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Best Ball: Hero RB Strategy (2023 Fantasy Football)

by Tom Strachan | @NFL_Tstrack | Featured Writer
Feb 7, 2023
Nick Chubb

Sometimes those first-round running backs are too good to turn your back on, and rather than fading the likes of Christian McCaffrey or Austin Ekeler with your early picks, it makes sense to throw your anchor overboard in round one or two and feel safe in the knowledge that your ship is attached to a high-upside, high floor player. After these first selections, an Anchor RB drafter will favor wide receivers in the first six rounds but typically end up with one more running back around rounds five to seven.

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2023 Best Ball: Hero RB Strategy

While Zero RB and Robust RB are extreme strategies and can be polarising topics producing extreme results in one way or another, Hero RB sounds cool for a start and appeals to the masses more often because it allows for more balanced starts to drafts. Zero RB requires a wide-receiver-heavy start, and Robust RB involves focusing heavily on running backs, strategies that can put fear amongst the uninitiated. Meanwhile, with Hero RB, you’re free to grab a stud running back and build out your roster with wide receivers and even elite tight ends and quarterbacks.

Hero RB sometimes has its definition eased slightly to suit the builds people are working with, occasionally being renamed as Anchor RB or Modified-Hero RB and occasionally loosening the constraints of when certain players are taken. Still, for this article and the definition we’re following, we’re talking about a running back taken within the first two rounds and then no more until round six. One of my favorite benefits of taking this approach is that it allows us to bypass the running back dead zone of rounds 3-6 for the most part. Backs in this range have a habit of disappointing, and Jack Miller has written extensively on how running backs in this section had a below-expectation win rate in best-ball formats over the last six years. Once the draft progresses past the sixth round, the difference in wide receiver and running back scoring becomes much closer.

In 2022 as the fantasy community became more aware of the running dead zone as a concept, many running backs were pushed above it or below, with only ten running backs drafted from the start of round 3 to the end of round 6 in Underdog ADP, in contrast to the 14 drafted there in 2021. Of those 10, only four had positive advance rates, and two of the positive advance rates came from round 3 players, who, in hindsight, were perhaps priced incorrectly.

Advance Rate Half PPR PPG
Nick Chubb 0.26 15.5
James Conner 0.16 13.6
Travis Etienne 0.18 11.3
Ezekiel Elliott 0.18 12.6
Breece Hall 0.16 15.1
Cam Akers 0.11 8.6
J.K. Dobbins 0.13 9.7
AJ Dillon 0.14 9.4
David Montgomery 0.18 10.6
Elijah Mitchell 0.09 6.2

Meanwhile, in Rounds 7 and 8, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Dameon Pierce, and Miles Sanders all crushed their expectations. Further to this, in 2021, Round 7 onwards was an area of the draft where you could pick up James Conner and Leonard Fournette, who were standout league winners when all was said and done. We can see that routinely, good value running backs can be found in that range. The Two images below show how running back scoring and advance rate dipped in rounds five and six in particular before becoming more fruitful in rounds 7 through 9. With a Hero RB build, we stand a good chance of avoiding this tricky area.

RB Dead Zone

(RB Dead Zone Data via The Fantasy Sanctuary)

Through six rounds, you should now have a roster made up of a stud running back, who is a three-down pass-catching point-scoring machine, and then a bunch of great wide receivers along with the flexibility to add an elite tight end or quarterback without breaking from the strategy at hand. If you’re unable to draft a running back that plays three downs and is used near the goal line, then they’re likely not the type of running back we want to build this strategy around. Now that we’re past the dead zone and running backs have become more attractive again, it’s time to grab a couple quickly.

Thanks to FFPC Classic’s best ball data, which goes back to 2017, we can get a better idea of how this strategy has paid off over time. The table below shows that taking a running back in the first two rounds, then a second one after round five, and a third before round eight would give our rosters a bigger chance to succeed than if we waited until past round eight to select a third.

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Hero RB Builds 2017-2021

RB1 RB2 RB3 Win rate
<R3 >R5 <R8 10.60%
<3 >5 <8 8.80%

(Data via Rotoviz)

While the difference between 8.80% and 10.60% might seem small when the average win rate is 8.30%, we’re seeing an increase of almost 25%.

FFPC win rate is 8.3%, and the Underdog advance rate is 16.7%. The table below shows the success rates for teams who took a Hero RB approach and the total amount of running backs they selected.

2021 Advance rate/Win rates for Underdog and FFPC when using Hero RB Builds only

Total Running Backs Underdog Playoffs Adv. Rate 2020 Underdog Playoffs Adv. Rate 2021 FFPC Slim Win Rate
2 0.00% 4.88% N/A
3 22.22% 17.71% N/A
4 19.05% 16.26% 5.90%
5 19.90% 20.06% 9.20%
6 19.93% 21.19% 10.30%
7 18.08% 19.58% 10.10%
8 17.65% 19.89% 2.00%
9 5.88% 25.00% N/A

It becomes evident that using between five and six roster spots on running backs proved the most optimal. While FFPC uses 20 roster spots and Underdog uses only 18, the difference is minimal, allowing us to use roughly 25-30% of our available picks on running backs in total. Taking this approach can still allow for a balanced amount of receivers and space to pick and choose how you wish to approach tight end and quarterback.

In 2022, many different builds worked in best ball drafts, with the Underdog regular season $1,000,000 winner utilizing Zero RB and the overall winner using a Dual/Super-Hero RB approach. One thing remains clear, though. Using micro strategies such as Hero RB gives us an advantage over the field, which is 65% of drafts opt for no recognized strategy or a Robust RB approach, which has been proven to have poor win rates. A good draft structure can make up for missing on players, and if you’re building a large portfolio of best ball rosters, it’s good practice to try more than one type of strategy.

When entering drafts, it’s best to remain open-minded to the way we navigate the draft board and be ready to hoover up players who drop to us. As a strategy, Hero RB will be one that I look to utilize often in 2023, based on its history of a strong win rate. If I can leave half of my drafts with a roster fitting this theory, then I’ll be satisfied, but as ever, all drafts are different, and by staying cognizant of what works best within strategy structures, we can increase our chances of winning.

Much of the raw data in this article has come from Rotoviz’s FFPC Roster Construction Explorer or 4for4’s Underdog Roster Construction Explorer and will be updated as 2022’s best ball data becomes available.

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