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Zero-RB Strategy: Building Your Late-round Value Backfield

Zero-RB Strategy: Building Your Late-round Value Backfield – Kenny Stevens @KennyGuruFF

Since 2016 more running backs have finished in the top ten overall in PPR scoring than wide receivers. Everyone will tell you that you NEED to take running backs early. However, we’re seeing more and more uncertainty around the top running backs. Last year Le’Veon Bell held out and now we have Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott both threatening to do the same thing. If everyone is buying into stockpiling running backs early, as is the case again this year, then that means there is ample value to be had in WRs. In addition to the value-add of WRs, it’s also much safer to use the zero-RB strategy since backs get hurt much more often.

Every year you can find serviceable waiver wire studs to fill in at running back, especially when injuries hit. If a WR1 goes down, the option who is available on waivers doesn’t immediately fill in the vacated targets like a back-up RB does. A few weeks ago our GNFF writers did a draft where we tested this strategy and ended up with Deandre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, D.J. Moore and George Kittle with our first five picks. For RBs we ended up with Mark Ingram, Sony Michel, Derrius Guice and Matt Breida.

If you want to try your hand at the zero-RB strategy, you don’t need to wait for the waivers to find your studs. Here are some of our favorite running backs to target late, either standalone guys with RB1 upside as well as some of my favorite handcuffs. All ADP is based off redraft PPR scoring using data from Fantasy Football Calculator.

James White/New England Patriots – ADP 4.11 – Finished 2018 as RB7 

This is one option that may be a bit early for the zero-RB approach but at his ADP you can potentially get him in the early fifth round. Since 2015, James White is one of three running backs with 40-plus receptions each season, and 50-plus targets EVERY year. Last season on his way to his first RB1 finish, White produced 87/751/7 through the air. In addition, he had five rushing touchdowns with a respectable 4.5 YPC. White is playing in a great offense and has an incredibly high floor based on his receiving numbers.

Austin Ekeler/Los Angeles Chargers – ADP 7.03 – Finished 2018 as RB25

Ekeler’s value relies heavily on what happens with Melvin Gordon. Just like with James Conner last year, everyone assumed Le’Veon Bell would be back within a few weeks and then Conner owners made out like bandits. At his current ADP, the upside in the Chargers offense is sky-high. Ekeler saw 53 targets last year and if Gordon is out of the picture that opens up an additional 66 targets which you can expect Ekeler to vulture a majority of. Ekeler put up RB1 and RB2 numbers 50% of the time last season and given the opportunity, he could produce even more. He was the RB11 through Week 4 last season and has a career 5.3 YPC with 10.3 YPR. His ADP is sure to rise the longer Gordon’s hold-out drags on, so keep an eye on him.

Latavius Murray/New Orleans Saints – ADP 7.11 – Finished 2018 as RB36 

Mark Ingram averaged 13.3 touches per games in 2018, and 18 per game in 2017. Given his ADP of the RB35 off the board, he offers intriguing upside in a pass happy, two RB offense, with one of the best QBs in the NFL next to him. If you take Ingram’s rushing attempts per game over the last two seasons (13.2) and apply it with Murray’s career YPC (4.1) you get 54.12 yards on the ground weekly. Add in his receiving upside and the fact the Saints like to rotate running backs and Murray offers potential low-end RB2 upside and is great insurance for Alvin Kamara.

Alexander Mattison – ADP 11.11 – 102nd overall in 2019 Draft

Mattison is an intriguing player and every Dalvin Cook owner should be targeting him at the end of drafts. However, given Cook’s rampant injury history – Mattison could be a lottery ticket for other players as well. Drafted with the last pick of the third round, the talented pass catcher can function as a jack-of-all-trades. Cook has played less than 15 games the last two seasons so Mattison could easily see a few games as a starter throughout the season. In college Mattison was eighth in the country in rushing yards last season, averaging 4.87 YPC throughout his college career. 

Matt Breida/San Francisco 49ers – ADP 13.10 – Finished 2018 as RB22

The 49ers backfield is a bit of a mess and Tevin Coleman projects to be the starter. However, McKinnon is still on the PUP list and Breida was one of the most effective running backs last year. Per the FFBallers, Breida rushed for 10-plus yards on 44 of his 258 carries (17.1%), best of 45 qualified RBs in the NFL. League average on this measure is 10.5%. Even though he was constantly banged up, Breida always fought through injuries and when on the field, he was a machine. In camp Breida has been lining up all over the place, continuing to break off big runs and catch passes during red zone drills. He had the 27th most carries in the NFL but the 11th most carries of 15-plus yards and averaged 5.3 YPC throughout the season. He didn’t drop a single pass last season, and had a 123.3 passer rating when targeted. Depending on price, take Breida over any other 49ers running back.

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