Does the Zero-RB draft strategy work? Fantasy football players have argued about it for years. The truth is it can work if executed correctly and if Lady Luck is on your side.
How does the strategy work? You don’t avoid running backs during the entire draft, just the first handful of hands. Typically, you wait until the sixth round to draft your first running back using this strategy. Instead of targeting running backs early in your draft, you want to load up at other positions. Ideally, you want to secure a stud wide receiver, an elite tight end, and a top-tier quarterback. The point of this strategy is to sacrifice at running back to have a star-studded lineup at other positions.
While the Zero-RB strategy works in all scoring leagues, it is the easiest to execute in PPR leagues. The reason why this strategy works best in PPR scoring leagues is because pass-catching running backs can offer top-20 performances some weeks. It is also a more appealing strategy in Superflex leagues as teams will let running backs slide as they load up on quarterbacks early in the draft.
This draft strategy isn’t ideal if you have a top 3-4 draft slot. You don’t want to pass on the elite running backs like Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and Derrick Henry. Instead, you want to use the Hero-RB strategy. Draft the stud running back in the first round, then wait until the middle rounds to load up on running backs.
Zero-RB Redraft Draft Strategy
Check out our Zero-RB draft strategy and guide for your 2022 fantasy football leagues.
Types of Running Backs to Target
The key to successfully pulling off the Zero-RB strategy is to hit on the running backs in the later rounds. One type you need to target is high-upside running backs. These players currently don’t have the most value but have a path to a top-24 finish. Typically, these running backs are guys who have a shot at replacing the current starter. Some potential targets include Tony Pollard, Dameon Pierce, and Tyler Allgeier.
Handcuffing your running backs could be the key to winning your fantasy league. However, targeting other teams’ handcuffs is the key to successfully pulling off a Zero-RB draft strategy. Every year, running backs get hurt, whether for a few weeks or the rest of the season. The backup can fill the void and produce at a similar level most of the time. Last year, Dalvin Cook missed four games because of injuries. His handcuff, Alexander Mattison, averaged 21.7 PPR fantasy points per game, scoring at least 16 in every contest while filling in for Cook. Some potential targets include Mattison, Khalil Herbert, and Darrell Henderson.
It’s easier to execute a Zero-RB draft strategy in a PPR scoring league, as the depth at running back is deeper. Running backs who don’t provide much fantasy value on the ground are borderline worthless in non-PPR or standard scoring. However, they are excellent safe-floor players in PPR scoring and provide critical value when using a Zero-RB draft strategy. Usually, any running back that averages 3.5 or more receptions per game scores at least 10 PPR fantasy points per contest. These running backs won’t win you the league, but they will provide a safe floor option for your RB2 slot. Some potential targets include James Cook, J.D. McKissic, and Nyheim Hines.
Most of the running backs you draft will be lottery tickets or high-upside players. However, you will need a few stable options for the first few weeks of the season. These running backs can be the same PPR targets mentioned above. They can also be running backs you can count on to start the year but might get replaced or hurt after a few weeks. A couple of veterans you should target for the first few weeks of the season include Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, and Melvin Gordon.
The Ideal Zero-RB Start
Round 1: Stud Wide Receiver
Everyone has heard the saying, “you can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it.” Well, that’s 100% accurate. It’s even more meaningful when using the Zero-RB strategy. You MUST hit on your first-round pick. Unless you’re playing in a Superflex league, you want to draft a stud wide receiver in the first round. Ideally, you want a high-volume wide receiver with a safe floor. If you can land Cooper Kupp or Justin Jefferson, that would be a best-case scenario.
Round 2: Elite Tight End
Some have the mindset of waiting until the later rounds to draft a tight end. However, you will want an elite tight end if your running back position lacks a superstar. Having a weekly advantage at tight end is critical if you use this draft strategy. Over the past three years, the TE1 has averaged 18.2 fantasy points per game, while the TE2 averaged 16.6 per game. Having Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews on your team will give you a leg up on your opponents.
Round 3: Upside WR2
If you want to go with an abbreviated version of the Zero-RB strategy, you can draft a running back in this round. If not, targeting a high-end WR2 is the alternative. After grabbing a safe-floor stud wide receiver in the first round, you want to target a high-upside player with this pick. You could draft a safe wide receiver in this round, but it’s not ideal after picking two safe-floor players with your first two selections. Instead, draft a wide receiver with top-five upside. Tee Higgins and Amari Cooper are two ideal targets.
Round 4: Top-Tier Quarterback
Like with tight ends, you want to have an elite quarterback on your team. While the gap between the top 2-3 quarterbacks and the rest in the top 10 isn’t huge, having a plug-and-play starter is ideal. Furthermore, you can consider taking a quarterback in the third round and drafting a wide receiver in the fourth. For example, if you want to secure Josh Allen, you might need to use your third-round pick on him. Regardless of which round you draft a quarterback, you want to grab one with massive upside.
Round 5: Another Wide Receiver
Whichever type of wide receiver you draft in the third round, you want to take the opposite with this pick. The reason why you want to pick the opposite type of wide receiver is to maintain roster balance. If your team is all floor players, you won’t have the upside needed to overcome your weakness at running back. By comparison, you don’t want all upside players who are more likely to bust. Potential upside targets for this pick could include D.J. Moore or Elijah Moore. Possible safe-floor options include Terry McLaurin and Brandin Cooks.
ADP from Fantasy Football Calculator on mock drafts from May 19 through May 29.
- Round 6: Rashaad Penny, Miles Sanders
- Round 7: Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon
- Round 8: Tony Pollard, Sony Michel
- Round 9: Darrell Henderson, Alexander Mattison
- Round 10: J.D. McKissic, Rhamondre Stevenson
- Round 11: Nyheim Hines, Dameon Pierce
- Round 12: Kenneth Gainwell, James Cook
- Round 13: Marlon Mack, Mark Ingram
- Round 14: Kenyan Drake, Mike Davis
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