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Top 15 Zero RB Candidates for 2017: No. 5 to No. 1

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?

You can find the extended intro along with No. 15 to No. 11 in Part 1. Also be sure to check out No. 10 to No. 6 in Part 2. Let’s jump into the rankings.

No. 5 C.J. Prosise

Last year, Matthew Freedman1 and I both compared Prosise to David Johnson. Of course, this was the pre-legend Johnson where all he’d done was destroy the Missouri Valley at Northern Iowa, jump start all of Indy with his SPARQiness at the combine, and win NFL early adopters their 2015 titles with his stretch run. But he wasn’t the David Johnson. Not yet.

And Prosise was unlike Johnson in some key ways. He wasn’t a college workhorse, for example.

But Prosise is big, fast, and a plus-receiver. He’s the favorite to open the season as Seattle’s pass-catching back, and he runs a 4.48 at 220 pounds. Pete Carroll has said that he brings something different to the table, which, a near infinite number of Eddie Lacy jokes aside, is upside that comes with big time athleticism. All of that was on display when Prosise torched the Patriots for 153 yards from scrimmage in his short stint between injuries.

The three-way committee is a concern, because drafting Prosise requires at least the possibility that he emerges as a modified bell cow. Fighting off two legitimate challengers is always more difficult, and that’s before you get to sleepers like Chris Carson.

Gambling on Prosise is a risky bet on talent over opportunity.2 Fortunately, Seattle has consistently shown they’re willing to play the best player, which explains why Thomas Rawls may be the real favorite for early-down work. Don’t neglect to draft him late, either.

No. 4 Kareem Hunt

Last December, I tilted at windmills and projected all 32 backfields for 2017. As you might guess, I got most of the specifics wrong, but my case for selling Spencer Ware played out on draft day. Andy Reid’s offense requires a strong receiving back. Justin Simon reminds us that in his 18 years coaching in the NFL, Reid has averaged 95.4 targets to the RB position per season.

Reid caught plenty of flak for his pass-heavy playcalling in Philadelphia, but an innovative system that removed low-upside runs for more efficient passes to the RBs – an approach that combined safety and improved success rates – was integral to their success. He hasn’t had that the last three seasons in Kansas City.3

reid-rb-splits

While it was likely inevitable that Reid would handpick his Charles successor – and that Ware would share receiving duties with a rookie in 2017 – it’s an open question as to whether he chose correctly. The Toledo project has athletic red flags but lassoed 41 passes last year in the process of gaining nearly 1,900 yards from scrimmage.

Those who cover Kansas City have been split on whether Hunt can win the starting job out of the gate. The rookie will likely begin the season as a backup, but Reid finds himself an early fan.

“He’s a smart kid. He’s picking it up … I’ve been around a lot of good backs and smart backs and he’s right in there. He picks it up quick.”

Reid is, of course, referring to those dual threat stars of yesterday. The true breakout for Hunt has a better chance at occurring in 2018, but we’re notoriously poor at guessing how quickly a rookie will arrive.  Just owning the receiving value gives you protection at this price.

No. 3 Theo Riddick

Riddick finished as RB18 in 2015 despite only carrying 43 times. Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen are the only other runners to post a top-20 season on anything fewer than 100 attempts in the last decade. Riddick’s 80 catches tied for 13th most since 2000.

Instead of sliding back into the pack, he raised his game to a new level in 2016 before the injury. Riddick juiced his points per game to 16.2, good for eighth best in the league. His last two years compare favorably to the most decorated pass-catching backs in the league.

Riddick versus field

His efficiency numbers are likely unsustainable, but he’s been heavily utilized in part because he’s been very good. This leads to a Sim Score result that shows surprising upside for a space back.

Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 5 6.6 8.2
Median 8.2 10.5 12.9
High 13.8 16.1 18

Riddick owns the 11th-best median projection, but that’s not the most important takeaway. While most pass-catching specialists have very low high projections, he sees his top numbers jump above even last year’s result.

The Detroit offense offers reasons for skepticism. Ameer Abdullah may finally be ready to take a fuller role, and his best fit is also as a player schemed into space. RotoViz favorite Kenny Golladay has been the breakout star of the training camp. His presence complements established low-end starters Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Eric Ebron gives the Lions another offseason puff piece all-star, although he’s currently sitting out with a hamstring injrury.

Target pressure forces us to consider Riddick’s median or even low projection as the most likely. However, we should keep in mind that Riddick was on the one player who truly excelled at his job a year ago, and that Tate, not Riddick, struggled when they were on the field together.

