RB Sleepers and Zero RB: Just Draft Michael Carter

August 9, 2021

My main draft strategy this year makes people queasy. Zero RB is simply the radical idea that you do not draft a running back in rounds 1-6, and be sure to take at least 5-6 total.

A zero-RB lineup is all about quantity over quality. This works in all league sizes and formats, but it works best in bigger leagues (10 to 12-man), PPR formats, and leagues that have at least one flex spot. The more flex spots there are, the more viable this strategy becomes. Our goal is to have better players (WRs) in our flex. Typically, a “WR3” (someone like Julio Jones or JaMarr Chase) is outscoring an “RB3” (Someone like Leonard Fournette) more weeks than not. This is probably the concept that most people fail to grasp. “Winning the FLEX” is very important, and very easy to do with zero RB. Here’s what a typical zero RB team can look like going into the season (12-team .5 PPR live mock draft on “Short Yardage” podcast link here):

This strategy also lets you take an elite tight end, elite QB, or both, which helps us theoretically “win” another position vs. position battle more weeks than not.

Finally, zero RB lineups are not for the faint of heart or the laid-back manager. They benefit heavily from active waiver wire participation. Keep in mind that we build super teams by always adding that RB that has a shot of becoming a James Robinson or Myles Gaskin-type value, even if only for a few weeks at a time. Imagine the lineup above, but with the 2021 version of those players and zero RB starts to make a little more sense.

The running backs in this article will help you build an absolute monster of a zero RB lineup in the 2021 season. Even if you aren’t into the idea of Zero RB, I threw in some early targets as well. You’re welcome.

Required reading for those interested in Zero RB: https://www.rotoviz.com/2013/11/zero-rb-antifragility-and-the-myth-of-value-based-drafting/

I guess I can’t expect everyone to read that article, so here’s a summary: 

  • We want our lineups to be antifragile. In other words, we want lineups that can withstand, and even benefit from chaos. 
  • Strictly drafting the best player available in terms of value is a way to build a lineup sensitive to injury. 
  • RB early drafts do a  good job of withstanding chaos, but don’t benefit from it 
  • WR early approaches get stronger as the season progresses because they have a higher likelihood of staying healthy and anchoring your team for a full season
  • Zero RB has the highest probability to be an unstoppable super team at the end of the year than any other approach

Doug’s version

So, with that said, I think it’s important to lay out some RB targets that are going too late in drafts. “Sleepers”, if you will. For this exercise I define a sleeper as follows: 

  • Has a positive difference between adp and value. 
  • Is projected to score more than 100 points in the 2021 season

Let’s start with some of the earlier targets I like to beat their ADP:

Round 1-3 Targets: League Winning Upside 

These are players that are going in the Top 30 that have a positive difference between their ADP and value. For more information about how the value was calculated, check out our draft guide!

If you must draft an RB early in the first three rounds (could not be me) you want to target these guys. In my opinion, Aaron Jones, Austin Ekeler, and Najee Harris should go in the first round over the likes of Saquon Barkley, Johnathan Taylor, or, God forbid, Nick Chubb. 

Harris is being overly penalized for what people are saying will be poor offensive line play. Offensive line play can be tough to project year over year. Jones is not being rewarded enough for the departure of Jamaal Williams. He should see a bump in usage and could approach a more consistent volume in the 20 touches per game range. 

D’Andre Swift is teetering right on the edge of the 3rd round, so a lot of times he gets swept into the “RB dead zone” and he might not belong there. I think you can do worse than to take a shot on a guy who projects to get close to 100 targets this year. Swift is a great pick especially if you started with two elite wideouts.

Rounds 4-7 Targets: RB “Dead Zone”

None. It’s okay to take RBs EARLY, but you should not draft RBs in rounds 4-7. This is typically a minefield of shaky RB targets propped up by perceived volumes, but containing red flags in terms of age, lack of pass-catching chops, and/or questionable talent. Again, I do NOT recommend these guys highly at this point. But if you must, here are the running backs that project as values in rounds 4, 5, and 6:

This list gives me anxiety just looking at it. Especially given the fact that you can take some really solid shots at WR in these rounds. 

