#DraftSZN is upon us and it’s time to start thinking about your draft philosophy for the year. No matter what strategy/strategies you employ, one thing is certain: running backs get injured. “What do running back depth charts look like right now? Who is primed to save my season or give me that boost in the event of an injury?” I’m glad you asked! In this article, I’m going to break down some of my favorite zero RB and handcuff targets.
Standalone Value Running Backs
You can’t build your zero RB stable on waiting for the starter to get injured. My favorite targets for this strategy are those that will provide us with fantasy points with the “lead back” healthy, and have a chance to explode if he were to miss time with injury.
–Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
The Saints offensive philosophy has been changing over the past few years. Let’s look at their rankings over the pasty three years:
|Year||Pass Attempts (NFL Rank)||Rush Attempts (NFL Rank)|
|2016||674 (2nd)||404 (19th)|
|2017||536 (19th)||444 (13th)|
|2018||519 (23rd)||471 (5th)|
Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but it’s clear the days of 600+ pass attempts are over for him. Alvin Kamara will headline the Saints backfield, make no mistake, but Mark Ingram has left for Baltimore. In 2017, when Kamara entered the league, Ingram commanded 18 touches per game. In 2018, that number dropped to a still-respectable 13 touches per game. Even though Ingram missed the first four games of the season, he finished the year with just one fewer carry inside the five-yard line than Kamara. Latavius Murray should slide into the Ingram role seamlessly, and we’ve seen what he can do on inferior offenses. In 2015 and 2016, he finished as RB11 and RB13 (half-PPR), respectively, with the Oakland Raiders. Currently being drafted as RB34 at 7.05, he’s in a great spot to provide fantasy football owners an awesome return on investment.
-Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Literally, anyone who knows anything about the current NFL can tell you the Seahawks are going to run the ball. A lot. Last year the ‘Hawks (surprisingly) took Penny with the 27th overall pick. After struggling through the offseason, he fell to third on the depth chart behind Chris Carson and Mike Davis. The latter is out of the picture, leaving behind 112 carries, and the former had some sort of surgical procedure on his knee following the end of the season. Penny has reportedly shed some weight and is receiving praise from the Seahawks coaching staff, which is a welcomed change from last year. Carson’s procedure doesn’t seem to be a big deal at this point, but even if he stays healthy the entire season, Penny will be getting his fair share of touches. His current draft price of 6.11 (RB33) is quite intriguing to start your zero RB draft.
-Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Smith was one of my favorite late-round dynasty targets just a year ago. His rookie season was less-than-stellar considering the opportunity he had once Devonta Freeman went down for the season. Smith then suffered a meniscus injury and missed the final two weeks. None of this sounds great until you realize the Falcons made little investment behind Freeman and Smith. Behind Smith is two-down plodder Qadree Ollison, their 2019 fifth-round pick, and fellow thumper Brian Hill. Smith is the only one of the group that offers the “change-of-pace” skillset, as he’s much more agile and has the superior receiving profile. Outside of his freshman year at Southern Miss, Smith had at least 40 catches each year. I believe the significant offensive line additions, as well as another year adjusting to the NFL, will serve Smith extremely well. Coming off draft boards at 11.03 (RB48), he’s not going to sink your season if he falls short of expectations in 2019.
-Damien Harris, New England Patriots
There’s a theme developing here with two of the three players mentioned above Harris: volume. Last year, the Patriots ranked third in rush attempts with 478. No matter how you feel about Sony Michel, he wasn’t going to see 300 carries, regardless of his health. Because of this, Harris will see carries whether or not Michel is active on game day. Harris has a solid all-around skill set that New England’s offensive scheme will maximize.
-Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens
Continuing with the volume theme, the Ravens could very well lead the NFL again in rush attempts in 2019. The team brought Mark Ingram in during free agency and added rookie Justice Hill in the fourth round of the draft. Ingram is absolutely going to get his in Baltimore, but Hill adds an element none of their running backs have: speed and explosiveness. If you pay attention to how the Ravens drafted this year, Hill certainly wasn’t the only one to fit that athletic mold – Marquise Brown in the first round, and athletic freak Miles Boykin two rounds later. Having to try to defend the speed and agility of Lamar Jackson and Hill in the same backfield could be a nightmare for their opposition. At 29 years old, Ingram can’t possibly handle all of the carries that Jackson does not. Hill will be involved, and if Ingram misses time, he could explode.
Waiting on Injuries
The players I have listed below may see a handful of carries here and there, but their real value comes into play if the starter ahead of them misses a stretch of time. Look for these guys to be the hot waiver pick-ups if the lead dog gets injured.
-Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings let go of former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo in part because he wasn’t running the ball enough. Enter Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach and offensive advisor and a first-round pick on offensive lineman Garrett Bradbury. If Dalvin Cook stays healthy this season, he could have an absolutely monster year. That’s the issue, however. Cook’s injury history dates back to high school and he’s appeared in 15 of a possible 32 NFL games. The Vikings let the aforementioned Latavius Murray walk and subsequently drafted Mattison with their third-round compensatory pick. Like Ito Smith, a weak depth chart and a solid skill set could launch Mattison into fantasy folklore.
-Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley’s knee has been covered in detail and yet there is still a cloud of uncertainty that hangs. Everyone already loves Darrell Henderson, so let’s talk about Malcolm Brown. Brown is seemingly being forgotten in the Rams’ backfield, as he’s nearly going undrafted according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While I do think Henderson will see more touches in the event of an injury to Gurley, Brown is absolutely going to be involved. The Lions signed Brown to an offer sheet (2 years, $3.2 million), but the Rams matched the offer and retained him. Henderson is undoubtedly the more explosive playmaker, but Brown will be involved.
-Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
Let’s assume the Chargers work out a deal with Melvin Gordon before season begins. Gordon has only played a full 16-game slate once, in 2017. When Austin Ekeler has been given full reign of the backfield, he hasn’t proven as effective. Justin Jackson is a better pure running back and would be primed for RB2/flex-level numbers if Gordon were to miss time due to injury.
There you have it, my favorite zero RB and handcuff targets for 2019 fantasy drafts! For further discussion on draft strategies, make sure you check out our latest podcast. Kevin, Anthony, myself, and special guest Lauren Carpenter of the Fantasy Footballers talked about zero RB, zero WR, and other late-round advice!