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Alternate Draft Styles: The “Zero WR” Strategy (Fantasy Football)

by Sam Hoppen | @samhoppen | Featured Writer
May 1, 2020

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These days, a lot is made about different strategies that one can implement when drafting in fantasy football. Some of the more well-known strategies include Zero RB, Elite TE, and Late-round QB. But one strategy that often doesn’t get that much focus is that of the Zero WR, which will be the primary focus of this article. What is the strategy, what are the benefits, and what are the risks? Read through to find out if this strategy is the right fit for you!

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What is it?

The name pretty much says it all, but there are a couple of nuances that distinguish the Zero WR strategy. In Zero WR, the manager doesn’t draft a wide receiver until at least the sixth round of the draft. Instead, a manager focuses on building a foundation around the running back position, the most versatile and risky position. Because of how risky running backs are, stockpiling players at the position can compensate for potential busts or major injuries.

Typically, the drafter will also take at least one quarterback or tight end as opposed to spending all of their first five or six picks on running backs. This allows the manager to draft an elite player at one (or both) of those positions and, theoretically, doesn’t have to worry about those positions for the rest of their draft.

Advantages

Employing the Zero WR strategy in your fantasy football drafts will offer several advantages. Fortunately, the pool of wide receivers that offer weekly upside is much greater than that of running backs. This makes it much easier to plug-and-play various receivers throughout the year.

Over the past three years an average of 74 wide receivers posted at least one top 12 fantasy week throughout the season compared to an average of 64 running backs. Furthermore, an average of 113 wide receivers posted at least one top 24 fantasy week throughout the season compared to an average of just 86 running backs. This highlights the ability of lower-drafted receivers to produce in any given week relative to that of running backs in the same tier.

Value-based drafting is another lens through which to view the Zero WR strategy. Replacement-level players are not nearly as bad at wide receiver as they are at running back. The average drop in fantasy points per game (using half PPR scoring) between a WR1 and a WR2 is about 2.6 points per game. Meanwhile, the average drop in points per game between an RB1 and an RB2 is more than double that at around 5.4 points per game.

As mentioned earlier, running backs are inherently more risky from an injury standpoint, so being able to load up on a position that will likely see a lot of turnover provides a safety blanket. If one of your starting running back gets injured, you’ll be confident knowing that the replacement isn’t several tiers below the player he’s replacing.

Disadvantages

On the flip side, the Zero WR strategy doesn’t come without its flaws. One of these flaws is the season-long consistency of wide receivers. While they may have more variance week-to-week, there’s evidence to suggest that drafting wide receivers near the top is safer than drafting running backs. A large factor in the risk of running backs is their general inability to stay healthy. Since they handle far more touches than receivers, their risk of injury is much more heightened. While you’ll have more running backs to fill these potential voids, having one of your top draft picks suffer an injury is never ideal.

Of running backs drafted in the top 24 at their position, only an average of 56 percent of them finished among the top 24 running backs. However, on average, 66 percent of wide receivers drafted in the top 24 finish among the top 24 wide receivers. This is all to say that wide receivers near the top of drafts tend to be a bit more predictable than running backs. So if you’re looking for safety, then avoiding wide receivers early may not be the way to go.

If you’re not spending your first five picks on running backs, then you’re spending an earlier pick on a quarterback or a tight end. Both of these positions offer a bit less in terms of replaceability value relative to their later-round counterparts, meaning you can find comparable production at these positions towards the end of drafts. By spending your most valuable picks on these positions, you risk missing out on top-tier production from more important positions.

Finally, in order to properly execute the “Zero WR” strategy, managers must be steadfast in only selecting running backs (or a tight end or quarterback) in the first five rounds of the draft. That means that even if a star wide receiver slips down the draft board in the early rounds, you’re forced to pass on the value. Drafting with a predetermined strategy can make it difficult to come away with the best all-around team. Drafts change by the second, so you need to be flexible in your approach. This strategy brings strict rigidity with it and may cause managers to miss on value.

Should I use this strategy?

The Zero WR strategy works best in any non-PPR format as wide receiver values become depressed without being able to score from receptions. Using the Zero WR strategy is essentially sacrificing value at one position – wide receiver – in order to bolster your strengths through other positions. If you’re confident in your ability to find great wide receiver values in the later rounds of drafts, this may be the strategy for you.

Mock drafts are the best way to find out which draft strategy fits your style without having the risk of an actual fantasy football draft. So if you really want to know whether you’re comfortable using this strategy, practice employing it in mock drafts using FantasyPros’ Draft Wizard tool.

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

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