We’re on record as saying the current state of the running back position in the NFL may not be the most conducive to a ZeroRB strategy, but if you’re committed to it, there are ways to navigate your draft to give yourself the best chance at success. Of course, it’s important to nail your first 5 rounds, as any major misses at the other core positions could spell disaster for your season.
We’ve gone ahead and mocked out our first five rounds; the below is our roster sans running back.
- 1.08: Davante Adams, WR – GB
- 2.05: Mike Evans, WR – TB
- 3.08: Amari Cooper, WR – DAL
- 4.05: Deshaun Watson, QB – HOU
- 5.08: Evan Engram, TE – NYG
Overall I’m pleased with the depth at WR, especially with Cooper as my WR3. While Adams is one of the most consistently excellent fantasy producers in the game, Evans and Cooper are potential top 10 receivers that will help off set any potential let downs at the RB position. Securing a top 5 QB and TE (and guys I expect to be closer to the top 3) is a win as well.
So with my core settled, it’s time to switch my focus to the running back position. With much of the starters gone, and a long turn, my strategy is to secure a back I feel has the highest floor rather than a boom or bust candidate. Here is who is available (ranked by ADP).
- James White, NE
- Kenyan Drake, MIA
- Lamar Miller, HOU
- Tevin Coleman, SF
- Latavius Murray, NO
- Rashaad Penny, SEA
- Derrius Guice, WAS
- Miles Sanders, PHI
Ultimately, I’d like to secure two names off this list, but there are a few I’m not really interested in as my RB 1. James White and Latavius Murray both have monster upside in their respective offenses, but with White, his RB7 finish last year doesn’t tell the full story of a RB who’s usage is impossible to predict. He and Murray are not exactly set it and forget it type backs, so I’m not going with them.
Ultimately, I’ve paired my decision down to Lamar Miller, Rashaad Penny, and Derrius Guice.
Miller, while seemingly the least exciting starting RB in the league, has a pretty solid grasp on all three downs. Given the release of D’Onta Foreman, and the lack of an impact backup, I’m confident he’ll get volume, even if the big plays aren’t there.
Penny and Guice, on the other hand, offer much higher ceilings than Miller, but have more crowded backfields to navigate if they’re going to receive the lions share of their teams touches. Between the two, Penny feels safer to me given how often Seattle projects to run the ball. Even if Chris Carson continues to hold off Penny for the top roster designation, I expect Penny to see a healthy number of touches in 2019.
We admit he’s not exciting, but Lamar Miller is perfect for a ZeroRB target. He’s got all three downs to himself, and while he’ll likely plod along around 4YPC, he can be more safely relied upon than the other names on this list. With a chance I can land a player like Guice or Sanders in the next round, I’m comfortable with Miller as my top RB in a ZeroRB draft.
The one nice thing about selecting your starting backs in this range is that fewer teams are drafting backs at this point. Both Guice and Penny fell to the 7th round, further reinforcing the selection of Miller who’s a solid anchor in this strategy.
We’re going to try something a little new over here at the Dr’s Office, with a once-a-week mock draft and review. Each week we’ll draft from a different position in the draft and take a look at each major draft strategy to give you an idea of what to expect on draft day.
Last season, we fully embraced the idea that ZeroRB could be a viable draft strategy for the current fantasy landscape, especially given how many leagues have converted to half point and full point PPR formats.
We still think a full ZeroRB strategy is a risky proposition, especially in standard leagues, so really do your research before committing to it. We find that the current trend of workhorse backs returning to the early first round, ZeroRB really shines with a pick later in the draft. We randomized our draft position and received the 6th overall pick out of 10. Here’s how things went.
1.06 – Davante Adams, WR – GB
I was hoping DeAndre Hopkins would fall to me at six, but I’m not lamenting starting my draft with one of the most consistent receivers over the last few years. With Antonio Brown off to Oakland, Adams offers both the highest floor and highest ceiling of any receiver not named Hopkins. He’s a safe bet for 150 targets, 100 or so receptions, and his usual 10+ TD receptions.
