In 2005, one of my fantasy football squads was a fledgling mess with a bunch of under-achievers at my receiver spots and a weekly QB decision between Marc Bulger and Jake Plummer. But one injury single handedly turned everything around when Priest Holmes was lost for the Chiefs. I wasn’t the Holmes owner in my league, but I did own a former Nittany Lion named Larry Johnson who stepped in and immediately shot to fantasy superstardom. 1,750 yards and 20 TD later, I had smoked my way through the playoffs en route to a league championship. That Larry Johnson pick in the 13th round wasn’t exciting at the time, but I guarantee you the Holmes owner sure wishes he had him to fall back on when Priest went down.
If he had read an incarnation of this article nine years ago, perhaps he would have. A handcuff is by no means the flashiest pick you’ll make in your draft. You won’t get any oohs or ahhs when you take a player whose fantasy relevance is dictated by the status of those ahead of them on the depth chart. Whereas some late round players are viewed as lottery tickets, handcuffs are more like insurance policies. If you’re going to invest heavily in a RB or WR early in your draft, why not be able to plug-in their replacement should an unfortunate injury beset them?
Yes, I did say RB and WR. We all know about backing up a stud RB with the next-in-line on his own team, but this same thinking can rightfully be applied to receivers as well, especially on teams with two exception pass catchers on the outside. In fact, because you only need one of those two to go down for your handcuff to see a significant upgrade in the offense, a WR handcuff could turn out to be an even safer bet than that of a RB.
None of the players below are going to be taken high in drafts, and for good reason. As it stands heading into Week 2 of the preseason, not a single one of them are looking at significant playing time or touches unless an injury or some other unforeseen occurrence bumps them into a leading role. However, if you own any of the RBs or WRs playing in front of these guys, you’d be wise to reach a round or two to ensure they’re on your roster. Even if you don’t own the studs they’re behind, it’s worth a Larry Johnson-esque risk to take a flier on one of these understudies should they come into significant playing time, especially in deeper leagues. So without further adieu, I give you the 2014 Steel Bracelet All-Stars:
Knile Davis, RB (KC) – Just because you’re a prized handcuff one year doesn’t mean you can’t carry it on over to the next. Jamaal Charles is coming off an incredible season and is in the discussion to go #1 overall in drafts this time around. This is the same Jamaal Charles who has had back-to-back seasons of 320+ touches and who missed almost all of 2011 with an ACL tear. This isn’t to suggest he is an enormous injury risk, but you just never know at RB and I’d certainly want someone as valuable as Charles cuffed.
Davis didn’t get a whole lot of run in his rookie season with the Chiefs. However, his performance in the playoffs (100 total yards, 2 TD) when Charles was sidelined confirmed what many already suspected with respect to his talent. The comparison to Larry Johnson is almost too easy to make if Davis does indeed get on the field. It might be frustrating to see Davis languishing on your bench week after week, but with as much as KC leans on the running back position to produce, it sure seems smart to cover yourself if you own Charles with his very capable and talented backup.
Christine Michael, RB (SEA) – Now that the entire Marshawn Lynch contract situation has been settled (for this year anyway), there’s two schools of thought about how the Seahawks will approach his usage. Either they see a RB at the tail end of his prime in the last year of his deal and run him into the ground, or they decide to mix in a few more carries for the backups to keep him rested and fresh. Sorry for those of you expecting weekly contributions from Michael or Robert Turbin, but I fully expect Seattle to take the supposed C.J Spiller approach and run him until he throws up. What do they have to lose?
Unless of course, they lose Lynch himself. Lynch has been the picture of durability in his time as a Seahawk, missing just one game in his nearly four-year stint with the club. But we’ve seen running backs fall off swiftly before and all that mileage on his tires has to be wearing him down somewhat. Some may argue that Turbin would be the man to own if Lynch was sidelined, but I’m squarely in Michael’s camp. I would expect him to get the lion share of the carries for a run-oriented offense if the Seahawks need a plan B in the backfield. Lynch owners should jump all over him before other owners get cute and lock you out.
Charles Sims, RB (TB) – Who says you can’t take a flier on a handcuff as well? If you read my rookie rankings from last week, you know the Tampa Bay coaching staff is very high on Sims, even comparing him to Lovie Smith’s former stud running back, Matt Forte. Sims is a do-everything back that could shoulder the three-down load if needed. After Doug Martin was lost last year, that’s exactly what the Bucs could have used.
