Uncertainty at the running back position provides fertile ground for savvy drafters looking to employ a zeroRB strategy. And uncertainty is in ample supply at the position this draft season.
Last week, we looked at the expected value of each of the three RB roles we draft: early down, third-down and goal line. That is important context as we assess the most uncertain running back situations in the AFC and NFC, where the opportunities are even more prevalent.
The New England Patriots offer the most running back uncertainty and also due to the near certainty that their overall offense will be extremely high powered, the best opportunity to leverage a late-round pick into a championship-making asset. Chalk in New England remains Mike Gillislee, according to ADP at FantasyPros. (All ADPs are PPR.) Gillislee is RB27 and overall pick 71. That’s falling with his health woes this summer. I greatly prefer Rex Burkhead at RB56/ADP 71. But if you have a really strong roster and want the highest RB floor in New England, then James White (RB40, 108) is your guy. But I strongly advise rostering Burkhead really anywhere in a double-digit rounds.
The Cincinnati Bengals have possible offensive line woes (you never know how offseason changes are going to take), but this is still an attractive environment. Right now, chalk at the position is Joe Mixon (RB16/ADP 39), a price I find insane given he is guaranteed no role. As we outlined previously, Jeremy Hill (53/151) is the way to go.
The Kansas City Chiefs offer a potential David Johnson home run in Kareem Hunt, who endeared himself to every coach and especially Andy Reid with this block on Saturday. He also was productive running. You could not pay me to draft Spencer Ware anywhere near ADP (RB21/ADP 54). Hunt has a lot of helium now (RB38/ADP 102) but is still with rostering as early as round 8.
Don’t draft Andrew Luck but he’ll be back for the Indianapolis Colts and their offense will be above average when that happens. The circus is leaving town for Frank Gore so forget about him at RB29/ADP 77. But rookie Marlon Mack (61/202) is a big-play back with enough size to get first- and second-down work. Though the price will go up, Mack is the rookie value play if you miss out on Hunt.
The New York Jets don’t know if they want to give Bilal Powell the starting job in place of the more established Matt Forte (even though Powell is 28). But you want to avoid this Jets. If you must, please don’t invest a fifth- or sixth-round pick in Powell (RB23/ADP 62) when Forte (43/117) is just as likely to get the most touches. You don’t want to spend picks in the first seven or eight rounds on players who are saddled with bad QBs and, thus, bad offenses. Read about my zeroBadQB draft strategy.
I feel similarly about the Baltimore Ravens. Though Joe Flacco is not a 50% risk of being a bottom five QB, he has virtually no chance of being average either. He’s in the gray nothingness and I’d thus rather avoid Danny Woodhead (RB22/ADP 61) and even Terrance West (39/101). How many Ravens players in the Flacco era have been assets that can make a difference? A handful at best.
The Dallas Cowboys are the top location with Ezekiel Elliott facing a six-game suspension. Will he get a stay if the NFL appeal goes against him as expected? No idea. But the status quo says Darren McFadden is a great value at RB41/ADP 110. He was productive in 2015, remember. Project him for 4.5 -5.0 yards per carry (he was 4.6 in 239 totes in 2015). And he’s always been a decent receiver.
I can’t take a converted WR at running back unless it’s in a zeroRB round (sixth-plus) and Ty Montgomery is going RB19/ADP 43. Most everyone is off of Jamaal Williams with the bad game last weekend, so his RB50/ADP 142 will sink. He’s still solid speculation if the price is a cuttable pick (after Round 12 or so). The combine guys hate him but none of that SPARQ stuff in the underwear Olympics has been proven to matter much.
I can see Christian McCaffrey being a solid RB2 in fantasy but ADP of 13/29 is marked up. He’s not catching 70 passes, kids. He’d need to be the first or second read because, after that, Cam Newton just runs. The zeroRB play is Jonathan Stewart at 45/119.
The market bet for the New York Giants backfield is Paul Perkins (28/75). He had a shot last year when the Giants trailed the NFL badly in play success rate on first-and-10 (that’s most RB carries). I don’t like the other options. Shane Vereen is almost worthless in our game. Orleans Darkwa has had a good camp, I’m told, and is free (89/308). I’d take him in the last round. Rookie Wayne Gallman has had fumbling problems so forget about him for now.
Going into Preseason Week 2, Rob Kelley was gaining ADP steam (37/100). But he faltered a week after Samaje Perine (46/127) fumbled and blew a blitz pickup. I like the floor for Chris Thompson (59/196), who is a player that Jay Gruden reportedly loves and always wishes he could use more. Maybe he finally will.
Mark Ingram’s a talent and the New Orleans Saints’ environment is good. If he slides into the sixth round (currently 55th overall on average), he’s mine. The circus probably has left town for Adrian Peterson (30/79).
Doug Martin (35/88) is suspended for the first three games of the season and was terrible last year. That leaves journeyman Jacquizz Rodgers (48/128) and rookie Jeremy McNichols (72/242). Give me McNichols as a pocket pick who could earn more carries and maybe a starting gig with just a couple of big runs the first few weeks.
The Seattle Seahawks have a poor offensive line based on last year but a running QB historically boosts yards per carry by 0.5-to-1.0 yards. Right now, you’re paying less for the starter, Thomas Rawls (44/122) than the backup, Eddie Lacy (34/85). So, obviously take Rawls. Forget about C.J. Prosise because the Seahawks are too good to trail often and Russell Wilson, like all running QBs, typically prefers to scramble rather than throw to backs. Wilson averages 46 scrambles a year and many of those would be RB passes for a typical pocket QB.
Avoid the Philadelphia Eagles backfield completely. LeGarrette Blount (28/70) is on a minimum deal basically and thus has no job security and wasn’t viewed by the NFL at large as a starter. With rumors of him getting cut, people are looking to Wendell Smallwood (68/205) who has been hurt most of camp. Darren Sproles seems okay in PPR (52/152) but there better zeroRB plays by far behind him, including those recommended above as well as Jonathan Williams (53/166) of the Buffalo Bills.