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Zero-RB Dynasty Startup Strategy (2023 Fantasy Football)

Zero-RB Dynasty Startup Strategy (2023 Fantasy Football)

Fantasy football has been around for a long time, yet the game continues to become more popular. One of the oldest draft strategies is Zero-RB. This strategy is more common in redraft leagues, as you can find running backs on the waiver wire throughout the year. However, it’s also an option in dynasty startup drafts.

The Zero-RB route is not for everyone. I never use this strategy in redraft, as I am a big fan of loading up on running backs early in the draft. However, it’s one of my favorite strategies in dynasty startup leagues when I’m building for the future or trying to win a year or two into the league.

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Zero-RB Dynasty Startup Strategy

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How Does the Zero-RB Strategy Work?

For anyone unfamiliar with this draft strategy, it’s simple. You don’t select a running back till the middle rounds. Then you load up on a mixture of players with a guaranteed early-season workload and upside running backs. That is how the strategy works in redraft leagues.

However, you will need a more in-depth plan when using this strategy in dynasty startup leagues. The players you want to target during the startup draft will change depending on if you want to contend for a championship right away or build a team for the future.

If you are trying to win in the first year, you need to target older running backs who slid to the middle rounds because of their age. While you will only get a year or two of production from them, they are ready to help you win this year. Two potential targets are Aaron Jones and James Conner.

While both running backs will be 28 years old when the 2023 NFL season starts, they have gas left in the tank. Jones was the RB9 in half-point PPR fantasy scoring last year, while Conner was the RB20. Both guys have been top-20 running backs over the past two years. Furthermore, Jones has been a top-12 running back each of the past four years, including being top-five twice.

On the other hand, you want to target younger running backs with more upside if you are playing for the future. You want to target rookie or second-year players with upside in the middle and later rounds. Ideally, players who have a chance to be the starting running back in either 2023 or 2024.

One potential target is Tyjae Spears. The third-round rookie had an excellent career at Tulane, totaling 1,591 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry is heading into the final year of his contract in 2023. The superstar running back has 1,337 touches over the past four seasons and could finally start to decline this year. Spears isn’t guaranteed a featured role in 2024 but could have significant fantasy value if the Titans don’t re-sign Henry next offseason.

Prioritize Drafting Handcuffs

This tip relates to the previous one. You want to target players who have upside, given their current ADP. Handcuffs are great to draft in dynasty startups, especially when using the Zero-RB strategy. You can get them in the double-digit rounds, offering massive potential upside. Furthermore, they can turn into excellent trade chips when the injuries start to add up during the season.

For example, your league mate drafted Najee Harris in the second round. However, you grabbed Jaylen Warren before they could. If Harris suffers an injury, your league mate could be desperate to trade for Warren, especially if they are a contending team. You would have the upper hand with them in trade negotiations. Not only because they need Warren to replace Harris but also because you can threaten to trade Warren to the team right on their heels for the last playoff spot or the league’s top contender.

Furthermore, drafting handcuffs is critical if you’re building for the future. For example, Alexander Mattison has been Dalvin Cook‘s handcuff for the past four years. However, he’s averaged 21.1 half-point PPR fantasy points per game in his last five starts filling in for Cook. Mattison was a free agent this offseason but re-signed with the Vikings. However, he could have a starting role in 2023, depending on if Cook is released or traded over the next few months.

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

Pick Multiple Running Backs During the Rookie Draft

You don’t want to emphasize drafting running backs during the startup draft. However, you want to do the opposite during the rookie drafts. While the lifespan of running backs is longer these days than four or five years ago, they aren’t as long as wide receivers. Therefore, you will need to replace your top guys every couple of years. You can never have too many good running backs.

With this strategy, you want to pass on running backs early in the startup draft and instead, target wide receivers with those early picks. Therefore, you won’t need to target wide receivers during your rookie draft unless you did a horrible job during the startup draft. If that’s the case, you will want to have a fire sale approach and rebuild from scratch with as many rookie picks as possible.

Don’t be afraid to trade up for potential star running backs during your rookie draft, especially after using the Zero-RB startup strategy in the startup draft. If you used this strategy last year, you should explore every route possible to land the 1.01 rookie pick and draft Bijan Robinson. If you can’t trade up for potential star running backs or have already secured as many as possible, you want to trade back during your rookie drafts. You need as many shots as possible to find steals in the middle rounds with the Zero-RB strategy.

For example, if you can slide back from pick 1.08 to 2.01 and add the 3.06 pick in a 10-team league, that’s a trade you want to make. The best value area of a rookie draft is the second and third rounds. That area is where you can find potential steals. This rule applies regardless of what startup strategy you use. However, it is extra critical when using the Zero-RB strategy. Two of my favorite mid-round rookie running back targets are Evan Hull and Chase Brown.

The Zero-RB Strategy Comes with Risk

So far, it sounds like the Zero-RB strategy is an excellent one to use. However, running backs are arguably the most valuable position in fantasy football. To execute the Zero-RB strategy, you need some luck. The upside running backs you select in the startup draft must hit. You also will need to get lucky with the handcuffs that you drafted.

Furthermore, you must be good at evaluating NFL Draft prospects. Hitting on your rookie picks is the difference between succeeding and failing with this draft strategy. The star running backs of the draft could land in poor fantasy situations. You might also be unable to trade up for the star running back if the league mates ahead of you in the draft refuse to trade at a fair price. Also, if you fail with this strategy, it’s hard to bounce back without a complete fire sale and rebuilding process.

Trading for a proven young star running back is next to impossible. Therefore, you are putting yourself in a tough spot with this strategy. If Lady Luck goes against you, your team will struggle. If you enjoy playing with a high-risk/high-reward mindset, the Zero-RB strategy is for you.

Running Backs to Target

Here are five of my favorite veteran and rookie running backs to target when using the Zero-RB startup draft strategy this year.

Veteran Targets

Rookie Targets

If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.

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Mike Fanelli is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive follow him @Mike_NFL2.

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