3 Handcuffs to Win Your Draft
Handcuffing a running back is typically done to lower a fantasy team's floor by ensuring that, if the starting back goes down, you aren't stuck without an elite asset until that back returns. Instead, you end up with a lite version of your star back in the form of their backup. This strategy is really valuable if you want to get fifth-place in your league but bring down a championship requires more aggressive tactics with inherently higher upside. Instead of buying an insurance policy on your back, create opportunities of leverage over your opponents by handcuffing their backs. This was popularized in Zero RB circles but the strategy offers the same advantage over your competition, even if you don't opt for the structural approach of Zero RB. These are the five backs you should be looking to leave every draft with in the later rounds.
Raheem Mostert is currently being drafted as the final RB2 at RB24 overall and that's a relatively even-handed approach for a back who went on a tear to end the 2019 season. However, his teammate and Kyle Shanahan's secret crush Tevin Coleman is a far better value as the RB43.
Despite Mostert averaging 75.8 rushing yards per game in the 49ers final five regular season contests, Shanahan rode Coleman in San Francisco's playoff opener versus the Vikings. Coleman finished the game 22 carries for 105 yards and two scores while Mostert saw 10 fewer carries and hit just 58 yards. Shanahan is willing to rotate his backs frequently and that sets the team up to feature something much closer to a committee than the ADP discrepancy between Mostert and Coleman suggests. Coleman even played the role of lead-back in San Francisco frequently last season. After suffering a high ankle injury in Week 1, Coleman came back with a vengeance for a number of weeks as well. From Week 5 to Week 12 Coleman averaged 13.6 carries and 2.1 receptions per game.
The most likely outcome is that Mostert and Coleman are a 1A and 1B backfield and that will still give Coleman some spike weeks throughout the season. The cost difference doesn't bake in much possibility for Coleman to take over for an injured Mostert or that he simply outplays the former practice-squad player and wins the leading role outright.
2. Tarik Cohen
Tarik Cohen isn't a handcuff in the traditional sense because he won't take over for David Montgomery if the plodder goes down with an injury. However, he would still benefit from time without Montgomery and has a lot of standalone value regardless.
Cohen doesn't have the prototypical size of a handcuff to a between-the-tackles grinder. The diminutive back stands at just 5'6" and weighs 179 pounds. However, he was a serviceable running back in the traditional sense two years ago. He posted 4.1 yards per carry while running from under center and ran at a 4.8 clip versus base fronts (per PlayerProfiler). Cohen isn't special as a grinder but he's serviceable. He's not a bruising, fourth and short back but he would clearly see an uptick in carries if Montgomery got hurt. The Bears also have no real options behind Montgomery and Cohen. With Ryan Nall used as an H-Back, rookies Artavis Pierce and Napoleon Maxwell are the team's only true backup rushers. Neither eclipsed 150 carries in eight combined college seasons while Cohen posted 264 carries in his junior campaign at North Carolina A&T.
Cohen is the most obvious backup with value on his own as well. He caught 79 passes on 104 targets last season. Both marks were top-five among running backs. Cohen only scored three times though and also recorded just 456 receiving yards, 10th among backs, and well below the expectation of his volume. Either by improvements from Mitchell Trubisky or with Nick Foles under center, the target quality and overall offense should take a step forward, bringing Cohen's efficiency closer to league-average. He is currently being drafted as the 45th running back.
Much like the backs mentioned before him, Justin Jackson isn't a pure handcuff and that's really what we're looking for in these backs; players who have multiple paths to being valuable. Cohen has his receiving role but could turn into Austin Ekeler if Montgomery is out. Coleman is a committee-back with room to grow into a dominant rusher, Jackson is currently next in line to fill some of the volume left behind by Melvin Gordon.
After returning from his failed holdout, Gordon came back to a healthy workload of 13.5 rush attempts per game and 3.5 receptions per game. This relegated Austin Ekeler back into his third-down role as he went from 14 carries per game to 6.3 with Gordon back in the fold. This is in spite of Ekeler averaging more yards per carry than Gordon on the season and adding dynamic pass-catching ability out of the backfield. Anthony Lynn showed his hand and that did not feature Ekeler as a three-down player when the team had someone else they believed in.
Jackson will get every chance to be their next trusted back. The Northwestern alum was electric and versatile in the three games he played without Gordon. He carried the ball 18 times and recorded 142 rushing yards while adding six catches on eight targets. A calf strain cut out the middle eight games of his 2019 campaign. With teams having much less time to integrate their rookies and Jackson already having a solid resume in LA, he's the clear favorite over rookie Joshua Kelley to backup Ekeler. That role will also include a hefty amount of carries and if Jackson plays well, it could easily be very similar to Gordon's from last year.