In 2015, the Zero RB target list included Devonta Freeman and Doug Martin. Martin went off the board at RB17 but finished as RB4. Freeman was selected outside the first 100 picks at RB29 but finished as the overall RB1. The 2016 list featured Melvin Gordon, my top breakout candidate and highest-owned player. Who are we targeting in 2017?
Welcome to the update! Readers of the original top 15 have already profited on Rex Burkhead, Jamaal Charles, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt.1 In this update, we take a look at all 15 players together, and I discuss how to play each situation. For a deep dive, make sure to check out the original rankings. For those just getting into Zero RB, make sure to peruse these excellent 2017 articles that lay out the evidence-based foundation for the strategy.
- Fantasy Owners Are Drawing the Wrong Conclusions from 2016
- Is It Time to Scrap Zero RB?
- The Conditions Have Never Been Better for Zero RB
- Win the Flex – Win the Title: A RB Overreaction
- The Trends That Changed the Game Are About to Change It Again
Newcomers are in green, and those falling out of the rankings get red.
No. 15 Charles Sims
Reports out of Tampa Bay reiterate Sims’ status as the passing-down back. A higher ceiling/lower floor player than Jacquizz Rodgers, the RB16 from 2015 has big time bounceback potential in an offense where opponents must contend with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
How to Play It: Charles Kleinheksel recommends Sims for your first waiver wire run.
No. 14 Marlon Mack
Then Mack reminded everyone of his college highlights in pre-Week 2, shedding tackles and demonstrating the explosiveness that was frequently on display at South Florida.3 The buzz suddenly morphed from crickets to chainsaws in the course of an afternoon. Chuck Pagano even compared him to Jamaal Charles.
On the RotoUnderworld pod, I explained why Mack is only the Colts back with league-winning potential. In a perfect world, Andrew Luck will return by the time you need the rookie.
How to Play It: I’ve seen Mack go ahead of established starters in the last week. It’s important to resist that temptation. Grab when he falls into Round 12 or 13. Take advantage of the players pushed down when he goes in Round 8 or 9.
Falling Out: Robert Turbin
I’m still targeting Turbin late, but his selection becomes less pressing with Mack also looking good.
No. 13 Chris Thompson
If you listened to the Washington Redskins Fantasy Preview, Mark Bullock reiterated that Thompson’s role in the offense is not changing, despite the addition of Perine. If we plug Thompson’s last three seasons into our Screener, it shows how valuable that can be. 2016 was the first season Thompson played all 16 games. In 2015, Thompson missed three games but still commanded the fifth most targets.
How to Play It: Thompson is an auto-draft for me in Round 15.
No. 12 Rex Burkhead
Burkhead operated as the clear starter with Mike Gillislee out in pre-Week 2. He gashed4 the Texans for 20 yards on seven carries, adding 50 yards and a score on three targets. He immediately saw his ADP jump. In pre-Week 3, Burkhead sat and Gillislee ran wild against an overmatched Lions defense. Earlier opinion resolidified.
Weeks as Top Fantasy RB
How to Play It: Burkhead still looks like the best combination of price and potential upside. Try not to reach for him before Round 11. He went in Round 7 of a high stakes league yesterday.
No. 11 D’Onta Foreman
After impressing in pre-Week 1, Foreman weaved through the Patriots secondary for 66 receiving yards in pre-Week 2. On display throughout was the rare size/speed combination that earned him the top spot in the RB Success Model. A couple of splash plays won’t answer every question about his receiving potential, but they’re intriguing nonetheless.
Bill O’Brien claimed Foreman is “still a long way off,” and he played behind Alfred Blue and Tyler Ervin. Then he strained his groin.
How to Play It: Foreman remains a solid late-round pick, but if you find yourself tempted to reach, there’s a good chance he’ll be available on waivers after Week 1 like Jordan Howard was last season.
No. 10 Shane Vereen
Ben Gretch targets Vereen in his perfect draft.
The league was trending toward receiving backs prior to 2016, but the most relied upon among that class of player were snakebitten. Don’t be surprised if Vereen outsnaps Paul Perkins this year in an offense that likes to play wide open formations, just as he did “starter” Rashad Jennings in 2015.
Number of Carries for a Top-30 RB
How to Play It: Vereen is an especially good choice if your Zero RB squad features potential bell cows early. He’s a worse fit for those who land players like Kamara, Duke Johnson, and Theo Riddick.
No. 9 Jonathan Williams
The rumors that LeSean McCoy could be traded are evidently unfounded, but Williams can offer plenty as a backup and elite injury replacement.
How to Play It: He’s a tremendous pick at the point in your draft where owners run out of players they recognize and start taking Justin Tucker.6
Update: The Bills have released Williams in a surprise move that essentially leaves them without a backup to McCoy. Mike Tolbert will likely earn a few more snaps. Stay tuned to see if a secondary move is in the offing.
No. 8 C.J. Prosise
Prosise’s recent groin injury has only fueled the health narrative, and Seattle coaches are openly questioning whether he’ll be an NFL player. Fortunately, Thomas Rawls hasn’t locked down the job due to his own ankle woes, while the Seahawks are learning why the Packers were so ready to see Eddie Lacy depart. The injuries and ineptitude have thrown Seattle RB ADPs into disarray.
How to Play It: Prosise’s appeal rises as his price falls, but don’t ignore Chris Carson.