No. 2 Derrick Henry

Henry edged in Ezekiel Elliott in last year’s Prospect Lab (93 to 92), and while there are some lingering questions about the lateral ability of the 247-pound back, few doubt his long term prospects. Henry ranks No. 41 overall in dynasty ADP.

The former Alabama star’s redraft ADP is another story. The explosion of draft tools and crowd-sourced projection machines threatens to close down any gap between price and touch-based expectation. In such an environment, Henry’s more contingent value is the source of some controversy. Owners want to buy “locked-in” touches, even though early-season RB touches are exactly what you should be selling in drafts.

DeMarco Murray averaged 18.2 points in 2016 for a RB5 finish. He posted those numbers on the back of a 293-110 edge in carries and 67-15 edge in targets. The gap will close in 2017 even if everyone stays healthy, and it’s unlikely that everyone will. Change happens quickly at the RB position, and the season where Henry has the most value will be the one in which he makes the jump.4

No. 1 Tevin Coleman

Coleman was one of our Zero RB candidates a year ago, and he provided an excellent return, finishing RB20 on an ADP that fell to RB50 by draft time.

Tevin Coleman was one of the most explosive college RBs in recent memory and one of the most prolific. For example, many experts love Derrick Henry’s 2015 production, but he edged Coleman’s 2014 by only 133 yards from scrimmage even though he saw 111 more touches.

Coleman also looks like the Platonic ideal of an NFL RB. At his pro day, he turned in a 4.39 forty at 207 pounds even though he was still recovering from a foot injury. He also held an edge on Melvin Gordon against common opponents.

Coleman delivered on all of that promise, but the situation remains challenging behind Devonta Freeman. After excelling in his prove-it season, the Atlanta starter signed a new contract that locks him atop the depth chart. Reflecting this almost perfectly, Coleman has the most unique Sim Score range of any RB. Keeping in mind that rookies are absent, his median projection lands in the early 20s, but only eight runners have a better high projection.

Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 5.1 6.1 7.4
Median 7.1 8.2 9.3
High 14.4 16.2 18

Coleman is likely to disappoint owners who expect the explosiveness of last season, but ADP suggests few are drafting him with that in mind. His best-ball ADP of RB26 fits with his Apex Experts selection at RB28. Even once you include the top rookies, he’s not overpriced based on his median outcome. But if anything should happen to Freeman, then Coleman is an instant threat to finish among the top two or three runners.

Bonus Targets

Mark Ingram (RB23) and Danny Woodhead (RB25) sit at the Round 5/6 turn in many leagues. Ingram has been a consistent RB1 on a per game basis over the last three seasons, averaging more than 15 PPG. Woodhead averaged 14-plus in each of his last two healthy seasons, finished as the overall RB3 in 2015, and has as much potential opportunity as ever.

Reasonable red flags do exist. Ingram faces touch pressure on carries (Adrian Peterson) and receptions (Alvin Kamara), while Woodhead is an aging space back returning from injury. But both players provide plenty of upside if they slide to you in Round 6 or later.5

17 ZRB top 5

 

Top 15 Zero RB Candidates: No. 15 to No. 11
Top 15 Zero RB Candidates: No. 10 to No. 6

Eric Moody’s Top 40 RB 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

For more information about Zero RB in 2017, try these excellent articles by my colleagues.

  1. The Matthew Freedman of RotoViz Radio lore and prospect guru to the stars who suggested you attack guys like T.Y. Hilton, John Brown, and Jordan Howard.  (back)
  2. If we return to late 2015 and early 2016, David Johnson was competing with Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. The Lacy/Thomas Rawls battery looks more imposing, but that’s largely due to the benefit of hindsight. CJ2K holds the single-season yards from scrimmage record, and Ellington was a rookie standout like Rawls. Of course, we must again grant that Prosise is no David Johnson – no one is – and the Seahawks affection for a conditioning-challenged limited athlete like Lacy is unnerving.  (back)
  3. Ware’s efficiency numbers look excellent due to a number of big plays, but his volume numbers reveal the lack of receiving threat he provides.  (back)
  4. Henry is a tricky selection in 2017 as established RBs are often falling into the same range.  (back)
  5. Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook slipped to me at 6.01 of the Apex draft. I discussed such a scenario with Heith Krueger and Blair Andrews on RotoViz Radio.  (back)

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