Welcome to the Update! Each year we provide a 2018 Zero RB candidates countdown to help you find inexpensive RBs to destroy your league. The update helps you adjust to preseason changes in situation and ADP.
A quick bit of housekeeping: In the update, the new entries are in blue, the risers are in green, and the fallers are in red. Players who are falling but still on the list are still targets, just at a later juncture in the draft than they were previously. The eliminated players are targets who no longer fit my 2018 draft plan, either because something fundamental has changed in the player’s thesis or because he’s risen into an area where I prefer other players or other positions.
For a more in-depth look at the recommendations, make sure to peruse the original three-part countdown.
In Part 1, we looked back at some of the great Zero RB content from earlier in the offseason and counted down the backs from No. 15 to No. 11. In Part 2, we revealed No. 10 to No. 6. In Part 3, we looked at the potential league-winners and unveiled the final five.
If you’re considering Zero RB in 2018 but worried that you’ll have to give up too much RB value, the list has been extremely successful at nailing top runners, not just roster filler.
- 2015 – The 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.
- 2016 – Melvin Gordon was my top breakout candidate and highest-owned player.
- 2017 – Long before the Spencer Ware injury, we urged you to buy Kareem Hunt when he was still going outside the top 100. We also recommended Alvin Kamara thus helping owners buy the No. 3 and No. 4 fantasy RBs on the season. With those results, the inclusion of Duke Johnson (RB11) and Chris Thompson (RB10 in PPG) almost seem like afterthoughts.
The Updated Countdown
Cannon is still a target for me in dynasty – I just added him for 207 FAAB units in a 14-team devy league – but it’s going to be difficult to carve out an early role over the veterans in front of him. Instead, we’ll turn our attention to another free rookie in a much better situation.
No. 15 Chase Edmonds
Edmonds was one of three young, late-rounders I profiled two days ago in Priority Handcuffs With RB1 Potential. With elite agility (6.79 three cone) at 205 pounds, the Fordham product was one of the most prolific runners in FCS history. Although it will be difficult to carve out many receptions with David Johnson in place, Edmonds’ likely standalone value gives him the edge over my other favorite handcuffs.
No. 14 Chris Ivory
The 2015 AFC rushing leader saw his ADP rise in the aftermath of domestic violence allegations against LeSean McCoy, but it had been falling again before McCoy missed practice this week with hip and groin soreness. While McCoy has been a relatively healthy bellcow over the course of his career – he’s played in 15 or more games in seven of nine seasons and only missed 8 total games in the other two – this reminds us that Ivory has multiple paths to relevance.
And like Latavius Murray in Minnesota, he provides standalone value in a three-down capacity.
No. 13 Javorius Allen
Allen is staying on the list because I want the big, quick pass-catcher at this price, but I’d strongly recommend you read two pieces before pulling the trigger.
Hasan Rahim has an excellent look at why 2017 game flow artificially boosted Allen’s receiving numbers and made him a trap candidate. Plus, the Dude makes an appearance.
Charles Kleinheksel’s Mind the Gap is your cheat sheet for stockpiling RBs with high win rates. Allen is a Big Gap 2 runner, giving him another red flag.
No. 12 Austin Ekeler
Ekeler missed the second week of the preseason with a sore calf. The precautionary move allowed Detrez Newsome to gallop for 78 yards. Newsome is a good name to keep in the back of your mind, but he’s more of a threat to Justin Jackson.
Ekeler is going to be the guy here with Melvin Gordon, and Anthony Lynn has some great quotes about his No. 2.
No. 11 Matt Breida
Jerick McKinnon (calf), Matt Breida (shoulder), and Joe Williams (rib) are all currently out, which is great news for Jeremy McNichols fans.
It’s always tricky to use any pick on an injured backup, but the shoulder injury, which is expected to keep Breida out until Week 1, also protects us from a runaway ADP as owners realized the potential for a Tevin Coleman-like campaign.
No. 10 Latavius Murray
Since the first edition, the Vikings have announced that Murray may split carries with Dalvin Cook. I’d be a little skeptical of that pronouncement and definitely wouldn’t reach for Murray on the news, but it’s nice to have confirmation of our thesis. This a situation with standalone value where Murray has huge upside in the case of an injury to Cook.
No. 9 Nyheim Hines
Hines continues to have a disastrous run in pads, and I’ll probably own even more of him as he gets less expensive. You have to ask yourself, is Hines the player with the undervalued profile and the offseason rave reviews, or is he the guy who’s struggling even returning kicks under the lights?
Just keep in mind, this, like all Zero RB gambles, is a play you could lose. Only select him if you’re comfortable with cutting him later when quality FA options dictate it.1
As Carson’s value continues to skyrocket, this is a good time for our first interlude.
Interlude – The Pivot Plays
I own a lot of shares in the Seattle, Indianapolis, Green Bay, and Tampa backfields. With the current movement in price, I want to make sure I take the opportunity to rebalance my portfolio.
- Buy Marlon Mack – Mack sported an undervalued prospect profile a year ago, but then put together an underwhelming rookie year that made him the weakest incumbent – if you can even call him that – in the NFL. But his price reflects last year’s struggles, and he hasn’t profited from the Hines news due to a hamstring injury that leaves him uncertain for Week 1.
- Hold Aaron Jones – The Jamaal Williams injury turned out to be nothing, which is a major development as that could have cost Jones’ competitor the chance to put a stranglehold on the job early.
- Buy Rashaad Penny – Penny should return for Week 1, but otherwise the negative news continues to pile up, this time in the form of a 16-pound weight gain. Often selected as early as 1.03 in rookie drafts, this may be your one window to pry him away.
