Zero-RB Draft Strategy & Advice: 12 Players to Target (2022 Fantasy Football)
Draft season is getting closer and closer as the offseason progresses over the summer. It may be July, but it’s never too early to start exploring some draft strategies and techniques to prepare for the upcoming season.
Here is a quick explanation if you haven’t heard of the “Zero-RB” strategy. Essentially, this approach means that you wait to draft a running back until later rounds. Die-hard Zero-RB truthers will argue that you should wait until the sixth round at the earliest, but that is not for the faint of heart. This whole way of drafting is not easy.
The purpose is to leverage your early draft capital on stud wide receivers, a high-end quarterback, and a tight end. It also helps negate injuries to the early-round backs and combats the running-back-by-committee style of offense.
Let’s take a look at players you should target by round to maximize the benefit of this approach. Remember, we’re not going to touch any running backs until Round 6. Instead, we will load up our roster with elite players at other positions, as opposed to punting them to the later rounds. A popular draft strategy is to wait on a quarterback and/or tight end. With Zero-RB, you should not do that, since that completely defeats the purpose.
On a personal note, I do not subscribe to this way of drafting, but I believe it is important to explore this strategy to see if it could be a good fit for you. Remember that is imperative that you practice this approach. As I mentioned, this is not for the faint of heart. You can try your hand at the Zero-RB approach using our Mock Draft Simulator.
It would be remiss of me to not mention that if you have an early pick, let’s say 1-3… please do NOT use the Zero-RB approach. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by passing up on Jonathan Taylor. Also, this strategy will work better with smaller leagues like a 10-teamer. The analysis in the article will be for the average 12-team leagues, but if you are in a smaller league, this strategy should work better than in larger ones.
Average Draft Position (ADP) is based on early data and a smaller sample size. Rounds and players are based on a 12-team league, snake draft, ninth position, with a half-PPR scoring format.
Ja’Marr Chase (WR – CIN) – Round 1
Both Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson will likely be off the board, but that leaves Ja’Marr Chase ready for the taking. Chase and college QB Joe Burrow crushed the 2021 season and took their team all the way to the Super Bowl. He finished 18th overall and was the WR4. Unless the Bengals are overcome with a Super Bowl hangover, despite losing, there is no reason why Chase and the Bengals cannot repeat this season.
You may be wondering why Travis Kelce wasn’t my first pick. He was. Using our Mock Draft Simulator, I took Kelce first but was sorely disappointed with the remaining wide receivers. I reverted my pick and took Chase instead, which left me with my obvious next pick.
Mark Andrews (TE – BAL) – Round 2
Ravens TE Mark Andrews had an explosive year and finished as the TE1 with 30 more points than Kelce at 135. He logged a career-high 153 targets with 107 receptions and over 1,300 yards. With Marquise Brown gone to the Cardinals, that leaves 140 targets up for grabs between Andrews and WR Rashod Bateman. He is the perfect example of an elite tight end to take early to using the Zero-RB strategy.
A.J. Brown (WR – PHI) – Round 3
This third pick should be used to lock up your starting wide receivers (in a typical two-wide receiver league). A.J. Brown was traded from the Titans to the Eagles during the 2022 draft. QB Jalen Hurts isn’t known for his arm considering he racked up fantasy points with his legs. However, a lot of that was by necessity due to mediocre play from his pass catchers.
Brown is no longer on an offense that will run primarily through a stud running back. He will be sharing targets with DeVonta Smith and TE Dallas Goedert, but having another weapon should spread defenses out enough to create separation. He is a solid WR2 option who has plenty of upside, even with a rushing quarterback like Hurts.
Lamar Jackson (QB – BAL) – Round 4
Now that our WRs and TE are taken care of, we can use this pick to focus on a quarterback. Again, most people prefer to wait on the position, but that is not the point of using a Zero-RB draft strategy. I also understand that Lamar Jackson is having contract negotiations at the moment, but I am betting we’ll be seeing him on the field in the 2022 season.
Jackson is an elite dual-threat quarterback, and … would you look at that… his favorite target is already firmly standing in our TE position. This is one stack that is very difficult to pass on, especially since we don’t have the normal go-to stacks like Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams or Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. I will take the Jackson-Andrews stack all day long.
