The zero-RB truthers have their chests puffed out again.
For the third straight year, more than half of the running backs selected in the first two rounds are hurting their owners. In 2014, it was LeSean McCoy, Montee Ball and Gio Bernard. In 2013, Doug Martin, Foster, Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson and Steven Jackson all tanked. Is it over for this year’s group and the prioritization of the position as a whole?
A SHIFT IN THE GAME
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For those not living in our pathetic little fantasy football bubble, “zero-RB” refers to a drafting strategy in which you purposefully avoid running backs in the first four rounds or so. It’s growing more and more viable every year. The vast majority of NFL teams run some kind of committee now and running backs have the highest injury rates in the league. Meanwhile, all of the NFL’s recent rule changes skew toward inflated passing stats. Philip Rivers is on pace to set the record for passing yards in a season, DeAndre Hopkins is going to smash the mark for targets and a whopping six wideouts are averaging at least 100 yards per game.
THIS YEAR’S BUST GROUP
Owners of Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Anderson and Jeremy Hill are already well behind the eight-ball. There’s varying degrees of hope here. Obviously, Charles owners got unlucky with the ACL tear. But owners of Lacy, Anderson, Hill and Lynch shouldn’t be afraid to sit their “studs” down. Lacy is clearly out of shape and is getting outplayed by James Starks, Lynch’s offensive line is a disaster, Anderson has been passed by Ronnie Hillman and Jeremy Hill looks like a shell of his rookie-year self. There are complementary wideouts and passing backs that have higher weekly ceilings right now.
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SNEAKY STASHES AT RUNNING BACK
One key to the zero-RB theory is to take cheap upside shots at the position. For example, hoarding Christine Michael on your bench ever since the Dallas trade, or stashing Todd Gurley through the injury. Some deep sleeper running backs that could emerge later include Buck Allen, David Cobb, Ahmad Bradshaw and Knile Davis. They’re available in most leagues but are just one injury away from big roles.
1. C.J. McCollum, G, Blazers -- Averaging 17.7 ppg and 2.2 3PM in just 29.8 preseason mpg. He'll be around 30 mpg all year.
2. Nikola Mirotic, F, Bulls - New coach Fred Hoiberg is leaning toward using Mirotic as his starting stretch four. Yummy.
3. Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Nuggets - Explosive, stat-sheet stuffing rookie set to start for up-tempo Nuggets.
NFL PICKUPS OF THE WEEK
1. Christine Michael, RB, Cowboys – The athletic freak has been running ahead of Joseph Randle during bye-week practices.
2. Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings – A fifth-round rookie who is taking over for the disappointing Charles Johnson.
3. Brandon LaFell, WR, Patriots – Appears close to return from foot injury and will quickly take back every-down outside role.
Fire up these borderline wideouts in Week 7:
1. Michael Floyd vs. BAL – Floyd’s snap and target count are both rising sharply ahead of a matchup with the league’s worst pass defense.
2. Vincent Jackson at WAS –The Bucs aren’t going to be able to run on the Redskins, forcing Jameis Winston to the air often.
3. Willie Snead at IND – Per PFF, Snead runs 41 percent of his routes from the slot and 31 percent on the right side. That means he’ll usually avoid Vontae Davis.
Melvin Gordon’s rookie year has been one to forget. The 15th overall pick is averaging 3.83 YPC, has scored zero touchdowns, ranks 42nd of 55 in PFF’s run grades and was benched in Week 6 after fumbling for the fourth time. Part of the trouble stems from offensive line injuries, but Gordon has to take blame for indecision at the line and ball security. He’s best left on fantasy benches until he puts something in the box score and gains the trust of his team back. Meanwhile, the run game’s ineffectiveness has Philip Rivers on a record pace.