One of the toughest decisions to make during fantasy drafts is whether or not to handcuff one of your running backs. There are multiple factors to consider before deciding to handcuff a star player, with the biggest being the roster size on a fantasy roster.
In limited bench sizes, handcuffing running backs becomes more of a risk. Those bench spots are more valuable and better serves teams better to roster players that can fill in during bye weeks.
Other considerations include IR rules, league scoring, and the value of the handcuff player in question. For those who believe in the handcuffing strategy, here are the 10 players worth the risk:
1. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
Conner is a player worth locking up with Chase Edmonds on starting rosters. While Edmonds is the projected starter, his work load is unclear at this time. Edmonds has never carried the ball more than 100 times in a season, so it’s unclear if he can emerge as a three-down back. Despite a below-average offensive line in Pittsburgh last year, Conner was still able to average 4.3 yards per carry. He has a high ceiling as a feature back and is a great insurance policy if Edmond fails to meet expectations.
2. Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Hines finished last season as the RB20, but always had boom-or-bust potential. As a handcuff candidate, he can run up the scoreboard. Hines finished with 20 or more fantasy points on three occasions last year. Veteran Marlon Mack is still around to steal some carries, but Hines’ value increases within PPR leagues.
3. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions
With D’Andre Swift battling a groin injury, Williams is sneaking up in various rankings. Both Hines and Williams are within the same tier when it comes to owning handcuffs. Last season, Williams totaled 119 carries for 505 yards along with 31 receptions for 236 yards. That is great production for a running back battling Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon for touches.
4. Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers
Entering the 2021 season, the 49ers have the easiest schedule in terms of opponent run defense. If given the opportunity, Sermon could have a great start to his NFL career. Raheem Mostert missed half the season last year due to multiple injuries, including a serious ankle sprain. San Francisco drafted Sermon as an insurance policy for Mostert, and is a cheap option in fantasy drafts with a #96 ADP.
5. Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders
A case can be made for Drake to be the top handcuff due to Josh Jacobs’ lack of production. During the 2020 season, Jacobs saw his yards per carry drop from 4.8 to 3.9 yards. Drake finished as RB16 last season and has a proven track record of being able to carry a majority of the load. With 10 touchdowns last seasons, he will battle Jacobs for touches in Las Vegas’ backfield. Jacobs has recorded over 500 rush attempts across his first two seasons in the NFL, so there will be a considerable time share.
6. A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
With Jamaal Williams gone, Dillon is in line for a lot an increased role in Green Bay’s offense. It was a small sample size, but in 46 carries, Dillon averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Those numbers would certainly dip this upcoming season, but he has the potential to remain productive in the run game. Given the roster room in fantasy leagues, Dillon shouldn’t cost too much draft capital.
7. Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
Murray has been one of the best handcuffs over the years. Entering his age 31 season, it’s worth noting that Alvin Kamara has a proven injury history. Despite only missing one game in 2020, fantasy owners had the right to be nervous. Murray is likely due for 600+ rushing yards during the upcoming campaign and is worth rostering.
8. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Pollard proved to be effective with the opportunities he earned last year. His yards per carry did dip from 5.3 to 4.3 yards, but he scored twice and was utilized in the passing game. Reports indicate that Ezekiel Elliott looks to be in better shape entering Week 1, but we still have yet to see what unfolds. Should Tony Pollard need to step up as a legitimate starting running back, he could average 15+ fantasy points per game in Dallas’ offense.
9. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
It is going to take Dalvin Cook going down with an injury for Mattison to be very effective, but Cook is a running back worth handcuffing. The Minnesota backfield is primed to give their running backs 25+ carries per game, which leaves a lot of fantasy points on the board. The only other competition on the depth chart is Ameer Abdullah, which shouldn’t be a concern to fantasy owners.
10. Chubba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey is a fantasy running back that needs to be handcuffed entering this season. Mike Davis surpassed expectations when McCaffrey was sidelined. The Panthers have the fifth-hardest schedule for running backs this year. Hubbard wasn’t a catch-first running back during his tenure with Oklahoma State, but in fantasy leagues, running backs only needed a minimum of three receptions per game to be effective.