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Can Zero RB Strategy Help you Dominate? (Fantasy Football)

by Eric Moody | @EricNMoody | Featured Writer
Jul 29, 2016

Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon is one of several high-upside RBs that can be drafted in the later rounds

Eric Moody analyzes the Zero RB strategy for the upcoming fantasy football season.

Have you ever read RotoViz writer and veteran high-stakes fantasy football player Shawn Siegele’s Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based DraftingThe challenging aspect of executing Zero RB in a live draft is letting all of the elite running backs get taken. Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Devonta Freeman, Ezekiel Elliott, Jamaal Charles, and others are disappearing right before your eyes. The first two rounds you are feeling okay, but the next three you may have an urge to reach for the Tums. This is a money league and you have not taken a single RB and the draft is five rounds in! The perception is that you are building a team that many fantasy owners would see as sub-optimal. Here is an excerpt from Shawn’s article:

Zero RB is basically what it sounds like. You simply don’t draft running backs in the high leverage rounds. Depending on how a draft is progressing, I will draft either one high upside running back in Round 4 or 5, or I will draft none at all. My preferred lineup after five rounds is to own one tight end (Graham/Gronk) and four wide receivers. I then focus on selecting potential breakout players, the receiving back in timeshares, and backups in good offenses.

I championed Siegele’s strategy in a column for RotoViz last season titled: Diary of a Zero RB Novice. The goal of the weekly series was to draft and manage a Zero RB fantasy team in a Fantasy Football Players Championship League (FFPC). I also discussed how I worked the waiver wire to address my RB shortage, my strategy from the previous week, team performance, and other observations.

The purpose of this article is to leverage the FantasyPros Draft Wizard in order to display the use of Siegele’s Zero RB strategy in a 12-team PPR (points per reception) league via a snake draft. The Draft Simulator is an efficient way to practice for your upcoming fantasy football draft. It is similar to doing a live mock draft except that you are drafting against the FantasyPros computer algorithm (which uses a random selection of expert cheat sheets and ADP sources). For this article I selected the option to use the ADP (average draft position) from FantasyFootballCalculator.com. The starting lineup in this mock draft will consist of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker, one defense, and one FLEX player (which can be a running back, wide receiver, or tight end). Each team will have eight bench spots. In this mock I will draft from the number two spot and provide brief analysis on my selections.

Start preparing for your draft now with our NFL Draft Simulator >>

Round 1

Julio Jones (ATL)
Jones is the type of fantasy wide receiver that can win fantasy matchups for you. He led the league in wide receiver targets (203) in 2015 while producing 1.75 fantasy points per touch. Jones will continue to be heavily targeted in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme (averaged 12.7 targets per game). He is the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards per game with 95.4 according to Pro Football Reference. Jones was targeted on 21.6 percent of his offensive snaps in 2015.

Round 2

Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
Thomas is criminally undervalued heading into the 2016 season. Gary Kubiak’s offensive scheme also heavily targets the X wide receiver. DeAndre Hopkins (192), Julio Jones (203), and Antonio Brown (193) were the only wide receivers with more targets than Thomas (177). He has the potential to finish the season as a WR1 even with quarterback Mark Sanchez under center. Kubiak’s scheme has demonstrated success in the passing game with numerous quarterbacks (not named John Elway) under center including Jake Plummer, Brian Griese, and Matt Schaub. Thomas was targeted on 18.8 percent of his offensive snaps in 2015.

Round 3

Randall Cobb (GB)
Cobb is another wide receiver who is criminally undervalued. He dealt with a shoulder injury all of last season, and the absence of Jordy Nelson impacted every facet of the Packers’ offense. Nelson’s return this season will allow the Packers’ offense to attack defenses vertically and Cobb will own the short-to-intermediate routes. Cobb and Nelson both finished 2014 as top 10 fantasy wide receivers. This scenario can repeat itself again in 2016. Cobb was targeted or touched the football on 13.4 percent of his snaps in 2015 and 14.4 percent in 2014.

