Unique strategies like Zero RB continue to become more common in fantasy football circles. The difficulty with Zero RB, however, is finding sources of fantasy points from cheap running backs. Over the years, Zero RB drafters have managed to find undervalued backs due to some combination of misevaluated talent, injury opportunity, or a misunderstood role.
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Fantasy football drafters continue to become more efficient, making it more difficult to find these undervalued talents. Let’s look at the current average draft position (ADP) and see who sticks out at the running back position.
Note that Asher Molk wrote about some compelling players to be 2022’s Cordarrelle Patterson. While they’re fun players to target, I won’t mention the players that he’s already discussed.
Chase Edmonds (RB37)
Fantasy owners are flooded by recency bias each offseason. It has quickly been forgotten that Chase Edmonds was the RB17 through the first eight weeks of last season, despite only scoring one touchdown. With at least three catches in seven out of the first eight games, Edmonds provided a strong floor.
While he only scored two touchdowns all season, Edmonds was excellent with the ball in his hands – averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Out of backs with at least 60 rushing attempts, Edmonds tied Miles Sanders with the most yards before contact (3). He tacked on an additional 2.1 yards after contact. The only other RBs who hit 3 yards in one of those categories and 2 in the other: Miles Sanders, Jonathan Taylor, Rashaad Penny, Nick Chubb, and Tony Pollard. D’Ernest Johnson and Justin Jackson joined the list on lower volume.
It’s also not a coincidence that their new coach is Mike McDaniel, hired away from Kyle Shanahan’s staff:
Former SF run-game coordinator and OC Mike McDaniel is now the Dolphins HC.
Per @SportsInfo_SIS, the 49ers used zone blocking 282 times last season, 6th-most in the NFL.
Chase Edmonds on zone blocking last season (50+ carries)
EPA per play: 1st
Yards Per Attempt: 5.8 (1st)
— Connor Allen (@ConnorAllenNFL) June 13, 2022
Edmonds was also impressive as a receiver. In terms of routes run per game, Edmonds finished 6th behind Leonard Fournette, Austin Ekeler, D’Andre Swift, Najee Harris, and Ezekiel Elliott.
Obviously, the Dolphins made noise this offseason by signing Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel, in addition to Edmonds. The guaranteed money for their contracts is posted below.
While the other additions are noteworthy, Edmonds received over six times more guaranteed money. In terms of guaranteed money, the Dolphins made Edmonds the 20th highest-paid running back in the league. This is a signal of how the Dolphins value their backs.
On a team that should be much improved in 2022, Edmonds provides a palatable way to invest in the Dolphins as a cheap running back target.
Kenneth Gainwell (RB48)
When targeting running backs in the late rounds, it often helps to target specialty players – like pass-catching running backs. We love running backs who dominate high-value touches. High-value touches are defined as green zone touches (touches occurring inside the opponent’s 10-yard line) plus receptions.
Despite playing only 288 snaps, Gainwell led the Eagles in high-value touches. Out of backs with at least 30 targets, only Christian McCaffrey, Tony Pollard, Ameer Abdullah, Cordarrelle Patterson, Myles Gaskin, Nyheim Hines, and Michael Carter were targeted at a higher rate per route run.
Gainwell led the Eagles’ running backs in yards per route run, targets per route run, and air yards by significant margins.
While skepticism that Gainwell can receive enough of a rushing workload to truly be a league winner is likely warranted, it is helpful that he finished third in broken tackle percentage (out of RBs with at least 60 attempts).
The rushing workload will be undoubtedly tough to dominate, Gainwell’s unique skillset all but guarantees him the passing down role. If he can impress early, Gainwell really can “go crazy.”
Another key recipe to finding cheap running backs to target late is targeting rookies. Rookies are making more of an impact of late and it’s no secret that running backs have a short shelf life. There are several compelling rookies selected around the RB40-50. The nice thing about drafting rookies is they tend to get better and receive more opportunities as the year goes on.
At RB42, Rachaad White appears to be the do-everything-back that the Bucs have long desired. Combining elite athleticism with high-end production as a rusher and receiver, it’s hard not to have visions of 2015 David Johnson. Whether he can earn Tom Brady’s trust will determine his 2022 outlook.
At RB45, Isaiah Spiller could have a big impact. The Chargers (and Ekeler himself) have continually stated a desire to reduce Ekeler’s workload. On the high-powered Chargers offense, Spiller’s age-adjusted production and draft age create a compelling argument. At a draft age of 20, Spiller is in a bucket of players that score more PPR points, receive more opportunities, and are more efficient with that opportunity than all other ages. The only other rookie running back in this class with a draft age of 20? Breece Hall.
At RB47, Tyler Allgeier lands a depth chart begging for a productive, young running back. While I don’t love slower backs, Allgeier’s 227 lb. frame gives him a 60th percentile speed score. He was a workhorse at the end of his collegiate career. After racking up 1,304 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2020 with an explosive 8.0 yards per touch, he followed things up with 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final season (5.9 yards per touch). He scored in all but one game last season while adding 28 receptions. Not only are beat writers expecting Cordarrelle Patterson to have his workload reduced, but ESPN’s Michael Rothstein expects Allgeier to be one of the top two backs on Atlanta’s depth chart. You could do worse when targeting cheap running backs towards the end of your draft
Tyrion Davis-Price is also an intriguing selection at RB49. It’s noteworthy any time that Kyle Shanahan handpicks a running back, but it’s especially compelling when it’s a third-round selection. Running a 4.48 forty at a powerful 219 lbs., Davis-Price feels like he could be the next Alfred Morris. ESPN’s Nick Wagoner expects Davis-Price to emerge as a top-two back. Elijah Mitchell was excellent last season but remember that he was just a 6th-round selection that required little investment. After a big season at LSU, it’s clear that the 49ers saw something in Davis-Price.
- In order to find some success when drafting wide receiver-heavy teams, drafters need to find cheap running back fantasy points.
- Chase Edmonds was very productive last season before his injury and his metrics show a player who is an incredibly efficient runner. He excels both before and after contact.
- Kenneth Gainwell has a unique skill set that lets him see a large amount of the Eagles’ running back receptions and touches inside the 10-yard line.
- Multiple rookies such as Rachaad White, Tyler Allgeier, Isaiah Spiller, and Tyrion Davis-Price also profile as potential cheap sources of running back fantasy points.