After covering the Zero RB strategy in my last article, I’m excited to tackle Zero WR (or Robust RB or RBX5) strategy with another mock analysis. I’ll cover this topic similarly to my Zero RB article with a short summary of the strategy and its benefits and then focus on what this strategy looks like in draft setting.
Overview of Zero WR Strategy
This strategy turns Zero RB on its head and advises that fantasy players draft all running backs in the first 4-5 rounds and completely ignore the wide receiver position until that time. Thanks in part to the increase in players using the Zero RB strategy, Zero WR capitalizes on the running back values that fall past their ADP and hopes to find quality, upside WRs in the later rounds. At first glance, this strategy scares me. I fall squarely in the camp that WRs historically put up higher and more consistent fantasy point totals than the top running backs with similar ADP, so to say I was skeptical is an understatement. However, players can’t ignore the culture of the fantasy community and their own leagues when considering draft strategy, so I kept an open mind. Also, passing on insane value at RB just to rigidly stick to one strategy is going to bite you in the butt every time. Ouch.
Let’s take a look at some of the upsides of this strategy and then see if my mock drafts can convince me in the validity of Zero WR.
Main Upsides of Zero WR
- The running back position is a fragile one where anything can happen and most likely at least a few big impact players will surface that we never anticipated. Usually, this is due to injury or a missed opportunity. Since the position itself is shallow, stocking up on elite RBs increases your likelihood of still having 2-3 solid RBs even if injury or busts occur. This will leave your league mates with slim pickins’ for their RBs, while you have your RB1,2, and flex (and 2 bench spots) ready to roll.
- There is much more depth in the WR position compared to RB. Enough potentially solid WRs are available late round and some aren’t even being drafted in some leagues (e.g. Hogan, Ellington, Agholor).
- Zig while others zag. Many of your league mates may be going Zero RB and that means guys like Charles, Miller, Freeman, Bell, McCoy, and Ingram are yours for the taking. And in the 2nd round, no less. Talk about value!
- Running backs that get the lions’ share of carries (the “bell cow” as we like to call it) are few and far between these days. Long gone are the days of knowing your RB1 will stay there, vacuuming up all the touches on your way to fantasy glory. Teams now employ running-back-by-committees (RBBCs) and rarely use (or abuse) three-down backs. There is typically a time-share between RBs or one is the 1-2 down back while the other is a 3rd down back heavily involved in the passing game.
I don’t know if it is the taste of Zero RB on my tongue, but even as I grab top guys like Gurley, McCoy, Martin, I have this sick feeling in my stomach passing up Allen Robinson, OBJ, and Keenan Allen (I heart him). There are definitely question marks in the back of my mind about Gurley producing at last season’s caliber (Matt Harmon had a great piece on this), McCoy’s health and Martin’s previous slump. Just seems risky to me. But, alas, I continue my journey down RB lane. [Smacks face] Zero WR. Remember.
A long wait occurs after round 5, so I knew the top TEs were going to go soon, and I don’t care (I’m feisty, I know, but I wait on TE). I like the upside of Lewis even though trusting a NE running back makes me cringe a little inside. Sixth round and Foster is there, looking tempting and he’s flirting with me. I take him. Haha. Just kidding. That would be six RBs in a row and I’m not about to pass on John Brown! I should probably go Sanders because of his high floor, but I love the upside Brown and end up passing on Sanders. I’ve picked both interchangeably in my mocks, so don’t split hairs here.
I risk that Foster might be there in 7, but when I get there and he is, I can’t pull the trigger. With 5 RBs locked up, Lockett is a must and his upside is off the charts. Grabbing Marvin Jones, I start to feel better about my WR corp and then, holy crap, Foster in the 9th! Don’t get used to seeing that. News out of Miami naming Ajayi the starter looks like took its toll on Foster’s ADP, but I don’t expect this to last.
Vincent Jackson represents a great late-round player with a high floor if he can stay healthy. With two roster spots to go (besides DST and K), I could go handcuffs/potential RBs that could capitalize on opportunity but since I feel solid about my first 5 and then added Foster, I swing for the fences and take Coates and Funchess. This felt good, but I know some would focus on getting their handcuffs and while there is no shame in that game, I think its one downside of using this type of strategy.
Heading into this mock as PPR changes my mindset somewhat, in that I want to capitalize on RBs that are involved in the receiving game. I’m at a disadvantage passing on elite WRs who get massive amounts of targets. Strong advisory: consider the cost of Zero WR strategy in PPR. Due to this, I deviate from the 5 RB plan and go with WR at 5 & 6 so I can build a base for my WR corp in Decker and Lockett. Passing on Duke in the 6th in PPR hurts and I can see where a drafter might snag him here instead. However, Foster falls into the 7th and due to his elite receiving skills and projected involvement in Miami, I take him and smile (since I never usually get to, and now I took him in 2/3 mock drafts!).
Since there’s a high likelihood Torrey Smith will drop to round 10, I zag where I typically zig and snag Eli Manning in the 9th, who I think is going to have a top year. It is a ridiculous value if he does as well as I anticipate and I’m confident in my ability to find a TE late and that T Smith will continue to drop for no reason. I typically wait on QB, but want to show readers the difference in what might fall to me if I skip WR and TE here. I was right, snag Torrey Smith in the 10th and feel like an all-star. I can’t believe Sims is still there and he makes it difficult for me, but with only 2 WRs at this point, I need to get more depth at the position while I can.
