Zero RB Strategy: Early, Middle, Late Round Targets (2020 Fantasy Football)
In my previous articles, I have explored draft strategies centering around the Zero RB and Zero WR concept. While it may be more beneficial to follow one of these strategies depending upon your draft position, let’s explore targets drafting from the early, middle, and late positions.
Before we begin, it’s important to mention that practice makes perfect. In the world of fantasy football, especially in these weeks leading up to kickoff, things are constantly changing. Make sure to stay on top of news out of training camp and mock draft with our Draft Simulator to see if your players have risen or fallen in ADP.
For other Zero RB articles, be sure to check out Paul Ghigliere’s early August edition of this same article topic as well as 6 Targets for Zero RB Drafters by Brendan Tuma, and the Ideal Lineup for Zero Running Back Strategy. These are just a few of the vast array of content regarding this strategy that you can find on our website.
Zero RB Strategy: Do not draft a running back until the 6th Round at the earliest.
Early Round Targets: Draft Positions 1 – 4
Marlon Mack (RB – IND)
Alexander Mattison (RB – MIN)
The running backs in the early draft positions are pretty slim when you get to the sixth round. However, Mostert and Hunt are two options looking at a better opportunity in 2020.
The San Francisco 49ers are notorious for their running back by committee (RRBC) approach, which will scare some people away from Mostert this year. However, Matt Breida is now a Miami Dolphin, so Mostert only has Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman to compete against in the backfield. Last year, he rushed 137 times in an RBBC for 772 yards and eight touchdowns. He saw 22 targets with 14 receptions, 180 yards, and two receiving touchdowns. His most explosive games came toward the end of the season, when he was getting used more often in the offense. There is a chance that he disappears for a few weeks in 2020, as he did in 2019 during Weeks 6 through 11, which is partly why he is falling to the sixth.
Hunt is another name popular with Zero RB enthusiasts. While he is the RB2 behind Nick Chubb in Cleveland, Hunt is too talented and too dynamic to be capped very often. After an eight-week suspension, Hunt returned to the field to rush 43 times in eight weeks for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but his receiving skills certainly do. During that time, he saw 44 targets for 37 receptions, 285 yards, a touchdown. He had four rushing attempts and two targets inside the 20-yard line and two rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line that resulted in his two touchdowns. He will be a player to target regardless of strategy for 2020.
The running backs get even thinner heading into the seventh round. Marlon Mack has been drafted the most in the early seventh. The Colts have stated that Mack is indeed their starter for 2020, while rookie Jonathan Taylor waits in the wings. Whether this is “coach speak” or it proves to be true, it’s hard to imagine a world where Taylor doesn’t get used in this offense. If you take Mack, be prepared to drop him or trade him after a big game. Taylor will likely usurp his volume as early as a few weeks into the season.
The early picks in the eighth round are far more exciting to me. I absolutely love Lindsay and Breida this year, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Lindsay has proven over the past two years that he is serious about staying in the NFL as an undrafted free agent, and he doesn’t care which running back, defense, or coaches stand in his way. His volume will be limited with Melvin Gordon as the RB1 in the offense, but Lindsay has proven that he can make big things happen on fewer rushes. I also have concerns with Gordon’s durability given his aggressive playing style, the abbreviated offseason, and the fact he that hasn’t played a full 16 games in two years.
Much like Lindsay, Breida is another running back ready to make explosive plays. He is the clear pass-catching back in the Miami backfield with Jordan Howard as the workhorse back. Here is another example of injury and sustainability concerns with Howard. Not only can Breida make plays as a receiver, but if Howard goes down, there is no one else to compete for the RB1 role. You have a playmaking back like Hunt in Cleveland as well as the backup RB1 in Breida and Lindsay.
ADP suggests that backup running back Alexander Mattison is falling to the ninth round. I’m not sure if I really believe that he will be here, but if he is, that’s a smash-draft every time. Dalvin Cook has proven every year that he cannot play a full 16 weeks. Even in a contract year, I do not expect Cook to last the whole season. Mattison also has stand-alone value, though not as much as Hunt, Lindsay, or Breida. However, he is an incredibly safe backup to stash.
