Zero RB seems now named for the fact that zero fantasy players employ the strategy of avoiding drafting running backs early. We’re back drafting the backfield horses at the top of drafts as aggressively as ever before. So this draft season is actually the perfect time to employ the Zero RB strategy.
Some advocate a compromise strategy that recognizes the scoring strength of top running backs historically. That means taking a player who has a likelihood of finishing RB1 to RB5 in the early half of the first round before then focusing on wide receivers (and maybe a tight end).
But let’s assume a bolder implementation of the Zero RB strategy, meaning not drafting a single runner in the first five rounds. I’m not going to get into exhaustive detail on the reasons to do this but in summary:
—RBs are more likely to be hurt
—RBs are easier to project in-season
—RBs are harder to project preseason
—WRs are harder to project in-season (easier preseason)
Basically, when a RB comes on line due to injury, you know he’s going to be a starter and can more accurately project his scoring that week. WRs are so volatile in scoring that you want to have as many solid options as possible so that you’re more likely to have two of them produce outcome changing numbers — the kind of fantasy point totals that win weeks.
But what kind of runners will you end up with this draft season if you sit out the position in the early rounds? Here are the best options based on current Yahoo ADP when considering 12-team leagues.
Round 6: Lamar Miller/Mark Ingram are the best values. But Ingram is dangerous because even with this pick, the Zero RB drafter is still without a running back for four weeks. His floor after those four weeks is very high though.
Miller has little competition for touches. And he’ll be in a high-scoring offense if Deshaun Watson’s 2017 was remotely real. Even regressing Watson all the way down to 6% TDs will result in the Texans having at least a top-six scoring offense. I don’t view D’Onta Foreman as a threat to Miller off an Achilles injury, which is often career ending or at a minimum severely career altering. Miller should get more TDs with more goal-line carries. Last season, the Texans had nine of these plays vs. the NFL average of about 13. Plus they’re probably a top offense. Miller had three attempts, converting two into TDs (over 50% of all rushing touchdowns come from inside the three). Chalk is about nine attempts and five scores, which would add three touchdowns for Miller relative to last year.
Round 7: Marshawn Lynch/Chris Carson are winning options. Lynch is probably the bell cow for Oakland but obviously is old. However, he ran great last year. Even if he shares time with preseason superstar Chris Warren or someone else, he’ll likely end up with at least the 53% of all running back touches that top runners now average on their real-life teams.
Carson’s ADP is going to be very volatile given his preseason and the injury to first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny, though he’s still coming off the board as RB41 in MyFantasyLeague drafts since August 15th, the most recent period that can be selected. I have no problem selecting Carson here but note that you may be able to wait up to three more rounds. Carson is just a good player, who had one of the better relative yards per carry marks in the league. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was the first-round pick.
Round 8: Pick one of New England’s wounded knees: Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead. Someone is going to dominate the Patriots backfield and history says this will be a very productive one with a ton of rushing/goal-line TDs. Burkhead seemed to have the inside track but sustained a knee injury as did Michel, though we can never really know anything on severity with the Patriots. Michel is the first-round pick, of course. Burkhead is more likely to finish RB30 if healthy but Michel holds the potential to be a league-winner, though his floor appears much lower than Burkhead’s.
Round 9: Far from having the pool of exciting runners run dry, even in the ninth round you can grab either Tarik Cohen or Kerryon Johnson. Cohen was seemingly born to play in an Andy Reid-style offense, one that’s been predicated on having a back be a viable receiving option. Does this sound like Jordan Howard to you? At a minimum, Cohen’s going to get 100 carries and probably 65 catches. Catches even in half-point PPR are about three-times more valuable than runs.
Johnson could be a zero, I understand — if LeGarrette Blount gets the first- and second-down work and Theo Riddick stays healthy and gobbles up all the receptions. But Riddick is hurt a lot and Blount may be washed — he was 1-for-9 converting on the goal-line last year. There’s a clear path for Johnson, a second-round pick in the real draft, to emerge as Detroit’s bell cow. Johnson has been compared by scouts to Le’Veon Bell.
Round 10-plus: Isiah Crowell/Duke Johnson were teammates last year but now Crowell is on the Jets. The story of the exhibition games is Bilal Powell getting ample work with the ones. But Crowell has been concussed and beat writers say that when healthy, he’s been a star at camp even as a receiver out of the backfield. Crowell is going to get goal-line carries for certain.
Johnson has the only sure role in the Browns backfield and could catch 70 passes again given he’s actually working out with the receivers and says he wants to switch to that position full time. So the slot role that most envision for Jarvis Landry could actually be Johnson’s, with RB eligibility.