The zero running back theory has been around for a few years now. But, there is no better time to buy into the strategy than now. The 2015 NFL season saw 12 quarterbacks throw for more than 4,000 yards. That total was most ever in an NFL season. The league has become a pass first league so fantasy players need to adapt to the times. There is no reason to expect less than the same in 2016. Meaning wide receivers need to be treated as fantasy gold this season.
Fantasy players should be targeting wide receivers early and often in their drafts. But they still need to get production from the running back position if they plan to win their league’s championship.
Here are five running backs who fantasy players need to target to implement the zero running back strategy. According to their current average draft positions (ADP), each of these ball carriers will be available after the sixth round of fantasy drafts. So fantasy players can go wide receiver heavy in the early goings of their drafts.
Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns (ADP: 75.11)
With Hue Jackson now calling the shots for the Browns, Johnson’s fantasy value should skyrocket in 2016. The Browns’ head coach has a reputation for getting the running backs involved in the passing game. Over the last two seasons with Jackson calling the plays, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense threw over 20% of their passes to running backs.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 77.19)
While many will be on teammate Jeremy Hill, Bernard is the Bengals’ ball carrier to own in fantasy. He finished the 2015 season as the 17th best fantasy running back in PPR leagues. Hill on the other hand ended the year as the 20th fantasy ball carrier. And this all happened while Bernard didn’t find paydirt one time on 15 touches inside the 10 last year. Bernard won’t be shut out again in 2016 so grab him as the model Zero Running Back option.
Rashad Jennings, New York Giants (ADP: 97.99)
Sure Jennings has a history of being injured. But the Giants’ rusher did play in 16 games last season. More importantly as the season went on, he received more of the shares of the ball out of the backfield. Over the last four games of 2016, Jennings was on the field for more that 60% of the Giants’ offensive plays. And more importantly he produced in a big way. In those four games, Jennings racked up 521 offensive yard. As long as he can stay healthy this season, Jennings could provide ultimate value for those participating in the Zero Running Back strategy.
Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: 116.48)
With Doug Martin and his freshly inked contract extension in front of him, Sims is the forgotten man in fantasy football. But in a Zero-Running Back world, he is an ideal target. Not only can he be had late in fantasy drafts, but he also finished the 2015 season as the 16th-best fantasy running back. Sims finished the year with 1,090 offensive yards including 51 catches. And that was with Martin earning that new money deal.
Theo Reddick, Detroit Lions (ADP: 130.06)
Reddick only fits the bill is if the fantasy league’s scoring system utilizes points-per-reception. But if it is, then the Lions’ running back is a great target late in fantasy drafts. Reddick has seen an increase in receptions each year that he has been in the NFL. Also, the running back could be stepping into the perfect storm. In five of the nine games with Jim Bob Cooter as the offensive coordinator for the Lions last season, Reddick had at least five receptions. And now, the Lions will be looking to replace 149 targets that went the way of Calvin Johnson in 2015.
It can be scary to pass over running backs in the early parts of your fantasy draft for wide receivers, but these five ball carriers should help fantasy players adjust to the Zero Running Back theory just fine in 2016.