Zero RB Draft Targets (2019 Fantasy Football)
As a big proponent of going RB heavy in fantasy drafts, I surprisingly enjoyed my mock rosters experimenting with the zero RB strategy. I felt myself abandoning many of my previous drafting tendencies looking at the 2019 landscape. I’m definitely more tempted to grab a QB or TE early, and more patient with waiting to grab an RB.
Several years ago there was a strong trend toward running back committees, which made sense to an extent. But after a while, coaches realized that many of the dominant early down runners can learn to catch passes and run routes and were simply never properly coached or asked to do so. This deep RB class means that there’s a few mid-round RBs who could put up monster production and make up for the decision to pass on the early runners.
I usually shy away from using an early pick on the QB and TE positions, but Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce offer an undeniable positional advantage week in and week out. George Kittle and Zach Ertz are worth grabbing early too, but if Mahomes is off the board, no QB is worth reaching on in a year when Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers are going undrafted.
WRs are the headcases and divas of every locker room, look for prolonged consistency from the position at the top of your drafts. The top of the WR group is as strong as ever, as passing production continues to reach unprecedented heights year after year. You really can’t go wrong with any of the guys in the first or early second rounds. But after that, aim for the 23rd through 26th overall players on FantasyPros, Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, T.Y. Hilton, and A.J. Green will serve as quality WR1s or difference making WR2s. Quality WR2s or strong WR3s are Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Tyler Boyd, and Mike Williams. When going zero RB, I’m perfectly happy pairing some of these wideouts together with Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, or Goerge Kittle, knowing I have a weekly advantage at QB, TE, and WR.
The RB depth this season should attract more people towards the zero RB philosophy. In the sixth through eighth rounds, players such as Sony Michel, Mark Ingram, Chris Carson, and David Montgomery will be dependable mid-round options. I’ve been supporting Michel and Ingram all offseason, but Carson and Montgomery were names I gradually convinced myself to fall in love with.
The Bears’ decision to move Jordan Howard wasn’t a vote of confidence in Tarik Cohen, because the tale of last season’s events says otherwise. In the last three games, including playoffs, the Bears gave Cohen just 18 total touches. He was nonexistent for them when it mattered and struggled with fumbles towards the end of the season. Montgomery isn’t the deadliest receiving weapon out of the backfield, but he is far more capable in that aspect than Howard was. Howard’s averaged nearly 300 touches the last few seasons as a one-dimensional player, when his efficiency was there, he put up over 1,600 total yards.
Many were nervous about the Seahawks’ running game heading into 2018 given the line’s past struggles, but they erased all doubts early and often. They paced the NFL with over 2,500 rushing yards, which gives me confidence in Chris Carson, even if Rashaad Penny does improve during his sophomore campaign. Penny and Mike Davis already combined for over 1,200 total yards last season, but there’s so much work to go around in Seattle that Carson’s production wasn’t affected. Week 3 is when Carson first topped 10 carries, which makes the fact that he had 32 carries even crazier. From that point on, he was fourth in the NFL in rushing and third in carries, he also topped 100 yards six times and scored nine TDs in 12 games.
Deciding which mid-round WRs to look for is all about complimenting the early WR picks. If you take Antonio Brown, Amari Cooper, or Chris Godwin-type risks, play it safe with a Sterling Shepard, Marvin Jones, or Larry Fitzgerald later. If you’re confident with names such as Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, or Julian Edelman, feel free to shoot for the stars with a Will Fuller, Christian Kirk, Dede Westbrook, or Curtis Samuel.
Westbrook showed some ability last year as the Jaguars’ number one WR, but failed to reach 800 yards with Blake Bortles at the helm. Nick Foles isn’t the savior that Jacksonville is paying for, but he’ll make their offense more fantasy relevant. Foles’ main strength as a passer is the deep ball and his willingness to trust in his receivers to come away with the ball. What is Westbrook’s main strength as a receiver? Back in 2016, he lit the Big 12 on fire, catching 17 TDs and topping 1,500 yards on over 19 YPR. Baker Mayfield was willing to air it out to the speedster, and Foles will be as well.
Zero RB drafters know why this strategy succeeds, not that it always will, but they know what they need for it to potentially work. Acquire as many late-round runners as possible as long as they have a remote chance of carrying a large workload given the opportunity. If you use your early draft capital on runners, there’s a decent chance that your best players are injured by the time fantasy playoffs come around. If you choose to go WR heavy, the chances of your best players being there when it matters are higher. If you grab the top RB handcuff options, it’s always possible to either leverage beneficial trade packages or stumble into a backup workhorse like James Conner.
Players who fit that bill this season include Darrell Henderson, D’Onta Foreman, Justice Hill, Ryquell Armstead, Benny Snell, Damien Harris, Carlos Hyde, and Jay Ajayi. Eventually, a team is going to give Ajayi a call after losing their starter to injury, and talent was never the issue with Ajayi. All of these runners, outside of Hill, become instant bell-cows in optimal situations following an injury to the current starter. Grab numerous players that fall into this category, as the numbers demonstrate the probability of this strategy offering legitimate value.
Let’s say you draft three of these backups, and each starter has a 50% chance of making it through the season injury free. The probability for at least one of the three to be injured is 87.5%. If I can use late-round picks to create a 90% chance of finding this year’s James Conner, sign me up. The 75% chance that I come away with two is borderline criminal. Just grab the backups that you think will fill in either due to injuries or just sheer talent and production.