I go TE in the 11th and snag Dwayne Allen for the first time in a mock draft. Fleener moving to the Saints gives Allen an opportunity to take his fair share of Fleener’s 84 targets. In addition, Andre Johnson’s 76 targets are up for grabs, with Moncrief likely to snag some of those as well. Luck threw to his TEs 22% of the time in 2014 (full 16 games) and the Colts overall targeted Allen/Fleener 19% of the time. Compare this with their top target, TY Hilton, who received 22% and 20% of targets in 2014 and 2015, respectively. That is enough evidence for me to believe Allen could have a major opportunity this season, especially in PPR.
In 11th, I’m looking for WRs and want to hammer the position this round and next, since I’m eyeing Coates for my 13th pick. The benefit of Zero WR shines through here, as I’m confident in my squad and now look to capitalize on upside WRs. Snead is fighting off Michael Thomas for WR2 in New Orleans, but news out of camp is strong and his chemistry with Brees convinces me to snatch him and hopes he can stave off the rookie during season. I believe Coates will fall to me in 12, he does, and then I go for a potential WR1 in round 13 with Diggs, which is absurd. Sacrificing the chance of missing out on Booker, who I was targeting. I have 5 RBs that I’m confident in though, so I take Diggs. Booker is my last bench spot and I sigh a little since he is the “handcuff” to one of my elite backs.
Something to note: this strategy does make me feel much more nervous while drafting and takes some gambling on who will fall and when. Surprisingly enough, I end up really liking this team and feel pretty well rounded by the end.
The first pick is difficult for me only because of AJ Green, who I love this season. Refocusing, I snag Charles at 11 and feel pretty damn good about it. This is a great draft position for the Zero WR strategy because you get two picks in close succession. Elite RBs are falling to the end of the first/beginning of 2nd round due to Zero RB (many taking WRs in first rounds), so you can get a great RB like Bell at the turn. Yes, he may be suspended. Yes, I believe he is the best RB in fantasy, so he’s my #2 pick. If he wins the appeal, this is insane value. This draft position also allows you not to feel pressure to pass on Brown, Juli, and OBJ…which I would never do in any draft.
The long waits represent the downside of this draft position, but snagging Anderson and Hill in 3 & 4 give me a good RB foundation. Take a look at the available WRs here (Watkins, Cobb, Maclin, Decker) and realize the sacrifice since these 4 WRs are rock solid. Are you that confident with Anderson? Think Booker steals carries? What about Hill? How big of a role for Geo? Just saying, it is good to weigh these as you decide your approach.
Similar to the position 3 draft, I go RB in the 5th as well to give you a comparison. So, position 3 gave us Gurley, Martin, McCoy, Jones, and Lewis and position 11 Charles, Bell, Anderson, Hill, and Jones. I feel better about this set since less question marks for me. There are question marks for all these backs though, so having 5 should take care of that position for a while and I look forward to hammering the WR position in round 6.
We discussed these WR choices on the TFA podcast Episode 56 , so I stay true to my decision and take Sanders, but Hurns and John Brown also solid choices. The long wait kills many WRs and TEs (beware of your long waits during draft and plan accordingly) and I take D Jax, crossing my fingers that he plays 16 games and maximizes on his talent.
I’ve realized I can be a more conservative player than some and am trying to balance consistency with upside with my Marvin Jones pick. White and Shepard have great upside, but I think Jones is the WR to watch in Detroit this season.One of the last comments I will make here is to pay attention to where you want to draft QB/TE. I wait, but as you can see, they fly off the board in the long waits at position 11.
Snagging my TE and upside Travis Benjamin in 9 and 10 feels like I’m rounding out the team, with only my QB and some bench depth left to fill. I grab Ware to handcuff Charles, which is one downside to spending so much draft capital on early RBs–the fear they will go down. Without that fear, I probably would’ve grabbed Funchess or Rishard Matthews for upside. Mathews goes but I still get Funchess and spend my last bench spot on Sanu, since he is WR2 and I think Ryan bounces back this season with him and Julio.
Final Advice about using Zero-WR strategy
Draft position is key in this strategy. Position 4 and later positions work best, from what I’ve experienced. If you’re the player that passes on Antonio Brown, OBJ, or Julio with your first pick in order to take a running back…I would advise otherwise. Late round draft position represents the ideal for Zero WR, since you don’t have to pass on the very elite WRs and great RBs are falling to the end of the first and beginning of the second. Positions 10-12 would strongly challenge me regarding strategy and it comes down to your league and who goes in those initial picks. Stick with value and be smart. In the end, I feel more confident especially in a PPR league to get my top WRs first, but I’m not as distasteful with these final rosters as I thought I would be. At the very least, these mocks shows me not to be rigid and to capitalize on what falls to you (which should be everyone’s first draft rule besides preparation/research). With either strategy, know who you are targeting and possibly have comparable tiers (with comparable RBs/WRs in each tier) with you to help you make RB vs WR decisions in the moment. Happy drafting!
As always, please stay on thefantasyauthority.com and take a look around! Give my other article on the Zero RB strategy a read as well! Follow me on Twitter @TheOnlyJenSmith for fantasy advice and discussion.