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Zero RB Draft Strategy: Advice & Picks (Fantasy Football)

Zero RB Draft Strategy: Advice & Picks (Fantasy Football)

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.

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Zero RB Draft Strategy

While the Zero RB strategy works in all scoring leagues, it is the easiest to execute in PPR leagues 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 pick in a 1QB league. You don’t want to pass on Christian McCaffrey. Instead, you want to use the Hero RB strategy. Draft Christian McCaffrey in the first round, then wait till the middle rounds to load up on running backs.

Types of Running Backs to Target

High Upside Backs

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 don’t have the most upside but have a potential path to a top-12 finish. Typically these running backs are guys who have a shot at replacing the current starter with or without needing an injury. Some potential targets include Zach Charbonnet, Jaylen Wright and Chase Brown.

Handcuffs

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. Running backs get hurt each season, 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.

Dalvin Cook missed four games because of injuries in 2021. 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 Blake Corum, Tyler Allgeier and Kendre Miller.

PPR Stars

It’s easier to execute a Zero RB draft strategy in PPR leagues because there is more depth at the running back position. Running backs who don’t provide much fantasy value on the ground are borderline worthless in non-PPR leagues. 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 Jaylen Warren, Jerick McKinnon and Antonio Gibson.

Early-Season Fillers

Most running backs you draft will be lottery tickets or high-upside players. However, you will need a few stable options for the first couple of 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 Zack Moss and Ezekiel Elliott.

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. Outside of Superflex leagues, 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 CeeDee Lamb, Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase 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 the tight end position is critical if you use this draft strategy. Last year was a fluky one at tight end. Yet, the TE1 has averaged 19.1 fantasy points per game, while the TE2 averaged 15.5 fantasy points per game from 2020 through 2022.

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. Jaylen Waddle and Malik Nabers are two ideal targets.

Round 4: Top Tier Quarterback

Like with tight ends, you want an elite quarterback on your team. While the gap between the top 3-4 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 Patrick Mahomes or Jalen Hurts, you might need to use your third-round pick. Regardless of which round you draft a quarterback, you want to grab one with significant 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 include George Pickens or Tank Dell. Safe floor options include Amari Cooper or Tee Higgins.

Potential Draft Targets

(ADP via Underdog Fantasy)

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

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