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Top 15 Zero RB Candidates for 2017: No. 10 to No. 6

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. Let’s jump into the rankings.

No. 10 Alvin Kamara

I echoed Brian Malone’s pitch for rookies in Part 1, but many of the recent rookie dynamos were fantastic prospects undervalued by scouting concerns. Kamara arguably fits the opposite category. He earns a very low score in the RB Success Model due to a poor 40 for his weight and limited college carries. These are flaws you should consider in concert with serious touch competition.

The upside is still tantalizing. Better speed would have been encouraging, but Kamara displayed his vaunted athleticism with a 39.5-inch vertical. The Saints showed their infatuation by trading up to select him No. 67 overall, and Sean Payton recently agreed that Kamara’s intelligence and route-running remind him of Marshall Faulk.

When Reggie Bush joined the Saints in 2006, he paired with Deuce McAllister to form a dynamic 1-2 punch. Of course, Bush entered the league as the No. 2 overall pick and faced a depth chart without a more established receiving RB than Aaron Stecker (35 receptions). Surprisingly, Stecker, McAllister, and fullback Mike Karney combined for 64 receptions, and Bush still exploded for 88 catches.

Despite never quite living up to the hype, Bush was a tremendous prospect and elite weapon early in his career. He also didn’t have to fight with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson for touches. On the other hand, Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet combined for 62 receptions last season, a vacuum the rookie could fill without cutting into Ingram’s workload.1 With Ingram and Peterson prime candidates to be nicked up late in the season, Kamara is the perfect swing-for-the-fences selection for those searching for fantasy playoff weapons.

No. 9 Jonathan Williams

Williams’ status dropped into deep stealth mode after an injury wiped out his 2015 season at Arkansas. He was an impressive young performer, however. In last year’s RB class, only Ezekiel ElliottPaul PerkinsKenneth Dixon, and Jordan Howard gained more yards before their 21st birthdays. A big back at 220 pounds, Williams didn’t run well at his pro day (4.63) but posted an impressive three-cone (6.97). He only caught 26 passes as a Razorback but turned those touches into 345 yards and 6 TDs. His size/athleticism/production profile shares some similarities with big/quick backs like David JohnsonLe’Veon Bell, and Doug Martin with the obvious caveat that his chances of emerging at such a level are vanishingly small.

Buffalo backs 2015 16

Over the last two years, LeSean McCoy’s backups have been explosive when given an opportunity. Efficiency at that level is fluky and shouldn’t be expected to continue for a variety of reasons – including a coaching change – but the odds of fantasy relevance are quite strong, especially for a back with this ADP.

Preseason and dynasty trade note.2

Brian Malone offers a strong counterargument and suggests you stay away from Williams.

No. 8 Jamaal Charles

I don’t know if Charles will make the Broncos, but, at this price, I’m willing to waste the pick if his career is over.

There’s more to knee health and NFL dynamism than straight line speed, but the funniest camp article of the 2017 preseason suggests he’s still very fast. Ryan Koenigsberg asked the Broncos runners for the fastest RB on their team.

C.J. Anderson: Jamaal Charles. That’s a sick question.
Bernard Pierce: De’Angelo is fast but he’s not that fast. Jamaal. I’m not even sure who gets second.
Stevan Ridley: Still Jamaal Charles. Come on bro.
Andy Janovich:3 For sure. For sure. Jamaal, he’s fast.

RBs coach Eric Studesville made it unanimous stating, “Jamaal. Jamaal. Jamaal. Jamaal. Jamaal. Not even close.” The Broncos have said that Charles will make his debut in the third week of the preseason against the Green Bay Packers. If he performs without incident, his price should start to rise.

No. 7 Matt Forte

In his excellent look at RB Opportunity Implied by ADP, Dave Caban had this to say about Forte and Bilal Powell:

Something weird is going on with the way the Jets backfield is being drafted. Both Pilal Powell and Matt Forte are being drafted at implied levels of opportunity they significantly outpaced last season. Based on ADP, drafters are expecting the two RBs to combine for an opportunity of only 313. However, the two saw a combined opportunity of 466 in 2016 and in 2015 Powell and Chris Ivory accrued a total of 417. However New York decides to allocate it, the opportunity has to go somewhere. 

Despite all the negative commentary on Forte’s season, the long time star led 13.6 to 11.3 in expected points (EP). He managed that fighting through numerous injuries.

Forte v PowellForte has a 517 to 170 career edge in receptions and was more efficient on his targets than Powell last season. Forte’s brilliance has always been on the receiving side of his dual-threat ability. Not surprisingly, he’s expressed enthusiasm for a return to a more pass-heavy usage in the new offensive system.4 If Forte cedes some early down touches to be fresh for the passing game, that’s unequivocally a good thing,

Powell has long been a personal favorite, and I’m glad he’s finally earning some much-deserved attention. But he is a 204-pound, 29-year-old space back on a cratering team. It’s a very specific scenario his drafters need in order to come out ahead of Forte owners.5 As is the case at QB and likely WR, the future of the offense at RB is not currently on the roster. The Jets aren’t rebuilding; they’re falling into the abyss. With the lack of pass-catching options on this team, Forte and Powell could both haul in 60-plus passes or they could see their franchise contracted during the preseason.

No. 6 Duke Johnson

While I’m rarely looking for pure space backs to fill my RB slots, elite receiving backs who could emerge as bell cows are another story. Jerick McKinnon failed to grab the opportunity last season, but Devonta Freeman exploded to overall RB1 status the previous year.

Duke Johnson has been pigeon-holed as a third-down back after seeing his carries fall from 104 to just 73 in his first season with Hue Jackson, but the 114 career receptions sit in the top 20 for a RB’s first two campaigns.

It’s not hard to imagine what Johnson could do with a larger workload or in the injury-induced absence of Isaiah Crowell. 14Team Mocker has all the details on why Johnson is the priority Zero RB candidate for 2017.


2017 ZRB 10 to 6


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. This will be especially true if Cadet fails to make the team.  (back)
  2. I own Williams in almost every one of my leagues, dynasty and redraft, except for the Iron Throne where I can’t pry him away from Pat Thorman. Last Thursday night, Williams looked explosive in his 2017 preseason debut, rushing four times for 39 yards and catching his lone reception for seven. As it happened, I was in the midst of trading with Brian Malone for the 14.10 in the startup for Ben Gretch’s dynasty best ball league. The trade was to get in position for Carson Wentz – so as not to get caught with only one legitimate QB – but I couldn’t resist selecting Williams anyway. The trade took me one spot ahead of Pat, who then offered to trade 14.11 and Round 21 for Williams. I couldn’t say no to Pat. You have to let folks own their favorite players.  (back)
  3. Asked: Is De’Angelo Henderson wrong in thinking he would win?  (back)
  4. This represents a change of heart after he originally embraced a more traditional RB role upon moving to the Jets.  (back)
  5. Or really any scenario in which Forte is injured. Right now he’s on the shelf with a hamstring pull.  (back)

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