Yays and Nays: Our Week 9 Fantasy Football Rankings and Examination of the Zero RB Strategy
Fantasy Football Quick Hits
- Week 9 Yays: Geno Smith (QB5), D’Onta Foreman (RB10), Terry McLaurin (WR7), Josh Palmer (WR17), Dallas Goedert (TE1)
- Week 9 Nays: Justin Fields (QB14), Leonard Fournette (RB21), A.J. Brown (WR18)
- Key Data Point: Terry McLaurin’s 186 receiving yards in the two weeks since Taylor Heinicke took over at quarterback are the eighth most in the NFL.
Halfway through the fantasy football regular season, it’s a good time to think back to draft day.
By now, we know how well we drafted and how well our sleepers have performed. Because of that, it’s also a good time to evaluate our draft strategies. Did our strategy give us the best chance to win? Did we even have a strategy? Are there any takeaways for how to draft better in the future?
In that vein, let’s discuss one of the most polarizing draft strategies, referred to as “Zero RB.”
Essentially, it means taking your first running back deep into the draft, well after you’ve stacked your wide receiver (and likely tight end) position. When you commit to a strategy like this, it means forgoing your chance at a player like Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler or Derrick Henry. If you do this, it means that after five rounds your roster will often look something like this: WR, TE, WR, WR, WR.
Why would you do this? Simple, really. As we established in Week 3, wide receivers score more points than running backs and they have both a higher floor and ceiling. The running back position is quite volatile, in part due to the physical nature of the position.
The other main advantage of Zero RB is it sets you up for an elite tight end. In today’s climate, that means one of Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews and there is no bigger advantage than having one of those two players as your No. 1 tight end.
So how would that manifest itself? Let’s say you had the fourth pick in a 10-team league. Using Fantasy Pros average draft position (ADP) entering the season, your first five picks could have looked something like this: Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, Mark Andrews, Terry McLaurin and Jaylen Waddle.
Or how about the 11th pick in a 12-team league? The top of your draft could have reasonably looked like this: Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, Tee Higgins, Terry McLaurin and Chris Godwin.
The point is this…with either of those foundations, your team would have been set up to have an advantage at wide receiver and tight end every week, with potential week-winners playing for you up and down the lineup.
Obviously, however, the nature of this type of strategy leaves fantasy managers weak at the running back position. But that is a disadvantage that can be somewhat mitigated through the draft because with such a strong core of wide receivers, you can afford to take multiple swings at high-upside running backs through the middle rounds.
To that end, here is the list of running backs that finished with an ADP of higher than 50 that are currently averaging more fantasy points per game than James Conner, who entered the season as RB15, being drafted in the third round: Breece Hall, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Antonio Gibson, Devin Singletary, Dameon Pierce, Miles Sanders, Kareem Hunt, Tony Pollard, Rashaad Penny, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ken Walker III, Jamaal Williams, Khalil Herbert, Eno Benjamin and Gus Edwards.
That’s 15 running backs! And the list doesn’t even include James Robinson – formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars – or Damien Harris, two players that have produced top-10 weekly finishes this year. It also doesn’t include the Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, whose ADP of 48 just missed our arbitrary cutoff.
And if you don’t care about averages and just care about total points…Jonathan Taylor – the star running back of the Indianapolis Colts who was being drafted No. 1 overall – is currently RB33 in PPR formats. Thirteen of the 15 running backs listed above have more total fantasy points than he does.
So, even though this exercise is being done in a crystal ball, with rose-colored glasses, you could have reasonably added Sanders, Stevenson and Pierce to your already excellent core of wide receivers. That would have all the makings of a championship squad.
However, even throughout the year, there are opportunities to pick up running backs that could contribute for just one week or multiple weeks, backs like Ronnie Rivers, Brian Robinson, Nyheim Hines and Darrell Henderson Jr. Running backs that can provide you with enough production to supplement your elite wide receiver room.
And one final note on those wide receivers: of the five with an ADP of 12th or better, four of them are in the top six at the position, and Davante Adams is ninth. Drafting wide receivers early, just like playing them in your Flex spots, gives your team a higher floor and ceiling.
As always, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 9 projections gathered from some of the top data-driven projections available using several of our AI-powered models. Refer back to our fantasy football rankings for any questionable waiver wire or lineup decisions.
Week 9 Yays
Note: We’re comparing our rankings to the expert consensus rankings (ECR) from FantasyPros. These rankings update throughout the week (We pulled these numbers from Thursday.). Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Geno Smith, QB (SEA) vs. ARI (ECR: 9, Our Rank: 5, Projected Points: 20.11)
Here’s the entire list of quarterbacks that have scored more fantasy points than Smith since the beginning of Week 3: Joe Burrow and the NFL’s two best at the position – Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. That’s it.
Smith has been a revelation for a Seattle Seahawks team that is fourth in the NFL in points scored per game (so has Kenneth Walker!!!). And this week, Smith faces an Arizona Cardinals defense that is allowing the second-most points per game.
These two teams squared off just three weeks ago in a game that Smith only registered 12.68 points. However, he did not account for a single touchdown – one of only two games this season Smith hasn’t scored multiple times.
Chances are, he’ll find the end zone this game and because of that, Smith is a top-five quarterback, according to our model. He’s projected to finish higher than his opposing number, Kyler Murray, and just ahead of two of the brightest young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa.
D’Onta Foreman, RB (CAR) vs. CIN (ECR: 16, Our Rank: 10, PP: 14.92)
It might have been slightly lost in what was arguably the craziest game of the year in the Carolina Panthers’ loss to Marcus Mariota and the Atlanta Falcons, but Foreman was incredible, tallying 118 rushing yards and three touchdowns on his way to a weekly finish as RB5.
