Zero WR Draft Strategy (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Sam Schlesinger | @avishai41 | Featured Writer
May 29, 2019

Success with the Zero WR strategy is reliant upon you drafting high-upside WRs, like N’Keal Harry, in the middle rounds

During the offseason, I enjoy testing out a plethora of draft strategies. Thanks to the Draft Wizard on FantasyPros, I can simulate an endless amount of draft situations from any spot in the draft order and start to understand the most likely outcomes of drafting in certain ways. In 2018, there was a clamoring for running backs at the top of the draft, so I focused on using the “Zero RB” strategy to maximize the value I’d get at wide receiver, knowing that the draft would likely start with a large slew of running backs off the board. I had varying amounts of success with that strategy, but this year I want to take a closer look at the Zero WR strategy.

Many fantasy players believe that running backs are hotter commodities than wide receivers. Starting running backs or “bell cows” certainly have the clearest path to volume and generally get the most touches in any given game. Valuable wide receivers can be found in the later rounds and there are plenty to choose from, but if you don’t sure up your stable of running backs early, there’s going to be slim pickens later on. With the Zero WR strategy, I want to punt the wide receiver position entirely until the sixth or seventh round and grab as many potential starting running backs as I can. Here are a few pointers for successfully drafting a Zero WR team.

Whether I’m using the Zero RB or Zero WR strategy, if I’m ignoring one of those positions, I like to draft my starting quarterback and tight end earlier than I normally would. Ordinarily, I wait as long as possible to fill those starting spots, but if I’m neglecting drafting receivers, I want every other starting position on my team to be elite.

Draft position matters. I would only consider this strategy if I were drafting at the top of the order and can be guaranteed an elite running back. In 2019, if I can get my hands on Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, or maybe Melvin Gordon or David Johnson, I would feel comfortable using Zero WR. The fourth or fifth spot in the draft is the sweet spot for Zero WR because you have the best field to choose from with your second pick. I did a mock draft from the fourth spot for the purpose of this article.

If you have a later pick, the value at wide receiver is just too good to pass up on to not take one with one of your first two picks. According to the fantasy football calculator, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, and Odell Beckham Jr. currently have 1.11, 2.01, and 2.03 ADPs, respectively in half-PPR drafts.

Team settings and scoring matters as well. Zero WR would be inadvisable if your league has three starting wide receiver spots as opposed to two, and is full PPR. Only 35% of the top-24 PPR fantasy finishes (between WR, RB, and TE) over the last five years were running backs. Just under 56% of those finishes belonged to wide receivers.

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Here’s a breakdown of the Zero WR mock I did on FantasyPros (half PPR, 12 teams, three WR starting spots, drafting from the fourth position):

1.04 – Alvin Kamara (RB – NO)
2.09 – Dalvin Cook (RB – MIN)
3.04 – Marlon Mack (RB – IND)
4.09 – Devonta Freeman (RB – ATL)
I started off the bat with four running backs. I got one of my top four ranked running backs in Alvin Kamara and then was shocked to see Dalvin Cook sitting there for my second pick. If fully healthy, He’ll be able to command that backfield without Latavius Murray taking work from him. At 3.04 I wanted to grab one of the “big three” tight ends but Zach Ertz was taken at 3.03 so I went with Marlon Mack. Mack was the RB8 over the last four weeks of 2018 and I think he’ll continue where he left of as the Colts didn’t add any significant running backs in free agency or the draft. Devonta Freeman fell to me at 4.09 and I was pleasantly surprised to see him around so late. Two years ago in 2017, Freeman finished as the RB13 in just 14 games. Now, Tevin Coleman is gone, The offense has more firepower with Calvin Ridley, and the Falcons invested heavily in the offensive line in the 2019 draft, spending both 1st round picks on lineman.

5.04 – Andrew Luck (QB – IND)
6.09 – Mark Ingram (RB – BAL)
7.04 – Evan Engram (TE – NYG)
Andrew Luck is the quarterback I want this year, and I’m willing to spend a pick on him if I’m drafting with a zero strategy. He was a fantasy darling before his shoulder injury, then everyone was nervous he wouldn’t come back as the same guy, but he finished as the QB2. In his last four healthy seasons, he hasn’t finished worse than QB5.

