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What to Look for When Picking Zero RB Candidates

Zero RB isn’t dead, but it is often misunderstood. With drafting season now in full swing, it seems like a good time to remind the RotoViz faithful of what makes the ideal Zero RB (ZRB) candidate.

I won’t get too deep into the antifragile theory behind this strategy, but it’s worth reading the article that started it all, if just to remind yourself that Zero RB is not about finding value at the position.

Value-based drafting is the antithesis of what we’re trying to do. The idea is not to accrue value in the mid-to-late rounds and squeeze out a few extra points; the idea is to crush your league.

How do we do that?

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this. Write it down. Post it by your computer. Tattoo it on your arm.

Target RBs whose values have the potential to dramatically swing during the course of the season.

Let’s take, for example, Lamar Miller. While I concede that he is one of my favorite “values” in 2018 fantasy drafts as relatively cheap guy who will see a solid workload in a good offense, he’s not a great ZRB candidate.

Why?

Because there’s no scenario, no injury or benching, which would suddenly make him a first-round pick, a la Kareem Hunt last year. He has a good chance at beating his ADP, but he has almost no chance of destroying it. We want players who, through injury or underperformance by teammates, can realistically annihilate their ADP — players who are poised to see big shifts in value.

If you keep only that in mind, you’ll do well.

It also helps to go through a quick checklist. Anytime I’m going ZRB, I like to ask myself three questions before pressing the draft button.

Does He Have Standalone Value?

While we want players who stand to see an increase in volume, they don’t do us much good if they’re otherwise laying eggs.

Draft players who will be involved enough in their offenses where we can expect to at least get a few useful weeks out of them in best ball leagues.

In other words, while straight handcuffs like Chase Edmonds and Jonathan Stewart could see a shift in value due to injury, they’re not ideal ZRB candidates because if they don’t, they’re just clogging up a valuable roster spot.

Charlie Kleinheksel provides a phenomenal point of view on these kinds of players by breaking down gaps in ADP across different backfields.

Does He Have Three-Down Ability in the Event of an Injury?

It’s one thing to have a starter go down, it’s another for a player to have the ability to replace him.

We want players whom coaches can count on to both run and catch the ball in the event of an injury.

LeGarrette Blount may have some TD upside in Detroit, but he has no prayer at picking up extra passing work if Kerryon Johnson or Theo Riddick goes down. Conversely, Riddick has never cracked 400 yards rushing and is unlikely to ever be given a big role in that phase, regardless of injuries around him.

Does He Play on a Good Team?

This is less of a priority, but it is important, as backs on good teams get more snaps and more opportunities to score.

You may like Chris Carson as a guy who can overtake Rashaad Penny for a three-down role, even without an injury, but how valuable is that role? The Seahawks had zero rushing TDs from their RBs last season, and that’s not just because their backs were bad, it also had a lot to do with how poor the team was.

Conclusion

Hopefully this serves as a solid framework from which to pick the best ZRB candidates for 2018.

Zero RB guru Shawn Siegele has started a countdown of his favorite targets in the coming weeks, but if I can give away one spoiler now — Tevin Coleman will be near the top of list.

He can play all three downs, he’s on a winning team, and he instantly becomes a first-round fantasy pick if Devonta Freeman were to be injured.

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