No. 7 Matt Forte
Following Forte over the last fortnight has been like watching a tennis match in fast forward. We started with Brian Malone reiterating the stance that Forte was undervalued by five rounds or more.
Last offseason, you avoided Adrian Peterson and drafted Matt Forte instead — just like I told you. You should do that again. I’m not taking a victory lap on Peterson’s torn meniscus. But I will note that Forte too suffered a torn meniscus in 2016. The only difference is that Forte played (and struggled) through his, while Peterson required surgery. Fantasy drafters are giving Peterson a free pass but penalizing Forte for what they saw on the field. Same goes for fantasy football’s most coveted age-32 running back, Danny Woodhead. Woodhead’s best ball average draft position is 5.12, Peterson’s is 7.08, and Forte’s is 11.12.
A couple of days later Forte starts and plays ahead of Bilal Powell. And then the rumors suggest Forte could be on the way out of New York.
How to Play It: Keep drafting in Round 12 and monitor the news. Quite a few teams could use Forte if he’s cut free, and most of those squads would deploy him as a committee back with upside as a pass-catcher.
No. 6 Jamaal Charles
It’s disconcerting that Charles could go from on-the-bubble to roster lock by recording 42 yards in a preseason game, but I’m glad it’s worked out that way.
How to Play It: You have to target the best back of his generation if he’s on an NFL roster, especially one with middling competition.7
No. 5 Alvin Kamara
While Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson cannibalize each other’s low value touches, Kamara’s dazzling pre-season continues to foreshadow a Bush-lite rookie season. His recent ADP rise stalled after he was held out of pre-Week 3.
How to Play It: I like Kamara slightly ahead of ADP and have scooped him up frequently in recent weeks.
No. 4 Duke Johnson
A lot went right for Isaiah Crowell in 2016, and drafters are overcompensating away from Johnson. The upside with DeShone Kizer was illustrated with a 37-yard burst on 3rd-and-3 last week. Unforunately, Kizer’s ascendance dampers enthusiasm for other reasons.
How to Play It: Johnson’s price usually occasions a decision between the space-plus back and one of the last members of the Air Yards Countdown’s top 36. If you already own six WRs, grab Johnson. If not, wait for someone like Vereen.
Falling Out: Kareem Hunt
If you drafted off the list before the Spencer Ware injury, you selected a borderline RB1 at bargain prices.8 Hunt is now too expensive for our approach.
No. 3 Theo Riddick
Riddick has two touches this preseason, keeping enthusiasm in check. He was on pace to be a clear cut RB1 last season before being taken out in the Silent RB-Pocalypse.
How to Play It: Riddick’s best fit is probably on a team that starts WRx5 with an elite TE. The Detroit pass-catcher is a strong bridge to breakthroughs from the riskier late-round players on the list.
No. 2 Derrick Henry
You can see what you want in Henry: the back who struggles to find space and goes down surprisingly easy at first contact or the player who demonstrates shocking athleticism for a big back when he reaches the second level. Either way, his potential opportunity is mouthwatering. Quietly, this may be the best offense for an RB in the NFL.
How to Play It: Henry’s ADP has crept earlier as the Titans play it safe with DeMarco Murray. He’s a stronger fit after Tyrell Williams and Adam Thielen are off the board but has more roster-changing upside than those receivers.
No. 1 Tevin Coleman
Zero RB creates the potential for super teams for many reasons, but it’s easy to forget one of the most important. If a committee starter goes down, the handcuff-with-standalone-value is then more valuable than the starter was previously. Most recently, I saw one of my favorite writers, J.J. Zachariason, note this about the difference between Spencer Ware and Kareem Hunt. Ware was competing with Hunt and was guaranteed to lose high-value receiving touches.9 Hunt is competing with Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller. He is more valuable now than Ware was a week ago.
Coleman is enthusiastically valued as the lesser part of a committee, but he’s not overvalued even in that role. Should anything happen to Devonta Freeman, Coleman’s value will go above Freeman’s current value.
How to Play It: Coleman is a solid selection in Round 6 if you already have five receivers or four and an elite TE.10 He’s less viable for those looking to snap up the bargain basement prices on players like Drew Brees.
For more detailed analysis of all of these players, make sure to check out the original countdown.
Planning to target breakout WRs but not sure which profiles offer the best value? I look at the 99 WR Breakouts of the Last 16 Years.
- It’s always upsetting to see a big injury during the preseason. These are real people with real lives. We’re not rooting for this. It’s much more exciting when players benefit from their own excellent play. In fairness to Hunt, he’s done that too. (back)
- My most-owned dynasty rookie. (back)
- While I’m a notorious run-to-daylight drafter, the broken tackles should help balance any concerns the coaching staff may have about his supposed “tendency to bounce plays outside.” (back)
- This is friendly terminology for the 7-20 line. (back)
- Make sure to check out Dave Caban’s excellent Patriots preview. (back)
- I’ve seen Tucker in the 11th round twice this week. (back)
- And especially with a price in the double digit rounds. (back)
- We are not rooting for injuries, but they happen. Your goal is to create as many paths to victory as possible. (back)
- This is one of the reasons you always avoid the narrow moat RBs in fantasy. (back)
- In a recent high stakes draft, one of the top-ranked players in the world selected Coleman/Henry with his sixth and seventh round picks after starting RB-RB, so you can see how the Coleman/Henry double-dip might also work in a RB-heavy approach where you’re hoping to eventually start a mid-RB1 in the Flex. (back)