I wanted to get a mid-level tight end since I missed out earlier, but the pick analyzer on FantasyPros told me there was a 71% chance Evan Engram would be available at my next pick, so I took Mark Ingram to add a fifth potential starting running back to my team. Engram shined as a rookie when all the receivers around him went down with injuries. It won’t be the same scenario in 2019 with a healthy Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate, but the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. should vastly increase his opportunity.

8.09 – Golden Tate (WR – NYG)
9.04 – Christian Kirk (WR – ARI)
10.09 – Keke Coutee (WR – HOU)
11.04 – N’Keal Harry (WR – NE)
I may have waited one round too late to pick my first wide receiver, but I’m not too disappointed with this squad given how the rest of my team looks. The guy I was actually most excited to get here was N’Keal Harry. He was a top-three rookie wide receiver for me before the draft, and then he landed with Tom Brady in New England. The Patriots drafted him with their first-round pick and I expect him to fill a huge void in their receiving game left by Rob Gronkowski and, to a lesser extent, Josh Gordon. The Patriots did not have a typical “X” receiver on the team and it looks like the starting job is Harry’s to lose.

I’m also a believer in Keke Coutee becoming the second fiddle to DeAndre Hopkins in Houston. When he was on the field, Deshaun Watson looked for him, targeting him 41 times over six games.

12.09 – Ronald Jones (RB – TB)
13.04 – Tyrell Williams (WR – OAK)
14.09 – Ben Roethlisberger (QB – PIT)
Ronald Jones started off his career with an abysmal 1.9 YPC on 23 carries as a rookie. However, the Bucs used an early second-round pick on him in 2018 and I don’t think they are giving up on him yet. It’s still not that difficult to win the starting job in Tampa. Tyrell Williams could be a steal in the 13th round as wide receivers starting across from Antonio Brown generally benefit from the attention he draws.

Overall, the Draft Wizard gave me an A (95) on this mock and I’m happy with it. My receivers are obviously weak, but that’s the point. There should be enough points added by the rest of my team to pick up the slack of my receivers, and if not, I’m set up perfectly to field trade offers. With potentially five starting level running backs, at least one or two are expendable, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find a leaguemate who could use one.

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Sam Schlesinger is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Sam, check out his archive and follow him @avishai41.

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1Saquon Barkley (NYG)RB
2Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
3Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
4Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
5Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
6David Johnson (ARI)RB
7DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
8Davante Adams (GB)WR
9Le'Veon Bell (NYJ)RB
10James Conner (PIT)RB
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11Joe Mixon (CIN)RB
12Julio Jones (ATL)WR
13Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE)WR
14Travis Kelce (KC)TE
15Michael Thomas (NO)WR
16Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
17JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT)WR
18Nick Chubb (CLE)RB
19Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
20Mike Evans (TB)WR
21Antonio Brown (OAK)WR
22George Kittle (SF)TE
23T.Y. Hilton (IND)WR
24Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
25A.J. Green (CIN)WR
26Marlon Mack (IND)RB
27Amari Cooper (DAL)WR
28Derrick Henry (TEN)RB
29Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
30Damien Williams (KC)RB
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3Mookie Betts (BOS)CF,RF
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5Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,CF
6Trevor Story (COL)SS
7Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
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16Gerrit Cole (HOU)SP
17Chris Sale (BOS)SP
18Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B
19Jacob deGrom (NYM)SP
20Blake Snell (TB)SP
21Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
22Kris Bryant (CHC)3B,RF
23Anthony Rendon (WSH)3B
24Paul Goldschmidt (STL)1B
25Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B
26Whit Merrifield (KC)1B,2B
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29Juan Soto (WSH)LF
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3Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
4Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
5Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
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7Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
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12Paul George (OKC)SG,SF
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16Jimmy Butler (PHI)SG,SF
17Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
18Kyrie Irving (BOS)PG,SG
19Ben Simmons (PHI)PG,SF
20Jrue Holiday (NOR)PG,SG
21Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
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