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Zero RB Strategy: RBs to Target (Fantasy Football)

Aug 25, 2017

C.J. Anderson is one of several RBs to target for those using the Zero RB Strategy

Donald Gibson provides running backs to target for those using the Zero-RB Strategy.

This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from Donald head to fantasyfusionsports.com.

I’m a running back guy. Always have been, always will be.

There is an exception this year, however. If I’m picking at the end of the first round, and I can snag two of Mike Evans, A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, and Michael Thomas, I’m in.

Since it dawned on me that a combination of the above players may very well be my first two picks, I started to look at some targets in a Zero RB-esque draft strategy. For purposes of this article, Zero RB candidates were any RBs going in the fifth round or later, as you may have grabbed a couple WRs and maybe snuck in a TE in your first four picks.

Who did I find?

Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) and Average Draft Position (ADP) are courtesy of FantasyPros Half PPR scoring

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Danny Woodhead (BAL) – ECR: 66, ADP: 62
Woodhead recently pulled up lame with a hamstring injury in practice, so it should go without saying that it’s a situation to monitor. Injuries aside, a healthy Woodhead would wreak havoc in any league that awards points for receptions.

Joe Flacco had 118 completions to running backs in 2016 on 156 targets. In addition, he had 86 completions on 119 targets to Dennis Pitta. You may think the Pitta stat doesn’t fit here, but Pitta averaged 8.5 yards per catch, and trust me (as someone who lives 15 miles north of M&T Bank Stadium), plenty of those were three-yard check downs that made my blood boil.

Pitta is no longer a member of the Baltimore Ravens, and all the other tight ends spend 25 hours per day in the training room.

Watch Woodhead’s health. If he’s ready to go, the sky is the limit for his involvement in the receiving game in 2017.

C.J. Anderson (DEN) – ECR: 52, ADP: 63
I actually have CJA in the 30s, so if he’s there at 63, I’d be ecstatic. Everyone hates CJA because he was sort of a dud the year that he was drafted in the first round, plus he got hurt last year so he gets the beloved “injury prone” tag now.

In the seven games he played in 2016, he averaged 81 scrimmage yards and three receptions per game, and he scored a total of five touchdowns. Those aren’t mind-blowing numbers, but they’re respectable at least.

CJA getting hurt might actually have been a blessing in disguise, as we saw Devontae Booker come in and be surprisingly very disappointing. Booker averaged 2.99 yards per carry after CJA left. I know the Broncos brought in Jamaal Charles, but he’s going to have to show me two functional knees before I get worried. There are already murmurs of him not making the team because of his health.

CJA should be the guy for the Broncos in 2017 and could be an incredible value pick if he stays healthy and their offensive line starts to come together.

Ameer Abdullah (DET) – ECR: 63, ADP: 67
I draft Abdullah literally every single year, and I’m always left wanting more.

Two years ago (his rookie year), he wasn’t the feature back, averaged 8.9 carries per game, and never really contributed beyond a decent flex play here and there. I think a lot of people think Abdullah got hurt his rookie year because he was generally not that exciting, but he actually played all 16 games. Write that down.

Last year, in his only full game, he recorded 120 scrimmage yards and scored a receiving touchdown.

Over a 16-game season, he would have recorded 1,920 scrimmage yards and scored 16 receiving touchdowns, and you’d be taking him at 1.01 over David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell.

Just kidding. Can’t do that.

Regardless, Abdullah showed legitimate promise in his first game in the driver’s seat of Detroit’s offense. You’re looking for upside at this point in the draft, and Abdullah is exactly what you want.

Mike Gillislee (NE) – ECR: 70, ADP: 71
Gillislee’s ADP has dropped more than a round in two weeks as a result of the combination of his gimpy hamstring to go along with the emergence of Patriots RBs, particularly Rex Burkhead. With the departure of LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots are in need of a goal-line back. That competition is between Gillislee and Burkhead, and Burkhead looks to be in the lead at this point.

I don’t want to pigeonhole Gillislee into just a goal-line back role, though he was excellent at vulturing eight rushing touchdowns from LeSean McCoy in 2016 with the Bills. Gillislee also led the NFL in yards per rushing attempt with 5.7.

Gillislee has shown incredible efficiency as an every-down running back, though his injury concerns and the general uncertainty of the Patriots backfield has owners rightly backing off. Do you want the potential starting running back in the best offense in the league for a seventh- or eighth-round pick? Eh, probably.

Doug Martin (TB) – ECR: 85, ADP: 83
Now, Martin may not be exactly what you’re looking for in a Zero-RB set up since he’s suspended for the first three games. You’ll need to fill that hole.

Beyond that, Martin has shown several times before that he has elite running back upside. He ran for 1,402 yards with seven total touchdowns in 2015 and 1,452 yards for 12 total touchdowns in 2012. Those in-between years weren’t great, but if you’re looking for a guy with the potential to erupt and pay dividends, look no further.

Robert Kelley (WAS) – ECR: 99, ADP: 100 and Terrance West (BAL) – ECR: 88, ADP: 102
I’ll be brief on these guys. They’re both starters. Kelley seems to be the main guy for Washington after Samaje Perine literally fumbled away his chances at stealing the job, and West really has no rushing game competition aside from 5-to-7 Danny Woodhead carries. These are optimal guys for Zero-RB: cheap starters that can maintain solid production while your other guys do the damage.

Darren McFadden (DAL) – ECR: 127, ADP: 108
Maybe you want to draft Zero-RB but make a trade or two to right the ship later in the season. Look no further than this shiny, non-injured Darren McFadden. He can be yours for just a 10th or 11th round pick.

McFadden should be the lead guy in Dallas until Zeke comes back, which as of this writing is still after six games. He should absolutely be able to stabilize your RB position until you make a move for someone else or find a gem on the waiver wire.

That’s all for me. There are a bunch of starting-caliber guys that you can get late and pair with some extremely high-end wide receiver talent. Just make sure you pick the right ones. Sounds easy, right?


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