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Running Back Handcuff Strategy for 2022 Fantasy Football

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Running back handcuffing is an essential strategy in fantasy football drafts given the nature of the position. Simply put, top running backs touch the ball a lot and take a pounding. As such, they’re more prone to injury than the other skill positions. Handcuffing as a way we can protect our top investments.

 

If we’re going to invest early-round picks at the position, then we want to make sure we have insurance by rostering the backup who is most likely to take over the biggest role in the event of an injury. Of course, there are a few things to consider before we get into the handcuff candidates in 2022 fantasy football drafts.

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that handcuffing is a commitment for the entire season. If you’re going to draft a handcuff only to turn around and cut that handcuff in Week 4 because you needed a drop, it really isn’t worth handcuffing in the first place. Injuries can happen at any point during the NFL season, so you need to hold that player for until the end of the season. Commit to the ‘cuff.

The other key idea to take on board is that not every running back can or should be handcuffed. Of course, we’re going to want to handcuff our top running backs if we can. But if the running back is outside of the RB1s, he likely isn’t your top back. In handcuffing multiple backs, you really limit what you can do with your bench. 

A good rule to follow is handcuffing the top 10 running backs on the board. These are players who will go in the first or second rounds. That’s hefty draft capital, so you really want to insure your investment. After you draft this play, I suggest moving his handcuff up two rounds on your board to ensure that you get him. 

So let’s take a look at the top running backs and their most likely handcuff right now. Note that these are not handcuff rankings. As I said above, we want to handcuff the back we drafted. Sure, Alexander Mattison is the top name of this group. But if we don’t draft Dalvin Cook, then we really don’t need to worry about Mattison.

Top RB Handcuffs

Jonathan Taylor – Phillip Lindsay, Indianapolis Colts

That’s right. It isn’t Nyheim Hines. If Jonathan Taylor went down with an injury, Hines’ role would remain largely unchanged. Instead, Phillip Lindsay would slide into the early-down role. To be fair, he’s far from Jonathan Taylor, but Lindsay would likely see reasonable volume in a potent run game.

Christian McCaffrey – D’Onta Foreman, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers added D’Onta Foreman in the offseason to give them a bigger back who can handle a big workload in the run game. Foreman showed his value as a handcuff in Tennessee last season and is the preferred option over Chuba Hubbard in Carolina.

Austin Ekeler – Isaiah Spiller, Los Angeles Chargers

This one isn’t as easy, as Isaiah Spiller is currently running behind Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree in camp. However, he’s a more talented back who possesses a three-down skill set. It’s only a matter of time before he’s the No. 2 on the depth chart.

Derrick Henry – Hassan Haskins, Tennessee Titans

With Foreman out of the mix, the Titans drafted the big back out of Michigan in the fourth round of April’s draft. Yes, Dontrell Hilliard is in the mix, but Hassan Haskins profiles as the logical next man up if Henry went down.

Dalvin Cook – Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings

Alexander Mattison 2022 Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs

He’s one of the top handcuffs in the game, and for good reason. If Dalvin Cook misses any time, you essentially get a one-for-one swap in production.

Najee Harris – Anthony McFarland, Pittsburgh Steelers

Put an asterisk by this one, as it still isn’t 100% clear if McFarland or Benny Snell will serve in this role. McFarland looked great in the Steelers’ first preseason game, but Snell didn’t play in that contest due to injury. For now, we’ll lean McFarland, but be prepared to adjust if Snell is ahead of McFarland when he returns to the practice field.

Joe Mixon – Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals

Thankfully, the Bengals made this one relatively clear for us after their first preseason game. Samaje Perine sat along with Joe Mixon, while Chris Evans played. Healthy players not playing in the preseason is a great indication of their preferred status with their respective teams.

D’Andre Swift – Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions

In Detroit you get a handcuff with some potential to give you independent value, as the Lions will likely use a full-blown timeshare. Don’t let that scare you away from D’Andre Swift, though. His massive ceiling as a pass catcher positions him squarely in the RB1 conversation.

Alvin Kamara – Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

It doesn’t look like a suspension will happen this season for Alvin Kamara, but if it does or if he misses time due to injury, Mark Ingram looks like the best bet to replace him. He’s up there in years, but Ingram could still slog out RB2 numbers if he sees volume.

Leonard Fournette – Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is another situation that isn’t 100% clear. The Bucs drafted Rachaad White back in April, but the rookie has been operating behind Giovani Bernard and Keshawn Vaughn in camp. However, like Spiller, we make a bet that talent wins out and White emerges as the No. 2 option.

 

Suboptimal Cuffs

Those are the top handcuffs on the board, but we also have a number of backfields that aren’t the most optimal to handcuff. This can be for a variety of reasons. In some instances, we’re creating a potential negative correlation on our rosters. In others we have dead zone backs who aren’t likely to be the top options on our teams. Let’s dive into each of these backfields.

Green Bay Packers

Yes, you’re reading this correctly, and this isn’t a knock on AJ Dillon at all. In fact, Dillon is so good that he makes using as a handcuff to Aaron Jones a suboptimal play. If you draft Jones and then want to take Dillon, you’re most likely going to have to take him in the fifth round. That will set you up to likely have to start both Packers running backs, which limits the potential of your lineup. The chances that both Packers backs have big days in the same game isn’t as good as only one of them doing so.

Cleveland Browns

Like Green Bay, we have a very similar situation here. You won’t have to spend as early of a pick on Kareem Hunt but rostering him could create a situation where you could have to start him along with Nick Chubb.