Jerry Jeudy (WR – DEN) – Round 5
This is the last round before we start feverishly drafting running backs, so this should be a pick that will either round out your wide receiving corps (in a three-wide receiver league) or act as a flex option. Jerry Jeudy is intriguing this year now that the Broncos made a blockbuster move for QB Russell Wilson. He is a sneaky pick here in the fifth round and has the opportunity to have explosive weeks with Wilson at the helm.
A.J. Dillon (RB – GB) – Round 6
This is where it either gets fun or dicey. Unless you’re in a league where everyone else is using this same strategy, all of the top running backs will be gone. The Packers’ RB2, A.J. Dillon, is an excellent pick here. Of course, Aaron Jones will be the main back in Green Bay’s offense, but Dillon has had some productive games regardless. He finished as an RB2 five times and two of those times he just missed the RB1 cut as the RB13. He even had two RB1 finishes, with an RB1 finish in Week 10 and an RB7 performance in Week 17.
The Packers no longer have Adams and they also lost Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. Jones may see even more targets as the pass-catching back, leaving Dillon to fill the role of a traditional running back. This suggests that Dillon has every opportunity to be more involved in the offense out of necessity.
Damien Harris (RB – NE) – Round 7
Damien Harris just barely missed out on the RB1 threshold last season, finishing as the RB13 with 201.1 points. He quietly helped dominate in fantasy and that trend should continue as he heads into the last year of his contract. Harris had several high-end RB2 finishes as well as the RB1 tag. He also finished second in carries inside the 10-yard line behind only Jonathan Taylor.
He will be sharing carries with Rhamondre Stevenson like he did last year, but he outrushed his teammate with 202 carries to 133. As Mac Jones grows in his young career, Harris should continue to rack up the touches in 2022.
Chase Edmonds (RB – MIA) – Round 8
Whether you are utilizing the Zero-RB draft strategy or not, I highly recommend targeting Miami’s Chase Edmonds. The Dolphins went shopping in bulk in the offseason, collecting Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs in addition to Edmonds, Sony Michel, and Raheem Mostert. They also still have Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed on the depth chart, but Edmonds is listed above them all.
I am particularly interested in Edmonds with Mike McDaniel as the Dolphins’ new head coach. As the offensive coordinator with the 49ers, McDaniel was the brains and architect behind not only the run game but also Deebo Samuel‘s breakout season. The wide receiver started incorporating running back routes under McDaniel’s tutelage and fantasy managers everywhere rejoiced.
Edmonds could very well turn into a Samuel-Lite this season. He has excellent pass-catching ability as a running back and can be used creatively in the Dolphins’ offense.
James Cook (RB – BUF) – Round 9
The Buffalo Bills’ run game has been anemic. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have been disappointing. Singletary did have a career-high year in 2021 with 188 attempts, 870 yards, and seven touchdowns. However, QB Josh Allen was right behind him with 122 attempts, 763 yards, and six rushing touchdowns.
Rookie James Cook comes to the Bills with the door cracked open for him to take over as the lead back. He is an excellent choice as a flex option with standalone value as well as an insurance policy to stash.
Christian Kirk (WR – JAC) – Round 10
Nyheim Hines (RB – IND) – Round 11
Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR – KC) – Round 12
I went ahead and added three more rounds in this piece just to illustrate what can happen in any given draft. The three players that stood out the most were Jaguars WR Christian Kirk, Colts RB Nyheim Hines, and Chiefs WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. All of them have tremendous value in these later rounds with the potential for upside and matchup-based starts. You can use the remaining rounds on dart throws and speculative players to round out your squad.
All in all, I don’t hate this team. I get a nervous twitch without a big-name running back, but that is mostly at face value. Taking a closer look makes me more comfortable with the selections.
Remember, this draft strategy is not for everyone and it is also not for every situation. Be aware of your draft position, the number of teams in your league, and mock draft over and over again to get a feel for how this strategy works.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant, which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.
Lauren Carpenter is a fantasy football writer and analyst. You can follow her work @stepmomlauren on social media.