Fantasy Football Zero RB Backfield Report: AFC West
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 West.
Depth Chart: Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman
It isn’t terribly common for a team to look to replace a RB who opened his career with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, but that is exactly what the Broncos appear to be doing. After signing Gordon as a free-agent, he is expected to function as the lead back, with local reports having him as the team’s bell-cow:
Drafters certainly agree, with Gordon coming off the board in the third round, while Lindsay lasts until the 10th. But what if that isn’t the case?
Only 21 RBs have more rushing yards in their first two seasons since 2000 than Lindsay, and just five of those players averaged more yards per carry than the third-year Denver back. It is quite possible that Lindsay has a bigger role than drafters are currently giving credit. Certainly, in the event of an injury to Gordon, we have reason to assume Lindsay is capable of handling the lion’s share of the work.
Verdict: Phillip Lindsay (FFPC ADP RB45) is a Zero RB candidate
Kansas City Chiefs
Depth Chart: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Damien Williams, DeAndre Washington
Darwin Thompson is also on the roster, but I am considering him a cut candidate for now after failing to see the field much in 2019. After Williams played excellent in his second-straight Chiefs playoff run, I don’t think anyone expected Kansas City to take Edwards-Helaire at the end of the first round in April’s NFL Draft. CEH is an excellent talent out of the SEC, and will likely have an extremely productive career. With that said, there is certainly reason to expect Williams to maintain some kind of role within the offense.
But at what cost? Williams is already going at the top of the seventh round in drafts right now, which assumes he will have a decent role, as well as upside in the event of an injury. The Chiefs have shown a propensity to split the work up in each of the past two regular seasons, and Kansas City also signed Washington, who has history as a pass-catcher. If Williams was going in the Lindsay range, I would advocate for him as a Zero RB target, but as a seventh rounder, and sixth to be sure, it seems to be too pricey.
Verdict: No Zero RB candidates
Las Vegas Raiders
Depth Chart: Josh Jacobs, Lynn Bowden, Jalen Richard
Jacobs’ ADP, which sits inside of the top-15 overall picks, remains one of the most laughable of the off-season. The Raiders have made it no secret that they wish to establish a secondary player in a receiving role, limiting Jacobs to most of the ground work. The team re-signed Richard this spring, then selected a talented do-it-all player in Bowden on Day 2 of the draft. As a former receiver, there is reason to expect Bowden to own a receiving role sooner rather than later.
In the event of a Jacobs injury, Richard would certainly play a part, but Bowden has the most upside. He averaged an absurd 7.9 yards per carry in his final year at Kentucky (185 carries), and over 11 yards per reception for his career. His late-round ADP is ripe for the picking.
Verdict: Lynn Bowden (FFPC ADP RB66) is a Zero RB candidate
Los Angeles Chargers
Depth Chart: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson
Ekeler was magnificent in 2019, and his current second-round ADP is more than justified. It is the reserve role that is incredibly intriguing. There is potential here for someone to carve out usable fantasy production in tandem with Ekeler, and then be elevated to a major role in the event of an Ekeler injury.
The candidates are both rather interesting. Jackson was a true workhorse back at Northwestern, carrying the ball over 240 times in each of his four seasons, with 122 career receptions. Kelley was a very early Day 3 pick (112 overall), and also showed workhorse prowess in his final two seasons at UCLA. Choosing between them is going to be difficult.
The good news here is that we likely do not have to. Both Jackson and Kelley are going in the 12th round or later, meaning mixing them equally into your teams this year is viable. It is likely that one of them soaks up meaningful fantasy production in 2020.
Verdict: Justin Jackson (FFPC ADP RB54) and Joshua Kelley (FFPC ADP RB59) are Zero RB candidates