Durability questions will surround Martin this season as he tries to prove that last year’s debacle was an outlier. Of all the running backs going in the first two rounds, he has to be the one I trust the least. He would be one back I would make sure to handcuff if he landed on my roster (a highly unlikely event). I know both Bobby Rainey and Mike James did some good things when they got their chance last year, but I see something special in Sims and think he would be turned to before anyone else to be the workhorse back.
UPDATE: AUG. 15 – Sims will undergo ankle surgery and miss 12-14 weeks of action. If he is to make an impact this season, he’ll have to wait until the second half of the season to do so. As a result, I like Bobby Rainey as the primary handcuff to Doug Martin, although I am not nearly as high on him as I was on Sims.
Harry Douglas, WR (ATL) – If there’s a captain for the WR corps of the Steel Bracelet All-Stars, it has to be Douglas. Through his first four years in the league, he had yet to break 500 yards receiving in a season. In 2013, with Julio Jones going down with a season ending injury and Roddy White playing most of the season not at 100%, Douglas was thrust into the spotlight and became a waiver wire wonder in the middle of the year, registering his first 1,000-yard season.
Douglas finds himself in the same position entering 2014. Jones looks to be fully recovered from his fractured foot but borders on being labeled an injury risk, while White, who looked good at the end of last year, will turn 33 during the season. Should either one of them go down again, it will again be Douglas who steps in to a prime offensive spot catching balls from Matt Ryan. Both Jones and White owners would be wise to throw down a pick on Douglas who currently carries a price tag outside the top-60 at WR. Peace of mind comes cheap from someone who you’ve seen do it before.
Marquess Wilson/Josh Morgan, WR (CHI) – There’s not another team in the NFL that concentrates so much of its skill position output on such a small cast of characters. Most of the production from this team is coming from Forte, Bennett and those two monsters on the outside, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Much like Jones and White a year ago, you could make the argument this is the best duo in the game as we speak. Both are expected to be at or near 100 catches again this year. So what happens if one of them goes down? That’s a lot of targets that are now up for grabs.
From all accounts, the Bears wanted Wilson to be that third guy. He’s another tall target (6’3″) but doesn’t quite have the build of a Marshall or Jeffery. A fractured collarbone suffered early in camp might just keep him from getting that opportunity. It’s in the air whether Chicago is comfortable with the second-year WR being the one to take that spot after missing most of camp and probably the beginning of the regular season. His loss could be Josh Morgan’s gain. He’s the only other receiver on the Bears’ roster with significant NFL experience and might be more easily trusted to step in if needed. This is one situation to keep a close eye on through the early weeks of the regular season, but whoever emerges as the understudy to Marshall and Jeffery is worth being owned.
Andre Roberts, WR (WAS) – Roberts was the kind of WR you started last year if you were desperate for someone to insert into your lineup, but you weren’t crazy about doing it. What looked like a battle between he and Michael Floyd for targets opposite Larry Fitzgerald slowly and quite evidently became Floyd’s job. In March, Roberts found a new home in Washington and looked to be the #2 target alongside Pierre Garçon. Enter DeSean Jackson.
Now, while all the hullabaloo surrounds the potentially lethal combination of Jackson and Garçon, and rightly so, Roberts has become a forgotten man. He’s one of the best third options of any team, but doesn’t figure to be featured in the passing game with those two in front of him. Although I expect RGIII to have a much improved passing season over last year, there’s not enough balls to go around to make Roberts a viable fantasy WR as it stands. Should something happen to Jackson or Garçon, the expectations change completely. Remember, this is a guy who is just one year removed from a 759-yard, 5 TD season and was expected to be a starter when he was signed. I don’t think Washington would have any reservations about inserting him into the starting lineup if need be and neither would I.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio: Join us this Monday the 18th of August from 1-2pm EST for another episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. This week our guest include Eric Paulen and Joe “65 Mustangs” Iannone. This week our featured guest is Eric Paulen who is the Founder & President of Bald Bull Entertainment. Eric has produced projects for companies & organizations such as ESPN, WWE, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, NBC Sports, NCAA, HBO Sports, History Channel, MLB, A&E, and is an owner in Major League Fantasy Sports in baseball, basketball, and football. Joe is a writer for majorleaguefantasysports.com and an owner in baseball & football. You can call in at 646.915.8596, listen live online anywhere, or if you can’t listen live you can download the podcast on I-Tunes or Google Play stores. Search for Sports Palooza Radio Show.