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Zero RB Best Ball Strategy (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Tom Strachan | @NFL_Tstrack | Featured Writer
Apr 25, 2022

With a Zero RB build, the aim will be to have a large percentage of the top wide receivers, allowing you to pick up running backs such as Miles Sanders, Chase Edmonds, and Ronald Jones.

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%
Allen Robinson 30.7 7.64%

 

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
4 492 9.15% 0.81% 0.00% 1502
5 2788 13.38% 1.36% 0.29% 1521
6 2632 15.58% 2.28% 0.27% 1540
7 592 19.26% 2.53% 0.17% 1556
8 80 17.50% 3.75% 0.00% 1551
9 4 50.00% 0.00% 0.00% 1548
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:

Ambiguous backfields:  Remember Leonard Fournette and James Conner last year? Both had doubts about them, but we had seen both players handle a huge workload in previous situations and return value.

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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