Alright, another week down another step closer to that oh so coveted league championship! Hopefully at this point you have clinched yourself a playoff position so you are privileged enough to be thinking about building a championship roster. If you’re not firmly in the playoff picture, I’m sorry my friend. Don’t worry though, I’ll have a special article just for you! This article today though is about the very hot topic of handcuffing. This is a fantasy football strategy that I am a strong believer in, but only in the right situations. I think the key is locking up a playoff spot. Once that happens you can start considering handcuffing your top players on your fantasy team. Hopefully you won this past week, are in the playoff mix amongst your leagues and you can take advantage of the strategy of handcuffing.
What is handcuffing you could be asking yourself. The simplest way to describe handcuffing is getting a player that only has value if one of your major players goes down. The most classic example is in the running back world. People who own Todd Gurley most often go out and grab Malcom Brown at this point in the season, because if Gurley goes down you don’t just go straight for the Jameson bottle. You swear, cry, convince yourself it’s going to be ok, cry again, and THEN go get the Jameson. At least that’s what I would do. Handcuffing is the best way to totally avoid that progression, because in theory Malcom Brown could step in and be an immediate stop gap over anyone possibly on the waiver wire at this point. Even if Malcom Brown gives you 60% of what Gurley gives you, that’s more valuable than anything out there that you would be able to pick up. So, go get your handcuffs early before they cost you an arm and a leg.
3 down feature running backs are usually the most commonly the ones where owners think right away to handcuff. These players are the Gurley, Zeek, DJ, Conner, McCaffrey, Hunt, Kamara, etc. that class of player. I wanted to go over a few nontraditional handcuffs though. When I say nontraditional handcuffs I’m not talking the pink fuzzy ones you might have found in your parents’ bedroom back in the day. Me and my co-host Brian were talking about it and these handcuffs could be just as pivotal to winning a championship as your Malcom Browns and Spencer Wares of the world. How Brian and I Identify these nontraditional handcuffs are with a couple parameters. First things first we looked outside of the running back position. Then looked at if their team is a top half of the league offense, and if the handcuff is an exceptional talent. Most importantly and most argued, there is a clear path to a larger target share quickly due to injury. Most obviously, the person in front of them has been a pivotal fantasy piece.
I will start off with one of the more textbook examples of this in the NFL and that is handcuffing Zach Ertz with Dallas Goedert. Zach Ertz has been an amazing fantasy tight end for a few years now so most players are used to leaning on him. Last year it was clearly Trey Burton as the man to own in-case Ertz missed time, and he thrived whenever those situations arose. This year its clearly Dallas Goedert who has filled that role. If Ertz was to miss time while you are in a playoff run it could be crippling because of how dismal the TE market is. Ertz goes down and Goedert becomes a top 6 TE week in and week out easily in my mind. That person is not out on the waiver for sure in the TE world.
Why we like Goedert and think he can make up a decent chunk of that production, basically is because of his athleticism. It is absolutely wild. He has amazing pass catching hands for a TE, scouts have said he has receiver type hands. He has great route running, if you watch he gets good separation on his routes, a skill he showed off in college as well so to me that means its sustainable. Whats the best about it is, how much the Eagles lean on Zach Ertz. He is averaging 10.3 targets a game this season which is good for 1stin the NFL. He also has 32.7% target share in the red zone which is also 1Stin the NFL. So there is opportunity galore for Goedert if Zach Ertz were to go down. I honestly think with Zach Ertz out of the picture you could expect a similar production for Ertz, so this handcuff is crucial to me if you only have 1 TE and have been leaning on him all season. There is no chance that person is out on the waiver wire, to be honest there is a chance a lot of teams who even don’t have Zach Ertz would go for him considering how productive he could be in a bad TE landscape. So get him before Zach Ertz goes down and it becomes a waiver wire frenzy.
