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 starts with the NFC East.
New York Giants
Depth Chart: Saquon Barkley, Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman
The Giants do not employ a time-share of any kind, with a generational talent in Barkley carrying the load for Big Blue. Gallman was the backup for New York in 2019, and was the featured back in the one game he played start to finish without Barkley (18 carries, seven targets). Unfortunately for him, the team signed Lewis to a one-year contract, and he has a history with head coach Joe Judge from their time together in New England. In the event of a Barkley injury in 2020, it seems reasonable to assume Gallman would see most of the carries, but Lewis would receive the bulk of the passing-down work.
Verdict: No Zero RB candidates
Depth Chart: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Corey Clement
Philly has been notorious for backfield-by-committee approaches under Doug Pederson, but Sanders carried the mail down the stretch for the Eagles in 2019. From Weeks 10 to 16 (he left early in Week 17), Sanders averaged 15.7 rush attempts and 5.2 targets. Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles are both gone, leaving the second-year player as a true lead back. They are a threat to sign a veteran as the season approaches, but for now, it seems fair to assume that any player added would merely take some carries away from Sanders. Behind Sanders is Scott, who scored three times filling in for Sanders in Week 17, and touched the ball 23 times. He should have a receiving role regardless but has the trust of this coaching staff as a full-time player if need be.
Verdict: Boston Scott (FFPC ADP RB50) is a Zero RB candidate
Depth Chart: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Jordan Chunn
Elliott is one of the league’s most acclaimed backs and should be a workhorse when active. However, it is worth noting that Pollard showed he likely belongs on the field as well after averaging 5.3 yards per carry as a rookie, with receiving chops capable of playing slot snaps at the NFL level. It isn’t a foregone conclusion that Pollard won’t cut into Elliott’s work more than his previous backups have. Should Elliott sustain an injury, Pollard should see a featured role. Chunn is someone most fantasy players don’t even know exists, and is unlikely to be a major part of the team’s gameplan.
Verdict: Tony Pollard (FFPC ADP RB47) is a Zero RB candidate
Depth Chart: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Antonio Gibson
In addition to the names above, Washington employs Bryce Love, J.D. McKissic, and Peyton Barber, making the Redskins one of the messiest backfields in the NFL. If I was betting on it now, I would say Love, who has already had multiple knee surgeries, and Barber, who is only owed $600,000, do not make the team. Expect Guice to have the most complete role, with Peterson and Gibson assisting on early and passing downs respectively. With that said, the uncertainty here appears to be priced in, but is it enough?
Guice – Round 7 ADP
Gibson – Round 10 ADP
Peterson – Round 18 ADP
Guice seems to be in the best position to benefit from chaos. If Gibson suffers an injury, ends up as a receiver, or simply isn’t ready to play, Guice reaches his target ceiling. If Peterson gets injured or finally succumbs to Father Time, he reaches his rush attempts and TD equity ceilings. This is juxtaposed to Gibson and Peterson, who likely do not see significant workload increases unless both of the other backs get hurt or flame out. In this lens, Guice is the best candidate of the group, but concerns over team quality and touch value certainly hold water here, as does Guice’s own injury history.
Verdict: Derrius Guice (FFPC ADP RB33) is a fringe Zero RB candidate