Foreman has only recorded 15 carries in a game six times in his career. But in those six games, he has taken full advantage of the opportunity, averaging 109 rushing yards. With backfield mate Chuba Hubbard dealing with injury and Foreman being so effective in his opportunities, our model is projecting Foreman to receive 17 carries this week.
And he’s going to get those chances facing a Cincinnati Bengals defense that just got gashed on Monday night by Nick Chubb. He’s got a solid chance at returning low-end RB1 value, just ahead of running backs like Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones.
Terry McLaurin, WR (WSH) vs. MIN (ECR: 18, Our Rank: 7, PP: 17.00)
If you missed last week’s analysis highlighting why D.J. Moore and McLaurin made big vaults up our rankings, make sure you check it out.
Our model is expecting more of the same this week from McLaurin, whose 186 receiving yards in the two weeks since Taylor Heinicke took over at quarterback are the eighth most in the NFL. He is a huge piece of the Washington Commanders offense and will be reflected in our model’s rankings as such until something changes.
He is in the same tier of wide receiver this week as other offensive staples like DeAndre Hopkins.
Josh Palmer, WR (LAC) vs. ATL (ECR: 28, Our Rank: 17, PP: 14.48)
The Los Angeles Chargers receiving corps has been in a state of flux for a few weeks now and never more so than after the events of Week 7, with Mike Williams getting injured, Keenan Allen coming back but as a shell of himself with a hamstring injury, and Palmer missing the game due to a concussion.
With Williams out for multiple weeks and Allen not practicing, Palmer is in line to come back and be the main recipient in a passing offense that ranks first in the NFL in passing attempts per game. This, against a Falcons defense that has surrendered at least 296 passing yards in each of its last four games and is last in the NFL in points allowed.
Palmer had 12 targets in his last game. With fewer options for Justin Herbert, we’re projecting him to receive 8.8 targets this week.
He is firmly in the WR2 conversation.
Dallas Goedert, TE (PHI) vs. HOU (ECR: 4, Our Rank: 1, PP: 19.16)
Goedert isn’t necessarily a Yay because we’re much higher on him than consensus. No, instead, he’s here because for the first time all season, neither Travis Kelce nor Mark Andrews are our highest projected tight end for the week.
That’s right, it’s Goedert that tops our model’s rankings. Why? It’s counter-intuitive really, as you’ll find out a little bit later in the A.J. Brown section. But the Houston Texans’ rush defense is atrocious, and the Philadelphia Eagles rank sixth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (149.6). However, a lot of Philly’s rushing offense comes in the form of a run-pass option and Goedert is almost always a read in those scenarios, which is essentially how often the quarterback is considering throwing to a player.
How does that translate to real life? Goedert’s three best games this season by total receiving yards have come in three of the Eagles’ four highest overall rushing yardage games. So even if the Eagles run all over the Texans as our model is expecting, Goedert will remain an essential part of the Eagles’ fewer passing opportunities.
In the game that is sure to be the main event viewing for all Philadelphians and Houstonians tonight, Goedert is the passing weapon to keep an eye on.
Week 9 Nays
Justin Fields, QB (CHI) vs. MIA (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 14, PP: 15.98)
Speaking of bright young quarterbacks, how about what Fields has quietly put together for the Chicago Bears the last few weeks, culminating in an excellent performance against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys last weekend. Fields has vaulted to QB6 since Week 4 and is now second in the NFL among quarterbacks in rushing yards after Chicago implemented some Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson-type plays in recent weeks.
However, running may be a little more difficult this week for both Fields and the running back tandem of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. The Miami Dolphins allow the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game and only the Tennessee Titans allow a lower percentage of carries to gain 4 or more yards. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks complete 69.2% of their passes against the Dolphins – the second-worst mark in the NFL behind only the lowly Detroit Lions.
Fields has yet to throw for more than 208 yards in a game this season. With the Dolphins – and new addition Bradley Chubb – designed to limit the rushing attack, our projections are slightly lower on Fields than the industry this week.
Instead of fighting for a top-10 mark, our rankings have him closer to the mid-QB2 tier, along with quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.
Leonard Fournette, RB (TB) vs. LAR (ECR: 11, Our Rank: 21, PP: 10.87)
Speaking of bright young quarterbacks…well, maybe that isn’t the best description of the quarterback matchup we’re getting in this late afternoon game. Maybe it’s best described as a game between two preseason Super Bowl contenders that are desperate for a win.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, getting a win would be made much easier if they had any semblance of a run game. Fournette has not surpassed 65 rushing yards since Week 1, meaning his fantasy output has been reliant on receptions. Well, Fournette has three or fewer receptions in four games this season and the Los Angeles Rams have only allowed six receptions to running backs not named McCaffrey since Week 1.
Because this game is likely to be a lower-scoring game, Fournette might not have many scoring chances. However, he is RB8 on the year, so if you have him, you’re likely starting him. But your expectations should be tempered as he’s in a lower tier of running back with players like D’Andre Swift.
A.J. Brown, WR (PHI) vs. HOU (ECR: 8, Our Rank: 18, PP: 13.60)
If you want to know just how bad the Texans rush defense is, it can be explained in one miserable stat. Houston lost a game last weekend to the Tennessee Titans despite Malik Willis, Ryan Tannehill’s backup, attempting a total of 10 passes. Ten!!! For a whopping 55 passing yards.
Instead, they allowed 314 rushing yards on 45 carries. And now, they welcome a team that attempts the second most rushes per game. And oh, by the way, that team is undefeated and the Texans have the worst record in the AFC.
This is not an indictment, at all, on Brown, who has been a revelation for the Eagles. Instead, our model is just predicting that he won’t have his normal allotment of opportunities, making him a WR2 more than a surefire WR1.