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Ten Zero RB Candidates In 2019 Fantasy Football

Ten Zero RB Candidates In 2019 Fantasy Football
Davis Mattek May 9, 2019 2:44PM EDT

The Top Ten Zero RB Candidates In 2019 Fantasy Football

Zero RB will never die. Shawn Siegele was ahead of the curve when he introduced the concept of Zero RB to the market in 2013 and the market has never fully adjusted. Mediocre running backs continue to be drafted highly every year despite a lack of pass-catching or touchdown upside. Finding the right players to establish your Zero RB fantasy football core is of course, essential. If you’re taking four-point performances from your running backs, you’ll be at a disadvantage even while winning wide receiver and tight ends most weeks. There will be more in-depth Zero RB guidelines coming later this draft season but for now, here are 10 Zero RB candidates to target.

The Zero RB Candidates

Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns

Johnson was mostly left for dead last season under Hue Jackson and then Freddie Kitchens. Johnson had only 87 touches in 2018 after recording 165, 126 and 156 in his first three seasons as a member of the Cleveland Browns. He remained effective as a receiver, with 9.1  yards per reception and three touchdowns on only 62 targets. My speculation would be that the new Browns regime does not plan on using Nick Chubb for over 80% of the backfield work the way he was used last season.  With Kareem Hunt suspended for eight games, Johnson has a great opportunity to earn a 25% share of the Browns backfield work including the important receiving parts.

Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers

Look, Williams is a plodder. That doesn’t mean that he would be incapable of providing value in a good version of a Packers offense. The upside with him is obvious; if Aaron Jones misses any period of time, Williams stands to be the lead back with an elite quarterback. He has handled 148 and 178 touches in back to back years and I suspect that new head coach Matt LaFleur may deploy Williams and Jones similarly to how he used Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis for the Titans in 2018. Jones isn’t quite as nimble as Lewis and Williams is not as powerful as Henry so projecting Jones for 300 total touches and Williams for around 175 feels reasonable.

Damien Harris, New England Patriots

If you simply drafted the cheapest New England Patriots running back every year, you’d be running way above expectation for whatever they cost you. Even if Rex Burkhead stays on the roster, there is a very real chance that Harris, Burkhead, Sony Michel, and James White all have a role on the team. James White had the most touches of his career last season and I would suspect that New England is not planning on that being a reoccurrence. Harris was a plus pass blocker in college and the team spent enough draft capital on him that I expect him to be a part of their offense from week one.

Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens

If you take anything away from this article, make it Justice Hill being THE Zero RB fantasy football candidate for 2019. Justice Hill plays for the time that projects for the most rushing attempts in the NFL. His competition on the Ravens roster is aging Mark Ingram, a former undrafted free agent in Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon (who lost out to said undrafted free agent in 2018). Hill was an explosive runner in college who moved future NFL player Chris Carson to a complementary role as a true freshman. I’m incredibly bullish on this landing spot for Hill as a rookie and think he profiles like a league winner.

T.J Yeldon, Buffalo Bills

This is real Zero RB territory. Yeldon might not end up owned in most best ball leagues and there are compelling cases for him to go undrafted quite often. The Buffalo Bills signed Yeldon and Frank Gore in free agency while also drafting non-athletic slug Devin Singletary in the third round. However, Yeldon has been an efficient player in his career and profiles as a better pass catcher than Singletary or Gore. I’m operating under the assumption that Lesean McCoy is on his way out the door which should let Yeldon be the primary third-down back in Buffalo.

Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders

Josh Jacobs is going to get fed. This much we already know. With Isaiah Crowell out for the season, the team added Doug Martin to fill a similar role to what he did last season (not much). However, when the Raiders were down big last season, Jalen Richard was their primary pass-catching back. Richard had 81 targets last year and it’s pretty easy to see that role being duplicated this year. Oakland will not be a good team and Jacobs might not be ready to be a full-time pass blocking back his first year in the NFL. These are the exact types of players to target with the Zero RB strategy; running backs who would benefit from an injury but offer some value in a neutral context.

Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

Despite being touted as the Dolphins starting running back, Kenyan Drake accrued only 120 carries last season while Frank Gore lead the team with 156. Gore is out of the door to AFC East rival Buffalo and Myles Gaskin was drafted by the Dolphins in the seventh round. Either the team is ready for Drake to be a lead back or they believe that they found something in Ballage who averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 5.1 yards per target last season. It would not surprise me if the Dolphins ran Drake and Ballage as a thunder and lightning style combo, at least to the start the year. In that scenario, Ballage is pretty hilariously undervalued.

Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans

One of the original Zero RB saviors, Dion Lewis has what I believe to be a very solid opportunity to be a bounce back fantasy football player in 2019. He actually set a career high in touches last year with the Titans but was at a career low 4.3 yards per touch while also scoring only two touchdowns. It is not wrong to say that Lewis ran extremely bad to finish with as few fantasy points as he did despite getting 214 touches. With no significant additions in the backfield, I expect Lewis to field a similar number of touches this year as Derrick Henry is never going to be a great pass catcher.

Ryquell Armstead/Alfred Blue, Jacksonville Jaguars

One of these players is almost a lock to be fantasy relevant in 2019. Leonard Fournette averages 3.7 yards per carry for his career, was hurt for almost all of last season and has run afoul of the front office on more than one occasion. I would take the under on 1,000 total yards for Fournette in 2019 and think that one of Armstead or Blue ends as a fantasy relevant back, a la T.J Yeldon and Chris Ivory the last few seasons. Blue is not a special player but Armstead was a semi-touted prospect who had almost 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns in college at Temple. Investing in these two is more about shorting Fournette than anything else.

Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

The arrival of Pollard and Mike Weber in Dallas signaled the end of Rod Smith’s tenure as Ezekiel Elliot’s backup. Taking Pollard where they did in the draft signals that Dallas would like to use Elliot a little bit less during the regular season which makes sense. If you build your team around a stud running back, giving that player 400 touches in the regular season doesn’t make a ton of sense. Pollard would obviously be an elite fantasy asset if Zeke were to go down but more so in years past, I expect Dallas to use him like a 8-10 touch per game spell back.

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