Another great example of a nontraditional handcuff you should strongly consider, Tre’Quan Smith for Michael Thomas. For the record you can go back and listen to our podcast, but me and Brian have been calling for this before this last game where he went bananas! Tre’Quan Smith showed off his amazing talent and skill set in the preseason where he went 15/189/1. If you watched some of his routes and games you saw the speed and hands, we all knew the talent, it was just the when at this point. Wide receivers opposite amazing wide receivers, like Michael Thomas, tend to get very favorable match ups. So then their talent can shine through even more! Then as the season progressed we watched WR rotate in and out of New Orleans like crazy. The one constant was always Tre’Quan Smith, so he slowly worked his way up. If you have been paying attention and got him before his amazing 10/157/1 stat line just last night! Sadly, I hate to break it to you, if you didn’t then you are going to have competition on the waiver wire now. That being said Tre’Quan is looking like an amazing player and handcuff for the Michael Thomas owner.
Most fantasy players tend to not think about handcuffing their top WR because there are so many viable WRs out there. Problem is none of those viable options are on the Saint’s offense. This is an offense that is setting NFL records for scoring. Drew Brees is playing at an all-time high and shredding defenses with his passing. He is 10 games in and has a 76.9% completion percentage along with 25 TDs. Please oh please give me a piece of that for fantasy! If you are lucky enough to own Michael Thomas you have been able to enjoy this onslaught of points the saints have put up. Tre’Quan is a legit talent who is starting to earn Drew Brees trust. He is a must own if you own Michael Thomas, he protects you if anything happens to your star fantasy player. He might also just develop into a great complimentary piece even with Michael Thomas healthy.
If you listen to the FTLS podcast with Brian and myself you know how much I love Keenan Allen. I think he is tough, he has that competitive edge to him, he is an ultra-athletic WR, and his ability to sell a route is next to none. These attributes are what make him great in that offense. He can get separation and has the speed to make people pay. This is why Rivers has grown accustom to looking his way so often over the years. What if Keenan Allen was gone, if you remember a few years back he missed almost the whole season with a lacerated kidney (weird I know but very true). With Keenan Allen missing a good chunk of the 2ndhalf you would think Rivers would have thrown less. Remember the names Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson, Dontrelle Inman… yeah I barely do too, apparently Rivers just wanted to force feed them when they lost Allen. He has his career highest attempts that year at 661 as well as most completions in his career at 437. I can attribute that to the D not being great, no Melvin Gordon, and Rivers just loves to sling it when he is behind. So if you have Keenan Allen on your team and you want to protect yourself if he goes down from missing out on all that offense? My best suggestion is go get Mike Williams.
Mike Williams was a highly drafted prospect out of Clemson. A few years ago, Clemson was setting the world on fire with Deshaun Watson, putting points up at a crazy rate. Who was the receiver making that happen, Mike Williams! He went for over 1300 yards and 11 scores his final year at Clemson. He is a HUGE red zone presence at 6 feet 4 inches and 230 lbs, part of why I think the chargers drafted him with an aging Antonio Gates. Gates had been Rivers safety blanket in the red zone and on 3rddowns for years, now the chargers drafted a big body to out muscle guys hopefully to replace that talent. Mike Williams has great vertical speed as well. He uses his speed in combination with is hands and body control to take advantage of smaller corners in the NFL. Go back and watch a few of his highlight reel catches this year, he put all those skills on display.
Mike Williams basically lost his rookie season due to injury so naturally its going to take him extra time to develop. I think he is starting to his stride in that offense as a player. That’s great news for the chargers because they invested a 7thoverall pick. All those things have not added up to monster production out of Mike Williams but just like Tre’Quan, its coming. All that said and done, in my mind, means if Keenan Allen were to miss any more time then Mike Williams could see a heavy target load and with a bunch of it coming in the red zone. So, to all Keenan Allen owners, go get Mike Williams to protect yourself from another fluky Allen Injury. Also, Mike Williams could just develop into a nice complimentary piece on your team either way.
This article could keep going but those are the 3 best examples of nontraditional handcuff I can think of. Calvin Ridley made an honorable mention but due to his early success I figured cats already out of the bag on him. Hopefully you understand better the concept of handcuffing and with WR’s putting up massive points this year and some NFL teams being beyond pass happy you now think of handcuffing some other positions outside of RB. Use this as a spark to possibly identify guys you need to protect, ask yourself “if they were to go down would there be one major benefactor?” if the answer is yes and you believe that player is more talented than anything else on the waiver wire or your bench, he is a handcuff. Probably a smart idea to grab him heading into this playoff season so you can win your home/office league title and look like a genius if an injury happens.