With Carson and Peyton Barber rising by the day, there’s not a lot of value left in their profiles. Could they hold off Penny and Ronald Jones respectively? Of course, but in that case you’re still looking at a committee on teams that ranked No. 30 and No. 32 in RB points a year ago. The comparison with the most valuable backfields is striking.
No. 8 Ronald Jones
Tampa Bay’s own RB coach suggested recently that there was a reason they hadn’t thrown the ball to Jones in college. That may be true, but it’s more likely USC just doesn’t use RBs in the passing game. This was reflected in Jones’ excellent Backfield Dominator Rating.
As Jones’ value collapses, I’m buying more and more. But I’m cognizant of getting better deals as well. The preseason has really helped improve our risk as we don’t have to pay Royce Freeman or Kerryon Johnson prices.2
No. 7 Giovani Bernard
Mark Wemken looks at the best approach for drafting RBs who score most of their points through the air. His conclusion? Avoid the high-priced names like Christian McCaffrey and the trendy players like Tarik Cohen. Instead, buy the reliable veteran at an impressive discount.
While I’m still buying McCaffrey, his argument was strong enough to convince me that Bernard’s initial exclusion was an unfortunate oversight. Although the veteran has seen the number of top-12 finishes collapse from the highs of his first two seasons, he’s still a useful player.
After a mid-season dry spell last year where Bernard appeared to fall off the fantasy radar completely – he scored in single digits seven straight times – he rallied for five consecutive double-digit games, a stretch that corresponded with the team de-emphasizing Joe Mixon.3
One of the cornerstones of Zero RB drafting is to locate affordable players with standalone value who could fall into huge workloads in the case of a starter injury. Perhaps no player better fits these criteria in 2018 than Bernard. This is a departure from last season where Bernard needed injuries to both Mixon and Jeremy Hill in order to take over the backfield.4
Burkhead remains the best option for that idyllic mix of receptions and goal line carries, but I never want to read the words “mild knee tear” at the same time that a committee player continues to rise in price.
Even with a very large pie to split, it’s fairly ludicrous to see three New England backs in the first 100 picks, especially when the two priciest options are hurt. And that goes double when you consider that the two least expensive options have a real chance to lead the way in receptions (James White) and goal line carries (Jeremy Hill).
If anything, this graphic undersells where Burkhead is going in competitive leagues. I’ve seen multiple instances where he’s gone ahead of Coleman.
No. 6 James White
As a result, it’s time to shift our attention to a less expensive member of the Patriots backfield.
White owns a top-25 projection at both the low and high levels according to the RB Sim Scores and has been a consistent source of top-24 weeks. He’s also a threat for a huge opening month with Julian Edelman suspended and the two higher-profile New England backs at less than 100 percent.
It still may be Hill who makes the most sense on a Zero RB roster. The former Bengals starter is feeling fast and fresh as he impresses team sources and beat writers alike. While Dion Lewis has an argument, you have to go back to Corey Dillon in 2007 to find a Patriots leading rusher who was clearly more talented than Hill.5
No. 5 Duke Johnson
Johnson stars in Kevin Zatloukal’s computer simulation creating the Optimal Lineup Using ADP and RotoViz Tiers.
Interlude – Buying the Cleveland Backs
There’s been a good argument all summer for buying one of the Browns backs in every draft, preferably the cheapest option in any given event. Carlos Hyde’s sterling performance in Pre-Week 2 is pushing him out of the comfort zone,6 but it’s corresponded with an appealing decline from Nick Chubb. I selected Chubb as the RB49 yesterday in an FFWC Main Event. If you were buying the Georgia star as a top-five pick in dynasty, you should be jumping all over him here.
I’m still looking to add Cohen when he falls, and I’m holding in dynasty. I’m removing him from the target list because I can never get him at his current price. He’s frequently going in the same range as Kerryon Johnson and Tevin Coleman. He’s a round ahead of Duke Johnson and multiple rounds ahead of Bernard. Similar plays like Ekeler and Breida – while expensive in their own rights in some formats – are still available at significant discounts.
No. 4 Jamaal Williams
After a scary couple of days where it looked like an ankle injury might derail our thesis, Williams re-emerges as a top target.
No. 3 Kerryon Johnson
Johnson fanatics aren’t very worried about LeGarrette Blount. It’s Theo Riddick’s share of the receiving volume they’re interested in. But it’s always a good time for a quick reminder about Blount. In 2016, he scored 16 TDs on 72 red zone carries. Last year he scored two TDs on 32 red zone carries with the Super Bowl champions.
If he’s not in New England, Blount is not relevant.
No. 2 Tevin Coleman
Coleman tore through the Chiefs in pre-Week 2 like he was Derrick Henry ravaging Kansas City in a playoff game. That’s not particularly relevant as we know what Coleman can do, but this offense should be fun. And that could matter after they disappointed last year.
No. 1 Royce Freeman
Freeman is swiftly moving out of Zero RB territory. I’ve seen him go in the middle of Round 4, which would be too early.7 He still needs to finish the takeover from Devontae Booker, but drafters are confident in calling the winner.
For more detailed information on the returning candidates, be sure to check out the original countdown articles. And good luck drafting this weekend!
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- And be ready to re-add him later in the season. (back)
- Jones went at 5.07 in the Apex Experts draft just a couple of weeks ago. I selected him at 9.03 in a high stakes Main Event yesterday. (back)
- Bernard averaged 6 PPG when Mixon carried the ball 10 times or more and 12 PPG in other contests. (back)
- Those injuries finally occurred, but not until it was too late for fantasy owners. (back)
- The rest of the group includes LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, and Sammy Morris. (back)
- Hyde was solid again last night in Pre-Week 3 (back)
- Both generally speaking, and for our strategy. (back)