Entering the 2019 draft season, the ZeroRB draft strategy is not getting as much attention as it has in previous seasons. Some drafters will point to the number of top RBs available in Round 1 along with a perceived depth of WRs in the second and third rounds. When names like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. have ADPs in the second round, and WRs like A.J. Green and Stefon Diggs are available in the third, why would you forgo one of those top RBs in the first round?
But that is precisely why the ZeroRB draft strategy might be one of the least used, and thus most effective, draft strategies for 2019 leagues. If you’re new to the strategy, the ZeroRB draft strategy is essentially not drafting any RBs until the middle rounds, choosing to first fill your roster with top-flight WRs and/or a top TE before addressing the RB position. Some owners may even elect to add a top QB to the roster before attacking the RB position.
Many of the strategy’s opponents will point to the recent trend of RBs leading leagues in scoring. There is a valid point to locking in the top RBs, and anyone with a top-5 draft slot should be choosing one of the top RBs available. But for those owners who draw a later draft pick, or even as early as five, it’s fair to consider a top WR as your first round choice.
Where the ZeroRB strategy really takes off is in leagues with owners who have a history of heavily investing in the RB position. Already this year, I’ve seen plenty of mock drafts where only two WRs are chosen in the first round. If you fall into one of these leagues, the roster you can build by focusing on early round WRs can be one of the highest scoring, most consistent teams in the league.
Using the most current ADP data found in the Ultimate Draft Kit, an owner with the 8th or 9th pick could realistically build the following roster with their first four rounds: Michael Thomas (125-1,405-9 in 2018), JuJu Smith-Schuster (111-1,426-7), Stefon Diggs (102-1,021-9), and Julian Edelman (74-850-6 in 12 games, a 16 game pace of 99-1,133-8). Those four WRs combined for 437 receptions, 4,985 yards and 33 TDs worth 1,133.5 PPR points.
Using the example of starting your draft with the four WRs listed above, here are five RBs to target (with their current ADP) to round out your ZeroRB Roster.
Sony Michel – 5th Round
Sony Michel’s rookie season started pretty slow, missing Week 1 and handling just 24 carries in his first two weeks. But a Week 4 explosion against the Dolphins where Michel received 25 carries, rushed for 112 yards and scored his first NFL touchdown. That kicked off a run of RB1 performances before going down with an ankle injury. He would average over 18 carries per game after the bye week. Michel then when on a hot streak in the playoffs, with 71 carries for 336 yards and six TDs.
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Each of the Fantasy Footballers, project Sony Michel to be in the top-10 in the league for carries in 2019, with Mike going so high as 275 carries, ranking him third in carries. The lowest projection, Jason’s 254 carries, still put Michel over 1,000 yards for the year. The Ballers also project solid TD volume, with a low of eight and a high of 12. So why is a projected league leader in carries available in the 5th Round? Lack of receptions is the culprit. With just eight receptions on 11 targets in 2018, owners are pushing Michel well down in their rankings. However, Michel was used in the passing game at Georgia, catching 26 and 22 balls in his sophomore and junior seasons, so he’s shown the ability to be used in the passing game. It was only a year ago that Ezekiel Elliott was getting knocked for his lack of usage in the passing game, before exploding for 77 receptions in 2018. It’s hard to project targets for Michel with James White on the team, but Michel is a first-round draft pick who has the skills. Undervalued with a 5th Round ADP, he’s the perfect first RB for a ZeroRB squad.
Lamar Miller – 6th Round
It has been a few years since Lamar Miller has been drafted in the early rounds, but he continues to be a useable fantasy performer with a middle round ADP. After a rough year in 2017, 2018 saw Miller’s yards per carry increase from 3.7 to 4.6, and he rushed for just under 1,000 yards. The Texans are projecting to be in the top half of the league in scoring, giving Miller some additional TD upside. To this point, we and the Texans’ don’t know what D’Onta Foreman can, or will become, so we can only proceed with projecting Miller for the bulk of the carries in Houston.
Latavius Murray – 7th Round
Latavius Murray moves to New Orleans and immediately fits into the “Mark Ingram Role,” a role that has produced 1,000 yards rushing in two of the past three seasons, and was on a 1,000-yard pace when you factor in Ingram’s four-game suspension in 2018. Murray has some solid seasons on his resume from his time in Oakland and performed admirably when backing up and filling in for Dalvin Cook last year in Minnesota. Murray has also shown plenty of ability in the passing game, and Drew Brees and Sean Payton have shown no problem peppering any RB with targets. Andy, Mike, and Jason are not as bullish as I am on Murray, but he will have plenty of opportunities to be a valuable asset for your fantasy team.
Ito Smith – 10th Round
Tevin Coleman is out, and Ito Smith is here to fill that role on the high-flying Falcons offense. The Falcons’ have made no attempt to hide their preference for a Running Back by Committee (RBBC). The second-year RB should pick-up enough work to be a weekly consideration for Flex positions, and owners would feel plenty confident starting him if Devonta Freeman was to miss time.
Nyheim Hines – 12th Round
Did you know that, as a rookie, Nyheim Hines was the 7th most targeted RB in the NFL last season with 81? Hines caught 63 of those targets and added 85 carries for a total of 739 yards from scrimmage and scored four times. With Andrew Luck another year removed from his shoulder injury, it’s safe to project the Colts to be one the league leaders in passing attempts in 2019. With Frank Gore out, Hines takes over a pretty clear spot as the #2 RB and primary option for 3rd down/passing situation work. As a 12th Round draft pick with near 1,000-yard upside, Hines is the perfect player to roster on a ZeroRB team.
One of the keys to a successful ZeroRB Roster Construction is finding the right mix of RBs to roster. The players above are the first option on their team (Sony Michel, Lamar Miller) or have defined roles (Latavius Murray, Ito Smith, Nyheim Hines) with upside for more opportunity should their running mate (Alvin Kamara, Devonta Freeman, Marlon Mack) miss time. Additionally, none of those three players has any real threat to their playing time or opportunities, based on current depth charts.