The strategy of handcuffing in traditional start-one quarterback leagues is focused on the running back position, where owners look to handcuff their first round RB. … They want to feel protected in the event he misses time with an injury or is overtaken by his backup during mid-season. In 2QB leagues the focus shifts to QB handcuffing.
By the time 2QBers are ready to enter their draft room, the majority of quarterback depth charts are settled and it’s clear which backup quarterbacks are worthy of handcuffing. We’re still a little ways away from each NFL team announcing their Opening Day QB1, which means today’s drafters still have some guesswork to do.
Handcuffing the quarterback position in 2QB leagues is a tricky proposition, especially if your league has a very shallow bench. Selecting a backup quarterback could mean having to lock down a spot to someone who might not play a single snap all season long. Is insuring your starting quarterback worth not being able to roster a WR4 or flex player?
The answer to that will vary depending on league size, number of roster spots available, and the quarterback handcuff in question. We’ve seen how much yearly turnover there is at the quarterback position and how that impacts QB handcuffing. Last season saw 53 different quarterbacks start at least one game, and seven teams started a backup signal caller within the first four weeks of the season.
Whether you should handcuff or not comes down to situation and price. Is there a realistic shot the backup you’re drafting will start at some point in the season and how much draft capital do you have to invest? To help answer those two questions, and the ultimate question of to handcuff or not, let’s take a look at some scenarios where it makes sense.
Unsettled QB Depth Charts
Highlighted below are a few quarterback depth charts still in flux where handcuffing might be the only option.
New York Jets
Geno Smith/Ryan Fitzpatrick
Until Ryan Fitzpatrick signs, which doesn’t seem imminent, Geno Smith is the Jets’ QB1. Based on July ADP, drafting both is a cheap way of securing quarterback production, with Fitzpatrick going off the board as the QB24 (116.4 ADP) and Smith undrafted in our July mocks.
Fitzpatrick’s QB24 ADP make sense, as 2QBers are banking on his return to the Jets where he posted QB8 numbers last season. If he signs with the Jets and you draft him as a late QB2/QB3 you’re looking at a potential low-end QB1/high-end QB2 return on your investment. However, Smith going undrafted doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. He is signed, is getting valuable QB1 reps, and has experience starting in that offense. Only one quarterback last season had a QB1 (top-12) scoring week who didn’t start the game, and that quarterback was Smith. Drafting both and dropping whoever doesn’t start is a cost-effective way of grabbing a piece of the Jets’ passing offense.
San Francisco 49ers
Blaine Gabbert/Colin Kaepernick
Just like the Jets’ situation, where one quarterback is being drafted and the other not, Blaine Gabbert has a July ADP of 146 (QB31) and Colin Kaepernick is being ignored by drafters.
With Chip Kelly and the 49ers playing up the camp battle angle, 2QBers have decided to almost ignore this situation, as Gabbert is barely being drafted and Kaepernick not at all. Whoever does wind up getting the starting job could have some fantasy value. We’ve seen how dynamic of a player Colin Kaepernick is, and his rushing prowess brings with it easy fantasy points. He played in only eight games last year, but had the sixth-most rushing yards by a quarterback (256). He also scored 20 or more fantasy points in three of his games.
While not the sexiest fantasy pick, if named starter, Gabbert could be a reliable every week QB2 option. According to his stat card, the former tenth overall pick in the 2011 draft finished as a top-20 fantasy QB in 7-of-8 games last season.
From the moment he took over the quarterbacking reigns, Gabbert scored double digit fantasy points in each of his eight games. He would easily pay off his current draft day cost if he continued that pace.
Drafting both Gabbert and Kaepernick provides you with insurance knowing that you will have drafted whoever is named the starter in San Fran. By the time the season starts you can drop the backup or keep them on your roster the first few weeks to see how the season plays out.
Robert Griffin III/Josh McCown
While all indications point to Robert Griffin III starting the season as the QB1 in Cleveland, Hue Jackson has stressed competition all offseason. RG3 is not going to be handed the starter’s job, and veteran Josh McCown and rookie Cody Kessler lurk in the shadows. And Austin Davis is still around.
The uncertainty in Cleveland and RG3’s injury history has made him an afterthought in 2QB drafts, as he spots an ADP of 148.8 (QB34). McCown is going undrafted himself and drafters may have forgotten the startable fantasy weeks he put up last season. Out of his seven full games, he scored 18 or more fantasy points in four, and scored the most fantasy points by a quarterback in Week 5 (35.48).
While both options are affordable, if RG3 is named starter look for his ADP to jump and for McCown to continue being overlooked. This is one handcuff situation that makes sense in terms of price and situation. RG3 has an injury history and has not played a meaningful snap of football since Week 17 of the 2014 season, he’s in a new system with a new coach who has no loyalty to him, and McCown is going undrafted with experience playing in an offense with the likes of Duke Johnson and Gary Barnidge. It’s not out of the question to see Cleveland start multiple quarterbacks this season, as they have in years past.
