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Did 2016 Kill the Zero-RB Movement?

Early-round running backs enjoyed great success in 2016, while early-round receivers took a step backward. Does this signal a return to RB-centricity?

Most of the Zero-RB chatter thus far this offseason has centered around two central themes: (1) that 2016 was the Year of the Early-Round Running back, and (2) that we’re back to the RB-centric days of yore. Relatively speaking, there’s a lot of fact behind the first. Top-tier running backs feasted in 2016 – at least, more so than they typically do. In fact, last year, the RB6 (Devonta Freeman) actually outscored the WR6 (Julio Jones) for the first time in several years.

But I’m not so sure about the second point. Even in a shaky year for premium-round wideouts, the top options mostly stayed nice and consistent atop the leaderboards. While early-round RBs actually managed to keep pace with them scoring-wise, that’s an anomaly in recent history, where the top WR tier has always brought home an advantage. It’s true that the top-top RBs – the absolute upper crust in a given year – generally pepper the tops of overall scoring charts. But drafters simply haven’t been identifying them well enough to prioritize them higher on a macro scale. Consider that, over the past 5 years, only 6 of the 15 top-3 RBs had been drafted as such.

We can certainly discuss the values of the top RBs independently, and their own degrees of risk vs. reward. There are certainly a select few that need to be prioritized. But we can’t ignore the fact that they do carry higher bust rates than their WR counterparts, and that, by and large, the wideouts tend to produce more points. It appears that that massive RB1 value is really only realized in terms of dodging landmines and choosing the right RB1(s), rather than merely nudging them all up your draft board.

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