There are Zero RB-curious folks out there.
They come to me via Twitter DM. They email. And they sheepishly ask how one actually goes about drafting a Zero RB team. They’re curious, they said, and they’re afraid of the backlash from the Robust RB fantasy players tromping around Twitter, poking Zero RBers in their bony chests.
It’s OK, I assure them. I was once curious. Now I’m ideologically pure, confident that building a high-variance, antifragile fantasy roster is the way to score boatloads of points and win fantasy titles.
If you are among the many silent Zero RB-curious fantasy managers wondering which running backs one ends up with when one embraces the theory behind the draft strategy, I’ve written up five of my favorite RB picks in the second half of your drafts, taking their bitcoin lunch money.
Late-round running back selections aren’t dart throw picks, as dart throw implies there is no process to scooping up these runners in the later rounds. There is indeed a process to drafting Zero RB candidates: ideally, we want a guy with standalone fantasy value, and if we can’t get that, we want a back who would inherit most or all of a backfield’s opportunity if the starter misses time. And yes, we want these later round backs to play for good teams that will see plenty of positive game script that allows for rushing attempts throughout the second half of games. Sometimes we have to take what we can get -- don’t freak if you wind up with a couple RB2s on the league’s worst teams. It happens.
Now that you know what we’re seeking in a Zero RB running back, let’s get into the guys who could stumble into an early-down or every-down role, starting alongside your cast of dominant wide receivers. Be careful -- you might make your Robust RB league mates seethe with jealousy.
After snatching up a bunch of high-volume wideouts in the first half of your draft, you’re going to flip the switch and start stealing your league mates’ running back insurance in the second half of the draft. Yes, you are an insurance stealer. Embrace your new life of fantasy football criminality.
These backs are available in the seventh round or later in 12-team fantasy drafts. If you can get three of these running backs, you’ve done well. I believe in your potential to draft four of them. Be Zero RB curious no more.
Antonio Gibson (WAS)
I don’t often tout running backs with 33 career college rushing attempts, but when I do, they’re athletic marvels on rosters with lots of questions in the backfield. Hence, Gibson makes sense as for Zero RB purposes. The rookie is seeing a good number of first-team reps in practice, per beat writers, and offensive coordinator Scott Turner seems keen on incorporating Gibson into the Washington game plan, even if he’s not going to enjoy anything close to a traditional role.
With Gibson’s lack of experience as a running back and the weirdness of the COVID-19 offseason, we can’t expect him to see double-digit touches to start the season. But there’s reason to believe he’ll join Terry McLaurin as electric playmakers who command the ball in an offense without much pop. Gibson (and McLaurin) should benefit from a (potentially) big boost in offensive play volume in a Washington Offense that was dead last in plays per game (55.3) in 2019. Turner, by every indication, is going to pick up the pace, and has spoken glowingly of Gibson’s potential in the Football Team offense. The hope is that Gibson gets some of the team’s carries to go along with receiving work in a system that has featured pass catching backs.
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Zack Moss (BUF)
The rave reviews of Moss’ performance in Buffalo training camp have been interspersed with reports of Devin Singletary’s borderline disastrous camp. Bills beat writers are trying to tell you something, if you’ll listen: Moss will likely be far more than a change of pace for Singletary -- he could seize the job outright. Yet, Moss is being drafted four rounds after the incumbent starter. Curious!
Moss, who scored 36 rushing touchdowns in his final three years at Utah at a healthy 5.7 yards per carry, will be -- at worst -- in a timeshare with Singletary to start the season. If he proves more effective than Singletary -- who has struggled with fumbles in August practices -- Moss could be on the good end of a backfield split in the fall. His upside, of course, is seizing the every down role for a Buffalo offense that posted last year’s sixth highest rush rate. Bills beat writers have said Moss likely has a lock on the team's goal line carries, and should be featured against defenses with exploitable interior defensive linemen.
Remember: from the eighth to the 14th round, rookie running backs historically outperform their average draft positions, sometimes by quite a bit, as Blair Andrews of Rotoviz found.
Though he lacks the athletic profile of a dominant runner, Buffalo coaches seem very much willing to embrace Moss as an every down guy. That’s all that matters for our purposes.
AJ Dillon (GB)
If you didn’t adjust your ranks for the Green Bay rookie when you saw the photo of his tree trunk legs bursting out of short shorts, you should have.
You’re not drafting Dillon in the tenth round with the expectation he’ll split carries 50-50 with entrenched starter Aaron Jones. You’re taking him late because he has a shot of usurping Jones if the veteran struggles or misses time this year. Beat writers have confirmed Dillon won’t be used much in the early part of the season, but they expect his role to evolve. We shouldn’t expect any kind of consistent pass catching role for the rookie, who was an early-down banger in college.
With a highly productive college career (more than 4,618 yards in three years) and a sparkling athletic profile -- including a 97th percentile burst score and 97th percentile speed score -- Dillon is the kind of running back we want to stash.
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Tony Pollard (DAL)
You may or may not be aware that Pollard somehow saw 101 touches last season in a Dallas backfield dominated by Ezekiel Elliott. Sure, much of his 2019 production came in two blowout Dallas wins in which Elliott was rested for some of the second half. Nevertheless, when Pollard has seen opportunity, he’s delivered.
Pollard, who eclipsed 100 receptions in three seasons at Memphis, was sometimes utilized as a pass catching back in 2019 even when game script wasn't out of control. ESPN’s Todd Archer has suggested Pollard could see snaps at wide receiver in Mike McCarthy’s offense -- an observation that speaks to Pollard’s pass catching effectiveness.
He certainly profiles as a potential three-down guy if anything happens to Elliott. He’d be the touchdown beneficiary of a high flying Cowboys Offense too. Probably Pollard will have some standalone fantasy value; you’re not drafting him to start him though. We Zero RB truthers want our benches brimming with running backs like Pollard: productive, able to handle a three-down role, and one injury away from seeing 20 touches a game in one of the league’s most potent offenses.
Boston Scott (PHI)
With Miles Sanders banged up at the tail end of the 2019 season, Scott became a forgettable waiver wire pickup who quickly became less than forgettable. Notching at least 13.5 fantasy points in three of the team’s final four games, Scott was targeted at least six times in every contest. It wasn’t as if Sanders was completely phased out: he saw at least 12 touches in each of those four games.
Philly beat writers have written for months that the team was impressed by Scott’s late-season tear. “The Eagles don’t believe how Scott played in December was a mirage or simply a hot streak, but rather an indication he can be a weapon for the offense," The Athletic’s Zach Berman wrote in June.
Scott (very) likely doesn’t pose a threat to the workload of a healthy Miles Sanders, who has struggled through a hamstring injury. Scott has been hampered by a lower-body injury of his own. But for the cost of an 11th round pick, you can roster a running back who could have every chance to be a three-down option on a solid Eagles Offense if Sanders’ hamstring issue is more problematic than the team is leading on.