The Ideal Zero RB Fantasy Football Draft
If there were a year to try out the Zero RB strategy, it’s this year. According to current ADP in PPR leagues, running backs make up nine of the first 12 players drafted, and 15 of the first 25. Everyone is loading up on running backs early, which means that there is great value available at other positions, namely wide receivers.
The goal of the Zero RB strategy is to maximize your strength at the other positions early on in your draft and then fill your team with high upside running backs later on and hope to hit on a couple of them. According to research done by Michael Gertz for Pro Football Logic, running backs get injured at a higher rate than any other position, and also miss more games due to the injuries they sustain. It’s safer to use your early picks on a position with less volatility when it comes to injury.
If you have a top four pick, I wouldn’t suggest passing over Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, or David Johnson, but you can employ the Zero RB strategy over the next few rounds to a similar effect. I’m going to run through a 12-team PPR draft round by round and tell you who you should be targeting when using the Zero RB strategy. I’ll be using the ADP from FantasyPros to determine who will be available. Then I will draft a team from the sixth spot using the Draft Wizard and I’ll show you how the strategy played out in a mock draft.
Antonio Brown is the obvious target here. He’s finished as a top-five fantasy wide receiver in each of the last five years and has finished either first or second in the last four. He’s been the most consistent fantasy producer since he broke out in 2013. His ADP is fifth overall, but you have a chance at him in the sixth spot if the guy before you is set on a running back, as many are, and grabs Alvin Kamara or Saquon Barkley. If you miss out on Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr., and Julio Jones will all make excellent first round picks as well.
I would target A.J. Green and Davante Adams here. When Green has played a full 16 games, he’s finished as the WR3, WR3, WR8, and WR10. He’s never had fewer than 100 targets, and with an improved offensive line, the Bengals should be able to move the ball more efficiently and score more. Adams is now the unquestioned first option for Aaron Rodgers, who has produced four WR1s in his last three healthy seasons. He also has 22 receiving touchdowns in the previous two years, which is more than anyone in the NFL.
This is where I want an elite tight end. Rob Gronkowski likely went off the board in the last round, but Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz both have third-round ADPs. When punting the running back position, it’s important to dominate the tight end spot, and you need one of these three guys to do that. According to the ECR (Expert Consensus Rankings) Gronkowski, Kelce, and Ertz are the only tight ends inside the top 50. In fact, Ertz is ranked 35th, and the next ranked tight end is Greg Olsen, who’s down at 58th overall.
Here I want to strengthen my wide receivers further, and there’s still plenty of great talent on the board. The first guy I would target is Allen Robinson. If he can be anything like he was in his breakout 2015 season when he had 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, he’s a steal in the fourth round. Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky are expected to bring the Chicago offense back from the dead.
If Robinson isn’t available, I’d look at Demaryius Thomas. Thomas is a beacon of consistency in the NFL. No other wide receiver has played all 16 games in each of the last six seasons, and Thomas hasn’t finished worse than WR16 overall in that span. He’s also got an upgrade at quarterback from what he’s had to endure since Peyton Manning’s last (wildly inconsistent) season.
I’m usually not an early quarterback drafter, but if I’m using the Zero RB strategy, I want a top player at every other position. Russell Wilson and Tom Brady both have fifth-round ADPs, and I’d love to be able to grab one of them. In his six seasons in the league, Wilson has had five QB1 finishes, four finishes inside the top eight, and three top-three finishes. Brady, the ageless wonder, has led the Patriots to be the number one scoring offense in three out of the last four seasons.
Now that I have three top-shelf wide receivers, an elite tight end, and an elite quarterback, it’s time to start loading up on running backs. The best running backs with a sixth-round ADP are Lamar Miller and Dion Lewis, both of whom are ranked as top 24 running backs according to the ECR. Miller may retain the starting job in Houston for a large chunk of the season as it’s looking more and more like D’Onta Foreman will begin 2018 on the PUP list. Lewis will have great value in PPR formats as the Titans do not trust Derrick Henry in the passing game. He’s a good enough all-around back, especially in pass protection, to chip away at Henry’s snaps throughout the season.
