Top 15 Zero RB targets for 2021 fantasy drafts

The goal of the Zero RB strategy is not to simply find value at the position in the mid-to-late rounds. The goal is to assemble a collection of running backs who have the potential to greatly outperform their average draft position (ADP). You are looking for RBs who become league winners due to an injury from last season or opportunity from underperformance by teammates. This article will share 15 running backs you should target in fantasy football drafts this summer if you intend on executing Shawn Siegele’s Zero RB strategy.

A quick refresher on the Zero RB strategy

The first objective of the Zero RB strategy is to prioritize running backs who have a defined role in their offenses and can provide a few useable weeks. A running back’s ADP is useful in determining how fantasy drafters value the player. Analyzing the ADP of running backs who are part of a specific team’s committee will provide you with some intriguing insights into how others project the performance of these players.

The second objective is to prioritize players used as runners and receivers out of the backfield. The more rushing attempts and targets a running back has per game provides them with more opportunities to generate fantasy points. Thus, you are targeting players that have the potential to play on all three downs.

The third objective is to target productive NFL offenses. Running backs tied to offenses that average a high number of total yards per game generally play a higher number of offensive snaps, see more opportunities per game, and touches in the red zone.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the list!

Top 15 Zero RB targets for 2021 fantasy drafts

Which running backs make the list of top Zero RB targets for 2021?

Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Javonte Williams‘ draft stock rose significantly with his performance last season. He finished the year with 157 rushing attempts, 1,140 rushing yards, and 19 rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards were the 13th-most in the University of North Carolina history, sixth-most in the country, and third-best in the ACC.

Williams generated 27 rushes of 15 or more yards, averaging a robust 7.3 yards per attempt. He also caught 25 passes for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Williams joins a Broncos’ backfield that has 127 unaccounted rushing attempts heading into 2021 due to the departure of Phillip Lindsay. The rookie and veteran RB Melvin Gordon have a similar skill set. This is shaping up to be a committee, but it is in the realm of possibility that Williams could be the RB1 in Denver as we approach Week 1.

Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders

Kenyan Drake signed with the Raiders in free agency. He signed a two-year, $11 million contract with every single dollar guaranteed.

Drake has been productive over the last three seasons. He totaled 3,266 yards and 27 touchdowns in 45 games. He’s finished as an RB2 or better in 54% of his games in PPR formats over that period.

The Raiders averaged the 11th-most rushing attempts per game (28.6) in 2020. Drake will have a role in the team’s running back by committee as a runner and receiver in 2021. Thus, he will see more opportunities than you anticipate.

James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

James Conner has struggled to replicate his masterful 2018 season when he averaged nearly 22 PPR fantasy points per game. He finished as an RB2 or better in 92% of his 13 games that year.

From 2019-2020, however, he’s only played in 23 games. Conner dealt with multiple injuries over that time frame and has averaged a disappointing 13.6 PPR fantasy points per game.

He now finds himself on a committee in Arizona with Chase Edmonds, but he can be better than many think. For starters, he is tied to the productive Cardinals’ offense that ranked sixth in total yards per game (384.6) last season. The same offense led by Kyler Murray who finished as the QB3 in fantasy. Additionally, the Cardinals boast a solid offensive line.

Conner will immediately inherit the role Drake held in Arizona last season as the Cardinals have 239 unaccounted rushing attempts. Thus, Conner is in a great position to exceed his ADP in 2021.

Michael Carter, New York Jets

Michael Carter accumulated 1,512 total yards on 187 opportunities last season for the Tar Heels as part of a committee with Williams. Carter was overshadowed by Williams, but he does have a tremendous statistical body of work at UNC. In fact, he finished fourth in UNC history with 3,404 career rushing yards.

The Jets have 216 unaccounted rushing attempts, and with Carter generating a lot of positive buzz in New York, he could open the regular season as the starter.

Damien Harris, New England Patriots

The Patriots’ offense looked completely different last season with quarterback Cam Newton under center. For instance, New England averaged the third-most rushing attempts (31.4). With Newton still at QB, this trend will continue in 2021.

Damien Harris got off to a slow start in 2020 because of an ankle injury. In 10 games played, he averaged nearly 14 rushing attempts and 69 rushing yards per game. Harris’ floor in 2021 is a little over 200 rushing attempts, but it would not be a surprise if he is given a larger workload.

Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans

It’s easy to overlook how dominant Phillip Lindsay was during his first two seasons. He accumulated 2,048 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in 31 games. Yet, last season, Lindsay’s number of snaps dropped considerably in 11 games. As a result, he only rushed for 502 yards and scored 1 touchdown.

