If you haven’t heard of the Zero RB strategy, you must be new to the fantasy football game this year (welcome!). First introduced by Shawn Siegle of RotoViz, the draft strategy swept through fantasy football the past 2-3 years, in the face of many top RBs either busting or getting injured, particularly in 2015. It is a popular strategy due to capitalizing on contrarian play (zigging when others zag), less risk, and the NFL becoming much more pass-heavy and full of RBBCs (running back by committees). Recently, debates and counteracting strategies (Zero WR, which I’m covering in my next article) surfaced since if MOST people are using it, it loses the contrarian benefit. Hence, if most league mates are using this same strategy, you will be fighting for the same players and most likely no longer obtain receivers at a value.
There have been plenty of articles around about Zero RB, so I’m going to try to sum it up and then do something a little different by showing you my mocks using this strategy at different draft positions (#3, 7, and 11). This way, you can see this strategy in action, see the players that fall to you and final roster construction, and then decide if this might be your way to fantasy victory come draft day. I have both standard and PPR versions to show some of the variation.
Overview of Zero RB Strategy
Basically, drafters aim to snag at least 4 top WRs (if not more) in the first six rounds of their draft, completely ignoring the running back position until rounds 5-6 or later. Then, drafters target the running back position, typically settling for backs in the 15-30 rankings for RB1 and RB2. Also, some use one of their picks in these early rounds on TE, but I wouldn’t advise taking a TE this early unless you get one in the top tier (Gronk, Olsen, Reed). Honestly, as you will see, I would advise against going TE early in general as there are wide receivers with much better value usually and you can get a late round TE or stream.
Zero RB isn’t a strategy for the weary, as you watch elite running backs like Todd Gurley, Lamar Miller, Jamaal Charles, Zeke, Bell (the list goes on) go to other fantasy players while you stock up on high-end receivers. Important to note, owners using this strategy must realize that working the waiver wire during season is integral to success. Waiting on RB means that you need to find a starter hidden on the depth chart behind a stud or discover a player with breakout potential since you’re relying on middle to late round running backs as starters. If you find yourself without this willingness to work the wire, you should perhaps consider another strategy or a variation.
In recent years, some drafters wasted prime draft capital on highly ranked running backs, but were disappointed when these players did not end up meeting expectations. For example, Adrian Peterson was the only top-10 RB in PPR leagues to actually finish the 2015 season ranked top-10 at the position. Zero RB holds more weight in PPR leagues and more wide receivers finish in the top 20 fantasy points consistently (15 WRs, 5 RBs in 2015; 12 WRs, 8 RBs in 2014) in this format, compared to standard leagues. It should also be said that 2015 could end up an outlier, with top-ranked running backs resurging and proving us wrong about their bust potential and injury risk in 2016. Your strategy is yours to choose, and all have their downsides.
Main upsides of Zero RB
- Typical rosters allow you to start 2-3 WRs and one flex, giving you plenty of options if you go WR for the first four rounds and stock up on top-20 receivers. In many leagues, you can start more WRs than RBs, so this is a huge advantage as your WR3 and 4 will be a higher caliber than your league mates’. In most leagues, you can only start two running backs (and a flex).
- Less durability issues occur with wide receivers compared to running backs, reducing your risk of an injury derailing your entire fantasy season. Plus, injuries or busts at RB will most likely occur on your opponent’s roster (since you waited), so their loss is your gain. In contrast, you stocked up on RB fliers and those with starter potential in your later rounds.
- Players who draft elite RBs first are most likely always worried that the guy they spent valuable draft capital on will go down, so they spend later round picks on handcuffs and others to plug in just “in case”, and lose sight of the players with the most upside. Since you’ll feel confident in your early choices, you can take these risks and “swing for the fences” (Gordon anyone?). You will also be targeting late RBs, guys on RBBCs who might get an opportunity, and not wasting picks due to desperation.
- You will most likely have a better flex option than those with more RBs.
Since this piece is already going to be a little lengthy due to covering both standard and PPR for different draft positions (see tables), I’m focusing more on showing you what will be available to you and how this looks in drafts. This way, you can determine which direction you would like to go in your draft at every round and if your final roster will be to your liking if using this strategy. My aim is not to go extensively into why I chose any one player over another (tweet me at @ff_female920 and I will!) since you can see the available guys and figure out which one you would’ve chosen. Don’t see my choice as the “only” or “best” choice, but one of many paths you could take given the options. For more in-depth description of this strategy, check out our podcast on the subject here with special guest John Evans. Comments follow each table regarding the strategy.
An early draft position can be a blessing and a curse, since long waits (18 picks) occur in between half of your picks. If you plan for these and use FantasyPros “pick predictor” to help, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a challenge.
Jones is a no-brainer here and it is even at 10 RBs and 10 WRs off the board as I go into my 2nd pick. As you can see, the long wait after pick 1 in this position will be the most painful, as you see all top 10 RBs leave the board. Hang in there. I snag Allen and Cooks before my long wait and am not too bothered with passing on Anderson, Lacy, and Rawls since question marks exist with all three. It would be at your 2nd and 3rd pick that you could grab a top tier TE, after that, I would wait. After the long wait, I take my fourth WR in Benjamin and only have to wait a few picks before I begin attacking the RB position.
