Draft strategies like zero running back (ZeroRB) sometimes generate uncomfortable conversations and implicit biases. For transparency, my top ZeroRB target last season busted in Chase Edmonds. On a positive note, we hit on Jamaal Williams and Khalil Herbert to an extent.
In redraft and best ball leagues, it seems like the year for ZeroRB with the running back position pushed back. The ADP market is also sharper than ever, so there’s a chance it’s the correct move to fade some of these options. We’ll examine five ZeroRB targets, plus five more honorable mentions for the later rounds. When referencing ADP, we’re using Underdog as a guide.
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D’Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles
81.8 ADP, RB26
Two months ago, we wrote up D’Andre Swift as an undervalued running back in dynasty formats. A similar logic applies in redraft leagues. Swift went from the third-best offense in Offensive Total EPA/G (4.58) to the fourth-best (4.29) in the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles ranked sixth in yards before contact (1.98), while the Detroit Lions averaged 1.72 (No. 11).
Swift possesses elite receiving skills, with 9.2 yards after the catch per reception (No. 2). He garnered the ninth-most receiving expected points per game (EP/G) at 7.2, accounting for his role and opportunity as a pass catcher. The visual above shows the rushing and receiving EP/G leaders sorted by receiving EP/G. There are many elite running back options based on receiving opportunities.
Often, you’ll find Swift in the sixth or seventh round in some drafts, making him a palatable option as a zero running back target. Besides health, Swift checks several boxes we look for, including rushing and receiving skills, plus an offensive line to open holes.
Swift typically went a couple of rounds earlier in past years, yet he attaches himself to a high-end offense. However, some might question the receiving opportunities with a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts and elite receivers. One could even “reach” for Swift a round or two earlier ahead of his ADP and reap the rewards.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders
100.5 ADP, RB32
The market seems torn on Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson since they go in a similar range as RB3s. Like Swift, we wrote about the Washington Commanders‘ backfield in a previous off-season article covering small gap backfields. The Commanders’ offense sneakily possesses tons of skill position talent, including Gibson. If we miss on Swift, Gibson falls into a similar bucket of some rushing and receiving skills. However, Gibson might not have Swift’s upside.
Since 2020, Gibson ranks 14th in explosive plays, meaning rushes of 12-plus yards or receptions of 16-plus yards. That’s 16.7 per season compared to Robinson’s 12 in his rookie season. The downside scenario involves Robinson garnering most of the rushing opportunities, leaving Gibson producing minimally.
Unfortunately, Gibson’s efficiency plummeted from 2.7 fantasy points over expectation (FPOE/G) in 2020, ranking 12th to -1.2 FPOE/G (No. 134) in 2022. That’s partly due to the touchdown regression, though his target share grew to a career-best 12 percent (No. 13).
We’ll reiterate the numbers I found earlier. With J.D. McKissic gone, Gibson could add to his target share potential. That isn’t speculation; the numbers bear it out. On third downs last year, Gibson averaged 4.3 routes per game, with McKissic at 8.6 and Robinson toward the bottom at 0.42. Assuming Gibson runs more of the routes on third down, we can project target opportunities too. Prioritize Gibson instead of Robinson due to the receiving potential, mainly in PPR leagues.
Jaylen Warren, Pittsburgh Steelers
132.1 ADP, RB44
Jaylen Warren became one of the top sleeper running backs in the offseason. That led to Najee Harris as a potentially undervalued dynasty asset. While Warren bests Harris in the underlying metrics, Harris garnered three times the rushing attempts per game than Warren.
As seen below, Warren edged Harris in yards before (YBC/Att) and after contact per attempt (YAC/Att). However, Harris had a higher broken plus missed tackle rate (BT+MT/Att) than Warren, with more volume.
On third downs last season, Warren ran 5.6 routes per game (No. 12), double Harris’s numbers at 2.8 (No. 35). That indicates a potential third-down pass-catching role for Warren. Though it’s volume-based, Harris boasts 39 explosive plays since entering the league, including 16 last season compared to Warren’s nine. TruMedia defines explosive plays as rushes of more than 12 yards and receptions of more than 16 yards.
We’ll lean into the scenario where Harris misses time or loses volume in 2023, leading to Warren’s ascension. The lead back in the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ offense has typically led to quality volume. Here’s a look at the top team running back based on opportunity shares.
- 2019: James Conner — 54 percent Rush Share and 12 percent Target Share
- 2020: Conner — 53 percent Rush Share and eight percent Target Share
- 2021: Harris — 78 percent Rush Share and 15 percent Target Share
- 2022: Harris — 55 percent Rush Share and 10 percent Target Share
There’s a slim chance Warren will take a significant part of Harris’s volume due to historical data of Steelers’ backup running backs. The best-case scenario might be Jaylen Samuels of 2019, with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland not earning a significant role. However, Warren showed enough as a rusher and receiver in 2022 to make him a ZeroRB target in the middle of a draft.
Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons
141.4 ADP, RB44
Based on the college production and draft capital, Bijan Robinson compared similarly to Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Knowshon Moreno and Darren McFadden. Robinson is a first-round pick in fantasy football as the RB3 off the board. After digging into the profiles of the top fantasy running backs, Robinson could enter that realm via rushing and receiving EP/G.
Some of the best fantasy football running backs average around seven rushing EP/G and four receiving EP/G. Though Robinson’s ADP feels like his ceiling, he will be one of those elite fantasy running backs.
