27 Jul Zero RB Strategy for 2016 and Beyond
The false sense of security one gets by drafting RBs early.
Most leagues are filled with fantasy owners that try to acquire two RBs in the first four rounds. These owners feel they have an early lead, so to speak, when they draft two or three elite rushers, but all they really have is a false sense of security at football’s most fragile position. Then there’s the fact that many drafters are aware of the risks involved at the RB position and draft handcuffs. And if they don’t draft handcuffs, they at least acknowledge the need for more viable options behind these studs later in the draft. One way or another, they end up spending the rest of their draft protecting their perceived lead at RB through fear.
Meanwhile, sharp drafters are subtly overtaking the RB hoarders by loading up on assets that shore up their weaknesses without diminishing their strengths. Drafting RBs early is the comfortable and conventional approach in many of your home leagues, but that doesn’t mean it’s a winning strategy.
What does zero RB mean?
I have been using this strategy for a couple of years now. But it really is a quite simple strategy and one that is simply a contrarian way to draft if your league typically goes RB-heavy in the early rounds. It allows you to take advantage of overzealous RB drafters by stockpiling high-upside WRs while setting your team up to improve while your competitors’ teams decline as the season wears on.
This strategy works particularly well in Point Per Reception (PPR) leagues, but can also be very effective in non-PPR. Not only are WRs safer than RBs, but by eschewing RBs in the early rounds to draft WRs, you’re positioning your team to be overwhelmingly strong at fantasy’s highest-scoring position; a position which often requires you to fill the most roster slots. Excluding QB, nine WRs and just one RB finished top-10 overall in PPR leagues in 2015. Even in standard leagues, WR still had the edge, six to four. The reality is that no matter how positive we are about our RB rankings in June, league-winning RBs are rarely who we think they are going to be. Devonta Freeman wasn’t even the first back drafted from Atlanta last year. Instead, Freeman was an 11th- or 12th-round pick that ended up being fantasy’s number-one player in 2015. Freeman was a lottery ticket at best, but one that many Zero RB drafters fell into after loading up at WR early. The only RB who was ranked in the top-10 to finish in the top-10 at the position come seasons end in 2015 was none other than Adrian Peterson.
What types of RBs to target in zero RB theory.
It is no secret that the NFL is turning into more of a passing league. You probably know that rushing is not as efficient as passing on a pure per-attempt basis. Meaning, a passing play averages more yardage than a rushing play. This doesn’t mean running the ball is useless; it is imperative in real football. However, gaining smaller chunks of yardage at a time is not efficient in fantasy football, either.
Targeting RBs who catch a lot of passes is ideal. With spread offenses becoming more and more common, a RB who can catch passes out of the backfield and make plays in space is becoming more and more valuable every year. Backs like Danny Woodhead, Theo Roddick, and Dion Lewis that can line up all over the place give teams in today’s NFL a huge advantage. Teams love to employ spread offenses, but rarely put five WRs on the field; when they go with empty backfield, it’s often that a RB will line up out wide. It’s no surprise that Woodhead, Riddick, and Sims all went overlooked in drafts but all finished as top-20 PPR RBs.
Beyond pass-catching skills, there are a few other reasons RBs going in the middle-to-late rounds will be undervalued. Since you’re not investing a lot of draft capital in these RBs, any RB slated to see significant volume should be considered. There is almost always a breaking point where they become values, regardless of what you think of their talent.
It might be obvious, but one of the biggest components to being successful when using Zero RB is working the waiver wire tirelessly during the season. Waiting on RB can be ultimately end up as an ineffective endeavor if you fail at this task. You still have to be able to uncover a starter at some point due to an injury or breakout performance, and you can’t always count on your middle- and late-round draft shots at RB to hit.
If you find yourself in the fourth round and guys like Dion Lewis or C.J Anderson are still available, then you could go ahead and take one of those guys and feel great about your WR positions and an RB1. If those names are not available than I would not mind taking a guy who also has a current fourth round ADP in Donte Moncrief.
From there I am most likely waiting until at least the sixth round to grab a RB, quietly collecting assets at other positions. I find myself grabbing Duke Johnson or Giovani Bernard more often than not in this range. After that, there is a ton of value at RB in the 8th to 14th round. Young pass-catching backs like Charles Sims and C.J Prosise should be factors for their respective teams. Proven veterans just one injury away like DeAngelo Williams or LeGarrette Blount could easily be league winners. In deeper leagues, backs like C.J Spiller and Spencer Ware could be high-upside fliers.
The inevitable turnover at the RB position allows for these mid-to-late-round RBs to emerge as the season wears on, so I’m fine with digging deep for production and playing matchups early on while enjoying a reliable workload from my stud WRs.
This strategy has taken me to, and won me several championships over the last few seasons, and think again for about the third year in a row that it is the most viable strategy to having success in the 2016 season.
Check back later as we get closer to the season and there will be a rankings article for both the WR and RB positions. These will also help you on your way to bringing home fantasy gold!
Find me on twitter: @zaksauer