At this point in the fantasy football off-season, you have probably heard the term “zero RB” thrown around in articles and conversations concerning the best draft strategies to deploy. While on the surface, one would see the name and think that it implies drafting no running backs, but that is actually not the case. For a drafter to be considered as using the “zero RB” strategy, they only have to leave running backs out of their queue for the first five rounds or so. The name “zero RB” simply comes from the fact that in using this strategy, you will most likely be taking yourself out of the running for the top 20-25 running backs. Most leagues are comprised of 10 or 12 teams and only require that you start two RB’s. So, under this method, you would be starting a player that is currently seen as an “RB3” at your “RB1” position.
The system works well if you are able to get some elite receivers and nab your RB targets later in the draft… or if you are an extremely savvy or lucky waiver wire artist. Theoretically, as the year goes on, more and more running backs will be nicked up, creating more opportunities for later-round picks and fantasy free agents to shine. In 2021, the strategy of “zero RB” has been an increasingly popular route to go down, so here we will discuss some of the players you could be targeting to use the approach to perfection.
Note: the redraft RB rankings are based on their average draft position over the past week.
Zero RB: Has a Current Workload
Darrell Henderson Jr: Redraft RB22
With his ADP steadily on the rise over the last month, the time is quickly slipping away to get Henderson as part of your “zero RB” strategy. Henderson is being held out of the pre-season games by the coaching staff, and if you know anything about the Rams, you can take that as a sure-fire indicator that Henderson is set to receive the bulk of the work that was once destined for Cam Akers–before the latter’s season-ending Achilles’ injury. Get Henderson while you can and also pair him with a late-round “handcuff” flier on Xavier Jones. (A handcuff is a backup that would presumptively jump into a larger role upon injury to the starter). Some people advise you to draft “handcuffs” from other teams and not your own, but in this case, given Henderson’s youth and inexperience, it is the wise choice to have the handcuff for your own player.
Damien Harris: Redraft RB30
The New England backfield has comically been known around the league for years as being almost impossible to crack. One week they have their third-down RB James White get 14 catches. The next week it’s their bruising running back Brandon Bolden with three random touchdowns, and the next it’s a little-used fullback, Jakob Johnson, getting carries inside the ten. It is, to put it simply, infuriating.
Bill Belichick simply loves to play the matchups and does not care about your stats one bit. So…why draft Harris, you ask? The answer comes from an almost impossible-to-believe place…Belichick himself. More than once during this off-season, Bill has lavished praise upon the second-year back from Alabama. One has to take that into account when trying to decipher this New England backfield because Belichick simply does not like to give praise to potentially star players. Harris will certainly have to earn his reps, but he has a seemingly clear path to the starting job if all goes as planned for him.
Ronald Jones II: Redraft RB35
Ronald Jones gets no love. The man has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in his career and had nine total TD’s on 220 touches in 2020. That’s right on pace with the career yards per carry and 2020 TD: touch numbers of Aaron Jones (RB7, 5.2 yards per carry for his career with 11 total TD’s on 247 touches in 2020), David Montgomery (RB16, 4.0 yards per carry for his career with ten total TD’s on 301 touches in 2020) and Josh Jacobs (RB19, 4.3 yards per carry for his career with 12 total TD’s on 306 touches in 2020.)
So, why is Jones being drafted as the RB35 when the others are much higher? Is it the competition? The looming presence of Leonard Fournette was there last year and it did not stop Jones from producing, and Giovani Bernard has been a backup caliber player the past few seasons. Jones is an ascending player who is set for unrestricted free agency after this season, get him while you can, and thank me later.
Zach Moss: Redraft RB37
Moss (4.3 yards per carry for his career with five total TD’s on 126 career touches) is heading into his second season in Buffalo and is looking to establish himself as the alpha dog in the Bills’ running back room. His main competition comes from speedsters Devin Singletary (4.3 yards per carry with six total TD’s on 374 career touches,) and Matt Breida (4.9 yards per carry with ten total touchdowns on 516 career touches), both of whom have had trouble staying on the field during their NFL careers. Moss was drafted with bruising, playoff football in mind and the Bills are set up to be competing in December and January for years to come. You want your fantasy team to be clicking on all cylinders not necessarily at the beginning but at the end of the season. Moss seems destined to be playing in big, cold weather games down the stretch, and thus fits the bill as a “zero RB” target.
Zero RB: Rookies and Handcuffs
Rookies and handcuffs fall into the same category here because they both might not have value right out of the gate, but are definitely worth drafting because of their chances later in the season. If healthy, Carter and Sermon seem destined to be used increasingly as the season progresses and be at full speed for the fantasy playoffs. Those can be two extremely dangerous weapons to have come December. For Mattison and Pollard, their value comes in the event that either Dalvin Cook or Ezekiel Elliott is injured.
Michael Carter: Redraft RB31
Drafted in the fourth round out of UNC to a system that likes to mix and match its RB’s, Carter doesn’t immediately jump off of the page as an RB that you would necessarily want to target. Also, he has a lot of competition for carries with newcomer Tevin Coleman and holdovers from the coaching staff, La’Mical Perine and Ty Johnson still hanging around. Carter, however, was practically made for the zone blocking scheme that the Jets are planning to use and has already seen time working with the first-string offense. Coleman is the only other back on the roster that was hand-picked for this system and he has not been healthy in years.
Trey Sermon: Redraft RB33
Sermon will be playing in the same system as Carter is, as Mike LaFleur is in his first year as Jets offensive coordinator after learning the ropes from Kyle Shanahan in San Fransisco. Also, like Carter, Sermon has shown the ability to be a perfect back for inside and outside zone runs, which are a staple of the Shanahan and now LaFleur offenses. The path to carries, however, is a little bit murkier. The 49ers are going to be a good team this year which typically doesn’t bode well for rookies to make a huge impact, but we have already seen one injury to that running back room and Raheem Mostert has been wearing a knee brace. Again, Sermon may not be the best fantasy player right out of the gate, but don’t drop him if he doesn’t produce right away. You have to have a little patience with this one.
Tony Pollard: Redraft RB44
Although Dallas has surprisingly had the least amount of 20+ carry running backs over the past five seasons, Pollard is a great handcuff because of what he brings to the table as a runner and a receiver. If given the chance, Pollard offers much more receiving upside than Ezekiel Elliott and would be stepping into a role that has consistently produced a top-12 RB. Over the course of his career, Pollard has averaged 4.8 yards per carry and has eight total touchdowns on 230 career touches. As you read earlier, that is on pace with everyone mentioned in this article. His value is ONLY deflated because of Elliott. If an injury strikes, Pollard can be a league winner. Get him while others are drafting a kicker and you will reap the benefits before the season is over.
Alexander Mattison: Redraft RB47
With our final recommendation for “zero RB” drafters this summer, we take you to Minnesota. Mattison has actually been a top handcuff over the past few seasons, although that value has never fully materialized. Dalvin Cook is a beast on the field and is showing no signs of slowing down, but, if he does end up with an injury, Mattison will be the one to step into the workhorse role that Minnesota has employed for the past couple of years. His career average of 4.6 yards per carry is just short of the 5.0 that the 26-year-old superstar Cook has averaged throughout his career but it will definitely get the job done. Also, Mattison has just 220 touches in his short NFL career so his legs are certainly some of the freshest in the league.
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