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Fantasy Football Strategy: Handcuffing

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by BallparkBob

Handcuffing is a simple strategy used by many fantasy football coaches.  With a handcuff, a coach will pick the backup for his starter from the same NFL team.

Brian Westbrook handcuff running back

HANDCUFFED: Brian Westbrook

Using a handcuff strategy is especially effective in auction leagues where the value of a backup is often quite low compared to picking up a starter on a lesser NFL team.  It is also increasingly effective in deep leagues where starters are at a premium.

The use of a handcuff is especially beneficial at the running back position since often the effectiveness of a running back at the NFL level is based more on the ability of the offensive line rather than the pure ability of the running back himself.  Choosing a handcuff running back makes sense in that starters in the NFL take tremendous abuse and many don’t make it through the season unscathed.  Hence, a handcuff running back is often going to see some action and is usually a better option than simply picking up a running back off of the waiver wire.  Think of a handcuff as a great insurance policy.

Last year, in fact, 7 of the top 25 running backs started the season as backups.  In the case of the Kansas City Chiefs, for instance, starter Larry Johnson was so bad that he was waived during the season, thus opening up an opportunity for his backup Jamaal Charles.  Charles sparkled in the second half of the season rushing for over 1000 yards and 8 touchdowns in 8 games of action.

Be sure to take a look at all of the 2010 starter and handcuff possibilities to see what makes sense for you.  In some cases, if you use a snake draft, and you have the last pick, you could pick the tandem in consecutive rounds.  That is usually, however, not necessary since rarely does a fantasy football coach desire a backup; a handcuff is of more value to the owner of the starter than to anybody else in the league.

One attractive consideration for handcuffing in the 2010 season is in San Francisco where veteran Brian Westbrook joins starter Frank Gore.  Westbrook is a very effective pass catcher and should get some reps as a receiver coming out of the backfield even if Gore remains healthy.

Some managers will consider using handcuff strategy at the quarterback position as well.  This is not recommended, except in the deepest of leagues.  If you can pick up a lesser ability starter on a poor team, he will normally be of greater value than a backup  for a stud QB.  That’s because you can put in the starter on a poor team when he plays against other poor teams.  In addition, quarterbacks are less injury prone than running backs are.

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