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Zero Running Back Draft Strategy Part 2: Mock Draft & Analysis

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By Ryan Skolrud

In my previous article, I went over the theory behind the Zero RB strategy. Now we are going to get into the nuts and bolts of how to make this strategy a success.

We have established that the NFL is a pass happy league. Yes, there are teams that still run the ball like crazy (Seahawks, Jets, Chiefs) but there are so many more teams that rely HEAVILY on the passing game. Therefore, the focus of this draft strategy will be on the WRs first, and then secondly, looking for value RBs later in the draft. I look for RBs, especially rookies, behind injury prone runners or starters that have failed to live up to expectations.

The best time to completely implement this strategy is in the later draft positions of PPR leagues: From picks 7-10 in a ten-man league and 7-12 in a twelve-man league. (This strategy can be used in a Standard scoring league, however, the point differences between RBs and WRs tends to be a little greater, placing more emphasis on RBs. It is not impossible for it to work, as I finished 2nd in a Standard scoring league with this strategy last year. There is just a little more risk involved)

This is not an exact science, but gives you an idea of where to start. Here is my mock draft from pick #7 in a 12 man league:

  1. Julio Jones (Atl – WR)
  2.  Randall Cobb (GB – WR)
  3.  Jordan Matthews (Phi – WR)
  4. Ameer Abdullah (Det – RB) or Greg Olsen (Car – TE)
  5. Matt Ryan (Atl – QB)
  6. Chris Ivory (NYJ – RB)
  7. Jarvis Landry (Mia – WR)
  8. Charles Johnson (Min – WR)
  9. Shane Vereen (NYG – RB)
  10. Carson Palmer (Ari – QB)
  11. Danny Woodhead (SD – RB)
  12. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TB – TE)
  13. Ladarius Green (SD – TE) or David Cobb  (RB – TEN)
  14. Kansas City (KC – DEF)
  15. Randy Bullock (Hou – K)

 

Round 1: In the beginning of the draft, with the occasional exception, people are taking those top tier RBs (Bell, Charles, Lacy, Lynch, Peterson). Towards the end of the first round is when the top tier WRs start to go (Brown, D.Thomas, D. Bryant, Jones, Megatron). Brown will probably be taken by pick 8 but that still leaves you with some studs to choose from.

Round 2: Depending on how RB happy your league opponents are, you could possibly snag one of those players (most likely Julio Jones or Megatron) in the second round as well. If not, you are looking at Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Alshon Jeffery, TY Hilton or Mike Evans as your #2 WR.

Round 3: Your wide receiver options are still solid: Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson. There is a chance that one of the players from the Round 2 tier could drop, and if so, do not hesitate to grab them. Again, we are getting the best WRs we can find and waiting for RBs at this point.

Round 4: This is where some people start to look at RBs. In my mock draft, I took Ameer Abdullah at this point because he is a dynamic play-maker who can not only run, but catch the ball out of the backfield. If you want to wait a little bit longer to draft a RB, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen (who will be peppered with targets now with Kelvin gone for the year) and Travis Kelce are all available at this point to fill your TE spot. Andre Johnson and Emmanuel Sanders would be your WR options at this point. If you like taking a QB a little earlier, Roethlisberger, Peyton, and Brees may all be available at this point.

Round 5: The most extreme Zero RB strategists will still not be taking RBs in Round 5. In my PPR league last year, I took my first RB in round 5 after four straight WRs. The possible RBs at this point are Jonathan Stewart, TJ Yeldon, CJ Spiller and LeGarrette Blount, (a couple guys with injury histories, an unproven rookie, and a guy in a system that keeps you guessing on when the running game will be featured). In this mock draft, I chose to take Matt Ryan to fill my starting QB position. This will help me double up on TD points with Julio as my top WR. I also think there is a little more value in a few RBs in the next few rounds.

Round 6: If you wanted to wait until now to make your first RB pick, there is some value at this point in the draft. Because of how stacked your WR corps will be at this point, plus the possibility of having a top 10 QB and top 5 TE, you can afford to wait this long to grab a RB. Your RB choices in this round are Chris Ivory, whom the Jets are looking at possibly being a 3-down back and was a top 20 RB last year, Doug Martin, who is said to be in the best shape of his life and poised for a comeback, and Rashad Jennings. There is also a good share of WRs at this point if you already snagged your first RB.

