Zero RB Strategy 2015: Running Backs to Target

Fantasy Football Strategy: Zero RB 2015

Fantasy FootballAre you aggressively preparing your fantasy football strategy for an upcoming draft? Have you heard of the Zero Running Back Strategy?

Well, whether you know it or not, give me five minutes and I’ll show what your zero RB team could look like in 2015.

The concept of this fantasy draft strategy was the innovation of 2013 NFFC Primetime Champion, RotoViz, and Pro Football Focus Fantasy writer Shawn Siegele. You can dive deeper into his methodology by reading Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based Drafting. You can also follow him on Twitter @FF_Contrarian. The purpose of this article is to paint of picture of what the running back core of your fantasy team could look like if you adopt this approach based on the ADP (average draft position) from Fantasy Football Calculator of a 12-team standard scoring league.

Early Round Wide Receiver Targets

The following is a basic rundown of how your draft could unfold:

You begin the fantasy football snake draft at 1.09 and pick up Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. He was targeted 14 times in the red zone and led all wide receivers in 2014 with 16 touchdowns according to Pro Football Reference. You follow that up with Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson who fell to you at 2.04 because he is following up an injury riddled season. At 3.09 you find yourself drafting Houston Texans DeAndre Hopkins who was targeted 120 times in the passing game and should continue to see volume without Andre Johnson. This is formidable trio of wide receivers you are starting on your fantasy football team each week, but what will your running back core look like? Let us dive into some of the players you can target based on their current ADP.

Joseph Randle

RB, Dallas Cowboys | ADP 4.04

Joseph RandleThe Cowboys offensive line was the third best run-blocking unit according to Pro Football Focus and produced Pro Bowlers Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin. Randle is expected to be the lead back in the Cowboys running-back-by-committee. He only played 94 snaps last season in relief of former Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, but averaged 6.7 yards per carry and 4.2 yards after contact. I anticipate Randle to handle the early down and goal line carries, but also displayed the ability to catch the football out of the backfield at Oklahoma State.

Darren McFadden will operate in a change of pace role. Dunbar will handle a high percentage of the passing downs. The biggest risk with Randle is that he has never had more than 54 carries in his two year NFL career. Does he have the competitive toughness and mentality of a featured back? Randle can provide immediate RB2 value for your fantasy team if he meets expectations heading into this season.

LeGarrette Blount

RB, New England Patriots | ADP 5.09

Many fantasy football owners do not have the stomach to draft a Patriots running back because head coach Bill Belichick rotates them based on his offensive game plan. Blount scored 0.55 fantasy points per opportunity according to Pro Football Focus from week 12 through 17 once he was reunited with the Patriots last season. The Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and the Philadelphia Eagles were the only teams to score more points than the Patriots according to Pro Football Reference. Blount will have scoring opportunities and the Patriots scored points on 45.3% of their offensive drives. He may not go boom every week, but I anticipate Blount to have some high scoring fantasy weeks in 2015.

Check out Gridiron Experts RB Projections for 2015 here

Rashad Jennings

RB, New York Giants | ADP 6.04

Rashad Jennings GiantsThe free agent signing of Shane Vereen generated a ton of buzz from beat writers who follow the Giants. We have no indication at the moment in how Vereen will be used in Ben McAdoo’s offensive scheme. Many owners have overlooked Jennings, but he was a top-eight fantasy running back through the first five weeks of last season prior to being injured.

The Giants executed the fourth highest number of offensive plays last season. I expect it to be enough touches for Vereen and Jennings to thrive in 2015. It could even be viewed as a positive that Jennings workload will be lessened. He had the third most carries (91) in the NFL through week five in 2014. Eagles LeSean McCoy had 94 carries and Cowboys DeMarco Murray had 130 at that point of the season. This is a great example of situation where taking a calculated risk can be rewarded.

Doug Martin

RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP 7.09

The narrative behind Martin is that he had a phenomenal rookie season back in 2012 bolstered by five epic performances, but his 2013 and 2014 seasons were sabotaged by injuries. The key takeaway from my perspective is that it is critical in fantasy football to avoid looking in the rear view mirror and only look forward.

The Buccaneers offense will be better in 2015 under coordinator Dirk Koetter. Jed Tedford’s health woes in 2014 truly derailed the Buccaneers offense. Martin has four things in his favor that continue to build the bridge for a bounce back in 2015: Koetter was adamant that he wanted him back for this upcoming season, he was getting first team reps at OTAs (organized team activities), he has slimmed down this offseason, and he is in the midst of a contract year. Martin will have fantasy value in Koetter’s offensive philosophy that revolves around protecting the football, creating big plays, avoiding sacks, and converting third downs.

