By now, you’ve likely heard of the drafting strategy known as “Zero RB.” It involves selecting no running backs through at least the first four rounds of your draft, instead choosing to load up on other positions.
It works because running backs have the highest injury rate and raw talent isn’t worth as much as opportunity. Thomas Rawls, DeAngelo Williams, David Johnson, Jeremy Langford and Charcandrick West were among the 2015 runners that came off the wire and helped carry the Zero-RB crowd to glory.
Still, we need to go into the draft with a plan for the running back position. Here are some mid-rounders with upside to target:
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Latavius Murray was not very good last year, ranking 33rd among 50 qualifiers in fantasy points per opportunity. But he did receive a whopping 72.8 percent of the Raiders’ running back touches and tied for the league-lead by handling 81.8 percent of his team’s carries inside the 5-yard line. Since then, the Raiders have only added undersized fifth-rounder DeAndre Washington to their backfield. So we can expect another big market share for Murray, this time with free-agent pickup LG Kelechi Osemele helping to form one of the league’s best offensive lines. He’s an ideal fifth-round pick for owners who start their draft with four wide receivers.
Ryan Mathews has averaged a strong 4.47 yards per carry during his six-year NFL career. He ran circles around DeMarco Murray last season, giving the Eagles enough confidence to dump Murray and only add fifth-rounder Wendell Smallwood in the draft. Mathews will also play in the RB-friendly Doug Pederson/Andy Reid scheme that made Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware fantasy studs in Kansas City. Yet Mathews is consistently available in the fifth or sixth round of fantasy drafts solely because of his checkered injury history. It's a risk worth taking, as Mathews' injuries are not of the lingering variety.
OLD MAN RIVER
Frank Gore breaks every aging curve. Now 33 years old, he hasn’t missed a game since 2010 and continues to play at a high level. Last year’s stats are deceiving as the entire offense went in the tank with Andrew Luck only playing seven games. This year, Gore will be the unquestioned feature back and goal-line option on a team that projects among the league leaders in points per game. He’s a high-floor pick in the seventh round or so.
MORE MID-ROUND RBS
* Matt Jones, Redskins – Alfred Morris is gone, giving Jones first crack at the lead back job in a sneakily elite offense.
* Charles Sims, Bucs – Doug Martin only plays on early downs, meaning we can expect a lot of catches again for Sims. He graded out as PFF’s No. 1 RB last year.
* Duke Johnson, Browns – New head coach and run-game specialist Hue Jackson will maximize the truly electric skills of Johnson.