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Toby Gerhart is Your RB-Zero Savior

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills

The fantasy football community, at least in our little corner on twitter, has seemed to reach a consensus on early round strategy: draft wide receivers. Lots of them; the ones who score touchdowns. But if you’re going to go zero RB, you have to have a plan. There is no “once more unto the breach, dear friends” with this particular method of drafting (one that I endorse, for what it’s worth). There must be viable running backs, available later in drafts, to make the strategy function.

A quick analysis of running back ADP’s on My Fantasy League reveals one shining beacon of Zero RB hope: Toby Gerhart at RB32.1 Being drafted behind such luminous talents as Ray Rice (blech), ‘Bloatshon’ Moreno, Trent Richardson, and Chris Johnson, Gerhart is such a screaming redraft value that it feels like I’m taking crazy pills.

The Great White Divide

You would think this doesn’t matter, but it most assuredly does. Gerhart is a white guy, so we perceive him as nonathletic.

Name Height (in) Weight (lbs) Speed Score 40 Yard Bench Press Vert Leap (in) Broad Jump (in) Shuttle 3Cone Agility Score
Toby Gerhart 73 231 112 4.5 22 38 118 4.25 6.94 11.19

That’s not a good athlete. That’s an ELITE athlete at the NFL level. No other RB on the Jags roster is even in competition with Gerhart on a physical level. He is bigger, faster, stronger than all the other runners on the team. A criticism my work often finds is that it doesn’t matter how these guys perform in tank tops at the combine, but what they do on the field that matters. So, let’s look at Gerhart’s college production compared to his competition for touches.2

Rushing Rushing Rushing Rushing Receiving Receiving Receiving Receiving
Player Games Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
Toby Gerhart 13 343 1871 5.5 28 11 157 14.3 0
Storm Johnson 13 213 1139 5.3 14 30 260 8.7 3
Jordan Todman 12 334 1695 5.1 14 19 94 4.9 0

Gerhart played for a much, much better team than Jordan Todman (who I used to have a fantasy football crush on), but Johnson’s UCF squad was actually competitive. In no uncertain terms, Gerhart was the best running back amongst this trio in college. The most yards, the most carries, the best YPC and perhaps the most important, the most touchdowns.

Astute RotoViz readers may notice he only had 11 catches in his final college season, which is worrisome. Running backs who don’t catch passes are rarely really valuable fantasy assets, and certainly not stable ones. Has Gerhart done enough in the pros, when given the chance, to justify the title of Zero RB Savior?

The Great White Hope

These are the games in which Gerhart has received 10 or more carries:

Rushing Receiving
Date Att Yds Y/A TD Rec Yds Y/R TD
2010-11-28 22 76 3.45 1 2 5 2.5 0
2011-12-04 21 91 4.33 0 8 42 5.25 0
2011-12-11 19 90 4.74 0 3 19 6.33 1
2011-11-27 17 44 2.59 1 2 19 9.5 0
2010-12-20 16 77 4.81 0 3 18 6 0
2012-01-01 15 67 4.47 0 1 3 3 0
2013-12-08 15 89 5.93 1 0 0 0 0
2010-12-05 12 54 4.5 0 1 -2 -2 0
2011-12-24 11 109 9.91 0 0 0 0 0

I think the answer to the pass catching question is: he can’t NOT do it. The sample size of these games may be a little funky, as the Vikings have long not used their lead back in the passing game (hello, Adrian Peterson’s declining fantasy value) but Gerhart did have 77 career receptions in 61 games for the Vikings. Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that at the least, Gerhart is qualified to receive targets in the passing game, if not dominate them.

Gerhart is the best running back on his team. Unfortunately, that team is the Jacksonville Jaguars who suck the joy out of almost everything. On the plus side, if things suck for the Jags in 2014, they will at least suck differently. The team added Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee in an attempt to bolster what has been one of the most anemic offenses of the last half decade. Albeit, an an anemic offense that allowed an aging and injury prone Maurice Jones-Drew to have several fantastic fantasy seasons. Once you get past the 2nd or 3rd round, every single running back is going to have major question marks. But is Gerhart’s situation all that different from Le’Veon Bell’s? Bell’s QB is better, but that line is falling apart and basically every Steelers WR fits into a category that I would label ‘sucks at scoring points’. Volume matters, particularly receiving volume and once you get past RB12, Gerhart seems to be one of the safer bets for that volume.

Zero RB Savior, indeed.

  1. !!!!!  (back)
  2. For the sake of this analysis, I am not including Denard Robinson who profiles, at best, as a 3rd down back  (back)

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