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Zero RB Strategy & Targets: James Cook, Dameon Pierce, Kenneth Gainwell (2022 Fantasy Football)

Jul 3, 2022
Zero RB Targets James Cook

Does the Zero RB draft strategy work? Fantasy football players have argued about it for years. The truth is it can work if executed correctly and if Lady Luck is on your side.

How does the strategy work? You don’t avoid running backs during the entire draft, just the first handful of hands. Typically, you wait until the sixth round to draft your first running back using this strategy. Instead of targeting running backs early in your draft, you want to load up at other positions. Ideally, you want to secure a stud wide receiver, an elite tight end, and a top-tier quarterback. The point of this strategy is to sacrifice at running back to have a star-studded lineup at other positions.

While the Zero RB strategy works in all scoring leagues, it is the easiest to execute in PPR leagues. The reason why this strategy works best in PPR scoring leagues is because pass-catching running backs can offer top-20 performances some weeks. It is also a more appealing strategy in Superflex leagues as teams will let running backs slide as they load up on quarterbacks early in the draft.

This draft strategy isn’t ideal if you have a top 3-4 draft slot. You don’t want to pass on the elite running backs like Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and Derrick Henry. Instead, you want to use the Hero RB strategy. Draft the stud running back in the first round, then wait until the middle rounds to load up on running backs.

Fantasy Football Redraft Draft Kit

Potential Targets

ADP from Fantasy Football Calculator on mock drafts from May 19 through May 29.

James Cook (RB – BUF)

Rookie running back James Cook has immediate sleeper fantasy appeal across all PPR formats based on his second-round draft capital, pass-catching prowess, explosiveness and offensive situation. The 5-foot-11, 199-pound running back has more than enough heft to manage a decent workload especially as a receiver out of the backfield. The 5-foot-7, 203-pound Devin Singletary was the RB3 over the last six weeks of the regular season when the Bills entrenched him as the featured guy. Cook with an ECR of RB44 seems priced closer to their floor than his ceiling considering Round 2 running backs have finished as top-36 running backs more than half the time (55%) since 2013.
Andrew Erickson

Dameon Pierce (RB – HOU)

If you liked Dameon Pierce before the NFL Draft, then you should be thrilled about his landing spot in Houston.

There’s a chance that PFF’s highest-graded running back from the FBS (92.0) in 2021 carves out a role on early downs even though the team added Marlon Mack this offseason. News flash, people – Mack signed a one-year, $two-million deal with Houston, and it’s less than the team is paying Rex Burkhead..1 million of Burkhead’s $2.35 million contract is fully guaranteed.

We could easily see Mack released as much as we could see Pierce become the team’s starting running back.

Although my one reservation with Pierce is that traditionally New England has been very stingy about featuring rookie running backs historically – especially ones drafted late. During Nick Caserio’s tenure with the Patriots, Stevan Ridley’s 87 carries were the most for any non-first-round rookie running back.

It was until Caserio left New England for Houston, that Rhamondre Stevenson broke that mark with 133 carries in 2021.

Not to mention, there’s clearly an affinity with veteran running backs that Texans can’t seem to quit. They force-fed David Johnson and Mark Ingram II among other veterans last season, despite having some younger players they could give reps to.

Caserio’s post-draft press conference cited Pierce as someone that needs to earn a role and be a factor on special teams. So pump the brakes on Pierce RB1 szn ever so slightly.

The fact Pierce never fully took over Florida’s backfield does raise red flags. His 12% career dominator rating is eerily similar to Trey Sermon (12%) from last season, and Sermon struggled to separate himself from the pack in his rookie campaign.

Even during his breakout senior season, the 5-foot-10 and 218-pound running back earned just a 22% dominator rating while sharing the backfield alongside fellow draft-eligible running back Malik Davis.

However, I am willing to offer some benefit of the doubt after Pierce never topped 106 carries in college.

There may have been some underlying issue with former Gators head coach Dan Mullen that prevented Pierce from seeing a more featured role. Case in point: Pierce only had two games with double-digit carries in 2021, both of which came after Mullen was fired toward the end of the season.

Pierce’s lackluster dominator rating doesn’t capture his coach’s potential ineptitude. The fact Pierce competed with NFL talent like Jordan Scarlett and La’Mical Perine very early in his college career paints a better picture of how his impact will be felt in years to come. But from the get-go, I doubt we see Pierce be a major fantasy factor to start the 2022 season.
Andrew Erickson

Dameon Pierce lands in a wide-open backfield where he’ll compete with the island of misfit running back toys for work. Pierce could earn work immediately with only cast-offs Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead, Dare Ogunbowale, Royce Freeman, and Darius Anderson on the depth chart. His long-term footing is questionable, with only fourth-round draft capital attached to his name, but he’s worth taking a shot on in the early second round of rookie drafts. Pierce has the size and pass game skills to operate as a three-down back. He can be the preferred passing-down option in a committee at his floor.
Derek Brown

Houston was an ideal landing spot for a rookie running back, given the current players on the roster. Veterans Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead are Pierce’s competition for the starting role in Houston. However, they shouldn’t keep Pierce off the field as a rookie. Mack has 37 touches over the past two years, while Burkhead had one game with over 47 rushing yards last season. Furthermore, there have been reports that Pierce could take over as the lead back sooner than later. He could quickly earn the starting role and become a steal at his current price. Rarely can you find running backs with mid-RB2 upside outside the top 100 picks. However, Pierce has that level of upside.
Mike Fanelli in “Best Ball Values to Target by Round

Kenneth Gainwell (RB – PHI)

Taking a flier on Kenneth Gainwell is a bet on his pass-catching chops in the Eagles offense. The Memphis product finished sixth in yards per route run, hauling in 38 of his 50 targets for 302 receiving yards. And in 5 games where he played at least 35% of the snaps, Gainwell averaged 17.5 fantasy points (PPR) and 4.2 catches per game on just 12.4 touches per contest.

Among the Eagles’ crowded backfield, Gainwell playing on third downs as the primary pass-catcher provide him weekly standalone value. But there’s always a chance he eats more into work on early downs and in the red zone entering Year 2.

The team’s leader in red-zone touches from last season (Jordan Howard, 24) is no longer on the roster. Gainwell scored five touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line last season.
Andrew Erickson


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