Top Zero RB Targets With Weekly Viability

by Corbin Young, August 25, 2021

By this point, most of us know the term “zero RB,” which typically refers to waiting on running back in the first handful of rounds while hammering wide receivers and an elite tight end. Shawn Siegele of RotoViz discussed the idea, and it’s a great resource to refer back to with the term “antifragility.” The term antifragile comes from a book by Nassim Taleb, and it relates to fantasy football for the purposes of this article. That said, we’re looking to create a lineup that’s the opposite of fragile. 

Admittedly, I’m typically a “robust running back” type of drafter. However, I’m warming up to the idea of zero RB, especially in leagues that require multiple flex spots and PPR formats. This draft strategy isn’t for everyone or every league type. For instance, if your fantasy league only requires you to roster two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, and one flex spot, you may not want to use this strategy, depending on league size. With that said, if you’re drinking the “zero RB” pre-workout drink like me, then hop on board to find several zero RB targets with weekly viability. 

 

Zero RB Target No. 1 – A.J. Dillon 

Unfortunately, A.J. Dillon‘s ADP keeps creeping up close to the RB30 range as RB32 – right inside the top-100 picks per Underdog ADP. Last season, the Packers set records in terms of efficiency, partly due to Aaron Rodgers leading this uber-efficient offense evidenced by his 48 (No. 1 among qualified quarterbacks) passing touchdowns with the 27th-most Team Pass Plays Per Game (34.2).

Over the past two seasons, Aaron Jones has racked up Weighted Opportunities, garnering 217.9 (No. 9) last season and 249.9 (No. 7) in 2019. He produced top-5 running back type numbers in Fantasy Points Per Game and ranked top-8 in Production Premium both seasons. Both signs that Jones smashed the overlapping rarity of opportunity and efficient production.

Green Bay’s backfield mate to Jones in Jamaal Williams, who we’ll discuss later, provided some weekly help, particularly in the receiving game. Williams earned 134.9 (No. 34) Weighted Opportunities in 2019 with 126.4 (No. 35) last season. He averaged 35 receptions and 244.5 receiving yards over the past two seasons with 482.5 rushing yards. Now Dillon slots into the second running back role, which the Packers used over the past two seasons. Granted his athleticism fits more of a grinder-type running back, but just because he didn’t catch a lot of passes in college doesn’t mean he doesn’t have that skill-set. 

At 247-pounds, Dillon boasts a 117.3 (97th-percentile) Speed Score, ranked near Chris Johnson, Jonathan Stewart, Lamar Miller, and Derrick Henry. Dillon exploded in Week 16, where he received 22 touches (21 carries) for 129 total yards and two touchdowns, which ranked him No. 6 with 25.9 fantasy points. If Jones misses time, or the Packers have blown out their opponent, look for Dillon to receive a workhorse-type role. 

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Running Back Speed Scores

Bottom Line

A.J. Dillon is a physical freak that will have weekly viability given the Packers’ usage trends in their backfield. Even if Dillon mostly garners rushing work, he could provide efficient rushing production. If we add the possibility of receiving work, he looks like THE top zero RB target in 2021. 

Jamaal Williams

Over the past two seasons, Jamaal Williams ranked No. 38 (2020) and No. 34 (2019) in Fantasy Points Per Game. His low Touchdown Rates of 2.0-percent (2020) and 4.1-percent (2019) kept his fantasy production in check, yet he earned a decent amount of Weighted Opportunities. What we like about Williams is that he provided a safe receiving floor and not a total zero each week. In a zero RB build, fantasy managers will likely have wide receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks that can carry the team in fantasy points.

Jamaal Williams Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

 

New head coach Dan Campbell has exclaimed many times that Detroit wants to run the football. He brought in Anthony Lynn as the offensive coordinator, and his offenses have produced fantasy-friendly running backs. Last season, the Chargers averaged 29.1 (No. 9) Team Run Plays Per Game, which doesn’t include the receiving volume Austin Ekeler and other running backs earned. Unfortunately, the Chargers ranked No. 28 in 2019 with 22.9 Team Run Plays Per Game, but Philip Rivers targeted Ekeler and Melvin Gordon for a whopping 163 targets, or a 27.6-percent Target Share.

