The Ultimate Guide To Drafting Zero RB In 2020: Part Two

by Alex Johnson · Draft Strategy

In Part One, we discovered that Zero RB can not only work in 2020, it can be an optimal draft strategy in the proper environment. An environment that allows us to start four or more wide receivers, attack the waiver wire, and is full PPR. More importantly, we learned how to identify which running backs to target. The running backs that will help make the Zero RB strategy work have standalone value and are not traditional handcuffs. They are pass-catchers who have touchdown-scoring upside and come from ambiguous backfields. They are also athletic and play in good offenses.

Using the criteria laid out above, along with PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats & metrics, we even delivered six running backs that fit the archetype of a proper Zero RB target that are available in the middle rounds. In Part Two, we go even deeper, into the depths of the late rounds to uncover five more runners to target when executing the Zero RB strategy. Enjoy.

Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins

Matt Breida started five games in San Francisco last year while sharing backfield snaps with Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. He finished the season with 623 (No. 30 among qualified running backs) rushing yards on 123 (No. 36) carries and 19 (No. 49) receptions for 120 (No. 56) receiving yards with two (No. 61) touchdowns. An ankle injury derailed his season, and he was minimally used down the stretch and in the postseason.

Breida has always been efficient and scored fantasy points when given the opportunity. He topped 5.0 yards per carry in two of his three seasons, with over 120 attempts in both, so it wasn’t a fluke. He has also surpassed over 8.0 yards per reception in two of three seasons. Breida has finished in the top-10 in both True Yards Per Carry and Breakaway Run Rate in two straight years. In 2019, he averaged 1.52 (No. 35) Yards Created per Touch with a 21.8-percent (No. 30) Juke Rate.

With the draft day trade to Miami, Breida saw an instant boost in fantasy value. Instead of fighting for scraps in a crowded 49ers backfield, he’s now in line for significant touches on a thin depth chart. The Dolphins are an ascending offense with talented playmakers and they added four offensive linemen in the draft. Breida will share touches with two-down plodder Jordan Howard. Bringing explosiveness and being a far superior asset in the passing game makes him the back to target in Miami. The primary pass-catcher in the backfield, he will have standalone value even while splitting work with Howard. His opportunities for significant work in the past has shown us he has the upside to produce RB2 numbers if Howard struggles or gets injured.

Boxes checked: Not a true handcuff; Ambiguous backfield; Pass catcher; Athletic.

Duke Johnson, Houston Texans

A preseason trade from Cleveland to Houston led Duke Johnson enthusiasts to celebrate his “freeing.” Unfortunately, the team also acquired Carlos Hyde, who they leaned on for the majority of their backfield touches, and Johnson found himself stuck behind a less efficient runner once again. Hyde is gone but David Johnson is in, leaving Duke in a similar situation, but David looked like a shell of his former self in 2019 after suffering a slew of injuries. If David remains ineffective or gets injured again, the team will have no choice but to lean on the former Miami Hurricane.

Duke finished 2019 with 83 (No. 49) carries for 410 (No. 13) rushing yards and 410 (No. 45) receiving yards on 44 (No. 16) receptions with five (No. 34) touchdowns. He averaged 9.6 (No. 40) Fantasy Points per Game. While limited in volume, Duke remained extremely efficient, averaging 6.5 (No. 2) Yards per Touch after averaging 7.2 (No. 1) the year prior. His 7.2-percent Breakaway Run Rate ranked No. 4. He was No. 15 with a +22.1 Production Premium and No. 21 with a 25.2-percent Juke Rate. Duke was also top-10 in True Yards Per Carry with a 4.6 average.

The problem is both the Browns and the Texans failed to realize his ability to run between the tackles and boxed him into a pass-catching role, where he also excels. If he ever gets that full workload, he will be a weekly RB1/RB2.

Boxes Checked: Standalone value; Pass-Catcher; Athletic; Good offense.

Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals

We had an opportunity to see Chase Edmonds in a lead role for one week in 2019 due to a David Johnson injury and he did not disappoint. Edmonds ran wild in the Week 7 start, garnering a 96.6-percent Snap Share and finishing as the overall RB1 with 35 fantasy points. He had been trending up, earning a larger role and ranking as the RB15 in each of the previous two weeks. Unfortunately, a hamstring strain the following week derailed his season and led to Kenyan Drake‘s acquisition. He barely saw the field the rest of the way.

