The Ultimate Zero RB Watch List

Stevan Ridley

The entire RotoViz community has been incredibly supportive of Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based Drafting. With the advent of the message boards, several excellent threads have been dedicated to unearthing the best running backs to use with the strategy this year. While I have a preferred method for finding these players, it’s also incredibly important simply to keep tabs on everyone.

As a result, this is my Zero RB Watch List for 2014. It begins with Ben Tate at an approximate ADP of No. 72 overall and currently goes through RB77. I’ll try to occasionally update this list throughout the remainder of the draft season.

The List

Ben Tate – Rich Hribar dissects the Cleveland Cerberus and recommends Tate. It’s difficult to assess the current state of Tate’s athleticism, but he came out of college as a superior athlete to the two rookies. With more NFL experience, he would seem to have the early upper hand.

Chris Johnson – Johnson actually owns a promising projection for a back at his ADP, but his filtered yards per carry dropped last year. His backup is the more explosive player.

Rashad Jennings – David Wilson could steal a decent chunk of the in-space touches, and Profile 1 star Andre Williams will be a threat to his goal line carries. I ran Jennings through the Projection Machine assuming a mild carry split with Wilson and Williams.1

RB1 Jennings, Rashad 173.94 713.15 4.35 28.54 20.83 169.79 8.15 0.61 24 34 138.86

Joique Bell – The Intersect’s favorite RB still appears undervalued. I have a hard time seeing how Reggie Bush outscores him this year.

Ray Rice – Formerly one of my favorite players, Rice is coming off of a terrible season and faces a suspension. He looks like a trap player.

Frank GoreGore faded badly down the stretch last year, and the 49ers have been drafting RBs year after year in hopes of finding his replacement. If you find yourself considering Gore, remember this is Zero RB and just draft another wide receiver.

Pierre ThomasJames Todd has 7 Reasons to Draft PT, but his 2013 owners will probably just point to the trophy case. On the other hand, Pat Kerrane has a depressing insight about life after Darren Sproles.

Stevan Ridley – A Coffee is for Closers special.

Lamar Miller – Miller fits the exact profile for How to Select Zero RB Breakouts Like Clockwork, and he was one of my 7 Breakout RBs for 2014. Strangely enough, I agree with Davis Mattek that Miller could be a trap player. If you select Miller, do so because you believe in his talent. Opportunity in Miami could be overrated.

Christine Michael – Michael is the Redwood Hot Tub of Trade Chips, and he was my No. 1 ranked RB prospect a year ago ahead of personal favorites Zac Stacy and Le’Veon Bell. Despite the glowing rhetoric emanating from Seattle, I think I was wrong to rate him so highly. Much like Isaiah Crowell, Michael’s collegiate results undermine the scouting reports.

Carlos Hyde – Hyde profiles as this year’s most overrated rookie, and Justin Winn recently provided two additional pieces of actionable information. 1) While Gore isn’t a good fantasy candidate on his own, he’s still the heavy favorite to lead in snaps. 2) The San Francisco offense is wildly overrated for fantasy RBs in general.

Steven Jackson – Speaking of Mr. Winn, if you don’t want Steven Jackson, he’ll take him off your hands.

Terrance West – When you add West’s poor 3-cone, his RotoViz projection falls to 67, or fourth in the class. If you mentally adjust for his level of competition, he probably falls further. This is a tricky call because he might have Top 10 upside if he wins the starting job.

Devonta FreemanFreeman is a red flag rookie to avoid, but he only needs to outlast two other red flag players for the starting job.

Darren Sproles – We were right in giving Sproles the overvalued label a year ago, but it’s hard to bet against anybody in a Chip Kelly offense.

Maurice Jones-Drew – Whispers suggest Darren McFadden may have the edge, and Latavius Murray also lurks.

Bernard PiercePierce ranked No. 2 on the Breakout RB list. Keep in mind that he had the lowest number of fantasy points per opportunity of any back in the NFL last year (min. 100 carries).

Jeremy HillHill’s timed athleticism is quite poor, but his 2013 on-field results were impressive. He landed in a great situation and could easily be the ROY this season.

Danny Woodhead – For an in-space back, Woodhead’s Sim Score projection is tremendous. If there’s a downside, it’s that Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown are both underrated players.

Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 6.3 7.1 7.9
Median 8.2 10.1 12
High 12.4 14.7 18

Tre Mason – Matthew Freedman has argued in favor of Mason based on Jeff Fisher’s past approach in the draft, but Davis Mattek’s blistering support of Zac Stacy places the on-field evidence first. This might be a good place to mention that Stacy plodded his way to 2.45 yards after contact per carry in 2013 while Eddie Lacy dervished to 2.28. One of those players is expected to be the NFL’s next star RB. The other is evidently threatened by a third round rookie.

Khiry Robinson – One of my Top 10 Sleepers, Robinson could be more involved in the passing game than many realize.

Darren McFadden – McFadden waited until his bandwagon had emptied completely and then exploded in 2010. The bandwagon again lacks passengers.

Fred Jackson – If you want an aging veteran, the choice is pretty easy.