2.05 – Mike Evans, WR – TB
Antonio Brown was available here, but I’m not convinced he’ll have the same consistency with Carr and Gruden leading the offense in Oakland. Instead, I went with the safer pick of Mike Evans. I’m actually surprised that Evans isn’t getting enough credit for being one of the top options at the position. His 2018 was his best year yet despite the flux at the QB position. With Winston under center from day 1 and less double teams thanks to emerging talent elsewhere on the offense, his floor is far safer than the other options surrounding him, which is one of my concerns when drafting for a ZeroRB roster. I don’t like to have too many down weeks from my studs, and the Adams/Evans combo is a lethal one.
3.06 – Adam Thielen, WR – MIN
I could take George Kittle here and pair my top 3 WR with a top 3 TE, but I’m going to stick to my guns and take the guy who fits my ZeroRB draft strategy the best. While boom or bust candidates like A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, and Amari Cooper may sit on most expert rankings ahead of Thielen, it’s the Minnesota product that really offers through the roof value in the third round. His first half last year was one of the best stretches for any receiver in the league, and even when things started to go sideways on the Vikings, Thielen managed to stay productive. As a WR3, I’m stocked to have him.
4.05 – Andrew Luck, QB – IND
It’s around this time that I begin plotting out my RB selections, and knowing that I have a three receiver group that should be well ahead of the competition, I’m willing to wait on TE and grab a player who could very well finish as the top QB in the league this year. Mahomes is the clear number one at this point, but unlike the situation in KC, Indianapolis has given a now-healthy Luck even more weapons to work with. With my plan to select a RB in round 6, I’d rather get a sure thing QB here than select another wide out and hope a top 5 QB I liked was available in round 5.
5.06 – Tyler Boyd, WR – CIN
This one is a bit off the board, but with the ZeroRB strategy, you need to make sure you’re taking the guys you want, and not just the guys at the top of the current ADP or rankings. With my commitment to the strategy, I’ll be selecting a handful of backs over the next few rounds, and I really like Boyd to repeat last years breakout season. With A.J. Green on the field, he was electric, and with this particular mock taking place in a PPR universe, his value is even greater considering the volume I expect him to see. As a fourth WR, you can’t do much better than a player who’s floor is padded thanks to his target share.
6.05 – Derrick Henry, RB – TEN
There were a few names I was hoping would drop to me, namely Kerryon Johnson, but alas he and Sony Michel went in the few picks leading up to mine in the sixth round. Still, I’m okay with beginning my RB hunt with a guy who, at one point, was as buzzy a prospect as we’d seen in some time. The former Heisman trophy winner was electric down the stretch, and it seemed at the time that the offense was being handed over to him in a more workhorse role. His skill set certainly supports the idea that in 2019 he’s going to be more of a bell cow, and I’m intrigued by his upside. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of shares of Henry in the coming season.
7.06 – Tarik Cohen, RB – CHI
Knowing the league format is always important, and grabbing a guy like Cohen as your RB2 is a dangerous proposition unless you’re in a full point PPR league. Given that Jordan Howard was sent packing and Devin Singletary doesn’t really profile as a pass catching back, the third downs safely belong to Cohen. Only Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel had a larger share of targets last season, and by a short margin at that. Cohen is a lock for 90 or so targets, and the prospect of additional work on the ground makes him an interesting ZeroRB target who could really return on that investment.
8.05 – James White, RB – NE
This is the point in the draft where many running back decisions come down to opportunity vs. upside. Guys like Chris Carson and Lamar Miller were solid, middle of the road backs last season, but both have young talent pushing them for touches. Likewise, guys like Derrius Guice and Jerick McKinnon saw promising seasons go down in the pre-season and are no guarantee to win back the starting gig with new backs in both systems. Getting White here was a bit of a cop out, as I’m not committing to any of those scenarios. Much like Cohen, White is entrenched as the pass catching back in New England, and with 90-100 target potential, especially in the face of Rob Gronkowski’s departure, and he’s a viable third option and flex starter during the season.