Jones Thomas Cobb RV Career Graph

Round 4

Donte Moncrief (IND)
Moncrief is one of my favorite breakout candidates heading into 2016. He had 105 targets last year while dealing with injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. The Colts will look to get back on track offensively in 2016, and Moncrief will be a big part of that. Andre Johnson and Coby Fleener accounted for 161 targets last season. A high percentage of this will be accounted for by Moncrief. I used the RotoViz Box Score Scout app to compare his physical profile and collegiate production to other NFL wide receivers. Moncrief is the most legitimate red zone weapon the Colts have based on his FREAK score (81). A Freak Score is a way to describe the mix of size and speed that a wide receiver has. The result will be a scaled number (0-100) that has a rough fitting relationship with a prospect’s potential to score touchdowns in the NFL.

RV Box Score Scout Moncrief

Round 5

Michael Floyd (ARI)
Floyd is entering a contract year and has the potential to lead the Cardinals in receiving yards and touchdowns. The Cardinals’ offense scored points on 42.5 percent of its drives last season, had the second most passing yards (4,616) and the third most passing touchdowns (35). Floyd produced 1.36 fantasy points per target and 2.32 fantasy points per touch in 2015. He has a chance to finish 2016 as a fantasy WR1 as he auditions in a contract year to be the Cardinals’ future No. 1 wide receiver.

Cardinals WR career graphs RV

Round 6

Ryan Mathews (PHI)
Mathews has developed a reputation for being injury-prone. He has only played a full 16-game season once in his six-year NFL career. Mathews will lead a running back by committee with receiving back Darren Sproles and rookie Wendell Smallwood in new head coach Doug Pederson West Coast offense. Mathews produced 0.82 fantasy points per touch on 127 touches last season.   Pederson was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2015 under head coach Andy Reid. The Chiefs were a run-heavy offense under Pederson. His Chiefs’ teams ran the football nearly 60 percent of the time and Pederson’s running backs were very active in the passing game.

Chiefs Top Five Pass Catchers

2015

Position Player Receptions Yards
WR Jeremy Maclin 87 1,088
TE Travis Kelce 72 875
WR Albert Wilson 35 451
RB *Jamaal Charles 21 177
RB Charcandrick West 20 214

*Played in five games before his season ended with a knee injury

2014

Position Player Receptions Yards
TE Travis Kelce 67 862
WR Dwayne Bowe 60 754
RB Jamaal Charles 40 291
TE Anthony Fasano 25 266
RB De’Anthony Thomas 23 156

2013

Position Player Receptions Yards
RB Jamaal Charles 70 693
WR Dwayne Bowe 57 673
RB Dexter McCluster 53 511
WR Donnie Avery 40 596
TE Sean McGrath 26 302

I view Mathews as one of the running backs drafted outside the top 20 who could finish the 2016 season as a top 10 fantasy running back.

Round 7

DeSean Jackson (WAS)
Injuries negatively impacted Jackson’s 2015 season. He is a tremendous value at his current ADP (average draft position) and is still the Redskins No. 1 wide receiver. The offense came together the second half of the 2015 season. The Redskins’ offense scored 2.11 points per drive with 35 percent of them making it to the red zone. Out of the 35 percent that made it into the red zone 72 percent of those resulted in a touchdown. The team has uncertainty at the running back position which may cause the Redskins to leverage their receiving core even more. Jackson is a WR1 who can be drafted at a WR3 cost.

Round 8

Charles Sims (TB)
Sims has a defined role as the Buccaneers’ receiving back. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season and produced 0.82 fantasy points per touch last season. Sims has the proper frame, athletic ability, and competitive toughness to handle a larger workload if called upon. He would immediately be on the RB1 radar if Doug Martin were to miss time. Sims is a viable FLEX option in PPR (points per reception) formats.

Round 9

Torrey Smith (SF)
Smith is the front-runner to be No. 1 wide receiver in new 49ers head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. The X wide receiver in Kelly’s offense averaged 135 targets per season. That role was filled by DeSean Jackson (2013) and Jeremy Maclin (2014) who both finished as top 10 fantasy wide receivers in that role. Jordan Matthews led the Eagles wide receivers in targets in 2015 with 128. He ran over 90 percent of his routes lined up in the slot last season for the Eagles. I anticipate Kelly will want to drive his offense through Smith in order to attack defenses vertically. The perception is that the only value he has is in attacking defenses vertically. Smith has improved as a route runner as evidenced in NFL.com and Football Guys writer Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception analysis of him. Kelly’s offenses have averaged 511 pass attempts over the last three seasons. The 49ers’ defense gave up 2.04 points per drive in 2015 and 34 percent of those drives made it to the red zone. If the 49ers’ defense does not improve the offense may be forced to throw the football early and often. Smith presents an insane value at his current ADP (average draft position).

