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3 Free Handcuffs With RB1 Potential

Running back handcuffs have fallen out of favor in recent years with the growth of committees and depth at the position. Pure handcuffs, players without standalone value, are a good way to tie up an important roster spot for much of the season, only to see that player not match the starter’s value when you plug him in for a key late-season tilt. Even on my extreme Zero RB teams, I tend to eschew handcuffs for players with better profiles and more upside.

And yet, these three RB handcuffs are starting to look very appealing.

If There’s a Type, What Is It?

The obvious answer comes in the form of standalone value. That’s one of the reasons I recommended Latavius Murray in Part 1 of my Zero RB Candidates List with the idea that he should have a role behind Dalvin Cook. If reports are accurate, they may even form a true committee. In committee situations, grabbing the lower-priced option is one of the clearest winning strategies in fantasy.

But our definition of handcuff doesn’t really include standalone value. So for straight handcuffs, we’re looking for three things: 1) Elite or at least undervalued talent. 2) Little remaining competition. 3) An offense that could carry the handcuff.

The Big 3 Suddenly Have Appealing Backups

In the current NFL environment, the only way you get a back with no standalone value is a situation where the starter has a crazy workload. We know these types of runners also suffer from ridiculous injury rates. In a perfect world, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, and David Johnson will all stay healthy. It’s good for the NFL, it’s good for fantasy owners, and it’s especially good for them as people.

But if we enter the darkest timeline and they miss games, their backups may be more interesting than in previous seasons.

John Kelly

John Lapinski is one of my favorite authors in the fantasy sphere – yesterday’s in-depth look at what the advanced stats can tell you about the 2018 TE position is a must read – and his draft profile of Kelly gives you a complete rundown of the resume.

Those last two numbers might come as a surprise for a back who barely crested 1,000 yards from scrimmage, but Kelly’s numbers improve in the context of a team that struggled on offense.

Kelly isn’t a star like many of his rookie peers – his 4.64 forty also contributed to a draft position of No. 176 overall – but he could be the perfect fit with the Rams. At 216 pounds and with 37 receptions in his final season, he offers three-down ability. And that ability has been on full display through two preseason games. Competing with Malcolm Brown and Justin Davis for the backup gig, Kelly ranks second in attempts (31) and third in yards (133) through two preseason games. He’s also scored a TD and caught four passes.

Chase Edmonds

Edmonds is one of the most decorated players in FCS history with over 6,500 yards from scrimmage at Fordham. He scored 72 TDs and caught 85 passes. He’s not quite as fast as 2018 Zero RB Candidates Matt Breida or Austin Ekeler, but his elite agility (6.79 three cone) at 205 pounds gives him a size/athleticism package that has historically translated well to the NFL. It’s that hybrid profile that hints at a poor man’s Christian McCaffrey.

David Johnson hogs the high-value touches in Arizona, but all of that would change in his absence. The Cardinals floundered after his Week 1 injury a year ago, trying Adrian Peterson, Kerwynn Williams, and Andre Ellington without success. Now those backs are gone, and Edmonds has already been elevated over D.J. Foster and T.J. Logan for backup duties. The rookie has been a revelation in camp, with coaches seeing a more powerful back than his size indicates.

James Conner

The second-year runner finds himself competing with intriguing rookie Jaylen Samuels for the backup role to Le’Veon Bell. After a disappointing 2017 where he struggled to get on the field, didn’t catch a pass, and had a 4-26 line as his season high, it looked like Samuels might have the edge. But then Conner put together a tremendous training camp, looking more and more like the runner he was at Pitt.

Conner has been a superstar. He gained 1,765 rushing yards and scored 26 TDs as a sophomore in 2014. Only 10 other backs have managed the 1,700/25 combination this century, and three of them are selected in the first five rounds of 2018 drafts.1 A cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy slowed his progress, but Conner showed development in his game with 21 receptions as a senior, four of which went for TDs.

Training camp reports suggest he’s broken through another barrier. Conner followed up the strong practice performances with big time flashes in the preseason, including a 26-yard TD where he tore through the entire Green Bay secondary. If the season began today, Conner would be the man in Pittsburgh.

How To Play It

edmonds conner kelly

We’re finally starting to see a little movement with Conner and Kelly after their preseason escapades, but the prices remain palatable overall. These prices also make sense because our trio still has work to do in order to satisfy any of our criteria. But while questions remain, each back offers three-down potential. None faces any serious competition.2

You want to be careful about burning any roster spots with RB handcuffs, but when you do, it should be on a free player with upside. Keep this trio in mind on draft day and add them to your watch list in shallower leagues.

  1. Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Derrick Henry.  (back)
  2. It’s likely that the Rams and Steelers offenses could support a lesser runner in a starring role. That’s less clearly the case in Arizona.  (back)
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