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Fantasy Football Friday: Rise of "Zero RB"? Week 7 Start 'Em/Sit 'Em

Have the past two seasons shown that drafting one or two running backs early is a thing of the past?

INDIANAPOLIS --- Fantasy football enthusiasts debated a new draft strategy before the start of this season, the "Zero RB" strategy, where you would not draft a running back until at least the 4th round. Fantasy suicide, right? Not so fast…

Traditionally, smart fantasy football managers would draft a running back in the first round. How'd that work out last year for most of us? How's that working out this year for those that drafted Adrian Peterson or Eddie Lacy? Even LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles have been inconsistent or injured.

Fantasy football is about weekly consistency. A player might go for 40 points in two weeks, but you'll still probably go 1-1 in that two week stretch if he scores 38 points one week and two the next (an exaggerated example, but you get the point). For the last year and a half, consistency has been very hard to find from the top drafted fantasy running backs.

Add that to the fact that if you draft two running backs early in 2014, it likely means you are struggling with who you drafted at wide receiver in the middle rounds. Wide receivers who were drafted in the 4th through 6th rounds this year have been busts or completely inconsistent: Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, Percy Harvin, Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon, Keenan Allen, Roddy White, Michael Crabtree, Cordarrelle Patterson, Torrey Smith. It was a complete minefield.

Perhaps, the "Zero RB" strategy has some future fantasy implications in today's NFL.

What is Zero RB?

Zero RB is a fantasy draft strategy where you do not select a running back until at least the 4th round, sometimes later. You simply take the best available player at among QB/WR/TE. Many fantasy experts did this in 2014 after drawing a draft position in the middle or end of the first round (after Charles, McCoy, Peterson, Forte, and Lacy were usually taken).

It's an interesting concept considering the explosion of passing offenses and numbers in the NFL over the past three years. 4,000 passing yards is the new 3,000. Defending the pass has become much more difficult with added emphasis on pass interference, illegal contact, and defensive holding. There were 100 fewer sacks through 5 weeks in 2014 compared to 2013, perhaps because of added emphasis on calling illegal hands to the face in the trenches.

So, whether the Zero RB drafters went WR-WR-WR, WR-WR-QB, QB-WR-WR, or Jimmy Graham-WR-WR early in their drafts, they are likely having success having drafted players like Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, etc. By not drafting a running back early, they likely found players who produced more consistent weekly results.

I did the same thing this season in my league of record. A keeper league where you can keep two players. I opted not to keep Montee Ball and went with Brandon Marshall and Antonio Brown and waited to draft running backs like Andre Ellington, Joique Bell, and Mark Ingram. I'm currently tied for 1st in that league. So far, so good.  

Over the past year and a half, it certainly feels like running backs in fantasy are becoming more volatile. Sure, you could have still drafted Marshawn Lynch or Arian Foster...but give me the reliability of stud WRs at the end of the 1st round and a group of five or six RBs with upside in the middle to late rounds. Will it win you a fantasy championship? That remains to be seen, but it likely didn't lose you the title with your first two draft picks. You can't win your championship in the first two rounds, but many managers in 2014 have already lost it in the first two rounds.

Week 7 Start 'Em / Sit 'EM

Our first mediocre performance last week, going 3-3 in week 6...taking our 2014 accuracy rate to a still impressive 75%. Plus, the fantasy team is all square in the Start 'Em/Sit 'Em standings:

Steve Andress: 6-2

Jim Sorgi: 6-2

Kevin Bowen: 6-2

Baseline: 15+ points for QBs, 10+ points for other positions in Start 'Em; less than 15 points for QBs, less than 10 points for other positions in Sit 'Em

Start 'Em

Steve: Brandon Oliver (San Diego RB vs. KC) --- This is how good Oliver has been and how volatile the fantasy RB position has been in 2014. Oliver has only started the last two games. He's been so good (29 points and 18 points last two weeks), he's now the #18 RB in standard scoring. He's an every week starter moving forward, until Ryan Mathews returns from injury, and maybe even after that. Start him with confidence.

Kevin: Browns Defense (vs. Jacksonville) --- Every fantasy defense has scored no less than 12 points against the Jaguars this year. Enough said.

Jim: Joe Flacco (Baltimore QB vs. Atlanta) --- Five touchdowns in just over a quarter last week was phenomenal. Flacco is home against the Falcons this week. Roll with the man drafted outside the top-15 fantasy quarterbacks against an Atlanta defense that has allowed at least 16 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks each of the last three weeks to Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Manning, and Jay Cutler.

Sit 'Em

Steve: Matt Asiata/Jerick McKinnon (Minnesota RBs at Buffalo): The Vikings have come out and said McKinnon will get the opportunity to be the RB1 moving forward. That on its own benches Asiata. McKinnon's measurables are off the charts, but it's a very difficult match-up at Buffalo, a top-3 defense against fantasy running backs.

Kevin: Cam Newton (Carolina QB at Green Bay): Newton started running the ball last week against Cincinnati, which was a welcome sign for fantasy owners. 17 rushes for 107 yards and a touchdown, after only having 14 rushes total in the previous five games. Playing at Lambeau will be a tougher test though, against a Packers defense that is top-10 against fantasy quarterbacks. Newton may also be without his top WR in rookie Kelvin Benjamin (concussion).

Jim: Drew Brees (New Orleans QB at Detroit): Brees is currently only the #9 fantasy quarterback in points per game. A big reason for that is how the Saints have played on the road. Brees has only reached 20 fantasy points once this season, a far cry from the top-3 fantasy QB numbers owners expected. Now he faces the Lions' top-ranked defense. Here's what the Lions have surrendered to opposing fantasy QBs this season: 8,18,10, 9,15,5. Even with Brees coming off a bye week, temper your expectations, especially if Jimmy Graham is out.

Colts Start of the Week

Ahmad Bradshaw, RB --- Here's what Bradshaw has done in standard scoring this season: 8, 21, 13, 11, 7, 11. He's become a reliable red zone target for Andrew Luck, having scored five times through the air. He's also averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per reception. He's even been targeted more than the Colts tight ends this season. Bradshaw has been a bonafide weapon in the Indianapolis offense, and the Bengals rank 29th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 4.8 yards per carry and 141.4 yards per game. The Colts should also get Jack Mewhort back at guard and maybe Hugh Thornton as well. That will only help Bradshaw. Start with confidence.


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