Fantasy Football Zero RB Backfield Report: AFC South
Zero RB has been one of the more popular contrarian strategies of the past half-decade in fantasy football. However, something that Davis Mattek has mentioned on the SportsGrid podcast is a potential lack of viable Zero RB candidates in today’s NFL. Essentially, the number of backfields that would produce a full-time starter or high-upside player with an injury may be more limited than they once were.
The Zero RB Backfield Report will look to dive into that hypothesis. I’ll take a look at each division in the NFL, breaking down the backfield of each team, and how viable it is for them to contain a Zero RB candidate.
Today the series continues with the AFC South.
Depth Chart: David Johnson, Duke Johnson, Karan Higdon
The Texans made one of the biggest splashes of the off-season when they traded DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson, leading to the only two-DJ backfield in the NFL. One would expect the former Cardinal to lead RBs in touches after Carlos Hyde racked up 255 in 2019 in tandem with Duke. The truthers such as myself likely need to give up the dream of Duke as a featured player, but it could certainly happen if anything happens to David given that they lack real depth behind him. It is also worth noting that Duke tallied 44 receptions and 820 total yards last season as the 1B to Hyde. He could very well have some stand-alone value, which makes Duke more palatable than a true handcuff pick.
Verdict: Duke Johnson (FFPC ADP RB50) is a Zero RB candidate
Depth Chart: Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines
Indy traded up for Taylor with the expectation that he would be the leader of their 2020 rushing attack. It is currently unclear just how many carries he will see, and how many he might cede to Mack and, to a lesser extent, Hines. Taylor had limited pass-catching experience at Wisconsin, and Mack has caught just 52 passes in three NFL seasons. This will almost assuredly be a three-person committee to some degree, with Hines in a pass-catching role. The most value may be added to this backfield with a Hines injury or demotion, but Taylor is already going in the third round. Mack appears unlikely to add more receiving to his repertoire, and a two-down specialist is not the kind of player we should target for Zero RB.
Verdict: No Zero RB candidates
Depth Chart: Leonard Fournette (?), Ryquell Armstead, Chris Thompson
Fournette and the Jags have clashed now for a couple of years, culminating in the team declining his fifth-year option, and looking to trade him around the NFL Draft. They were unable to find a suitor, but may still be shopping him. This adds a lot of cloudiness to the backfield. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden also brought in former Redskin scat-back Thompson, and he should take on a bunch of receiving work. This is similar to the Colts situation, where Armstead is unlikely to become a true featured player in the event of a Fournette trade or injury. With that said, Thompson has been frequently injured himself, missing at least five games each of the past three seasons. This would give some extra hope for Armstead, but Devine Ozigbo lurks as another adequate pass-catcher.
Verdict: No Zero RB candidates
Depth Chart: Derrick Henry, Darrynton Evans, David Fluellen
Henry is one of the biggest workhorses in the league, so it may have surprised some people when the Titans selected Evans on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. However the team desperately needed some depth after cutting Dion Lewis. Evans should fill the Lewis role nicely after averaging 147 all-purpose yards per game in his final season at App State, and scoring five receiving touchdowns. He could even possibly expand upon the role Lewis had if the team looks to keep Henry fresh for another playoff run, and was simply unimpressed with the veteran’s play. Regardless, Evans will be in great position to become a workhorse himself if anything happens to Henry. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the Combine while weighing 200 pounds.
Verdict: Darrynton Evans (FFPC ADP RB56) is a Zero RB candidate