Draft Strategy, Zero-RB

A deep discussion of Zero-RB draft strategy

Thanks in no small part to our Matt Waldman, the Zero-RB strategy has gained a great deal of popularity. In it, you eschew running backs early in your draft. Instead, you build with wide receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks. In short, the theory suggests this is optimal because of the inconsistent nature of high-priced running backs.

We asked our staff to expound upon the Zero-RB drafting strategy. Are they looking to employ this technique in 2020? If so, do they have any specific running back targets in the later rounds?

Here's what they said.

Matt Waldman

Most reasonable draft strategies work if you’re astute at assessing the value of players that will exceed their current ADP.

If your strength as a fantasy player is identifying skilled running backs, this strategy is worth trying because you’re leveraging your skills to the maximum so, in theory, you can make easier picks at the rest of the starting spots in your lineup.

This was a great strategy when most fantasy leagues used lineups with no more than two runners and 3-4 receivers.

With so many leagues adopting a wider range of starting lineup variations with flex combinations that often go to the extreme of 1-5 backs, 1-5 receivers, and 1-5 tight ends, this strategy doesn’t offer a clear advantage the way it did when fantasy football was still a five-card or seven-card poker game without multiple wild cards thrown in.

So if your leagues still model starting lineups closer to the realism of skill-player distribution, you will benefit from leveraging your league mates’ desires to acquire last year’s top running backs when they aren’t thinking about the high rate of churn from one year to the next and the fact you only need one decent back in these lineup types to field a high-scoring contender.

In these setups, I can wait until the fourth round to select my first back. And, if the max number of backs for a lineup is two versus 4-5 receivers, I have fielded winners with my first RB choice in the fifth or sixth round.

In leagues using flex lineups with 2-3 backs versus 3-4 receivers, I will often prefer to stray from the hard-line tenets of the strategy and consider taking the back on my list with the greatest value-to-ADP from the first 3-4 rounds.

If I have an early spot, it often means I am taking a top-three back in the first round. If I am drafting at the middle or late turn, it means taking a back I am projecting much higher than his ADP earlier than his ADP.

This year, that player is James Conner. He’s considered a late-3rd/early-4th value but I believe he’ll earn volume and production commensurate with his 2018 season, which translates to top-five production for me this year.

Because I believe different from my peers, the prospect of taking Conner as early as the late first of mid-second still represents value for my analysis.

Clearly, a move like this has to be based on you using a sound process where your major early-round outliers are few but notable so you’re not just making a convenient excuse for wild and unsound reaches.

It means, taking blue-chip options at the non-RB spots and not getting too risky there.

I love to use this strategy when I am at the turns (spots 1-3 or 10-12) in a 12-team league. You don’t want me drafting at the back turn because it is an easy way to stay ahead of positional runs and snipe players everyone agrees will be values/good but they are trying to maximize value.

Because the principle of the strategy is to take backs later, you want a variety of upside picks and proven starters with high floors. Where I wouldn’t consider a player like Sony Michel in other scenarios, he has more value with this strategy because if you build a high-scorer elsewhere, you can win with a steady enough fantasy RB2.

Adam Harstad

I just did a two-hour podcast with Scott Barrett of FantasyPoints on positional values in fantasy football, so needless to say I've got some thoughts.

The executive summary is this: when you're drafting, a player's value is a function of three things.

  1. How much of an advantage does this player provide over his peers?
  2. How scarce is this position / how easy is it to gain a comparable advantage with less resource investment?
  3. How predictable is this position / how confident can we be that this player will in fact provide the advantage we think he will?

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