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Zero RB Best Ball Strategy (2024 Fantasy Football)

Zero RB Best Ball Strategy (2024 Fantasy Football)

Not so long ago Zero RB was one of the most controversial and misunderstood strategies within fantasy football. With the success of Zero RB teams in huge best ball contests lately, however, it might just be that we’re starting to see a wider acceptance of it, which in turn begs the question, should we now avoid it?

Best Ball: Zero RB Strategy (2024 Fantasy Football)

Let’s take a closer look at how to utilize the Zero RB strategy when constructing your best ball rosters.

Zero RB Basics

While the name may use the word “zero,” most Zero RB teams will have at least six or seven 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 2023, specifically at games missed, it’s obvious which position has the most injury risk.

The chart above shows running backs and wide receivers who had an average draft position (ADP) inside the top 120 on Underdog in 2023. Running backs missed more games than wide receivers at every level, particularly in the 49-72 range. If we expand this to include data from 2022, it backs up that 2023 wasn’t a rare occurrence.

With that said, 2023 wasn’t a bad year for the early running backs, with Christian McCaffrey, Bijan Robinson, Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry and Tony Pollard all staying healthy. They just largely disappointed outside of McCaffrey but it was a softer blow to take with Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp all missing time, too.

Five players from the first or second round scored over 15.0 half points per reception (PPR) per game. It was the wide receivers, indicated in blue below, who made up the majority of this, with four of the five being wide receivers, compared to one solitary red dot to show a running back. In total, out of the top seven scorers from these two early rounds, six were wide receivers.

Zero RB Intricacies

The last thing we should do is head into a draft with a specific strategy in mind but it’s worth considering what rounds we want to be target certain types of players. If you fire up a draft today, by the time you’ve passed the seventh round, you’ll find tumbleweed in the wide receiver column with Courtland Sutton, Mike Williams, Romeo Doubs and Khalil Shakir staring at you. These are fine players and a fair target at cost, but if you’ve started RB heavy, then you could be looking at one of these players for your WR2 or WR3, someone who will need to contribute week in and week out, which isn’t necessarily their style.

Instead, with a Zero RB build, we’ll load up early on with the difference-making wide receivers, who have high ceilings and consistent workloads, before pivoting to the running back position in round seven and beyond.

Those running backs aren’t a shade on players like Christian McCaffrey. However, 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. The goal is always to dominate the Flex – we want to have enough wide receivers to do so. As we can see in the chart below, wide receivers make up a majority of the top 30-point scorers year after year in PPR formats.

In half-PPR formats, things swing slightly in favor of running backs but the point remains that taking running backs here means missing out on wide receivers. Year after year we see the number of wide receivers drafted in the top 50 picks on Underdog increase. With more wide receivers taken early it pushes down running backs to a range where we can feel more comfortable taking them.

The key with a Zero RB build, despite the name, is nailing the running backs that you do take. Across 2020-2022 in 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 five or seven overall.

(Data via RotoViz’s FFPC Win Rate Explorer).

Again, on Underdog in 2021 and 2022 combined, Zero RB teams with six or seven running backs experienced the most success for that type of build. Considering the baseline advance rate of 16.6%, 22-23% is an incredibly strong advance rate.

(Data via Rotoviz Roster 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 that six or seven is the right amount to aim for going forward. Roughly 35-40% of your roster spots should be for running backs in a Zero RB build.

Targeting a Fruitful Range

The range of picks from 72-132, in other words Round 7-11 inclusive, has typically produced plenty of good running back options in recent years. Zero RB sets you up perfectly to take shots on this range. Since 2021, there have been 61 different backs drafted in this range. The results, while volatile, show that it’s worth taking shots at. There have been 10 instances of RBs finishing as top-12 options, including three top-five finishes.

Zero RB Viability

2023 was the second year in a row that Zero RB teams won big on Underdog, with both the regular season prize of $500,000 and the grand prize of $3,000,000 being won by Zero RB teams a year after a Zero RB team took down the 2022 regular season prize as well. That’s $4.5 million in prize money to Zero RB teams in just one contest over the last two years. Add to this that the DraftKings Milly Maker team who won it all in 2023 didn’t select their first RB till round five – Zero RB works.

To compare Zero RB against other micro strategies, if we adhere to the definitions used in the other articles that are part of this best ball series, here are the strongest possible outcomes based on two years of data from 2021-2022. (Later in the offseason we’ll be able to add 2023 to this.)

Playoffs Advance Rate Semi-Finals Advance Rate Finals Advance Rate
Hero RB – 5 Total RB 19.10% 2.28% 0.09%
Zero RB – 6 Total RB 23.20% 2.74% 0.18%
Dual RB – 5 Total RB 14.20% 1.47% 0.08%
Robust RB – 5 Total RB 12.60% 1.21% 0.07%

When you consider it in this light, it’s hard to come away with any conclusion other than when implemented correctly: Zero RB can be a great best ball strategy.

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: In 2023, taking shots at Miami’s backfield proved to be a very profitable venture, as did pickups including Jaylen Warren, Devin Singletary and Gus Edwards.

Pass-Catchers: Even in Underdog’s half PPR scoring, pass-catching RBs without a three-down role can have spike weeks that help the position stay serviceable while your WRs dominate.

Play for Good Teams: It feels a little obvious to say but good teams tend to score more points. We want exposure to those points.

Ability to Become a Workhorse in the Event of Injury: Players like Chuba Hubbard, Kyren Williams and Zamir White were all running backs who could provide stand-alone value but could become top-12 options should the backs ahead of them suffer an injury or pick up a suspension. Players like Gus Edwards, who don’t catch passes, have a smaller shot at greatness.

Rookies: Taking shots at rookies can be tricky but it can also lead to a high upside, particularly as the season goes on. As we saw with the 2022 Million Dollar team, Kenneth Walker, Dameon Pierce and Rachaad White all helped that team at one time or another. None had consistent league-winning performances but they often spiked 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.

Best Ball Draft Strategy

Best Ball Draft Targets & Fades

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