Fantasy Football Definition of "Hand Cuff"

A "handcuff" is an NFL backup, almost always a running back, who you draft after having drafted the starter. Because NFL running backs get hit more often than any other position, they are the most likely to get injured. Because RB's have more ways to get yardage totals and score, they are also among the most consistent and highest-producing fantasy football players.

When you combine these two facts, having a healthy and productive running back in your starting lineup is considered the most important factor in any fantasy football team's success. So in deep leagues, saving a roster spot for the primary backup to your start runner or "handcuffing" is considered a good idea.

Essentially, to handcuff a running back is to take out an insurance policy on your high-round draft pick. If injury happens, you still have a starting running back to put in the lineup. If you don't handcuff runners or draft other running back's backups, there's a chance you have no decent rushing options on your bench, in case of injury.

Why Is It Called a Handcuff?

Have you ever seen one of those movies where two escaped inmates have to work together, because they're handcuffed together? That's the imagine here. You want to make sure you have the running game of a particular team, so you handcuff a starting running back to a backup running back. No matter what, you have an option to start an RB. Some teams will draft handcuffs for their top 2 or 3 running backs, depending on roster size, the prominence or scouting report of the backup and your starter's history of injuries.

Handcuff Examples

Let's look at a prominent handcuff situation in 2009. Because of his late-season injuries in 2007 and 2008, Ladainian Tomlinson fell later in fantasy football drafts than he has in years. Instead of being the consensus #1 or #2 overall player drafted, LT slid into the bottom of the 1st round or even into the 2nd round. At that point, Ladainian Tomlinson's long history of fantasy production, his role on one of the NFL's best offenses and his supposed ability to score lots of fantasy touchdowns was too much to pass up.

But any fantasy football owner with any sense had to question LT's durability - the very reason he fell in fantasy football drafts. To offset the danger you would lose your 1st or 2nd round investment, a wise fantasy owner who drafted LT decided to handcuff LT to Darren Sproles. Darren Sproles is small, but explosive, and he's shown the last two years that he can put up big fantasy football numbers when given the chance. For that reason, he became one of the best ff handcuffs in 2009. After LT couldn't make it through the 1st half of the Chargers' first game, fantasy owners who didn't handcuff Sproles to Tomlinson were crying.

Handcuffing Isn't For Everyone

Not everyone thinks to handcuff runners or thinks handcuffing is a good idea. Because someone in your league was likely to jump out there and grab Darren Sproles, you had to draft him at least by the 8th or 9th round in most fantasy formats. This meant you were grabbing Sproles when you could have grabbed another solid wide receiver, a good backup quarterback, one of the last remaining starting RB's or even a 2nd-tier starting tight end or top tier defense (in leagues that's important). So you give up options when you choose to draft handcuffs. In fact, for every handcuff on your fantasy team, you are bypassing the option of drafting a mid-round sleeper or deep sleeper who might have a breakout year. So handcuffing can limit the upside potential of your team, while ensuring it doesn't get decimated by injuries.

Most wise fantasy football owners will handcuff a responsible amount of time. They might handcuff their top two running backs, but simply draft the best player available with the rest of their running options.

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