RB handcuffs can be controversial among fantasy football managers. The tactic of rostering handcuff RBs to your starters can reap huge rewards but can also be a significant waste of a roster spot, especially in redraft leagues. The story in dynasty leagues is a little different because of the larger rosters, but in redraft, pinpointing which handcuffs are worth the investments and which are not is key. Let’s take a look at what RB handcuffs are and which players are the top ones to target in 2022.
What are RB handcuffs, and who are the targets for 2022?
Let’s start with a quick primer on what RB handcuffs are. In its simplest form, a running back handcuff is a backup RB that would presumably become the starter if the lead back went down.
More specifically, an RB handcuff is one without any real standalone value. He’s not someone you can insert into your lineup while the starter is healthy and active. An RB handcuff has no actual fantasy value unless something were to happen to the starter.
Handcuff RBs to target in 2022 fantasy leagues
When you are preparing for fantasy drafts in redraft leagues, the key is identifying which ones are worthwhile and which are not. That might sound obvious, but it is not always followed. There are two elements to consider for redraft when determining which backs are handcuffs worth drafting.
Firstly, they need to be in a situation where if the starter gets hurt, that RB would assume the majority of the starter’s shares. We are not just talking about a 55% share but 75% or more. If the back you are considering is not in that position, they are often not worth the value they assume in drafts.
The tough handcuffs to judge are ones with standalone value. For example, AJ Dillon is the handcuff to Aaron Jones, but his standalone value is so high that drafting both is a significant investment. Other names to consider are Kareem Hunt and Tony Pollard, but both of those could find a third back coming in to take carries if the starter gets hurt.
Let’s take a look at which backs are the clear handcuffs for fantasy managers to consider in redraft leagues in 2022.
Alexander Mattison | Vikings
Alexander Mattison is the prototypical handcuff back. When Dalvin Cook is healthy, his value is extremely limited. However, as soon as Cook misses time, Mattison becomes a must-start back. We saw this last year when Mattison started four games in Weeks 3, 5, 13, and 16. Across those games, he averaged 21.5 rush attempts and 5.5 targets per game.
In each of the four, he scored double-digit fantasy points. In non-PPR, Mattison did not score double-digit fantasy points in a single game.
Khalil Herbert | Bears
When David Montgomery missed the Bears’ Week 2 preseason game, Khalil Herbert took all the snaps with the starters. That is the same as what we saw in 2021. When Montgomery was out in Weeks 5-8, Herbert averaged 19.5 rush attempts, 2.25 targets, and 11.2 fantasy points per game.
Darrell Henderson | Rams
When Cam Akers missed the majority of the 2021 season, Darrell Henderson took the majority of the snaps. The Rams RB had double-digit carries in every game he played between Week 1-9 and then again in Week 12. In those first 12 weeks, he recorded 38 targets at an average of just under four per game.
Durability is his biggest issue, as he missed five games in total and four in the last six weeks. However, the situation was a little different, with Akers getting injured before the season. It is rare that a handcuff would need to fill in for a full season. The other element with Henderson is that he has some standalone value.
Jeff Wilson Jr. | 49ers
The arrival of Tyrion Davis-Price has clouded the picture slightly, but Jeff Wilson is still second on the depth chart. The 49ers tend to utilize one main back, which is what we saw last year. When Mitchell missed time, Wilson saw the majority of the snaps and took a bulk of the RB touches. Unless Davis-Price takes Wilson’s spot on the depth chart during the season, he appears to be the primary handcuff for the 49ers.
Darrel Williams | Cardinals
The Cardinals resigned James Conner to a big-money deal, but he has struggled with injuries in his career. The Cardinals already had Eno Benjamin on their roster, but they went out and added Darrel Williams. When the Cardinals were dealing with RB injuries last year, they seemed hesitant to use Benjamin, instead preferring to have Jonathan Ward work into the rotation.
Therefore, Williams looks set to be the handcuff to Conner and could have some nice value doing so. In 2021, Williams took 144 rush attempts for 558 yards and added 452 receiving yards on 57 targets. He was a good dual-threat option for the Chiefs and could be again for the Cardinals if Conner struggles to stay on the field.
How to value RB handcuffs in dynasty leagues
In redraft leagues, not every running back handcuff is rostered, nor should they be. The key difference in dynasty leagues is every RB handcuff is on a roster, and in most cases, so is the third-string back. Given the large roster size, dynasty managers cannot rely on the waiver wire to fix in-season running back issues.
In dynasty leagues, handcuffing your own RBs is important. Whereas in a redraft format, you might not want to burn two roster spots on what is essentially one player, dynasty leagues have 25+ roster spots. The opportunity cost of using multiple roster spots on one player is greatly reduced.
Every season, there are anywhere from 3-7 RB handcuffs that we know will be immensely valuable if they end up with the starter’s job. And we know if the starter goes down, they’re the beneficiaries. If you roster any of the starters for those teams, it’s worth it also to take the handcuff.