Bottom Line

We expect D’Andre Swift to improve on his 157.9 (No. 28) Weighted Opportunities in 2021, especially in the passing game with Jared Goff at quarterback. That said, don’t forget about Jamaal Williams, who should garner enough opportunities to have a weekly receiving floor similar to his time with the Packers. 

Williams as RB41 around pick No. 133.0 makes him another solid zero RB candidate. Often we’re looking for a back with the pass-catching ability with a weekly floor, and Williams checks both those boxes. Plus, Swift keeps missing camp time with a groin issue. 

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Giovani Bernard

After reports that the Buccaneers almost cut Leonard Fournette before their Super Bowl run, Fournette smashed and drew fantasy managers back in with his playoff run. In the playoffs, he dominated the opportunities and production, particularly in the receiving game. 

Leonard Fournette & Ronald Jones Playoff Production

 

However, Fournette lacked efficiency, evidenced by his 4.5 (No. 48) Yards Per Touch with only 21 (No. 50) Evaded Tackles and 0.98 (No. 46) Yards Created Per Touch. Ronald Jones showed the ability to create yards on his own and perform well in the rushing game. Jones averaged 4.7 (No. 9) True Yards Per Carry, which discounts runs longer than 10 yards, and averaged 1.71 (No. 8) Yards Created Per Touch.

So why should we target Giovani Bernard in a zero RB type build? In the past, Bernard showed better receiving ability and efficiency than Fournette. If we buy into the narrative that the Buccaneers almost cut Fournette before the playoffs, plus his lack of explosiveness, Bernard looks like a sneaky late-round running back with pass-catching skills.

Giovani Bernard Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Last season, Bernard averaged 1.43 (No. 12) yards per route run and 7.6 (No. 15) yards per reception amongst running backs. Meanwhile, Fournette ranked No. 22 with 1.23 yards per route run and No. 28 with 6.5 yards per reception. If we look at this another way, Bernard finished with a 6.2 receiving fantasy points over expectation (reFPOE) compared to Fournette’s -8.1 reFPOE per RotoViz. 

Bottom Line

As RB49 at pick 163.5, Giovani Bernard makes the ideal zero RB target later in drafts near players like James White and Damien Williams, both of whom qualify as additional candidates, but we won’t discuss them in detail. 

Zero RB Stash – Darrynton Evans

As a rookie last year, Darrynton Evans boasted intriguing workout metrics and college production. Unfortunately, due to injuries and Derrick Henry dominating again, Evans barely sniffed playing time with 14 total touches and a 9.7-percent (No. 138) Snap Share in five games played. Evans’ 107.3 (86th-percentile) Speed Score and 125.4 (81st-percentile) Burst Score stand out as notable workout metrics for the potential to earn some passing work.

Darrynton Evans Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Although it seems like the Titans have Evans buried on the depth chart with Jeremy McNichols and Brian Hill behind Henry, Evans holds an ADP as the second Titans running back drafted. In other leagues, his ADP moves even higher with the sleeper appeal. Stash him in case of injury or potential role change. At some point, Henry might slow down after 321 total touches in 2019, then almost 400 (397) in 2020, right? Even if Henry garners 300-plus touches again in 2021, there’s a slim chance that the Titans go a bit more pass-heavy with the addition of Julio Jones.

Bottom Line

In Friday’s preseason game, Darrynton Evans left with a knee injury. It’s something to monitor, particularly with the severity and potential for missing time. However, if it’s not a long-term injury, make sure to stash Evans as a zero running back target with upside. If Derrick Henry misses any time, Evans looks like a running back that could alter the way the Titans run their offensive, given the speed, explosiveness, and pass-catching ability.