With that said, if you’re in a draft and you see any of these guys fall a round or two, it isn’t the worst idea to take a shot on these guys. This, of course, is assuming you have at least three elite WRs on your roster already. 

His talent may be questionable, but I especially like Myles Gaskin as he is young, does not have robust competition, and played really well in a larger role last year (18.3 touches per game last year). He’s the perfect cheap asset for a team to be excited about. I think he should get a lot of opportunities to show he can be a workhorse for the Dolphins. Mike Davis is also interesting as well as his ADP reflects a belief that his monster year as CMC-lite was a fluke. His age is a red flag, but he has very little competition for touches in Atlanta. Again, we aren’t fully sold on the talent yet, but Chase Edmonds is a great pick as your first RB in a zero RB builds in round 7. He isn’t quite slated for a bell-cow role, but he should get a ton of valuable touches in a fast-paced offense.

Later round (7-10): Priority Zero RB targets

A common theme you’ll start to notice is that the red flags that existed in the RBs in rounds 4-7, also exist here. These players have questionable talent, uncertain workloads, and/or age concerns. The difference is that these guys are cheaper! Also, these are backs that will benefit heavily from an injury to a guy in their backfield — chaos.

Nyheim Hines is being penalized for the QB situation in Indianapolis, but his role shouldn’t change as the weaker-armed backup quarterbacks will rely on a security blanket like Hines. 

David Johnson is getting penalized heavily for his age, but if he played decently well last year after he really looked bad in his last year in ARI. Philip Lindsay and he will split some gross touches, but Johnson has a huge contract and the Texans are going to get their money’s worth if he’s healthy. Johnson was RB19 in fantasy scoring last year and is currently being drafted as RB35. 

To be fair, Damien Harris is not one I love on this list. However, he is young and should get the lion’s share of touches. And IF we see Mac Jones this year, should see his number called more at the goal line since Cam Newton won’t be a threat inside the five-yard line. Mac Jones coming in mid-season for Cam Newton would be pretty chaotic, wouldn’t it? 

Michael Carter is my favorite pick on this list. His major red flag is his talent. Typically, Day 3 RBs aren’t great bets as a lot of teams scouted him and said “Nah, I’m good”. Enter pre-season camp, and the tune seems to change:

Targets in Rounds 10+: FREE

James White remains undervalued every year despite having a defined role in Belichick’s offense. In PPR leagues, he only averaged six PPR points per game last year, but if there is an injury in that backfield and he’s called upon to do more near the goal line, he could return to 2018 form where he scored 11.8 ppg. Projections are also friendly to him despite only scoring 62 PPR points last year. Rex Burkhead is gone, so perhaps we can expect even more of the RB targets to go to White. Finally, the Patriots can’t be worse than they were last year. Either way, if I’m wrong about White, it’s okay because he isn’t costing me anything too valuable. That’s the beauty of zero RB, you have a higher likelihood of benefiting from chaos AND you get to make better bets in the late round. Remember, White should be your 5th, or even 6th running back taken in the draft. Quantity over Quality. 

Giovanni Bernard and JD Mckissic both project to be pass-catching backs that can get you around 8-10 PPR points per game. Again, these are the guys who are going to get us through the first few weeks of the season until we can find a value on the waiver wire or one of our other RBs benefits from an injury/other forms of chaos. Again — FREE!

Finally, we have two backs that are the 1B in their backfield. They can be workhorses if their 1A goes down AND they give you usable volume week to week. Latavius Murray and Jamaal Williams are great high floor — high ceiling picks for Zero RB lineups. 

Hopefully, after reading this, you may take it easy on the three RB starts and open your mind and your heart to something different, and more profitable. Let me know why you think I’m wrong on Twitter @run_the_sims.