9.06 – David Njoku, TE – CLE
While Hunter Henry was still on the board, I’m not convinced that he’ll ever be more than a mid-tier fantasy producer. Instead, I went with the freak athlete on an ascending team in Cleveland’s Njoku. I don’t believe Odell Beckham’s arrival spells disaster for Njoku’s outlook either, as his roll as one of Baker Mayfields middle of the field safety blanket remains in tact. In fact, I expect him to see an even larger share of red zone targets this year than last year, as his 10 targets were half of Landry’s but converted to the most Red Zone TDs on the team.
10.05 – Jerick McKinnon, RB – SF
It was a terrible injury that felled McKinnon last pre-season, but he’s expected to be back healthy, and has already been suggested by coach Kyle Shanahan as the teams RB1 out of the gates. That could certainly change as the season approaches, but given the contract he signed, it’s likely that the team wants to see what McKinnon can do for them before moving on to Brieda or Coleman as the lead back. However, I don’t expect him to handle a ton of passing downs with, so his ceiling is relatively low for a guy who should be a starter on his team. Any earlier in the draft, and I’d be ignoring him as an option, but in the tenth I’ll take the chance, and keep the leash short.
11.06 – Rashaad Penny, RB – SEA
I was critical of Penny last year, but it wasn’t because he’s lacking talent. What Penny had to overcome was a lack of conditioning and a stranglehold on the starting gig by the milquetoast Chris Carson. Down the stretch, however, we saw how his talent may trump Carson’s incumbency, as he showed flashes of brilliance late in the year. This is purely an upside pick, and with as many pass catching backs, I felt comfortable taking Penny here over my other target of Nyheim Hines.
12.05 – Michael Gallup, WR – DAL
Given his pedigree, it makes sense that Amari Cooper is the big name being targeted in that Dallas passing game, but I’d caution that overlooking Gallup could be a mistake. After all, Cooper did most of his damage over a three week stretch, putting up 47% of his yardage and 71% of his TD production during that time. That leaves the door open for Gallup, who saw his targets increase after the bye, and his production improve with the arrival of Cooper as well. He’ll need to improve his catch rate, but I feel a good amount of that stems from Prescott airing it out to Gallup. There’s definitely a chance he busts, but in the 12th round, he has excellent upside for a flier pick.
13.06 – Ronald Jones, RB – TB
At this point in the draft, my strategy is to take the guy I think has the best chance to overcome whatever cons have him being drafted so late. The buzz surrounding Rojo last preseason was pure hyperbole, after all it was argued he was the next Jamaal Charles. This year, he’s a bit of an afterthought despite a major change with the coaching staff, and Bruce Arians arriving to help fix the mess that was last years Buccaneers. With his propensity to use his RB’s in the passing game, and Peyton Barbers tenuous hold on the starting job as it is, Ronald Jones could see himself on the field far more this season, and his pedigree is enticing at this point in the draft.
14.05 – Delanie Walker, TE – TEN
While I’m fairly convinced that Njoku will be productive in Cleveland, it doesn’t hurt to add a consistent weapon to your bench. Walker is an injury waiting to happen, but in the event that Njoku goes down or becomes ineffective, Walker is a very solid option to replace the production I expect from Njoku. I could have taken a swing here at Trey Burton as well, but he profiles much along the lines of Njoku, and I’m not willing to put too many eggs in the upside basket when it comes to my tight ends.
15.06 – DeaSean Hamilton, WR – DEN
I was a DeaSean owner last year, and I really liked how he played for a Denver team that struggled to throw the football all season. While Joe Flacco isn’t a major improvement for the Broncos, he’s an improvement nonetheless, and the second year receiver stands to gain a lot from his arrival. Given that Emmanuel Sanders is still recovering from an achilles injury, Hamilton figures to be used pretty heavily at times in the Bronco’s offense, and if the flashes he showed last year are any indication, there’s few names at this point in the draft with WR2 upside like Hamilton possesses.