We need to hit the running back well again here, and there are some great options still available. Tarik Cohen should be a great value in PPR leagues. The word out of Bears camp is that Matt Nagy is going to use Cohen all over the field saying, “He’s a player you get giddy about.” Next, I’d look at a couple of rookies — Royce Freeman and Kerryon Johnson. John Elway “personally told Freeman he wanted him to be the team’s ‘bell cow’ back, which is as good of an indicator as any that the team has high hopes for him.” Freeman could be a seventh-round steal if his potential workload pans out.
Johnson should get a decent workload in between LeGarrette Blount’s short yardage situations and Theo Riddick’s passing down work. After all, the Lions did trade up in the second to grab him. If none of these guys are available, Marshawn Lynch also may still be sitting there. He actually returned close to form late last season and was the RB12 overall in the previous six weeks of the season.
Since we waited so late to take running backs, I’d grab a third one right here. Duke Johnson has a current ADP of 85th overall, making him the first pick of the eighth round. If he is still available I would grab him. He has a clear-cut role as the passing down back in Cleveland and they figure to score a lot more points there this year. He managed RB1 numbers when the Browns put up the fewest points in the league last season.
C.J. Anderson should also be available here, and while this would be a reach for him at since his ADP is 111, more reports are coming out of Carolina that Anderson will be the traditional starter and Christian McCaffrey won’t receive a big uptick in carries. I expect Anderson’s ADP to rise.
At this point, I think it’s alright to return to looking at other positions. The names that stick out to me with a ninth-round ADP are Marquise Goodwin and Chris Thompson. When Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the quarterback for the 49ers, Goodwin came to life and was the WR8 overall in the last five weeks of the season, receiving the ninth-most targets of any receiver in that span. Chris Thompson is “only” the passing down back in Washington, but was the RB10 overall through the first 10 weeks of the season before getting injured. He should retain that role despite the presence of rookie Derrius Guice.
I would take a receiver here because the value is still so good. Marqise Lee, D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, and Kenny Stills are all going in the 10th round. Lee is the only wide receiver in Jacksonville with a solidified starting role, Moore and Ridley were first round picks that are poised to contribute right away, and Stills should get a nice chunk of the targets vacated by Jarvis Landry (he’s also scored more touchdowns than any other Dolphin receiver over the past two seasons).
By now you have a starting lineup and a couple of bench spots filled in, so here are some late round fliers I would go for with in the double-digit round ADPs; Giovani Bernard, Mike Williams, Rishard Matthews, Nyheim Hines, Jameis Winston, Mitch Trubisky, Michael Gallup, Anthony Miller, and Ricky Seals-Jones. I usually pick up my defense and kicker in the 14th and 15th round, but that is entirely up to you.
- QB: Russell Wilson
- RB: Dion Lewis
- RB: Lamar Miller
- WR: DeAndre Hopkins
- WR: A.J. Green
- TE: Zach Ertz
- FLX: Demaryius Thomas
- DST: New Orleans Saints
- K: Matt Prater
- BN: Royce Freeman
- BN: Chris Thompson
- BN: C.J. Anderson
- BN: Theo Riddick
- BN: DeSean Jackson
- BN: Anthony Miller
For what it’s worth, the Draft Wizard gave me an A+ on this team. The first eight rounds went much like I predicted. Brown didn’t fall to me, but I managed to pick up Hopkins, Green, and Demaryius Thomas in the fourth. I got Ertz in the third and Wilson in the fifth, and then I went after running backs. Lewis and Miller both fell to me, and then I just started stockpiling potential running back value because it was there. With Hopkins, Green, and Thomas as my top three wide receivers, I felt more than comfortable taking chances on a bunch of different running backs and put together a team I’d be more than happy to have.