The Washington Post’s Mike Hume advocates what I call the RB-Pa-Looza strategy, centered around drafting running backs early and often. The theory is sound: The fantasy output at running back features a steeper decline than wideout, with the difference in projected point production from No. 1 Antonio Brown to No. 24 Corey Davis (105 PPR fantasy points) equal to the drop from top options Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley to No. 11 Christian McCaffrey in 2018. Plus, it’s often easier to find a serviceable wide receiver (plus or minus 50 points of the 24th best player) late in the draft or on the waiver wire.
And unlike the Zero RB strategy, which, because it advocates steering clear of running backs until the fifth or sixth round, isn’t smart for those with the first four or five picks, the Zero WR can be used no matter where you are situated in the draft.
Ready to try something new? Here is a round-by-round Zero WR blueprint for a 12-team, point-per-reception (PPR) league, with roster requirements of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex player (RB/WR/TE), one defense, a kicker and seven bench players.
Nine of the first 12 picks in the draft are expected to be running backs, so make sure you get the best one available. Obviously your hope is to walk away with Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliott, but don’t be disappointed if you instead settle for Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt or rookie Saquon Barkley.
Barkley, the second pick in the 2018 NFL draft, averaged 3.3 yards after contact per attempt in 2017, per Sports Info Solutions, with 1,658 of his 2,767 rushing yards (60 percent) over the past two seasons occurring after contact. He can also be split out into the slot or out wide as a receiver, giving him a chance at 300 or more touches in 2018. Since 2000, a running back who gets 301 or more opportunities with the ball ends the fantasy football season somewhere between the third and 15th most productive back of the year.
If his coaches are to be taken at their word, McCaffrey’s usage is going up this season. Head coach Ron Rivera said getting McCaffrey the ball 25-30 times per game would “be ideal” and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner agreed that number was realistic a month later. McCaffrey averaged almost 14 touches per game as a rookie in 2017, finishing the year as the 15th best fantasy rusher. If he maintains his ratio of one PPR fantasy point per touch with the aforementioned increased workload, he will end the year as the most-valuable fantasy running back in the NFL.
Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans have the third-easiest strength of schedule in terms of rushing the football, per data from Sharp Sports. Only the Carolina Panthers and defending champion Philadelphia Eagles face softer run defenses during the regular season. Three of their easiest opponents come at the end of the season, weeks reserved for the fantasy football playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz ranked fourth in targets (110) and target share (20 percent) last season per data from TruMedia, with a higher share of targets (23 percent) in the red zone.
Mark Ingram, a member of the New Orleans Saints backfield, will serve a four-game suspension to start the season. He will be a productive fantasy contributor after that. Ingram touched the ball a career-high 288 times in 2017, producing 1,540 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. And only four other running backs had a higher rate of yards per route run last season than Ingram did (1.7), per the game charters at Pro Football Focus.
There should be two good receiving options at this point of the draft, Marquise Goodwin and Emmanuel Sanders.
Goodwin is showing good chemistry with 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, catching three passes for 61 yards in San Francisco’s second preseason game. Most of those yards came on a 40-yard deep pass, which is encouraging considering Garoppolo was 4 for 16 for 134 yards on deep passes last season after being traded from New England.
Sanders sees an upgrade under center from Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler to Case Keenum, the second-most valuable passer in 2017 per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating.
Neither will be an elite option at wideout but what this roster lacks in quality at the wide receiver position it will make up in quantity.
Since wideouts won’t be a strength for your roster, you need to make sure you have stalwarts at the other positions, including quarterback. That’s why Cam Newton is the play here. He accounted for 70 percent of his team’s touchdowns last season and has the added benefit of calling his own number in the red zone: No quarterback had more rushing attempts in goal-to-go situations than Newton did in 2017.
Robert Woods, despite missing four games due to injury, set a career high in receiving yards (781) and tied a career high in touchdowns (five) in 2017. He might lose some targets with Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Todd Gurley also featuring prominently in the passing game, but his consistency should help mitigate the downside.
Allen Hurns caught 64 of 105 targets for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015, his second year as a pro, but was let go by the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason as a cost-cutting move. Now with the Dallas Cowboys, Hurns has a chance at grabbing a portion of the team’s targets in 2017 that are up for grabs after the release of receiver Dez Bryant and retirement of tight end Jason Witten.
As the outside receiver in Miami, Kenny Stills caught 28 of 49 targets for 337 yards last season, per Sports Info Solutions. He added 34 catches, 510 yards and six touchdowns as the team’s slot receiver, sharing those responsibilities with Jarvis Landry (115 targets). Now that Landry is with the Cleveland Browns, Stills could see an even higher workload this season.
Geronimo Allison hasn’t had his breakthrough season yet but the third-year pro could stand to gain traction in the Green Bay Packers offense after Jordy Nelson left for greener pastures. Allison was the third-most targeted outside receiver with Nelson in the fold last year and could move into the second spot behind Davante Adams in 2018.
Mohamed Sanu’s chemistry with quarterback Matt Ryan is undeniable. In fact, Ryan had a higher passer rating when targeting Sanu in 2017 (101.5) than he did when throwing the ball to five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones (93.7).
|2017 Falcons||Targets||Receptions||Yards||TD||INT||Passer rating|
Kenyan Drake is the primary back in Miami, but the Dolphins will likely utilize Frank Gore in short-yardage situations (three yards or less to the first down marker), including those near the goal line. Gore converted better than 69 percent of his short-yardage opportunities into first downs, the 10th-best mark in the NFL, with a third-down conversion rate of 86 percent, giving him the sixth-best rate at the position.
Dez Bryant, a Pro Bowl receiver in 2013, 2014 and 2016, is still a free agent after being released by the Dallas Cowboys. At some point he should sign with a team, and when he does, he will likely be more valuable than any other receiver available this late in the draft.
The 29-year-old Texas native caught 69 of 132 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, making him the 25th best receiver in fantasy football last year. If he is only half as good with his new team, he will still be a viable bye-week replacement or injury fill-in in 2018.
Round 15 and 16
Fantasy football kickers are virtually interchangeable so don’t stress too much which one you end up with. As for defense and special teams, look for a unit that won’t face a stressful schedule. According to Sharp Football Stats, teams with the easiest opponents include the Houston Texans, New York Jets, New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans.
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