Fred Jackson Frank Gore Steven Jackson
Standard Half PPR PPR   Standard Half PPR PPR Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 4.3 5.8 6.8 Low 5.1 5.4 6.1 Low 2.1 2.6 3.1
Median 7.6 8.7 10.3 Median 8.3 8.8 9.3 Median 6.6 6.9 7.2
High 11.5 12.8 13.4 High 9.8 10.3 11.4 High 10.1 10.8 11.4

Ka’Deem CareyCarey lacks the athleticism to be a big time NFL starter, but he could be the best handcuff in the league.

DeAngelo WilliamsDrafting Williams is kind of like hanging dry wall. For the good and the bad.

Knile Davis – The Intersect gives you 5 Reasons Why You Need to Draft Davis. A better prospect than Christine Michael, he’s also a much easier guy to roster since he should have more standalone value.

Mark Ingram – An efficient back on a per carry basis last season, Ingram fits the Zero RB mold in standard leagues. The Fantasy Douche points out reasons to believe he’s worth more than Robinson.

David WilsonThe World Turtle is back.

Charles Sims – Sims owns a solid set of comps that could be stretched to include guys like DeMarco Murray, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Marshawn Lynch. The scuttlebutt out of Tampa suggests a timeshare, which would provide some standalone value. As Vaughn Stewart explains, Sims should pretty clearly be going ahead of Tre Mason and Ka’Deem Carey.

Andre WilliamsWilliams is the top two-down back in this draft class. It doesn’t look like Williams will add anything in the receiving game, but that may not matter in your league or this late in your draft. He’s not a bad candidate to be this year’s Zac Stacy or Alfred Morris.

Jonathan Stewart – Stewart may be healthier than he’s ever been at the NFL level, and his ADP fits perfectly into an approach employed by The Intersect.

Bryce Brown – Brown is a freak athlete with a couple of very impressive NFL games on his resume. Patrick Kerrane lists Brown as a top dynasty target, but don’t overlook him in redraft.

Lance Dunbar – Dan Schneier makes the case for Dunbar as one of three ridiculously undervalued PPR backs and Justin Winn likes him as this year’s Danny Woodhead. Unfortunately, DeMarco Murray may be good enough to soak up all of the touches.

Chris Ivory – This is pure blasphemy, but Ivory may be the best early down runner in the NFL. Check out his first down yards per carry. Of course, injuries and lack of receiving ability tend to eviscerate his value.

LeGarrette Blount – Especially in standard leagues, Blount is a premier handcuff.

C.J. Anderson – Anderson struggled to a 0.29 Rush Dominator Rating in his final year at Cal. Nothing in his profile suggests more than a fringe backup at the NFL level. This doesn’t mean he couldn’t be a borderline RB1 if Ball got injured and Anderson was promoted. It’s just a reminder that his value is dependent on an injury to the starter and continued poor play by Ronnie Hillman.

Jerick McKinnon – An interesting guy to follow in training camp, he’s a bigger raw talent than Mason or Carey. There’s a school of thought that would probably prefer him when drafting handcuffs. He’s one of my four undervalued agility score stars.

Latavius Murray – The true Zero RB candidate from the Oakland Raiders.

Andre Brown – His defense-adjusted FPOP numbers were really poor last year, but a lot of opportunity exists in Houston.

James White – One of five guys who could be the Next Priest Holmes.

Lorenzo Taliaferro – Dwain McFarland wrote a tremendous article on the S2K Running Back Machine. It helps explain why Max Mulitz thinks Taliaferro could run away with the job in Baltimore.

Shonn GreeneNot a lock to make the roster.

Donald Brown – The second best handcuff in fantasy football.

Roy Helu – He’ll have to hold off the underrated and electric Chris Thompson, but the player who emerges as Gruden’s in-space back is going to have significant standalone value.  Take a quick look at some Helu comps.

Name Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Agility Score Adj. POE Hlt/Carry
Roy Helu 219 4.4 116.9 10.68 11.2 3.19
Name Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Agility Score Adj. POE Hlt/Carry
Alex Green 225 4.45 114.8 11.06 55 4.74
C.J. Spiller 196 4.27 117.9 NA 18.9 2.74
Jamaal Charles 200 4.38 108.7 11.02 Elite Elite
Jahvid Best 199 4.34 112.2 10.92 18.3 3.39
Matt Forte 217 4.44 111.7 11.07 NA NA

Dexter McCluster – Suddenly generating some serious buzz, McCluster is a ppr breakout candidate.

James Starks – The top handcuff in fantasy this season, Starks is poised to explode if Lacy goes down. The Green Bay backup was better than the starter in 2013.

De’Anthony Thomas – Most believe Thomas will be utterly worthless, but at least one Chiefs fan has suggested he’s a superior prospect to Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin. You should probably go with the wisdom of crowds here.

Jacquizz Rodgers – After struggling when given opportunity in 2013, Rodgers is probably worth less to you than having the flexibility of the roster spot.

Stepfan Taylor – Taylor was the least athletic back drafted last year, but his college resume makes him an intriguing breakout candidate.

Chris Polk – Another elite handcuff, Polk makes a better roster stash than many of the trendy rookies.

  1. Also adjusting the Team Level dials based on our knowledge of the Vegas projections and the type of offense they plan to run.  (back)