Lindsay looked for a change of scenery and signed with the Texans in free agency to join their committee of running backs.

In 2020, David Johnson operated as the Texans’ starter. The 29-year-old running back averaged 16 opportunities and 15 PPR fantasy points per game. Regardless, Johnson’s athleticism is waning at this stage of his career.

The same could be said for Mark Ingram who also signed with the Texans in free agency. The 31-year-old is unlikely to be named the starter, and this positions Lindsay to eventually led the Texans’ backfield.

Houston has a new coach in David Culley entering the 2021 season, but it’s worth mentioning that Tim Kelly is still Houston’s offensive coordinator. Johnson is entering the final year of his contract, and the training camp battle between these three RBs will an intriguing one this summer.

Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers

Trey Sermon piled up 965 total yards on 131 opportunities during his final season at Ohio State. He had 16 rushes of 15 or more yards, which ranked 11th at the position. For his career, Sermon had 339 rushing attempts for 2,076 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 36 receptions for 391 receiving yards and 3 more scores.

Sermon now joins a crowded 49ers’ backfield that leans heavily on its running backs.  In fact, San Francisco’s running backs averaged 33.2 opportunities last season.

Meanwhile, Jeff Wilson’s knee injury will sideline him for 4 to 6 months. And the only RB currently ahead of Sermon on the roster is Raheem Mostert. Many reports suggest the rookie is ahead of the curve, and thus, Sermon could hit the ground running (no pun intended) sooner rather than later.

Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills

Zack Moss averaged 10 opportunities, 44.3 total yards, and 8 PPR fantasy points per game last year. That is not what fantasy managers expected from the highly touted rookie in 2020. Both Moss and Devin Singletary had opportunities to emerge as the alpha in the Bills’ backfield but failed to do so.

Despite this, the Bills still ranked fourth in total yards per game (385.4). Obviously, they had to lean heavily on quarterback Josh Allen and the passing game.

Nevertheless, Buffalo didn’t add another notable running back to the roster this offseason. Thus, for fantasy drafts, it’s wise to prioritize whichever Bills’ running back is available later if you’re willing to take a shot on one.

If you wanted me to choose which then my selection would be Moss. He had 15 rushing attempts and 2 targets inside the 10-yard line last year, and that’s more than Singletary. This bodes well for Moss’s 2021 outlook.

Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

Tony Pollard’s standalone value is limited as long as running back Ezekiel Elliott is active. Elliott has averaged 24.4 opportunities and 20 PPR fantasy points per game in 71 games in his career. If he were to miss significant time, Pollard would inherit his workload.

Pollard is a difficult Zero RB candidate to fade if you are implementing the strategy. He has four RB1 finishes in his two-year career but has only played 26% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps.

Pollard’s most recent RB1 performance was in Week 15 of last season when Elliott was ruled out with a calf injury. Pollard generated 132 total yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 opportunities. If Pollard is given a higher opportunity share, he possesses league-winning upside behind the Cowboys’ offensive line.

Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions

Like Pollard, Jamaal Williams has also been productive throughout his career in a complementary role. Williams is actually the first player in Packers’ history to rattle off 450 or more rushing yards and 200 or more receiving yards in each of his first four seasons.

Williams has finished as an RB3 or better in 69% of his career games in PPR formats, including 11 RB1 finishes. With this in mind, he’ll have a higher opportunity share with the Lions than many realize.

With Jared Goff as their new starting QB, it would be wise for the Lions to lean heavily on the running game and leverage their backs as receivers out of the backfield. New Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn schemed 26% of passes and 41% of touches to running backs during his four years with the Los Angeles Chargers. This bodes for Williams’ Zero RB viability.

Zero RB Targets | Rapid Fire

Some Zero RB targets could walk into potential RB1 roles for fantasy should the player above them on the depth chart miss time.

Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers

If Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey were to miss significant time, Chuba Hubbard would inherit his workload. He’s averaged 24.3 opportunities per game over since 2018.

Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has averaged 24.2 opportunities and 23 PPR fantasy points per game over the last two seasons. Alexander Mattison would pick up that workload if Cook went down with injury.

Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

If Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins is sidelined, Gus Edwards would gain his opportunity share.

Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints

Latavius Murray is coming off consecutive seasons with 146 rushing attempts or more behind one of the NFL’s top offensive lines. He has four RB1 performances in PPR formats during that time frame.

Devontae Booker, New York Giants

Booker is positioning himself as the backup to running back Saquon Barkley in New York. Barkley’s averaged 22.6 opportunities per game since his rookie season in 2018.

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Eric is a Senior Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). You can read more of his work here and follow Eric on Twitter @EricNMoody.

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