Zero RB Best Ball Strategy (2022 Fantasy Football)
You would be hard pushed to find a more misunderstood fantasy football strategy than Zero RB. Since Shawn Siegele brought it into the fantasy lexicon in 2013, arguments have been had about its viability. Other debates have transpired around the definition of the strategy.
Zero RB Basics
While the name may use the word “zero,” most Zero RB teams will have at least 6-7 running backs rostered. Zero RB as a system would probably come across as less extreme if it had been named “Late Round RB” instead.
The essence of the strategy is to stock up in the early rounds on elite wide receivers and possibly an elite tight end and quarterback, too, avoiding the most injury-prone position in fantasy football.
RB Injury Risk
If we look back at 2021, specifically the top two rounds, it’s obvious which position has the most injury risk.
The chart above shows running backs (red) and wide receivers (blue) who had an ADP inside the top 24 on Underdog in 2021. Running backs drafted in this range averaged 12.86 games and only three played 100% of games. Meanwhile, wide receivers averaged 14 games played, and all but one (Calvin Ridley) played 10 or more games, with 62.5% playing 16 or more.
Further, we can expand over the first four rounds and see that the receivers in this range advanced on Underdog at a better rate than the running backs in this range.
|Player||Underdog ADP||ADV. Rate||Player||Underdog ADP||ADV. Rate|
|Cooper Kupp||41.9||48.22%||Jonathan Taylor||11.8||42.99%|
|Mike Evans||36.5||30.28%||Austin Ekeler||12||29.44%|
|Chris Godwin||41.2||27.40%||Najee Harris||18.9||24.71%|
|Justin Jefferson||23.5||25.07%||Joe Mixon||18.2||22.41%|
|Ja’Marr Chase||48||22.53%||Derrick Henry||3.9||19.87%|
|Davante Adams||11.1||21.58%||D’Andre Swift||34.4||18.57%|
|Keenan Allen||27.1||20.66%||Aaron Jones||12.6||17.93%|
|Tyreek Hill||8.3||18.42%||Dalvin Cook||2.2||16.51%|
|Tyler Lockett||40.6||18.14%||Nick Chubb||13.8||16.07%|
|Stefon Diggs||11.1||17.03%||Alvin Kamara||4.2||15.27%|
|Robert Woods||36.7||16.87%||Antonio Gibson||17.3||14.70%|
|CeeDee Lamb||28.7||15.88%||David Montgomery||39.2||13.91%|
|DJ Moore||41.5||15.34%||Ezekiel Elliott||6.2||13.26%|
|Amari Cooper||32.6||15.12%||Saquon Barkley||8.8||11.45%|
|Terry McLaurin||29.7||13.81%||Christian McCaffrey||1||10.36%|
|DK Metcalf||20.3||11.90%||Clyde Edwards-Helaire||22.9||9.41%|
|DeAndre Hopkins||16.5||11.49%||Chris Carson||37.7||8.99%|
|A.J. Brown||21.2||8.64%||Miles Sanders||44.5||8.87%|
|Calvin Ridley||16.2||8.55%||J.K. Dobbins||32.8||7.59%|
|Julio Jones||40.6||7.86%||Cam Akers||11.1||3.94%|
Zero RB Intricacies
We shouldn’t head into a draft with a specific strategy in mind. But if you’re drafting currently, you’ll have experienced the drop-off in wide receiver talent between rounds 8-11. It’s a zone filled with the likes of Kadarius Toney, Michael Gallup and Chase Claypool. They are all fine players in their own right, but they all have reasons why they’re being drafted in that range.
Any team that started RB heavy and is requiring them to be a WR2 or WR3 might be in trouble. With a Zero RB build, the aim will be to have a large percentage of the top wide receivers filling out your WR positions and your flex, allowing you to pick up running backs such as Miles Sanders, Chase Edmonds and Ronald Jones in this range. Those running backs aren’t a shade on players like Jonathan Taylor. But this strategy builds a collection of players who will combine to do enough to support running back scores while wide receivers potentially put up huge weeks again and again. As we can see in the chart below, wide receivers make up a majority of the top 30 point scorers year after year.
The key with a Zero RB build, despite the name, is nailing the running backs that you do take. In 2021’s FFPC Slim best ball leagues, you can see that teams who selected their first running back in round six or later nearly always had an above-average win rate (8.3%), and enjoyed their best success when taking a total of seven overall.
(Data via RotoViz FFPC roster construction tool).
Again, on Underdog Fantasy, Zero RB teams with exactly seven backs experienced the most success for that type of build.
|Target Pos. Count||Teams||Playoffs Adv. Rate||Semifinals Adv. Rate||Finals Adv. Rate||Avg. Roster Points|
|Baseline – 16.6%||Baseline – 1.85%||Baseline – 0.10%|
(Data via 4for4 Underdog Construction Tool)
Seven running backs represent 35% of available roster spots on FFPC Slim drafts, and 38.88% of Underdog’s draft picks in their format of 18 roster spots. It stands to reason seven is a fair amount to aim for going forward, and roughly 35-40% of your roster spots should be for running backs in a Zero RB build.
Zero RB Traits
The type of backs selected is as important as the balance of picks dedicated to running backs. We can break these down into the following categories:
Pass catchers: Even in Underdog’s half PPR scoring, J.D. McKissic and Michael Carter were able to have above-average advance rates in part because of their pass-catching.
Play for good teams: It feels a little obvious to say, but good teams tend to score more points, and we want exposure to those points.
Ability to become a workhorse in the event of injury: Players like Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard and A.J. Dillon are all running backs who can provide stand-alone value but could become top 12 options should the backs ahead of them suffer an injury or pick up a suspension.
Rookies: Taking shots at rookies can be tricky, but it can also lead to high upside, particularly as the season goes on. Rhamondre Stevenson, Kenneth Gainwell and Carter all had above average advance rates in 2021. None had league-winning performances, but they spiked often enough to help this type of build.
Drafting Zero RB can feel uncomfortable when you’re not used to it, but it’s a “zig when others zag” tactic that can exploit your opponents for being afraid of it. With it being a less popular tactic, it also retains a contrarian build with tournament-winning upside should you advance. It might not be for everyone, but next time you start a draft with a wide receiver, see how the board falls to you if you hold off on taking a running back for a while.
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