Mark Sanchez/Trevor Siemian
It would be a shock if the Broncos tabbed the Airman to be the team’s QB1, but some beat reporters have floated the idea. Right now neither Mark Sanchez or Trevor Siemian have a July ADP, but rookie Paxton Lynch (QB27 -122.2 ADP) does. The likely scenario sees Sanchez start Week 1, with Lynch possibly taking over later in the season, ala Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler last year.
If you’re looking for cheap production out of your QB2, drafting Sanchez late is an option. Our own Anthony Amico lays out the case as to why he loves Sanchez in this offense and shows us the potential productive fantasy season he may have. Handcuffing Sanchez with Lynch or Siemian to start the season isn’t a draft move you need to make. If Sanchez starts he probably won’t get the hook until later in the season, meaning you would be wasting a valuable roster spot on a player providing no immediate value to your team.
Fly, Eagles, Fly
Sam Bradford/Chase Daniel
Sam Bradford and the rest of the Eagles quarterbacks weren’t included in the above tier because it seems the team is trying to do everything in its power to ensure Bradford is the starter Week 1. However, nothing is official and even if Bradford starts Week 1 he might not necessarily start every game.
In six career seasons, Bradford has played a full slate of 16 games twice, and missed the entire 2014 season. The Eagles did re-sign Bradford to a two-year/$35 million deal this offseason, but they also signed veteran Chase Daniel to a three-year/$21 million deal, and traded up in the draft to select Carson Wentz second overall. Their salaries combined take up 14.45 percent of the team’s 2016 cap space. So there’s a lot riding on the QB position in Philly this year.
Daniel does have a history with new Head Coach Doug Pederson from their Kansas City days. That experience, coupled with the Bradford drama from this season and his injury history could see him start at some point this season. You can learn more about Daniel from a QB profile I penned earlier this season.
Based on July ADP, drafters placed more of a priority going the upside route in Wentz (QB29 – 133 overall) than Bradford (QB33 – 148 overall) or Daniel (undrafted). While handcuffing is an option here, especially if Bradford is named starter, the best way to play it is to draft whoever you think will be the starter and save yourself from using two/three picks on one player. Daniel looks to be the best value and if you draft him or pick him up off waivers you could find yourself with an inexpensive QB2 option.
High Upside, Low Cost Lottery Tickets
There are a few offenses you would want the backup quarterback in the event the incumbent starter went down: Dallas, Green Bay, and Seattle. The backup quarterbacks in these offenses might not be established, but if given a chance to start would find themselves in an attractive situation.
There’s no reason to spend a draft pick on Brett Hundley (Aaron Rodgers’ backup), Dak Prescott (Tony Romo’s backup), or Trevone Boykin (Russell Wilson’s backup) right now unless you play in a league with very deep bench spots. But you will want to keep them on your waiver wire speed dial in the event the starter ahead of him goes down. In the cases of Prescott and Boykin, there’s no guarantee either will start the season as the QB2. Kellen Moore is still listed ahead of Prescott on the Dallas depth chart and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Seattle bring in a more experience backup to Wilson. But the opportunity is there to see significant snaps if called upon.
Hundley is an intriguing case. At one point he was considered a top-ten option if he would have declared for the 2014 draft (h/t Rotoworld), but he stayed in school and his stock dropped.
So much Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota talk. But don't sleep on UCLA's Brett Hundley, whom Browns would have considered in top 10 last year.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 21, 2015
The Packers traded up to nab him the fifth round of the 2015 draft and let Scott Tolzien depart via free agency this season, leaving the QB2 spot open for Hundley. In four preseason games last year, Hundley threw for 630 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. He had one game of 300+ yards and another where he threw four scores. The potential to be a viable every week starting option is there if Hundley were forced into the starting lineup. You might not have to draft him now, but don’t hesitate to pick him up off the waivers if Rodgers goes down.
Tom Brady’s Backup
New England Patriots
This is one clear situation where handcuffing makes sense solely because we know Tom Brady will miss the first four weeks of the season due to suspension. However, handcuffing him with Jimmy Garoppolo might not be the best course of action based on the Patriots’ first four games. For a in-depth look at this situation and to see some Brady replacement options you can read my take here.
QB Handcuffing in a Nutshell
Each 2QB draft is unique and the way your draft plays out will determine whether handcuffing is a viable option. If you find yourself drafting three dependable starting quarterbacks with no clear handcuff options you will most likely forego drafting a handcuff. However, if you draft someone like Bradford, who is in a situation where he might miss time because of an injury or be benched for a pricey veteran free agent signing or first round rookie, selecting Chase Daniel as a handcuff is an option.
Another QB handcuffing strategy is to select the backup of a quarterback on your opponents’ roster. Drafting EJ Manuel when you don’t own Tyrod Taylor, for example. If Manuel would see time under center you could either start him yourself or attempt to trade him to the Taylor owner. Whichever route you go provides you with a valuable commodity.
In the end, don’t force yourself into QB handcuffing as a draft strategy. Let roster composition, number of available bench spots, and price be the determining factors to handcuff or not.