Ryan Mathews

RB, Philadelphia Eagles | ADP 8.04

Mathews lands with the Eagles and is immediately the most coveted running back handcuff in fantasy football behind recently signed DeMarco Murray. Even if Murray doesn’t miss time he will have FLEX value this upcoming season. Eagles reporter Sheil Kapadia projected that Mathews would have roughly nine carries per game. The Eagles scored the seventh most touchdowns and executed the seventh most run plays in the NFL last season. The narrative is that Eagles head coach Chip Kelly would like to run the ball more in 2015 with Murray and Mathews on the roster. This is an opportunity considering the Eagles executed the most offensive plays (1,127) in the NFL last season. You want to have a piece of the Eagles offense for your fantasy football team in 2015 and this is an inexpensive way to make it happen.

Bishop Sankey

RB, Tennessee Titans | ADP 9.09

Bishop Sankey FantasyThe transition from college football in the NCAA to professional football in the NFL is not an easy one. Sankey left a horrible taste in the mouth of fantasy owners with 152 carries, 575 rushing yards, two touchdowns and an average of 3.7 yards per carry as a rookie last season. I am fascinated to see how first year playes respond heading into their second year with a full NFL offseason training regimen under their belt. Sankey ran behind the worst graded run blocking offensive line in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus last season. The Titans had the number 30th ranked offense in the NFL last season. It was an offense that only scored 254 total points and generated 4,859 total yards. The Titans defense gave up 5,968 total yards and 438 total points. The context of Sankey’s situation in 2014 matters, but it is often not discussed when projecting what he could do in 2015. The Titans did draft University of Minnesota running back David Cobb in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The offense should be better in 2015 with first round 2015 NFL Draft pick Marcus Mariota under center. The Titans are a team I will be monitoring closely during training camp and the preseason games to better understand if Sankey or Cobb will be leading this running-back-by-committee.

DeAngelo Williams

RB, Pittsburgh Steelers | ADP 10.04

Williams should have low-end RB2 value while Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell serves his suspension. The Steelers offense was a juggernaut last season totaling the second most total yards at 6,577 and the most yards per play at 6.2. The team scored points on 41.4% of their offensive drives last season. The scoring opportunities will be there for Williams even if the Steelers lean more on the passing game while Bell is out. He has recently dropped his weight to 220 pounds as he prepares for an early season role. Williams can be sent to the pool of free agents once Bell returns or you could consider trading him to the Bell owner who wasn’t proactive enough to draft him in your fantasy football league.

Check out Gridiron Experts RB Projections for 2015 here

Conclusion

This article provides you with a snap shot of what your fantasy football team could look like if you adopt the Zero Running Back strategy. If this is a strategy you are truly open to I encourage you to create of list of potential running backs you would want to target as part of your fantasy football draft strategy. You have to be proactive on the waiver wire and not reactive to truly maximize the strategy. Running backs like Cincinnati Bengals Jeremy Hill, Baltimore Ravens Justin Forsett, and Denver Broncos C.J. Anderson were all drafted very late in fantasy leagues or taken from the waiver wire last season. All of these players became fantasy football difference makers last season for many teams. What other running backs do you view as targets for this strategy? I encourage you to reach out to me on Twitter @EricNMoody so we can discuss it.

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About the author

Eric Moody

Eric Moody is a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association) and writes exclusively about fantasy football. He has a lifelong passion for the game and played on the collegiate level as an offensive lineman. Eric also participated in Dan Hatman's Scouting Academy in order to learn the process of player evaluation at an NFL level by using game film. When he provides fantasy football advice he prefers to "play the piano with both hands" using game film, analytics, and statistics to help you understand his perspective. Eric enjoys Netflix, listening to music, playing bass guitar, drinking coffee, and spending time with his family. He lives in Dallas, Texas

4 Comments

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    • I agree personally. It’s a very high risk strategy and only works well in 2QB leagues or PPR leagues. Some love the Zero RB strategy, others hate it.

  • Your running back corps will likely look very different at the end of the year utilizing zero rb. Last year in my ppr league I went zero rb with my starting rb’s as shane vereen and pierre thomas. I ended the year with arguably the best pair of starting rb’s in my league: cj anderson (waiver wire) and jeremy hill (drafted). Don’t get caught up in who are your week 1 rb starters. Zero rb assumes chaos and yields lineups that benefit (jeremy hill) rather than lose (gio bernard) amid the inevitable chaos. Good zero rb targets are passing down rb’s in timeshares (see eg last season with justin forsett), and situations where the backups are actually more talented than the starter (see eg last season with jeremy hill). You have to do some talent evaluation to spot these types of situations. The rb’s recommended in this article might be a little bit too high (rounds 5-8). A true zero rb will be looking for the breakout wr’s when randle, blount, and doug martin are going in drafts. Better to look at later rb’s like Duke Johnson, Jay Ajayi, and David Johnson all of whom are more arguably talented than the starter in front of them and likely to have some sort of role at the beginning of the season.

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