There are many different strategies that fantasy managers can employ on draft day. One of the most well-known is the “Zero RB” strategy. This strategy gained traction and popularity some years back and has been analyzed and debated by the fantasy community ad nauseam since that time. What is this strategy and what are the risks and rewards of employing it on draft day?
What is it?
The Zero RB strategy is a draft strategy in which the manager does not select a running back until at least the sixth round of the draft. The manager instead selects primarily wide receivers in those rounds, sometimes selecting a tight end or quarterback if the selection makes sense. The logic behind this strategy is that RBs get injured far more often than any other position because of the vast amount of touches many of the top-tier players receive. Because of the injury risks associated with these players and the huge amount of draft capital you must invest to acquire one, these elite backs could bust and ruin your fantasy title hopes.
The Zero RB strategy is built on minimizing risk and capitalizing on elite pass-catchers early. Because RB is so often taken at a huge volume early in drafts (especially the first round), the strategy of drafting quality producers at other positions is a calculated move designed to pivot from the competition and thus gain an advantage.
If you subscribe to the idea that RBs are inherently more injury-prone than pass catchers, this makes complete sense. By taking an RB later in the draft, you minimize the risk of injury to one of your top players. The first several rounds of a fantasy draft carry a lot of weight in the future of the team, and it's important to minimize risk when making early picks.
The old saying goes, “you can’t win your draft in the first round, but you can definitely lose it,” can be applied here. Selecting an RB with a first- or second-round pick means investing huge draft capital into a player who may not play the entire season, so taking a WR with one of those early picks is the much safer option. Running backs on average handle far more touches and take many more hits per season than pass catchers, meaning durability can be a concern.
You can look at passing on an RB early as minimizing the risk of a "bust" season as well. Running backs are usually selected more than any other position in the first round of a draft, meaning there are far more chances for a player to underachieve. Performance issues, head coaching changes, and a lack of surrounding offensive talent are all reasons why a top-tier RB may not live up to expectations. The more backs, the more risk — it’s as simple as that.
In order to properly execute the "Zero RB" strategy, managers must be steadfast in only selecting pass catchers or signal callers in the first five rounds of the draft. That means that even if a star running back falls into your lap late in the early rounds, you can't take him. Drafting with a "set-in-stone" strategy can make it difficult to win your draft. Drafts are fluid and never 100 percent predictable, meaning you need to be flexible in your approach. This strategy brings too much rigidity with it and may cause managers to miss on value.
The RB position has been a top-loaded position in fantasy football for many years. The top-tier studs and performers are usually six or a dozen guys who will tear it up and a bunch of mediocre options after that. At wideout, there is a wealth of talent throughout the draft, and the best of the best are not all loaded up at the top. In this way, fantasy managers may miss out on a top-five talent. In fact, in half-PPR scoring, the top-five overall non-QB players from 2016-2018 featured 14 RBs and just one WR.
When using this strategy, you have a lot less room for error than you would by simply drafting the best player available. By not taking an RB until Round 6 and beyond, you have to hit on almost all of your early pass-catching selections. You also have to hit on your late-round RBs because it’s much more difficult to find a fantasy starter at the position after Round 6 than it is to find one in the first two rounds. A lot of waiver wire work may be involved throughout the season as you look to upgrade at the RB position.
Should I Use this Strategy?
The Zero RB strategy works best in PPR formats because quality RB production can be had later in drafts due to points scored from receptions and receiving yards. It is much more difficult to employ the strategy in standard scoring formats, so try to avoid it unless your league awards points for receptions. Using the “Zero RB” strategy is essentially punting one position in order to upgrade at other positions, minimize risk, and go against the grain. If you are certain that you can find great RB value in the later rounds of drafts or you’re worried about RB injuries, this may be the strategy for you.
Keep in mind the pros and cons of employing the Zero RB strategy, and complete some mock drafts using it so you understand how it could actually play out. After all, there’s no better teacher than experience. Good luck on draft day, no matter what strategy you use!
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Zachary Hanshew is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.