The list of Top 15 Zero RB candidates had a big year in 2015. The Top 5 included league-winners Devonta Freeman and Doug Martin. It also contained serviceable pass-catching backs Duke Johnson and Charles Sims. David Johnson clocked in at No. 7.
As we talked about in 2014’s Zero RB, Breakout Stars, and Having More Fun Drafting and the recent Fantasyland episode, it’s important to think in terms of contingencies and plan for misses. Just because we had great success last year, that doesn’t mean we’ll automatically do so again. Fortunately, the evidence-based methodologies used to pick our targets continues to improve.
5. Theo Riddick
A few days ago, I explained why Danny Woodhead could be a trap player by looking at a simple model for projecting RB receptions.
The eight runners with the highest 2016 reception projections all make solid fantasy picks, but Riddick, Woodhead, and Shane Vereen have the least rushing value. There are few scenarios in which they’d earn a meaningful early down workload. Vereen is a player I’m targeting for MFL10s, but the selection of Paul Perkins further squeezes his already-low chances for a big workload.
When choosing between Riddick and Woodhead, the primary concern is cost. Riddick’s availability at No. 91 overall makes him palatable even if rumors that he’ll carve out a rushing role prove untrue. Woodhead is your prototypical chase-the-points player and has only downside at his ADP. Moreover, Riddick could even play slot receiver for Detroit, which gives him added insulation for his receiving numbers in the unlikely event of an Ameer Abdullah explosion.
4. Charles Sims
Highest Receiving Efficiency 2015 (Min. 40 Targets)
We can glean two separate pieces of information from this list, items that point in different directions.
- Sims was heavily targeted and ridiculously efficient. This goes to role and to talent. Sims will be utilized heavily, and he’s flashed big time playmaking ability.
- Sims finished at the realistic upper edge of the efficiency spectrum and probably won’t be that efficient again.
Dirk Koetter is a big fan of the rejuvenated Doug Martin, and their 2015 bell cow will likely continue to earn the lion’s share of the early down carries. Sims could still see his role grow. Tampa Bay is probably at least a year away from being a good football team. Firing Lovie Smith made little sense . . . unless you assume the Buccaneers organization wanted to get more aggressive and pass-happy on offense. Game script and coaching philosophy favor a high floor for Sims in the passing game.
Finally, while Sims is a low-end RB2 with Martin healthy, he would instantly join the Top 5 discussion with a Martin injury.
3. Melvin Gordon
I was very high on Gordon as a prospect due to his combination of production and agility. His top comp according to the Box Score Scout is LaDainian Tomlinson. Matt Forte is No. 4.
Of course, Gordon was not efficient as a rookie and didn’t score a single touchdown. Have we already seen proof that Gordon was just the beneficiary of elite Wisconsin blocking?
Josh Hermsmeyer writes persuasively about efficiency stats and their lack of predictive ability. When using the Screener to pull out high draft picks with poor rookie YPC, we find evidence of collapses (Trent Richardson), continued mediocrity (Thomas Jones, Knowshon Moreno), and mega-breakouts (Tomlinson, Le’Veon Bell, Ray Rice, Travis Henry.)
2000-2015 Top 60 Pick, YPC 3.0-4.0, 20-Plus Rec
|PLAYER||SEAS||DRAFT||reRECS.Qry1||ruYPC||PPR||reRECS N+1||ruYPC N+1||PPR N+1|
Because his rushing numbers were poor, it’s easy to overlook that Gordon had a strong 2016 broken tackle rate. His biggest problem was the failure to create big plays, a staple of his collegiate tour de force. Gordon’s previous production and his lofty NFL draft status help explain why I’m drafting Gordon everywhere but can’t pull the trigger on the similarly inefficient Matt Jones.
Offseason microfracture surgery is the other big elephant in the room. Brian Malone points out that his ADP continues to plunge and may continue to do so unabated. FD argues that he’s already running and that the discount seems to go overboard. In fact, the microfracture may be much ado about nothing.
I recently traded for Gordon during the RDL rookie draft and selected him during the Scott Fish Bowl, the 2016 MFL10 of Death, and the Rummy100. Since I’m not sure how long this window will be open, I’m not worried about timing the market at these prices.
2. Jeremy Langford
Jeremy Langford was awful last year – so awful that former PFF Fantasy editor and new ESPN stats guru Mike Clay has an apology to him in his twitter bio. After all, it’s not personal.
Langford dropped a bunch of passes and went basically the entire season without breaking a tackle. This led to a low yards per carry average, a number which may place him at risk for a quick hook in 2016.
On the other hand, Langford still finished as RB30, even though he was a rookie playing behind Matt Forte. And Forte appeared in 13 games. When Forte didn’t play, Langford was a monster.1
Even once Forte returned, Langford averaged a boring-but-playable 8.3 ppg over the final month of the fantasy season. And that was without scoring a TD. His pace as a committee back during that span would have given him almost 1,100 yards from scrimmage on the season.
In a must-read piece, Malone has argued against “false certainty” in evaluating Langford. FD follows with surprise at the Howard enthusiasm. Howard’s success score sits at a lowly 0.04 and reflects the fact that a big, slow, fifth-round rookie is unlikely to be immediately relevant.
In his last two years in college, Langford went for over 3,000 yards from scrimmage, scored 41 touchdowns, and caught 39 passes. He’s probably not as bad as his 2015 peripherals suggest, yet he’s now priced as though he won’t break a tackle this season either. We all assume Langford isn’t very good, but what if he finds himself in an Eli Cash novel?
When I began this series, Bernard’s ADP was outside the first five rounds,2 but he’s since climbed into late Round 5. Fortunately, his average ADP of 56.3 allows him to slide in immediately after John Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Greg Olsen.3 ADP gives Bernard a big advantage on fellow perfect-profile candidate Duke Johnson.
- Despite three Top 20 finishes in three seasons, Bernard is being selected at RB21.
- Bernard has never finished with fewer than 59 targets, and his receiving value gives him a high floor. Since his points come on fewer total touches, his injury risk is also lower than many similarly-priced backs.
- Bernard shared touches with BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2013 and Jeremy Hill the last few seasons. An injury to Hill would immediately place Bernard into the top echelon of backs.
In this countdown I’ve provided 15 RB targets currently being drafted outside the first five rounds. I’ll publish supplementary pieces as training camps progress and we move toward autumn. Already a few intriguing backs have seen their buzz deteriorate. They could move into target range shortly. Until then, here’s a look at the ADP for our final five.
For more information: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Zero RB Universe