South crown. I also ran the idea by NFL Draft/Houston Radio guy Lance Zierlein and he agrees that the Texans should and will make the switch. If Grimes does get the gig, don't go expecting Arian Foster-lite, but if you can add an on-the-cusp starter for free right now, you may as well.
This is in no way an all-encompassing list. There are simply too many players and 32 teams to cover, but I wanted to highlight some ones with intrigue and just point out the ideology behind it. Each one of us has our reasons to get excited about certain players and can theorize a million different scenarios but the concept is solid and can help you circumvent the waiver/FAAB process. Now go find a pair or two of handcuffs and beef up the security of your roster!