Round 10

Dwayne Allen (IND)
Allen has always been a favorite target of Andrew Luck in the red zone. The departure of Coby Fleener in free agency will allow Allen to emerge in 2016. The Colts plan on running more three wide receiver sets, and the team does not have much depth at the position behind Phillip Dorsett. Allen will be the fourth receiving option, but most likely the second red zone option behind Moncrief. That presents upside worth investing if the Colts’ offense can return to their 2014 form in which 62 percent of their drives that made it to the red zone resulted in a touchdown.

Round 11

Jordan Howard (CHI)
Many of the Bears’ beat writers suggest the team will use a running back by committee. Dan Durkin of the Chicago Athletic noted that a John Fox team has only once had a running back log 60 percent of the carries. He also mentioned that Howard “closely resembles the physical profile Fox looks for at the position.” The probability is high that Howard will earn a role early on, and if Jeremy Langford falters then he could immediately provide RB2 value.

RV Howard Box Score Scout

Round 12

Tyrod Taylor (BUF)
Taylor is another criminally undervalued quarterback heading into 2016. Only Cam Newton (636) had more yards rushing than Taylor (568). He averaged 19.3 fantasy points per game and produced 0.56 fantasy points per touch last season. The only two quarterbacks with a higher points per touch were Newton (0.62) and Russell Wilson (0.57). Taylor’s rushing ability gives him an advantage that few fantasy quarterbacks can leverage.

QB Career Graph Newton Taylor Wilson

Round 13

Devontae Booker (DEN)
The reports regarding Booker out of Denver have been positive. I expect him to form a committee with C.J. Anderson in head coach Gary Kubiak’s RB-friendly scheme. If Anderson were to miss time Booker would be on the RB1 radar.

Round 14 

Kenyan Drake (MIA)
Drake, according to the Miami Herald, failed to “suggest he was ready to be a reliable No. 2 back” in the Dolphins’ offseason program. This news does not alarm me because Drake is an NFL rookie, and he will have an offensive role if Arian Foster or Jay Ajayi misses time.

Round 15 Pick – Minnesota Vikings D/ST

Round 16 Pick – Steven Hauschka (SEA)

Conclusion

This draft provides you a sense of what a Zero RB team could look like. The foundation of the team revolves around a strong core of wide receivers. The running back core is centered around undervalued lead backs of committees, potential break out players, the receiving back in timeshares, and backups in explosive offenses. I prefer to draft a late-round quarterback with upside. The top three fantasy quarterbacks in 2015 averaged 22.2 points per game. 

The key to executing this strategy in live fantasy drafts is to be fully committed to the strategy. You want to refrain from drafting a running back in the high-leverage rounds (one through five). The only scenario you would want to alter your strategy is if you find an unimaginable value (Example: Todd Gurley is available in the third round).

The top five running backs according to FantasyPros consensus ADP (average draft position) all carry risk.

RB Overall Name Team Consensus Avg.
1 3 Le’Veon Bell Steelers 1.5
2 4 Todd Gurley Rams 2.2
3 6 Adrian Peterson Vikings 3.2
4 7 David Johnson Cardinals 3.7
5 8 Ezekiel Elliott Cowboys 4.5

There are a number of backs in the middle rounds such as Ameer Abdullah or Melvin Gordon that are in a position to break out in 2016. These are two running backs that can be selected at a discounted draft cost.

Now that you understand the Zero RB strategy and have seen it in action, do you feel that this is a strategy you can embrace this draft season? I view the Zero RB strategy as an ideal methodology for fantasy drafts this season. What are your thoughts? Please reach out via Twitter @EricNMoody to let me know. Until next time!


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