16.05 – Dak Prescott, QB – DAL
As a backup QB, there’s not many options in this portion of the draft that has the kind of upside that Prescott has. With an elite O-line, a run game that keeps him protected, and an expanded cast at the receiver position, Prescott’s late season success is very easily transferable to the 2019 season. If Luck misses time, I’m comfortable rolling Prescott out there in his stead.
17.06 – Greg Zuerlien, K – LAR
I won’t get too into it, but when I’m drafting my Kicker and D/ST last, I tend to take the most “sure thing” contributor between the top options at both. In the event that I can get the top kicker, I’m more than comfortable taking a stab at a D/ST and streaming in the likely event that the selection isn’t elite.
18.05 – New Orleans Saints D/ST
They’ll do in a pinch, but I’m planning on streaming a defense anyways, so this is a throw away pick at best.
- QB: Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott
- RB: Derrick Henry, Tarik Cohen, James White, Jerick McKinnon, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones
- WR: Davante Adams, Mike Evans, Adam Thielen, Tyler Boyd, Michael Gallup, DeaSean Hamilton
- TE: David Njoku, Delanie Walker
- K: Greg Zurlein
- D/ST: New Orleans Saints
The strength of this team obviously resides at the wide receiver position. Having a potential top 25 guy as my WR4 means I can mitigate any effects that may arise from waiting as long as I did on backs. If I only have to start two of my backs most weeks, I’m in a much better position to succeed given the PPR format I drafted for.
Of course, you can take this strategy and adopt a slightly different variation. I know some folks wait even later in the draft, stockpiling pass catchers for trade and depth purposes, and I’ve seen some ZeroRB strategies that can be best described as hybrid strategies.
For example, I could have skipped the Tyler Boyd pick, and taken a back in the 5th round and landed either Philip Lindsay or Kerryon Johnson, players who went in the few picks following the selection of Boyd. There’s no real rule that says if you’re starting with a ZeroRB focus you can’t go off script to grab a player you really love.
As I’ve said in the past, this isn’t a strategy for folks uncomfortable with the deeper options at the back position. Being flexible and malleable week to week depending on matchups can be instrumental to success. It will require a great commitment to keeping tabs on your team and on the free agent pool, but the success of ZeroRB rosters can be through the roof if done properly.
4. Green Bay Packers
The only thing this team is missing to be in the top three is a viable run game, but the mere presence of the best quarter back in the league helps elevate the entire passing game. Add to his arsenal an elite red zone weapon in tight end Jimmy Graham, and you have a recipe for success for one of the leagues best passing attacks.
Players Worth Drafting: Davante Adams (ADP 22), Aaron Rodgers (ADP 23), Jimmy Graham (ADP 61), Randall Cobb (ADP 88), Jamaal Williams (ADP 105), Aaron Jones (ADP 124), Ty Montgomery (ADP 131)
The real question becomes “is there anyone who can handle the rushing duties?” It feels like forever ago that Eddie Lacy was a first round pick, and after last years three back committee failed to churn out more than a spot start here and there, the hunt is on as all three return in some capacity. While Aaron Jones looked more impressive in his opportunities, it looks like Williams will get the first crack at the job.
Deep Sleeper: Last year I tore into the idea that Ty Montgomery was a viable three down back, and following an injury, it seemed that I was right. Still, neither Jamaal Williams nor Aaron Jones did enough to erase the memories of Montgomery shredding defenses in the passing game. When healthy, and by all accounts he is, he’ll handle the passing downs, and in the 15th round, he’s got far too high a ceiling to not be a target.