While the sample was small, Edmonds flashed elite-level efficiency. He averaged 2.00 (No. 8) Yards Created per Touch and 4.8 (No. 6) True Yards Per Carry. It’s easy to see why he is so good at dodging defenders when looking at his 10.86 (97th-percentile) Agility Score. Edmonds also ranked top-10 with a +25.9 (No. 10) Production Premium.

With Johnson out of the picture, Edmonds will play a larger role in Arizona’s backfield with only Kenyan Drake ahead of him. Drake has also been efficient in his time in the league but he has never received more than 220 touches in a season, so the opportunity is there for Edmonds to carve out a weekly role. He’s one Drake injury away from a significant Opportunity Share in one of the league’s most fantasy-friendly offenses. Every Arizona lead running back during the 2019 season put up significant fantasy performances, combining for nine top-12 weeks between them. Fantasy drafters are selecting Edmonds at his floor with an ADP outside the top-50 RBs. His ceiling is not factored into his price, making him a fantastic target in the double-digit rounds. Edmonds is a league-winner if anything happens to Drake. That upside is hard to find that late in a draft.

Boxes Checked: Potential for standalone value; Pass-Catcher; Athletic; Good Offense.

Antonio Gibson, Washington

Antonio Gibson is the most interesting running back of the late-round targets. He scored 14 career touchdowns on only 77 touches while playing mostly wide receiver at Memphis. We normally wouldn’t be so high on a rookie making the transition from wideout to running back. However, at 6-0 and 228-pounds, Gibson was never a typical receiver anyway. He is extremely athletic, running a 4.39 (98th-percentile) 40-Yard Dash which equates to a mind-blowing 122.8 (99th-percentile) Speed Score. He pairs his incredible combination of size and speed with receiver-level skills as a pass-catcher. His 12.7-percent College Target Share lands in the 88th-percentile.

Check out Antonio Gibson’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

The second-rounder finds himself in a crowded backfield with Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Bryce Love, and Peyton Barber. Outside of the ancient version of Peterson, no Washington back has done enough to warrant a bellcow role from day one. The window is open for Gibson to at least step in and carve out a role in the passing game. He will catch passes out of the backfield and be able to split into the slot or out wide. He has the size and athleticism to eventually take over as a bellcow if no one else proves worthy. If given that chance, his versatile skill set would make him a David Johnson-like chess piece. With an ADP in the late rounds, there is no risk in selecting him, only tons of upside.

Boxes Checked: Ambiguous Backfield; Potential for standalone value; Athletic; Pass-Catcher.

Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers

Thanks to a strong finish to the 2019 season, Raheem Mostert is being drafted many rounds ahead of Tevin Coleman. It’s too far, though. Mostert is overvalued because he scored a bunch of touchdowns late in the season and that’s what fantasy gamers remember. What we need to realize is that he’s a late breakout who spent most of his career playing special teams. He isn’t a pass-catcher either. Mostert had a Target Share greater than 10-percent only twice last season while Coleman, who has a history of being a quality receiver, doubled that total. The 49ers will naturally see more pass volume in 2020 which will play into Coleman’s favor.

The only reason we saw Mostert receive an opportunity last year was because Coleman was injured with a high ankle sprain in Week 1. Upon his return, he was the RB10 in Weeks 5-12. He received double-digit carries in seven of those eight games and scored seven total touchdowns during that span. Coleman was the man the 49ers trusted in their backfield when it counted. He was the clear RB1, totaling 105 yards and two touchdowns in the Divisional Round before injuring his shoulder early in the NFC Championship game. With Matt Breida no longer on the team, there will be more opportunities available, especially in the passing game.

It’s easy to see a scenario where Coleman returns to the top spot atop the depth chart in San Francisco. Yet, the ADP’s of Mostert and Coleman are not reflective of that. The gap should at least be closer. The opportunity cost of drafting Coleman in the 10th round is far less than selecting Mostert in the fourth.

Boxes Checked: Ambiguous Backfield; Standalone Value; Athletic; Pass-Catcher; Good Offense.