Zero running back is a popular phrase with a constant debate over the exact definition. It does not mean you don’t draft any running backs; it doesn't mean you draft all other positions first; it means you are targeting receivers and tight ends early and running backs later.

A new term is modified zero running back, which means you take a running back in the first two rounds as your workhorse back and don’t look in that direction again. This method has a higher historical win rate than drafting multiple early running backs, loading up on a bell cow or two and concentrating other positions gives you a higher win rate on average since 2015:

The issue with running backs is they get hurt, they are often reliant on gamescript or team success, and they fall off a cliff. Every year we all scramble to our waiver wire to get the next lead back due to injury. Obviously in best ball you can’t run to the waiver wire, so if your late-round guys get thrown into bigger roles, you have a massive advantage over other teams. When looking at running backs I want to target, I want guys with a role no matter what, with either pass-catching or touchdown upside, and with the knowledge that if one guy goes out he can become a workhorse back.

Here are a few of my favorites for 2021. All players on this list have an ADP of 72 or later (Round 7), per our Underdog ADP tool on FTN Fantasy

Raheem Mostert — Best Ball Target

Underdog ADP 78.4

While everyone loves Trey Sermon, the third-round rookie out of Ohio State who has excelled in zone schemes his entire career, he is not worth drafting over the presumptive starter Mostert. Currently Sermon is going four spots ahead of Mostert as the hype continues to build, but give me Mostert at the slightly cheaper price tag. Mostert has elite speed and averaged 5.6 yards per touch in 2020, the eighth most of any running back, and that was during an injury-plagued season. When he was healthy in 2019, he averaged more true yards per carry than any other running back in football, averaged a ridiculous 6.3 yards per touch and had the highest breakaway run rate in all of football. While Sermon is a good fit in this scheme, he is going to have to do a lot to take Mostert off the field, but Mostert is a safe bet for double-digit touches on a team with a projected win total of 10.5 and one of the league's best run-blocking offensive lines. With Jeffery Wilson having a torn meniscus, worst-case scenario for Mostert is a committee gig with big-play ability, while the best case is 15-plus touches on a run-dominant team. That is the perfect zero-RB profile. 

Target Gus Edwards in Best Ball

Underdog ADP 109

The Ravens just signed Gus Edwards two a two-year, $10 million extension, making him among the top-paid running backs in football. What does this mean? Well, he isn't going anywhere. While J.K. Dobbins is an explosive runner and has second-round draft capital, Edwards is going to be a major part of this offense, especially inside the 5-yard line where he out-touched Dobbins last year. While it is true that Edwards has the pass-catching upside of a doorknob, the Ravens have the rushing volume to somewhat offset it. They ran the ball 34.7 times per game, the most in football, and Edwards was top eight in breakaway run rate and yards per carry. He scored 8 or more fantasy points in 50% of his games last year, so there is enough weekly floor there for him to let your studs do their thing and if anything were to happen to Dobbins, Edwards could be a league winner.

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Michael Carter is a Best Ball Value

Underdog ADP 89

Derek Brown did a fantastic job talking about the Jets backfield — if it’s not Carter, then who is it? While yes, fantasy players have been wrong to assume a player gets the starting gig as a rookie, especially a fourth-round pick, after Carter the Jets have the most lackluster backfield in the NFL. The Jets spent the offseason retooling the offense, losing Adam Gase and Sam Darnold, grabbing Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore and Carter in the draft and signing Corey Davis and Keelan Cole to the offense. Carter is a hot name, climbing all the way from 132 overall to now being the 89th player off the board on average. I think this continues to climb and he finishes closer to a sixth-round pick. At that point I will stop buying, but this is not the top. Carter is an incredible quick, explosive player who is talented catching the ball out of the backfield. The Jets draft room was ecstatic when he was still on the board — head coach Robert Saleh said, "We go through and just watched the third round unfold and we're just looking at Michael Carter fall and we're like, 'Holy cow, he might get to us.' So we went to bed (Saturday) night as excited as heck because Michael Carter's sitting there." Running for over 1,200 yards and averaging 8 yards per carry at North Carolina in 2020, if Carter wins this job he will significantly outperform his ADP.

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