WRs

Draft Strategy: Zero Running Backs – R. Skolrud

by Ryan Skolrud

There has been a lot of discussion/arguments/name-calling through the years over what the best draft strategy is for building your fantasy team. Over my next few articles I want to dig into some of the draft strategies that are out there as well as the pros and cons of each strategy. I hope they provide some insight to help you with your drafts in the coming weeks!

Zero Running Back

The Zero RB strategy was made famous by Shawn Seigele in his article Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based Drafting, and using the strategy in high stakes fantasy tournaments. The basic premise behind the Zero RB strategy that RBs are more likely to lose time to injury and for longer periods of time than WRs. The approach is to grab highly targeted, high reception WRs early in your draft and look at grabbing undervalued RBs later in the draft. The types of RBs that you would target are players that people are writing off and falling down draft boards, players that are very involved in the passing game, and RBs that are behind guys with injury history or current injury issues.

As Ryan Melosi wrote in his Zero RB article last season for FantasyPros:

When a top wide receiver goes down, the targets he leaves on the field with him are likely to be spread out among the other pass-catching options. When a running back goes down, there’s often a clear-cut backup there waiting to take the reins, and frequently this running back can be found on the waiver wire.

While this draft approach has become popular, it is also highly disregarded as insane. Seigele, who authored the article mentioned above, understands this as his twitter handle is: @FF_contrarian. I wrote about the strategy a few years ago myself.

One thing that I will say about this strategy – you HAVE to be very active on the waiver wire. That is how players like James Conner (2018), Alvin Kamara (2017), Jordan Howard (2016), David Johnson (2015), Jeremy Hill and CJ Anderson (2014) became league winners. Most of these players were either not drafted or were drafted very late in the years listed and helped lead a lot of teams to victory.

The Zero RB strategy is the most viable when used in PPR leagues, as the reception points help increase the value in receiving backs like Tarik Cohen, James White, and in the past, guys like Danny Woodhead and Giovani Bernard. Without the reception point equalizer, the strategy is not nearly as viable.

To put the strategy into practice, you would draft enough WRs to fill not only your starting spots in your lineup, but (in many cases) also your flex spot(s). From there you would then fill your remaining roster with RBs, QB and TE. While some advocates of the strategy would say you don’t have to stop drafting WRs once you fill your starting and flex positions, in my opinion, once you fill your starting and flex positions, you only really need one, maybe two more WRs.

So if your league has 2 WR positions and 2 Flex positions, the Zero RB drafter would not take an RB until at least the 3rd round but probably not until closer to the 4th or 5th. Depending on how bad they want one of the top QBs or TEs, they may even pick one of the premium players from those positions before taking an RB.

I mentioned the main argument with this strategy in my previous article from 2015:

…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!

Some of the RBs that I would suggest targeting while using the Zero RB strategy would be Sony Michel, Tarik Cohen, Tevin Coleman, Austin Ekeler (although his draft stock is flying up with the Melvin Gordon holdout), Rashaad Penny, Latavius Murray, Jaylen Samuels, Devin Singletary and Justin Jackson.

Most times that I see this draft strategy executed is when the player has a late round pick and so would be getting a 1-2 punch of Julio Jones and Michael Thomas at WR – a pretty formidable combination. But if you have a pick at the beginning of the first round, you are not likely to pass on Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott (pre-holdout), or Alvin Kamara. In that case you could use the variant called the One RB strategy. Its the same as the Zero RB, however you still take that stud RB, and then fill up with WRs. Doing this will help keep your RBs a little more well rounded.

Now lets get into the pluses and minuses of using such a strategy.

Pros

Having a strong group of WRs that are high target, high reception guys builds a solid foundation of points for your team. If you are unable to get an emerging RB off of waivers, you have plenty of WRs that you can try to trade for RB help. Having RBs that you have not spent much draft capital on makes it easier to drop them for someone else if they are a bust. Having RBs that could step into larger roles as you near the fantasy playoffs can give you an edge.

Cons

Sticking rigidly to a specific strategy can prevent you from taking the best player on the board. Wide Receiver production tends to be easier to find on waivers than RB production. This is not a draft strategy for those who are not willing to make a lot of waiver-wire moves. The Zero RB strategy can be tougher to navigate and can be a “more risky” way to go about your draft.

Conclusion

There are many draft strategies out there. The Zero RB strategy is just one of many that I have seen people say that they are going to go with and stick to. Like all strategies, there are good and bad aspects of the Zero RB draft. Try it with some mock drafts in many different draft positions to see how you like your teams. You may come to realize that it can work in some draft positions better than others based on the value of players available at your pick!

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