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Hero RB Best Ball Draft Strategy (2024 Fantasy Football)

Hero RB Best Ball Draft Strategy (2024 Fantasy Football)

Year in and year out, Hero RB (or Anchor RB as it’s sometimes known) proves to be one of the most successful strategies in best ball contests, and it makes sense that it does, with our primary aim to build around one difference-making running back, much like Christian McCaffrey was in 2023.

The strategy involves taking one running back in round one or two, allowing us to feel safe in the knowledge that your anchor is a high-upside, high-floor player. After these first selections, a Hero 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.

Hero RB is one of the more popular strategies as it’s less extreme than Zero RB or Robust RB, which lean heavier into a single position group in the early rounds, whereas Hero RB allows you to spread your draft pick selections around more. Zero RB requires a wide-receiver-heavy start, and Robust RB involves focusing heavily on running backs. Strategies that can be uncomfortable to those not as familiar with them.

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 a quarterback.

The definition of a Hero RB draft sometimes can be eased or renamed Anchor RB or Modified-Hero RB, but for the purposes of 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.

A large benefit of this strategy is avoiding the running back dead zone, which, year after year, produces mixed results, to say the least. Once the draft progresses past the sixth round, the difference in wide receiver and running back scoring becomes much closer.

Hero RB Best Ball Strategy (Early 2024 Look)

Running Back Deadzone Targets

The Hero RB Prototype

The key part to a Hero RB build is deciding on the type of running back you’ll make your Hero RB. In 2023, Christian McCaffrey was on a massive 41.9% of Underdog BBM finals teams and 31.8% of DraftKings Milly Maker final teams, with Jahmyr Gibbs and Breece Hall the only other players on 15% or more of rosters on DraftKings or above 22% on Underdog.

McCaffrey had a quintessential Hero RB season, out-playing all the running backs drafted near him and single-handedly dragging teams to the playoffs. This followed on the back of a strong 2022 for Hero RB builds, where in the DraftKings 969 team final, 18.6% were a Hero RB build, by far the most of any Best Ball strategy.

In 2021, Pat Kerrane wrote about how running backs in the first two rounds have a bust rate of 40%, actually higher than in the dead zone, but the first two rounds were still the most typical for delivering Legendary Running Back seasons, akin to McCaffrey’s 2023 year.

The types of running backs capable of having a heroic year are those with clear pass-catching work, goal-line responsibilities, and those on a good offense who will score plenty of points.

Avoiding the RB Dead Zone

Over the last few years, the running back dead zone has seen fluctuations in the number of running backs drafted there, with 14 in 2021, 10 in 2022, 14 in 2023, and currently 12 in the early 2024 average draft position (ADP). What we are typically seeing is fewer backs drafted in this range, the year after a greater number have been drafted there.

This in itself reveals the way drafters shy away from drafting RBs in this range when they’ve gotten burned previously.

In 2022, when there were 10 dead zone RBs, only four had positive advance rates (advancing to the best ball playoffs), 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.

In 2023, the dead zone was similarly volatile, with nine of the 14 RBs in the dead zone finishing below where their ADP cost. With six over 15 spots below. However, the rounds immediately after the dead zone again proved to be fruitful, with David Montgomery, Rachaad White, James Conner and Isiah Pacheco all finishing inside the top-15 RBs in half PPR points per game.

 

2023 Final ADP Positional Rank Half PPR PPG Half PPR PPG Finish Difference Advance Rate (16.7% baseline)
Jahmyr Gibbs 29 9 14.8 7 2 18.75%
Rhamondre Stevenson 33.9 10 10.6 29 -19 12.87%
Travis Etienne 36.8 11 15.1 5 6 27.91%
Joe Mixon 37.4 12 13.6 13 -1 20.93%
Breece Hall 44.2 13 14.0 10 3 16.89%
Najee Harris 44.4 14 10.0 33 -19 11.44%
Aaron Jones 49.2 15 10.3 31 -16 11.84%
Kenneth Walker 49.9 16 12.6 18 -2 17.78%
Dameon Pierce 54.7 17 5.9 54 -37 12.39%
Jonathan Taylor 57.7 18 13.4 14 4 10.92%
Alexander Mattison 58.7 19 7.7 44 -25 15.07%
JK Dobbins 62.3 20 10.7 28 -8 9.73%
James Cook 65.2 21 12.8 17 4 22.56%
Miles Sanders 70.9 22 4.8 61 -39 10.10%

Year after year, the rounds after the dead zone are an area of the draft where we want to be taking shots at the running back position, and if we’ve loaded up on RBs early, it becomes more difficult to do so here as well.

Historical Performance

Fantasy Football Player Championship (FFPC) Best Ball data goes back to 2017, allowing us to really zoom out and take a look at how this has worked over a longer period of 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.

Hero RB Builds 2017-2022

RB1 RB2 RB3 Win rate
Before R3 After R5 Before R8 9.90%
Before R3 After R5 After R8 9.10%

(Data via Rotoviz)

While the difference between 9.10% and 9.90% might seem small when the average win rate is 8.30%, we’re seeing a significant increase.

This data also correlates with Underdog data, combining 2021 and 2022 data using these construction tactics. FFPC win rate is 8.3%, and Underdog advance rate is 16.7%.

RB1 RB2 RB3 Advance Rate
Before R3 After R5 Before R8 20.2%

 

The table below shows the success rates for teams who took a Hero RB approach and the total amount of running backs they selected.

2020-2022 Advance Rate/Win Rates for Underdog When Using Hero RB Builds Only

Total Running Backs Underdog Playoffs Adv. Rate 2020 Underdog Playoffs Adv. Rate 2021 Underdog Playoffs Adv. Rate 2022
2 0.00% 4.88% 7.60%
3 22.22% 17.71% 14.10%
4 19.05% 16.26% 16.70%
5 19.90% 20.06% 19.10%
6 19.93% 21.19% 18.90%
7 18.08% 19.58% 16.90%
8 17.65% 19.89% 15.50%
9 5.88% 25.00% 18.50%

As we can see from the table above, looking across a three-year sample, rostering between 5-6 running backs on Underdog when deploying a Hero RB build has typically worked out most optimally. While FFPC and DraftKings use 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 allows for a balanced amount of receivers and space to pick and choose how you wish to approach tight end and quarterback.

2023 was a year where many different builds worked in best ball drafts, with both DraftKings Milly Maker winner and the Underdog Best Ball Mania winner using a Zero RB approach, but many of the smaller contests were won with Hero RB lineups, and it remains clear that using micro strategies such as Hero RB gives us an advantage over the field, who still can lean into using 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 2024, 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 Underdog, Rotoviz’s FFPC Roster Construction Explorer or 4for4’s Underdog Roster Construction Explorer and will be updated as 2024’s best ball data becomes available.

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