3. New England Patriots
Yes, I’m concerned about the Patriots ability to return to the Super Bowl given the on going off season drama, but I’m not concerned about the elite players turning in elite fantasy seasons. Tom Brady may take a bit of a step back this year due to age and unfamiliar pieces, but even a Tom Brady at 90% is better than most in a league that values decision making and smarts. It’s the run game that could potentially produce the biggest surprises in New England this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Rob Gronkowski (ADP 19), Tom Brady (ADP 31), Sony Michel (ADP 51), Chris Hogan (ADP 69), Julian Edelman (ADP 80), Rex Burkhead (ADP 114), James White (ADP 145), Jordan Matthews (ADP 188)
With 1st round back Sony Michel the first NE back coming off the board, it sure seems like the public believes the Patriots are going to do what every other NFL franchise does when it drafts a player that high. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, while Michel is a nice player, it’s Rex Burkhead that’s the Patriot to own at running back. His versatility and rapport with Brady is undeniable, and with less time to prepare thanks to his off season hold out, Brady will need to lean on Hogan and Burkhead to get the offense going.
Deep Sleeper: I may be a bit higher on Jordan Matthews than most, but I see a low risk pick that has the chance to start the season as the top slot option in a passing attack that targets it’s slot receivers at a higher rate than most of the league. With Edelman missing 4 games and over a year removed from playing football, there’s a very good chance that this is Matthews best chance to showcase his skills.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are a team on the rise. With a capable backup quarter back, even a delay in the return of franchise QB Carson Wentz isn’t a death sentence for the elite players this roster boasts. Zach Ertz is a no doubt TE in any format, as he continues to be the top target in the red zone. Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor return as a fantasic complimentary duo, with both players a threat to his 800-1000 yards.
Players Worth Drafting: Zach Ertz (ADP 32), Jay Ajayi (ADP 43), Alshon Jeffrey (ADP 46), Carson Wentz (ADP 53), Nelson Agholor (ADP 117), Corey Clement (ADP 181)
Targeting a running back here could get tricky. You may be tempted to jump early at Ajayi after he posted some pretty impressive numbers in an Eagles uniform. I’d caution against it. While he certainly has the skills, he’s in an unenviable position of being type cast in the early down role with Darren Sproles handling the passing downs and Corey Clement chewing into red zone touches.
Deep Sleeper: Currently falling into the “undrafted” category, Darren Sproles returns as the primary pass catcher for the Eagles. While the diminutive scat-back certainly has the injury history to make one squeamish, he also has the skills to haul in 50+ balls from the waiver wire.
1. Minnesota Vikings
It may surprise you to see the Vikings here, but after paying big money to bring in Kirk Cousins, the offense in Minnesota now features a top 20 player at every counting position, and several top 10 candidates. Kirk Cousins’ big arm should only help Diggs close the game with Thielen (if not pass him) and a Dalvin Cook/Latavius Murray backfield should scare defensive coordinators who want to abandon the box to stop the down the field passing.
Players Worth Drafting: Dalvin Cook (ADP 14), Adam Thielen (ADP 25), Stefon Diggs (ADP 35), Kirk Cousins (ADP 76), Kyle Rudolph (ADP 84), Latavius Murray (ADP 155)
You may be wondering why Cook is being valued as high as he is after only playing 4 games as a rookie before suffering a big time injury. The truth is that, while he could certainly return a different player, it’s expected he’ll return healthy and continue to receive a three down workload. In those 4 games he averaged over 5 receptions and 100 combined yards, further supporting Minnesota’s intentions to use him even on passing downs.
Deep Sleeper: Allow me to talk out of the other side of my mouth for a moment and plug Latavius Murray as one of my favorite deep sleepers of the year. With Cook’s return imminent, his draft value continues to fall, making the former Raider a fantastic value given how well he played in Cooks absence last year. I’ve sung his praises in years past, and the freak athleticism he possesses should help him see the field regardless of Cooks’ effectiveness upon his return.
Well folks, it’s July and the fantasy season has crested the horizon. As we prepare to celebrate the day of our independence here in the U.S. it’s also important to note that July is the last month with no NFL football.
