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Zero Running Back Strategy Pt. 1: Intro & Theory

by Ryan Skolrud

There has been a growing trend in fantasy football drafts over the last couple years. For decades (while the NFL was still a majority running league), the common strategy was to draft running backs in your first two and even, sometimes, three rounds. That strategy can still be effective in standard scoring leagues that are not PPR or have extra points for 40+ yard plays/TDs, big yardage games, etc. Here at SkullKing Football, we actually give away a FREE standard draft strategy that is based off the old school strategy of two running backs. However, the NFL and fantasy football leagues alike are becoming more and more receiver friendly.

Many leagues are turning into PPR (point per reception) leagues, emphasizing the WR and TE positions (there are even TE Premium leagues where the TE receives 1.5 points per reception). Don’t get me wrong, running backs still hold a TON of value. There are only a few, proven 3 down running backs in the NFL anymore. These RBs are like fantasy football gold and everyone tries to get a hold of them on draft day. These include Le’Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Eddie Lacy, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, Arian Foster, and Adrian Peterson. This year, Justin Forsett probably joins this list, making a total of 10 RBs. Out of 32 teams. That is it. Most teams are moving to a two running back approach; one back on 1st and 2nd down to pound the ball between the tackles and the second back to pass block and catch balls out of the backfield on passing downs. For example, in Cincinnati, the Bengals run Jeremy Hill like a bowling ball through the tackles and use Giovani Bernard as a RB in passing situations.

PPR leagues elevate the value of “3rd down” RBs since they are mostly used for pass blocking, screen plays, and dump off passes in the flats. There is a lot of value in passing down backs that catch the ball well out of the backfield.

In 2013, Danny Woodhead of the Chargers was the #13 scoring RB in PPR leagues. He finished with only 429 rush yards and 2 TDs on the ground. However, he was 2nd in RB receptions with 76 (Pierre Thomas – 77), 2nd in RB receiving yards with 605 (Jamaal Charles – 693), and 2nd in RB receiving TDs with 6 (Charles – 7). His overall stats did not put him in the Elite RB1 category, but at minimum a borderline RB1-2 for PPR purposes depending on the week.

Now last year in 2014, the highest PPR/3rd down back, Giovani Bernard, was the #16 RB overall in PPR. However, he also missed 3 games with an injury – the same injury that catapulted Jeremy Hill, who had two 100+ yd run games of those three, is ranked #11 overall on Yahoo, and is SkullKing Football’s #10 RB). Those three games that Gio missed, simply scoring his average weekly points, would have put him in the top 10 PPR RBs.

The reason I bring up these two players is because neither player was in top 30 at the beginning of the year. Woodhead was an undrafted waiver-wire guy while Gio was the 16th ranked RB (which is where he finished but only because of injury). The goal of the Zero Running Back Draft Strategy is to draft the best WRs and TEs you can and find RB value later in the draft. This is the part where most detractors are going to call you crazy for even suggesting or thinking about this strategy. Why risk drafting a bunch of rookies and unproven guys instead of the sure-fire, lock-down RBs? The WR pool is so deep you do not need to draft WRs with your first 3-5 picks!

The wide receiver pool is VERY deep. There are a lot of very good WRs that can be big time players and put up a lot of yards. However, there are only a few ELITE #1 WRs in the league that are practically match-up proof: Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson. There can be arguments made for other WRs, but these six have proven themselves over and over again. They were among the highest targeted players last year (barring a couple of injuries to Calvin). And with the extra points for receptions, they will score the same amount of points as the top RBs. With the amount of guys (even in PPR) trying to take RBs in the first couple rounds, you could snag two of these players! Plus, there are other phenomenal WRs that you can take in the following rounds to fill out your WR corps.

The argument that the RB pool is not very deep and that you cannot find value later in the draft is a bunch of malarkey. The truth is, there are only a few players that are unanimously considered top RBs. Those were listed above. Everyone covets the RB1s. And yet, the #8, #10, and #11 RBs in PPR last year went largely UNDRAFTED.

At the beginning of every season in the TV show The League, the guys are always fighting tooth and nail for that #1 overall pick because it means they are going to have an awesome RB. Personally, I will take three awesome WRs and a couple of pretty good RBs who could have career years. Besides, you could always trade one of your stellar WRs for a better RB later in the season.

In later articles I will go over the best ways to implement this strategy, as well as my players to target, and players to avoid.

 

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