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Top Running Back Targets for Zero RB Drafters


Zero RB discussion comes and goes every season, it certainly works in theory. Running backs are injured more often than wide receivers, and that means you are better to spend your high draft capital on elite wide receiver talent, then pick up your running backs later (try and pick several to give you more opportunity of getting an effective one). Conversely, you there is a school of thought on going for RB's at the start of your draft and you can find my article on how effective zero WR can be here.

This season more than any other seems to be incredibly running back heavy, with the majority of the first-round draft picks being mainly running backs. Looking at fantasy football calculator eight of the opening twelve picks are running backs and that is unlikely to change, given the narratives with each of them.

So to get value in your drafts, you might be forced to take two wide receivers with your opening picks, to help you navigate that I'm going to look at some running backs that are being taken in the mid-rounds, that are perfect to consider for zero RB drafts.

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Starting WR/WR

In PPR formats, which is where it is more viable to go WR heavy at the start of drafts, it can give you a great positional advantage. In the modern NFL, there are fewer and fewer receivers that are being given a large target share- with more offenses taking the approach of sharing the ball around the offense. Target share is the major argument for wide receiver heavy drafts- further down in the mid-rounds players are going to be game by game decisions, while players like Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Julio Jones are going to dominate throughout the season.

Realistically you could start your opening two rounds with a combination of Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster or Tyreek Hill to start out your drafts- that is a huge positional advantage, especially if you start three wide receivers or have multiple flex spots.

 

Ok, But Who Am I Going To Have As My Running Back?

With a lot of teams selecting running backs early, there is a whole mid-round of players that are moving down draft boards as those owners then have to select wide receivers. Looking at players that are being taken in the fourth to seventh rounds gives options like Mark Ingram, Sony Michel, Lamar Miller, Austin Ekeler and Tarik Cohen. Those are the types of players that owners should target- players that are going to be given a volume of carries, or pass-catching running backs in good offenses. If you are yet to be convinced, read on;

 

Mark Ingram | Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are a run-heavy offense, especially since they moved from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson. Ingram was picked up this offseason by the Ravens and gives them something that they lacked last season- a running back who can catch the ball. Gus Edwards was effective last season rushing 137 times for 718 yards, albeit only scoring two touchdowns- but only having two targets in that time. However, Mark Ingram finished the season with 645 yards and six touchdowns on a similar number of attempts but caught 21 passes for 170 yards and touchdown. All of this came while running as the second option behind Alvin Kamara. An effective running back, in a run-heavy offense, is a perfect player to add as a consistent (albeit unremarkable) option at running back.

My current projection for Mark Ingram is 968 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, and 45 receptions for 358 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Lamar Miller | Houston Texans

Miller is the exact type of player that you are going to need to target. Similar to Ingram, he is going to be assured of being the starting running back for a team that runs the ball plenty. The Texans running back has enjoyed a healthy share of backfield touches since he moved from Miami. Miller rushed the ball for 973 yards and five touchdowns last season, and also caught 25 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. Miller's competition for early-down touches was removed once D'Onta Foreman was released, and then the team brought in pass-catcher Duke Johnson who is more likely to be used in third-down situations. You can currently pick up Miller in the sixth round as your RB2 or flex, and he would be a fantastic option for your team.

My current projection for Lamar Miller is hovering around the 1,000-yard mark and eight touchdowns on the ground, and 21 receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown.

 

Austin Ekeler | Los Angeles Chargers

Ekeler has value- regardless of if Melvin Gordon sits out for the whole season or not. Ekeler is primarily used as the pass-catcher out of the backfield, and in some early-down work when Gordon has needed to be rested. If Gordon does miss out then Justin Jackson is likely to be given the majority of the work in early downs, but he was limited in catching passes last season. However, Ekeler should likely see more targets, Gordon had 66 targets last season and that is what gives Ekeler a huge amount of upside. I think that Gordon likely does return to play this season, but even so, a pass-catching running back in a potent offense is worth adding to your roster.

My current projection (assuming Gordon plays this season) is 538 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, with 40 receptions for 402 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Tarik Cohen | Chicago Bears

Since entering the league, Cohen has been an electric player. Once he breaks a tackle in the open field, he is gone. The Chicago Bears running back room has had a lot of change this offseason with Jordan Howard moving on, and the team adding Mike Davis in free agency before adding David Montgomery in the draft. So coming into the season Cohen is the only player who has played in the Bears offense, and that has some value. Cohen is unlikely to have a significant increase in carries this season, with Davis and Montgomery battling for that role, but Cohen is the clear cut pass catcher in this backfield. Cohen almost gets a receivers amount of targets, and with his familiarity in the offense, I wouldn't expect that to change too much. If the offense takes even a small step forward in the second year of running Matt Nagy's offense then Cohen would give a great floor with his receptions, while able to give you a decent ceiling with his explosive play.

My current projection for Tarik Cohen is 381 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, with 64 receptions for 636 yards and four touchdowns.

 

Conclusion

While it is never a good idea to go into a draft with a pre-determined strategy, this season you are able to take a number of elite wide receivers. While you might lose out on advantage at the position, you could move onto some reliable running backs in the middle rounds and some players that are able to explode given the right circumstances this season.

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