The “zero-running back” draft strategy has become a controversial approach to finding success in fantasy football drafts. This strategy refers to intentionally passing on running backs early in seasonal drafts; choosing to soak up the value of wide receivers and tight ends falling down the draft board while your league mates scramble to chase the scarcity of more guaranteed production at the running back position.
Whether you go into the draft with this strategy in mind or are forced to pivot mid-draft based on how the board falls, these five running backs can help boost your fantasy football line-ups. All of these backs have an ADP in the sixth round of later of seasonal PPR drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
New England Patriots
Fading White is a common narrative, even in PPR leagues, because of the amount of running backs that the Patriots always have in rotation. Rarely, though, do any of those running backs pose a serious threat to the targets that White makes his living off of. White finished as RB18 in 2019 and RB7 in 2018, relying on his 123 targets (87 receptions) in 2018 and 95 targets (72 receptions) in 2019. The expectation out of Patriots camp is that Sony Michel and Damien Harris will be splitting the majority of work between the tackles. Neither of those backs, though, possess the pass-catching upside of White-once again making him a clear value in PPR formats. His current ADP is 6.12 (RB32), but I have him as RB21 in my 2020 season projections.
Since entering the league in 2017 Cohen has never finished lower than RB30 in PPR formats and has finished as high as RB11 (2018). Similar to White, his pass-catching ability is essential to the success of the offense he plays in. He has at least 70 receptions in each of the past two seasons (since Matt Nagy took the helm of the Bears offense) and has seen an increase in targets every year since joining the league-with 104 targets in 2019. Cohen also has touchdown potential when the Bears offense is clicking, finding the endzone a combined eight times in 2018. His current ADP is 8.01 (RB37), but I expect him to finish as a top 24 running back.
San Francisco 49ers
Coleman has become a forgotten player since leaving Atlanta. Fading Coleman has been a sound approach because he, like all running backs, depends on volume for production. As the injuries to the wide receiver corps. continue to pile up, though, his projected market share in the passing game continues to increase. Coleman will also be primarily battle Mostert, who has a history of not being able to stay healthy, for the bulk of touches on the ground behind one of the top offensive line units in the NFL. I expect Coleman’s targets to increase to 52, which is 8 more than his 44 targets with the Falcons in 2018. I also expect his attempts to increase from the 137 he saw last season to 154; which should again bring him close to the production he saw in 2018 when he finished as RB18. His current ADP is 8.10 (RB40) but I think he has a great shot to finish as a top 30 running back this season.
Mattison has a lower floor than the other backs on this list but I love his skillet and the upside he brings to a fantasy football roster. As a rookie Mattison saw just 110 total touches, playing behind Dalvin Cook in the Vikings run-heavy scheme. Mattison, though, demonstrated some solid week to week value when he put together four weeks with at least 50 rushing yards; three of which came in the four games he saw double-digit rushing attempts. Currently, I do not project Mattison to be a top 36 running back, but he is playing behind Dalvin Cook who has never played an entire NFL season and is rumored to want a new contract. That combination of efficiency when giving opportunity and the likelihood that he will get opportunity gives me enough upside to get behind Mattison, who has a current ADP of 9.01 (RB42).
Washington Football Team
The dominant narrative following the release of Derrius Guice has been Antonio Gibson (ADP of 7.09, RB35) or Bryce Love (ADP of 11.05, RB52). I, though, am not chasing the allure of a gadget back with limited college production or the glory days of a former Heisman candidate that has yet to see the field in the NFL. Instead, I will take the steady hand in Adrian Peterson who has consistently stepped in as the steady back willing to eat volume and plug away for Washington. Despite being 35 years old and heading into his 14th NFL season he has shown no signs of slowing-touching the ball at least 225 times in each of the past two seasons with Washington. He may not be a flashy name but he put up double-digit fantasy football performances 7 times in 2019, including four of the last five weeks of the season. His current ADP is 10.09 (RB49) but I project him to be RB31, with a safer floor than most backs on this list.
Thanks for reading
Matt is a seasoned fantasy football analyst that writes dynasty and devy fantasy football content year-round. In addition to writing for Gridiron Experts, he writes and hosts a podcast for The Dynasty Draft Room and publishes all of his work at patreon.com/theffeducator