Rounds 7 and 8: There are some great WR3 options to use in flex positions. You can also hold them to see if they have good enough seasons to trade for a RB later, or plug into a starting role if you trade a higher WR for a better RB. I am big on Jarvis Landry, Tannehill’s #1 target plus he returns punts for those leagues that count individual return yards. I also like Charles Johnson in MIN as a breakout candidate with his size and speed and glowing reviews from his OC Norv Turner. Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor are also WRs with a lot of value at this point in the draft.

At this point in the draft, you are looking at sleepers and bye week backups and people are going to start picking whoever they feel has the most value and not necessarily according to rankings.

There is still a lot of PPR value in the later rounds of your fantasy draft. I was able to pick up Shane Vereen in Round 9. With how bad NYG’s defense is, they will be passing a lot and Vereen could be a beneficiary of that. I picked Danny Woodhead in Round 11. Melvin Gordon has had some issues so far adjusting to the pro game. Woodhead is slated as the #2 RB in SD. Not only is he a great pass catcher out of the backfield, he could very well vulture some short yardage TDs from Gordon and return to his 2013 form, where he was a top 15 RB in PPR leagues.

Other late round RB possibilities:

  • Ryan Mathews in PHI – ADP: 111. Last year was DeMarco Murray’s first season without missing a game. He has had a history of injuries. Plus, Chip Kelly has already stated that PHI is going to be careful with DeMarco’s touches after he had 400+ in 2014. With PHI finishing in the top 7 the last two years in team rushing attempts, this leaves a lot of touches for Mathews. If Murray goes down, that gives Mathews even more value.
  • David Cobb in TEN – ADP: 133. Bishop Sankey struggled last year as a rookie and has been less than impressive this preseason. David Cobb looks really smooth as he runs and can lock up the lead RB job with a solid performance in his next preseason game.
  • David Johnson in ARI – ADP: 137. Even with the signing of CJ2K in ARI, I like David as a late round sleeper pick. The rookie, Johnson, plays a similar game to Ellington but is 4 inches taller, 25 lbs heavier and much more durable than the diminutive veteran. Ellington did not miss a lot of games last year but was often on the injury report and was pretty ineffective when on the field. If David Johnson can stay healthy an Ellington gets banged up, he could be in for a good sized role in ARI.
  • Duke Johnson in CLE – ADP: 150. Last year’s rookies for the Browns are failing to impress this year and leaving the door wide open for Johnson to take the lead in a run heavy system. Plus he already looks to be the passing down back due to his excellent hands and playmaking ability.

I stated in the beginning of this article that the Zero RB strategy works best if you have a later round draft pick. It can work if you have an early round pick. However, it then becomes the One RB strategy. I would not advocate passing up one of the top RBs in the first few picks. Since this is for a PPR league, I would go with the guy who is going to get you a bunch of receptions on top of being a productive runner. Bell, Charles, Lacy and BeastMode would be my personal picks. From there, you continue on with your draft as above but from Round 2. You can wait even longer to take that 2nd RB as well. I provided a mock draft below to show how that scenario would play out.

 

3rd Overall Pick 12 Man League:

  1. Eddie Lacy (GB – RB)
  2. Randall Cobb (GB – WR)
  3. Mike Evans (TB – WR)
  4. Drew Brees (NO – QB)
  5. Greg Olsen (Car – TE)
  6. Chris Ivory (NYJ – RB)
  7. John Brown (Ari – WR)
  8. Eddie Royal (Chi – WR)
  9. Marques Colston (NO – WR)
  10. Devin Funchess (Car – WR)
  11. Danny Woodhead (SD – RB)
  12. David Cobb (Ten – RB)
  13. Joe Flacco (Bal – QB)
  14. Matt Bryant (Atl – K)
  15. Carolina (Car – DEF)

I much prefer the later round draft to the early pick draft. I feel like I can get better receivers from the late round draft position without feeling like I am reaching big time for receivers. However, this is still a solid team that I would be willing to take into battle week after week in my fantasy leagues.

If you have any questions about the Zero Running Back Draft Strategy or about your draft at all, please feel free to email me at: ryan.s@skullkingfotball.com

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