Fantasy NFL

When to handcuff?

By Steve Schwarz, Fantasy Sports Editor

Philadelphia, PA ( - The question of when to handcuff a backup to a fantasy starter becomes paramount late on draft day. Who do you handcuff? And when do you use a draft choice for a guy who doesn't have much current fantasy value. Let's start from the beginning.

A handcuff is simply insurance.

You wouldn't drive a car without insurance. You shouldn't be walking around without health insurance. And you definitely shouldn't leave an injury-prone star quarterback/running back/receiver alone on your roster without his handcuff.

The first question a fantasy owner must answer is "who is the backup to your star?" Just because a player is the next guy on the depth chart, doesn't mean he's the handcuff for the starter.

In Atlanta, injury-prone starting running back Steven Jackson's backup on the depth chart is Jacquizz Rodgers. But Rodgers is really a "change-of-pace" back and if, make that when, Jackson gets injured I would expect that rookie Devonta Freeman would get the bulk of the rushing attempts. Rodgers would continue in his current role.

The same scenario could happen in St. Louis where Zac Stacy is backed up by heralded rookie Tre Mason and second-year tailback Benny Cunningham. It's the lesser-known Cunningham that would get the starting assignment if something happens to Stacy.

Question No. 2 for fantasy owners is: Can the backup adequately fill the role of the starter and then produce, if not equal, respectable fantasy numbers?

In Detroit, running back Joique Bell has already proven he can produce numbers in the Lions offense when Reggie Bush is injured. In his 11th season, San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin proved he could replace injured Michael Crabtree as the 49ers No. 1 wideout, posting 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns after Crabtree was injured in the offseason.

When Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback Michael Vick went down to injury last season, the Eagles installed Nick Foles as the starter. We all know what happened next. Foles put together a magnificent season, throwing for 27 touchdowns and 2,891 yards against just two interceptions in 10 starts.

Foles was the perfect handcuff. He not only matched Vick's fantasy value, but far surpassed the starter's value.

Why was Foles so good? I believe it was Chip Kelly's offensive system. He puts his players in a position to succeed.

On the other hand, if Denver star QB Peyton Manning were to be felled by injury, you have to question whether Broncos backup Brock Osweiler could produce numbers anywhere near as good. Because in Denver it's not the system, it's the player. Remember the struggles the Colts had to replace Manning in 2011. Same offense, same skill position players, but none of the backups could do what Manning could do.

For that reason, if Manning were to miss games, I'd rather have a starter on another team than Osweiler. I would not use a late draft choice on Osweiler.

Evaluate each of your starters in this way and you will know which players require a handcuff and which do not.

08/28 12:10:29 ET