As described in excruciating detail earlier this summer, that’s the bust rate of running backs selected inside the RB top-12 since 2009 (Finished outside RB top-15 in per game average). In light of the constant failures and bitter beer faces, many owners have purposely circumvented proven or upside-drenched rushers as though they were lepers. Instead, they’ve opted for the high floors of Jimmy Graham, Peyton Manning or Calvin Johnson in Round 1 and other dependable options in Rounds 2-3.
This ladies and gentlemen is the Zero RB strategy.
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In many ways, those who adhere to it are cultists, the Guilty Remnants, minus the chain smoking and bleach-demanding whites, of fantasy. When everyone zigs for top RBs, they zag in the hopes of constructing the best roster possible while minimizing risk.
Given the amount of supportive statistical evidence out there, it’s not entirely a misinformed theory. Replacement value at RB, often times, is much easier to find when compared to other positions. After all, over the past five years 4.2 rushers selected after pick No. 100 or plucked off waivers have cranked out at least an RB2 line in 12-team leagues. And there are several notable rushers (e.g. Andre Ellington, Toby Gerhart, Rashad Jennings and Joique Bell) available at discounted prices.
However, outside the elite rushers (McCoy, Charles, Peterson, Forte and Lacy), one back shouldn’t be passed over for a QB, TE or WR.
That RB is Le’Veon Bell.
When mentioned in conversation about possible late-first round selections the mere utterance of his name creates dissidence. His lack of explosive runs and rather wretched 3.56 yards per carry during his rookie year has discouraged many. Still, there are several reasons to shell out top-dollar for his services. Here's why:
Workload. People have made much ado about LaGarrette Blount joining the Gold and Black. As a member of the Patriots, the Hulkish rusher smashed his way to 109.2 rushing yards (6.3 ypc) and eight touchdowns over his final four games, including the playoffs, last year. Impressive. Still, Steelers OC Todd Haley has made it abundantly clear, Bell will be his bellcow.
Off a mid-foot sprain early last year, he handled 71-percent or 20.5 carries of the backfield workload. If anything, Blount will relieve him roughly 6-8 times per game leaving plenty of meat on the bone. Remember, Bell is a superior receiver (3.4 rec/g in '13) and blocker who will dominate pass-down duties. Approximately 20-22 touches per game (320-350 total) are very possible. That kind of volume would place him in elite company. Recall only 9.4 RBs per year since '09 have surpassed 300 touches in a season. He's a rarity.
Yards after contact. Playing at roughly 15 pounds heavier, Bell was one of the more elusive rushers in the league. He forced missed tackles on nearly 16 percent of his touches ranking top-15 at the position in the category and well ahead of even Matt Forte (12.9 percent). The man has better-than-advertised wiggle. He's also quite powerful. His 60.0 yards after contact percentage also ranked appreciably (top-5) and outpaced bruisers Eddie Lacy (54.9), Marshawn Lynch (59.5) and Alfred Morris (58.6).
With only five runs of 15-plus yards, his production was acquired through attrition, but down 12 pounds, he's looked lighter and quicker without sacrificing brawn. As the rusher recently stated, his trimmed frame will allow him to cut and accelerate downfield faster. Don't be scared by his YPC from 2013. A leaner, more explosive Bell is sure to greatly improve on a per touch basis.
Zone-blocking scheme. Offensive line guru and ex-Titans head coach Mike Munchak is now coddling a young, inexpierenced Pittsburgh front. This summer, he's installed a multidimensonal scheme. Zone-blocking will be the basis, but additional concepts will be worked in. The hope, for a unit that ranked No. 20 in run-blocking last year per Pro Football Focus, is to keep defenses on their toes and open wide cut-back lanes for Bell. Having Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown around will only help in that endeavor by reducing overloaded boxes. If the system takes hold, the rusher should thrive. His patience, vision, plant-and-go style and previous success on stretch plays at Michigan St. make him a natural fit.
Yes, there are eyesores on Bell's resume, unsavvory numbers which explain why many drafters picking in the 8-12 range have entertained Zero RB. However, the case presented above casts him in a kinder light.
In fantasy, volume talks. Invest in the scarcity and your fantasy franchise could be Saved by the Bell.
Fearless Forecast: 262 attempts, 1,056 rushing yards, 58 receptions, 504 receiving yards, 9 total touchdowns
Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise. Also check out "The Noise' along with colleagues Andy Behrens and Brandon Funston for another season of 'Fantasy Football Live' every Tuesday-Thursday at 6:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
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