Middle Round Targets: Draft Positions 5 – 8
Our first few options during the middle picks of the sixth round have some real potential in 2020. In Tampa, rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been placed on the COVID list, and the Buccaneers then signed veteran LeSean McCoy. I don’t believe that his signing was a knock on Jones’ production, but rather, it was a statement regarding their trust in Vaughn. Either way, both Vaughn and McCoy aren’t true competition for the Jones’ RB1 role just yet. With weapons like wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, plus tight ends O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski, it’s very hard to imagine defenses stacking the box against Jones. As long as he doesn’t allow Tom Brady to get sacked, Jones should have the volume at running back.
Rookie D’Andre Swift should be rostered in all strategies. He is another pass-catching playmaker in Detroit and the de facto runner up when veteran Kerryon Johnson inevitably goes down. Johnson has already been seen wearing a knee brace during training camp. It may just be a matter of time before Swift is the RB1, at least for a few weeks.
Round 7 middle position picks are interesting. As we discussed earlier, Howard should be starting as the RB1 in Miami and should see 200-plus touches if he can stay healthy for all 16 weeks. He’s not a bad RB2 for your squad, especially if he is the goal-line back. However, Miami will most likely be playing from behind, putting them into a negative game script. This may not affect Breida as a pass-catcher as much, but it could cost Howard volume if the Dolphins have to throw a ton.
If I were drafting with a different strategy than Zero RB, then rookies Antonio Gibson, J.K. Dobbins, and Zack Moss (8th Round) would be excellent stashes. However, we are looking for our RB2 here, and I don’t feel confident enough about their volume to take the plunge. I would rather reach for James White.
White is going in the middle of the eighth round, but like Mattison, I would be surprised if he fell this late, especially in PPR formats. In the last two years, he has seen 218 targets with 159 receptions, 1,396 yards, and 12 touchdowns. If Cam Newton is named the starter (as we all expect him to be), White’s numbers could be slightly capped in 2020, but he is consistent enough that I am comfortable starting him each week.
With David Montgomery’s new injury, expect Tarik Cohen to climb way up draft boards. If he manages to stay around this area at the time of your draft, he is an excellent target regardless of strategy. I would even feel comfortable reaching for him as my RB3 or Flex. He excels in the pass-catching game, but questions at quarterback will be a problem for Cohen in 2020.
Chase Edmonds falling to the ninth round is another suspect ADP with news about Kenyan Drake in a walking boot. Again, if he’s available in the ninth, grab him. He is an excellent pick just in case Drake has lingering issues throughout the season.
Late Round Targets: Draft Positions 9 – 12
Devin Singletary (RB – BUF)
Latavius Murray (RB – NO)
Tevin Coleman (RB – SF)
You may have noticed that there is only one name per round until round nine. That is because players who are listed in the early and middle rounds of the draft may very well fall toward the end, which creates some overlap. Remember that ADP is fluid and changes from site-to-site and day-to-day, especially as we near the regular season. These positions are not absolute, so remember to be flexible when it comes to ADP.
Devin Singletary supporters were ecstatic to see Frank Gore leave Buffalo after the 2019 season. However, the Bills drafted the popular rookie Zack Moss, and the hopes of Singletary as the undisputed RB1 were dashed. GM Brandon Beane confirmed these fears in a statement basically saying that Moss will become the next Gore-esque running back in the offense. Singletary finished the year as the RB32 in PPR scoring with a disappointing 775 yards on 151 attempts (5.4 yards per touch) and only two touchdowns. He did see 41 targets with 29 receptions for 194 yards while adding two receiving touchdowns to his stat line. He also did that in only 12 games. Had Singletary played all 16, he may have seen over 1,000 yards rushing.
Latavius Murray, Tevin Coleman, and Darrell Henderson can all be placed in the “backup” column with at least one foot planted in the “stand-alone value” side. While I wouldn’t like them to be my RB1 or RB2, an RB3 option is pretty good no matter which draft strategy you employ. There is always a risk of injury, especially this year, and having the backup is never a bad idea.
Sony Michel continues to be very confusing to define. During his time on the PUP, Damien Harris made an impressive debut at camp, displaying excellent route running and pass-catching ability. Now that Michel is off the PUP, understanding how Michel, Harris, and White will feature in the offense is beginning to look like the 49ers or the Eagles — otherwise known as an RBBC. Add questions at quarterback, and the whole backfield in New England starts to look murky. This may account for his drop in ADP. As long as he stays late enough in drafts, I don’t mind taking a chance on Michel as long as I have stable starters as my RB1 and RB2.
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