The Falcons ran the ball with the second-highest rush share at 54 percent. In a big gap running back column, I covered how the Falcons’ offense could operate with a run-heavy approach with a slight increase in the pass rate. Tyler Allgeier flashed tackle-breaking skills, evidenced by the sixth-best BT+MT/Att (25.2 percent) and third-highest YAC/Att (3.4). He feels like the A.J. Dillon of the Falcons, with less buzz and a more comprehensive talent gap.
In the past five seasons, eight running backs rushed for 1,000 yards or more in their rookie season. That list includes Jonathan Taylor, James Robinson, Josh Jacobs, Phillip Lindsay, Saquon Barkley, Allgeier and Harris. Allgeier also has the 32nd-best BT+MT/Att since 2018 among backs with 50 carries in a season.
The concerns come from the low-value touches, as he tied with Cordarrelle Patterson at 36 (No. 47). If Robinson missed time, we expect Patterson to eat into the pass-catching role with Allgeier hopefully earning 50 percent of the rush share. Though most of Allgeier’s value relies on his rushing, take a shot on him as a ZeroRB target in the double-digit rounds.
173 ADP, RB 54
In baseball, some didn’t believe in Chris Sale because of his frame and throwing style. Sale pitched more than 175 innings in five out of six seasons from 2012 to 2017. We’re using that analogy as some say Derrick Henry is a linebacker, not a running back. However, Henry continues to defy the skeptics and look like an outlier. When will Henry slow down?
We’ve swung and missed over and over with finding the backup to Henry. The most productive backups to Henry include D’Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard and Dion Lewis.
Spears garnered tons of volume and production at Tulane with an 85 percent running back dominator. Given the high volume, he created YAC/Att, ranking 10th. However, he mustered a mediocre BT+MT/Att at 54th. Spears produced as a receiver, evidenced by the 16th-best yards per route run (2.0) and seventh-highest yards per target (8.6) among backs with 25 targets.
In Henry’s seventh season, he reached career-highs in targets (40), receptions (33) and receiving yards (398). From 2019 to 2021, Henry compiled 474 receiving yards. As a team, the Tennessee Titans had the 10th-largest difference in team targets per game to the running backs, as seen below.
While that appears concerning, it’s a positive note that the lead back (Henry) garnered more receiving opportunities. However, that’s likely because the Titans didn’t have A.J. Brown commanding targets. Spears can catch passes, which gives him a path to a Hilliard-type outcome if Henry misses time.
Spears goes in a juicy range of ZeroRB targets, including Jeff Wilson, Zamir White, Kendre Miller and Roschon Johnson. He could become White and hardly see the field. But Spears is worth a shot in the later rounds.
Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears
153.6 ADP, RB48
In college, Roschon Johnson flashed the juicy metrics, creating yards after contact via broken and missed tackles. He is on a team with the highest rush rate last season and fits a role similar to Khalil Herbert. We broke down the Bears’ backfield in a recent small gap running back article.
Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, Miami Dolphins
Mostert: 153.8 ADP, RB49
Wilson: 174.8 ADP, RB56
Rookie De’Von Achane is the top team running back in ADP, finishing near Samaje Perine, Herbert, Dillon and Warren. Achane possesses elite speed like teammates Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Raheem Mostert. Achane posted quality advanced metrics with a 3.2 YAC/Att (No. 48) and 19.9 percent BT+MT/Att (No. 72).
The Miami Dolphins ranked tied for seventh in pass rate at 62 percent and 21st in pace of play, with 27.3 seconds per snap.
Since Week 9, when Jeff Wilson joined the Dolphins, he averaged a 44 percent rush share and an 11 percent target share. Mostert nearly matched him with a 45 percent rush share and a 10 percent target share from that point.
Take a chance on the cheaper options in this backfield in Wilson and Mostert, who go three to four rounds later than Achane.
Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles
152 ADP, RB47
Last season, Kenneth Gainwell landed in my ZeroRB article. And we’ll go back to the well. Gainwell is behind Swift and Rashaad Penny, who come with injury concerns. The metrics for Gainwell as a rookie look similar to Warren’s first NFL season, with Gainwell showing more upside.
Though Gainwell hardly produced in the regular season, he nearly matched Miles Sanders and Hurts in rush share. Gainwell averaged a 27.5 percent rush share while Sanders and Hurts tied at 29.2 percent. Gainwell bested Sanders in target share (11 percent vs. 2.4 percent), indicating the pass-catching potential we saw in his rookie year.
In the small sample, Gainwell is an explosive rusher and receiver to target on a top-end offense behind Swift and Penny, who likely will miss some time in 2023.
Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
188.8 ADP, RB60
Chuba Hubbard produced efficiently as a rusher, with 4.9 yards per carry (No. 15) and the sixth-best yards per touch at 5.8. He averaged 2.7 YAC/Att (No. 47), and a brutal 11.6 percent BT+MT/Att, ranking 50th out of 67 qualified backs with 50 carries.
Hubbard’s 26 percent rush share was behind Foreman’s 56 percent rush share after Christian McCaffrey went to the 49ers. In the post-McCaffrey era, Hubbard garnered a nine percent target share vs. four percent for Foreman. There’s a chance Hubbard earns a couple of targets per game.
The Carolina Panthers ranked 23rd in Offensive Total EPA/G (-3.19), near the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.97) and Los Angeles Rams (-3.89). That means they probably won’t be a high-end offense in 2023, even with Bryce Young at quarterback.
Ryan Reynolds broke down the NFC South from a betting perspective and laid out the path for the Panthers’ success in 2023. Reynolds noted the improving offensive line. That’s good for Hubbard, who created 2.2 yards before contact last season. Yards before contact is typically a combination of an offensive line and running back stat.
Bank on the continued efficiency of Hubbard in a shared role with Sanders as one of the cheapest ZeroRB targets worth considering.