Dallas Cowboys

This one is somewhat like the above, but we’re also moving down the board a bit with Ezekiel Elliott. It’s unlikely he’s your first back given where he’s going in drafts, so grabbing Tony Pollard isn’t as essentially. In fact, the sharp move may be to fade Elliott and draft Pollard. Having Pollard independent of Elliott gives you the chance of catching lighting in a bottle if Elliott goes down, and you also get some independent value out of Pollard.

Denver Broncos

Melvin Gordon 2022 Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs

While the masses may be higher on Javonte Williams, he’s a tad lower in my rankings given the fact that Nathaniel Hackett said the team would use a time share in their backfield. Dead-zone backs aren’t the best options to handcuff.

Los Angeles Rams

Darrell Henderson is the logical handcuff to Cam Akers, but this is another dead-zone back who isn’t likely to be your No. 1 option.

New York Jets

Rookie Breece Hall figures to dominate the early-down work with Michael Carter getting passing-down duties. If Hall got injured, Carter could see an expanded role. But it should be noted that the team drafted Hall for a reason. There’s a chance that they may not view Carter as a one-for-one replacement.

Baltimore Ravens

J.K. Dobbins looks like he’ll be fine for the start of the season, but the same cannot be said for Gus Edwards. That means Mike Davis is currently Dobbins’ handcuff. We’ve been down this road before, and it doesn’t end well.

Kansas City Chiefs

Yes, Isiah Pacheco is trending up like crazy, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire just isn’t a premium enough option to handcuff. You will likely see Edwards-Helaire fall to the sixth or seventh round in your drafts.

Las Vegas Raiders

Like Kansas City, you just aren’t spending a high enough pick on Josh Jacobs to warrant protecting your investment with Zamir White.

San Francisco 49ers

Elijah Mitchell is banged up, but he will be reportedly ready for the start of the season. However, it’s a friendly reminder that he’s no stranger to injury. Having said that, this backfield is a complete mess behind him with Jeff Wilson, Trey Sermon and Tyrion Davis-Price all in the mix for No. 2 duties.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals brought in veteran Darrel Williams in the offseason, and he seems to have a leg up on Eno Benjamin after the team rested him and played Benjamin in the first preseason game. Having said that, James Conner isn’t a premium option worth handcuffing.

Chicago Bears

Heading into the preseason, it looked like David Montgomery was still locked in as the feature back. However, the Bears could be trending toward more of a timeshare under their new coaching regime with Khalil Herbert seeing an expanded role. Like many in this group, Montgomery simply doesn’t cost the draft capital to necessitate a handcuff and we might be headed into more of a committee situation.

Washington Commanders

Despite an ugly preseason performance in Week 1, Antonio Gibson is still the lead back. However, like the Bears, we could see more of a timeshare with Brian Robinson getting work on early downs. J.D. McKissic will handle a bulk of the passing down duties.

Backfield Committees

The last two backfields could be inching closer to full-blown committees, but we do have several others that are already in that territory. These backfields don’t present obvious one-for-one RB1 situations, but they could blossom into fantasy goodness if things work out right.

Buffalo Bills

Devin Singletary looks to be the preferred early-down back, but we could also see some of rookie James Cook and veteran Zach Moss in that role. Cook figures to be the primary pass catcher, but likewise, Moss could be in the mix there as well.

New England Patriots

The Belichickery continues. Damien Harris is coming off a top-15 fantasy season, but Rhamondre Stevenson is pushing him. We should also see J.J. Taylor as a pass catcher. And we can’t rule out roles for rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris.

Jacksonville Jaguars

James Robinson 2022 Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuffs

Travis Etienne essentially didn’t leave the field in the preseason opener, but that happened with James Robinson in the lineup. It’s hard to tell how the touches will be distributed once Robinson returns.

Seattle Seahawks

Rashaad Penny is already injured, but he figures to be the lead at least early in the season for the Seahawks. However, the team will likely use rookie Ken Walker in early downs with Travis Homer getting work on passing downs.

Philadelphia Eagles

Nick Sirianni has made it clear that Miles Sanders is in the lead on early downs, but also that Kenneth Gainwell will also factor in heavily in the pass game and in goal line situations.

 

No Clear Handcuff Situation

We also have a few teams with either no obvious handcuff or uncertainty on the depth chart.

New York Giants

Saquon Barkley’s handcuff is tough to decipher right now. Technically, Matt Breida is the next man on the depth chart, but it’s tough to envision him in Barkley’s role. Gary Brightwell ran hard in the Giants preseason open and could get those duties if Barkley went down, but the depth chart still needs to sort itself out behind Barkley.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins sat both Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert in the preseason opener, so those two look likely to be atop the depth chart. Sony Michel was the top back in that game, but we really could be looking at a three-man committee at least in the beginning of the season for the Dolphins.

Atlanta Falcons

Cordarrelle Patterson will be used all over the formation, so there’s a prime opportunity here. However, the Falcons did use both Damien Williams and Qadree Ollison ahead of rookie Tyler Allgeier in the first preseason game. Allgeier is the most intriguing of the bunch, but he needs to make his move up the depth chart.

Houston Texans

Similarly, the Texans used Marlon Mack ahead of rookie Damien Pierce in their first preseason game. Rex Burkhead should also have a prominent role in the passing game. Pierce has the highest ceiling, but we still lack clarity on this depth chart. 

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