I know the long wait is coming, so I grab a guy that I know will get 200+ touches in Jeremy Hill over PPR darling Lewis and tempting WRs in John Brown and Jarvis Landry. Also, note that the top 5-6 QBs gone after rounds 5-6 so if you’re an early QB person, there’s your chance. Duke Johnson is my 6th pick, though I would feel better if PPR and we recently debated Duke vs Gio during our Draft or Pass feature on the pod here . Lockett represents a painful passing, but I’m more conservative and like to go RB-RB in 5th and 6th rounds since I don’t like the later RBs to be relied upon as my RB2 (e.g. Abdullah, Ivory, Yeldon are ugly/risky RB2 options for me).
I feel great about snagging Foster in the 7th (though his ADP may continue to rise, at which time, I will stop drafting him), but I sacrifice at QB since I was eyeing Rivers. Your TE and QB selection are decisions where you may choose a different route than me as I wait on both to capitalize on upside RBs and WRs instead. You can see in the table where you may be drafting/passing and if you might go a different direction. Sims in the ninth is the last pick I will comment on, as he is sneaky RB play and worth gambling on my TE target (Ebron) falling one more round, which he did. Shepard was hard to pass on, but here is an example of when my confidence about my first 4 WRs helped me make a different decision and I went with the upside and guaranteed touches of Sims (plus RB gets really slim after this).
Wait time is much more evenly distributed with a middle draft pick (12/10 pick waits). PPR changes my approach for RB picks slightly, as I want a guy that is more involved in the passing game typically and you can see this change in my first RB pick of Gio Bernard. I went this route due to Gio’s PPR upside (finished top 20 the last 2 seasons) and I think he will be even more involved in passing game in 2016. Rewinding for a second, let me say that the first two picks in position #7 may be the most difficult here, as the top RBs are still on the board the first two rounds. Then, the next challenge comes when guys like Floyd, Hurns, J Brown, and Sanders are there in 5-6. Keep your strategy in mind and at least get one RB there. I know some that would go for the WR again here, but just know that means your RBs could get real ugly, real fast while there is great WR depth to be had later. Foster falls to the 9th here, which most likely won’t ever happen again. Feeling strong about my first 4 RBs and 4WRs, I feel confident snagging high upside guys like Coates and Matthews while landing a quality McKinnon who has handcuff and stand-alone value. Final roster shows my strategy, ending with 7 WRs and 5 RBs.
I changed it up a bit here to show you how it might look to go WR-WR-WR, but then attack the RB position a little earlier. This isn’t the typical Zero RB approach, but I wanted to show a variation and let you see the differences. This is the draft position where you may want to be flexible depending on who falls to you at the turn. Charles, Bell, and Ingram all fell to the end of 1st/beginning of second and that would be a pretty awesome 1-2 punch at RB. However, this article is Zero RB, so let’s veer back. Green (he will be a monster), Jordy, and Watkins round out my WRs with the long wait happening before my 3rd pick. I go for a guy with a little more upside (and a little more injury risk) since I know I’m not going WR for my 4th pick.
I know I can snag 2 RBs quick with my 4-5th picks, so I go with Murray and Gordon. I pass on Lockett twice while gritting my teeth to get my RB3 and QB (I went earlier than usual at QB this time to snag Rivers, who I think will do great this season), and surprisingly I get Lockett in the 8th anyway. I’m able to snag Sims, Prosise, and Smallwood as my potential RB breakouts or ones that could capitalize on injury. I have the freedom to go with potential upside of Travis Benjamin and Rishard Matthews because I feel confident in my top 4 WRs and can absorb this risk. My roster ends up different with 6 WRs and 6 RBs. I’d be a little weary of going this direction because I was lucky that a quality WR like Lockett fell so far and I feel a little less confident in my bench depth.
Final Advice about Using Zero RB
When asked about their draft strategy, many say: go best player available. In my recent twitter poll of 150 followers, 54% cited BPA as their strategy and 32% Zero RB (minimal for Zero WR). I agree with “best player available”, but this is most likely a given for any drafter because they feel their strategy will get them BPA. For example, I’m confident that going WR-WR-WR-WR (and maybe further) is me taking the BPA because I believe that the elite RBs will most likely not perform to their ADP this season, while I’m confident in my 4 top end WRs in the beginning rounds. You might not feel this way. Also, you should always keep in mind to be flexible in your strategy and not too rigid. I would say that if you are at the tail end of your draft order (9-12), consider going RB-RB at the turn and having 2 elite values at RB (Milller, Bell, Charles might fall). There will still be WR depth in the later rounds, but you could be set at RB and get great value if most league mates are going WR-WR in the first two rounds. Now, this isn’t necessarily what I would do; however, I’m going to mock the crap out of these strategies and decide which teams I think will be winners. I suggest you do the same. If you do your homework, draft day is a breeze. It’s fun. The only variables left are ones you can’t control like who your league mates pick and when and injuries/missed opportunities during season. You’re never going to be able to predict these things, so, take a leap and trust your gut.
For more content regarding late round RB targets for Zero RB strategy, read TFA’s Anthony Knox’s piece here.