Please be sure to remember that here at Dr. Fantasy we ask that you continually adjust your own rankings as the season nears; drafting LeDarius Green as a starting TE only to find out you missed that he was cut only serves to sabotage all the work you’re putting in now. That being said, lets investigate how current ADP data looks for the first three rounds. (PPR ADP data provided by FantasyPros.com)
- Todd Gurley, RB – LAR
- Le’Veon Bell, RB – PIT
- David Johnson, RB – ARI
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB – DAL
- Antonio Brown, WR – PIT
- Alvin Kamara, RB – NO
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR – HOU
- Saquon Barkley, RB – NYG
- Kareem Hunt, RB – KC
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR – NYG
Players I Love: I like most of these guys, but Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham both have the talent and the volume to project higher than some of the guys going ahead of them. Obviously, Barkley doesn’t have a history in the NFL to draw from, but it’s clear that the Giants selection at #4 overall would have been a QB if they didn’t plan on using Barkley as heavily as anyone else.
Players I Hate: Quick disclaimer, I don’t hate any of these players as real life football players. What I hate is the price I have to pay to get one in my league. Alvin Kamara projects as an elite third down option, but expecting him to feature heavily in the run game, or duplicate the 6+ YPC carry mark is asking too much; expect regression.
Likewise, Hunt’s bottom line looked fantastic, and he certainly passed the eyeball test… at times. Still, the inexplicable slide in the middle of the season showed some chinks in his armor, and he’ll have to fend off a returning Spencer Ware for touches; again, expect some regression.
- Melvin Gordon, RB – LAC
- Leonard Fournette, RB – JAC
- Julio Jones, WR – ATL
- Michael Thomas, WR – NO
- Dalvin Cook, RB – MIN
- Keenan Allen, WR – LAC
- Christian McCaffrey, RB – CAR
- Davante Adams, WR – GB
- A.J. Green, WR – CIN
- Mike Evans, WR – TB
Players I love: There’s a lot of value in the 2nd round this year, but Michael Thomas and Davante Adams are two players who could elevate their games into the top 5 at the position. As the top target in two of the best passing offenses in the league, you’d be getting absolute studs in the 2nd round.
Players I Hate: Dalvin Cook was impressive in limited action last year, but a major knee injury derailed a promising season. Now, it seems drafters are expecting him to step back into the three down role and not miss a beat. A 2nd round price tag is way to high for a player who may not be the same following the injury.
Likewise, Mike Evans has plenty of talent, but is stuck playing for a listless Tampa Bay team that’s already is slated to miss it’s QB for the first three games. While it’s a possibility that he comes out firing, the second round isn’t a great place to take such a risk with guys like Thielen and Hill available in the following round.
- Devonta Freeman, RB – ATL
- LeSean McCoy, RB – BUF
- Rob Gronkowski, TE – NE
- Jerick McKinnon, RB – SF
- Joe Mixon, RB – CIN
- Travis Kelce, TE – KC
- Tyreek Hill, WR – KC
- Jordan Howard, RB – CHI
- Adam Thielen, WR – MIN
- Aaron Rodgers, QB – GB
Players I love: When Jerick McKinnon was brought in to replace Carlos Hyde, my eyes lit up. Recent history has shown us how Kyle Shannahan uses his backs, and McKinnon’s ability to play on passing downs could produce a top 5 RB season.
Jordan Howard’s standing in fantasy circles is a strange one as he’s being drafted as the RB16 this year despite rushing for 1,100 yards and 9 TDs last year. In the third round, the lead back in Chicago is a steal, and if reports out of Chicago are true, and they’re trying to improve on his pass catching, he could be a league winner at 28th overall.
Players I hate:
Rob Gronkowski may still go down as the best tight end of all time, but the time is past for you to reach early to get him. As easy as it is to argue he’s the only trustworthy weapon Brady has left, it’s just as easy to argue that the New England offense is going to look strange this year. With a first round pick invested in the run game, and a strange dynamic evolving with coaching staff and quarterback, there’s no telling how inconsistent the game plan will be. He’s a fantasy starter all day, but not worth drafting before Kelce or Ertz.