Fantasy Football Zero RB Strategy: Players to Target in 2021

Jason Schandl
Fantasy football zero RB top targets include AJ Dillon.
Fantasy football zero RB top targets include AJ Dillon. / Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The fantasy football "Zero RB" strategy has fallen out of favor somewhat over the last couple seasons, as evidenced by the top six players in FantasyPros' average draft position (ADP) data all being running backs in 2021.

The strategy is inherently a contrarian one, however, and popularity was never among the reasons its proponents have believed in it.

What is Zero RB

The "zero RB" draft strategy involves completely ignoring the running back position in the early rounds of your draft. Instead, you focus on the top wide receivers and tight ends (and even QB if you'd like). These players are typically less likely to bust or suffer season-ending injuries than top RBs.

You then pair them with a certain type of late-round running back. You're not looking for high-floor RBs who have a solid role, but rather for high-upside players. You want running backs who may not be on the top of their team's depth chart now, but who have a clear path to get there.

With that in mind, here are the best high-upside running back targets for zero RB drafts.

Zero RB Targets 2021 Fantasy Football

5. Damien Harris, New England Patriots

Damien Harris
Damien Harris could be a top zero RB target in 2021 fantasy football drafts. / Harry How/Getty Images

Here's a full list of current New England Patriots running backs who have ever averaged at least 5 yards per carry while seeing over 100 rush attempts in a season: Damien Harris. Harris was phenomenal in 2020 while the Patriots tried to work out what their offense would look like without Tom Brady, earning an overall grade of 90.3 from ProFootballFocus — well ahead of stablemate Sony Michel's 80.9. He also seemed to be earning the coaching staff's trust down the stretch, seeing his two highest snap counts of the season in Weeks 12 and 13 before getting hurt in Week 14. if he can carve out more usage in the passing game (he did catch 52 passes for 407 yards at Alabama, so the potential is there), Harris could prove to be a reliable weekly starter for fantasy managers.

4. Xavier Jones, Los Angels Rams

Xavier Jones
Xavier Jones' fantasy outlook makes him a strong zero RB target in 2021. / Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Sean McVay has already said that Xavier Jones is carving out a role for himself in the Los Angeles Rams' backfield, really boosting Jones' fantasy outlook. With Cam Akers out, Darrell Henderson is the main obstacle for Jones becoming a lead back. And McVay and the Rams have shown that they don't seem to love Henderson. Despite drafting him in the third round in 2019, they went ahead and spent a second on Akers last year. That's obviously still a bigger investment than they made in the undrafted Jones, but it does suggest that Henderson may not have be afforded a ton of wiggle room before possibly losing the RB1 job.

3. Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Javonte Williams
Javonte Williams is a top zero RB target in fantasy football in 2021. / Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Javonte Williams' fantasy outlook is really only being held back by the presence of Melvin Gordon. The Broncos drafted Williams after he averaged 7.3 yards per carry in his final collegiate season, showing their faith in him by trading up to select him at No. 35. Gordon did not play well in 2020, and it's clear he's not in the team's long-term plans heading into the final season of his contract. If they like what they see in Williams, Gordon could quickly become an afterthought in this backfield.

2. Michael Carter, New York Jets

Michael Carter
Michael Carter's fantasy football outlook makes him a top zero RB target. / Rich Schultz/Getty Images

It's hard to get too excited about the New York Jets' offense, but Michael Carter should not be getting so overlooked. His competition for the RB1 role isn't exactly daunting (Tevin Coleman and Lamical Perine), and even before he earns that role he will already likely be on the field for passing downs after turning in 656 yards on 82 receptions while playing alongside Javonte Williams at UNC. He also ran the ball incredibly well in college (6.6 yards per carry across four seasons), and he could become a true every-down producer. Even in the Jets' offense that's a role that brings serious fantasy football upside.

1. A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers

AJ Dillon
AJ Dillon is a top zero RB fantasy football target. / Stacy Revere/Getty Images

For as good as Aaron Jones is, the Green Bay Packers' coaching staff has never really seemed all-in on him. In 2020 he was coming off the best season of his career ad they still only had him on the field for 52% of the team's offensive snaps. Jamaal Williams is out of the way now, leaving A.J. Dillon as Jones' new complement. And considering they spent a second-round pick on Dillon last year, that's what they've been hoping he would be for over a year now. Considering nearly half the snaps in the Green Bay backfield could be up for grabs, Dillon could be in for a breakout season. And if Jones gets hurt, Dillon could legitimately finish as a top-10 fantasy RB with the volume that would be available.

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Jason Schandl is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Jason Schandl also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username Jaymun. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.