Is the Zero RB Strategy The Answer To Fantasy Football Success?

“Drafting a running back with your first round fantasy football pick is crucial for a successful season.”

How many seasons have you utilized this fantasy football strategy?

For years now, fantasy football analysts have voiced their expertise on drafting a running back in the first round (and sometimes second round) is the safest and most effective way to draft.

Or is it?

The statement  that the NFL is a passing league now vs. the traditional running league is no foolish claim because it’s completely accurate.

Within the last 3 seasons of the NFL, not only having passing yards increased season over season, but rushing yards have decreased season over the season as well. Here’s an overall breakdown:

Year

Total NFL Passing Yards Total NFL Rushing Yards

2015

124,487 yards 55,719 yards

2014

121,247 yards

57,002 yards

2013 120,626 yards

57,795 yards

*Stats provided by Pro-Football-Reference

Fantasy running backs have always been touted as the anchor of your fantasy team, simply because in the past, teams were running the ball more. Recently, this has changed.

Is it time to rethink our fantasy football draft strategy?

Is there other draft strategies out there?

Is a wide receiver more valuable with your first round pick?

The answer is Yes to all of these questions.

We present to you the Hybrid Zero Running Back Strategy, and why it’s the most effective way to draft.

Let’s dig deeper into what this strategy is how we can apply it to our next fantasy football draft.

The Hybrid Zero Running Back Strategy actually stems from the Zero RB strategy.

The Zero Running Back Strategy has been around for quite some time but was not a widely adopted draft strategy by most fantasy football players (unless you’re in a PPR league.)

This strategy is based on the premise that instead of drafting a running back with your first round or second round pick, you would focus on the early-to-mid rounds purely drafting wide receivers. This strategy makes sense in a points-per-reception league, seeing wide receivers are the primary target for receptions.

In standard leagues, this is usually not the case seeing running backs traditionally receive the lion’s share of carries. But after analyzing the previous three seasons within the NFL, teams are throwing the ball more and running the ball less.

Why is this?

While there is still some solid premier running backs in the league, more and more teams are defaulting to RBBC (running back by committee).

Instead of a premier running back rushing 30 times a game, 2-3 running backs rushing 10-15 times a game keeps players protected and fresh.

Running backs are the most vulnerable to injuries. Each rushing attempt has the highest probability of injury. In order to combat this, teams are much more open to frequent switching out running backs to minimize risk.

The Overall Strategy

With the zero RB theory, you would be able to draft premier wide receivers with picks 1-5 and then rely on the mid rounds to select running backs that may be part of an RBBC, 3rd down backs, or handcuffs to fill the running back void.

With so many premier wide receivers, not only will you be able to sub out quality for quality when tough team matchups occur, but you also have a robust inventory to make a superb fantasy football trade when the season starts.

A typical draft utilizing the zero RB strategy may look like this:
Round 1: WR
Round 2: WR
Round 3: WR
Round 4: WR or TE
Round 5: WR
Round 6:RB
Round 7: RB
Round 8: RB or WR
Round 9: QB or WR or RB
Round 10: QB or WR or RB
Round 11-15: TE, RB/WR, DEF, K

Depending on if you would like to draft a QB earlier is feasible, but usually in the zero running back strategy, a quarterback is drafted in later rounds.

As you can see, this strategy would work well with a PPR league, but with a standard league, it’s a bit riskier.

If a traditional draft strategy is outdated, yet the zero RB strategy is too ambitious, what is optimal for draft success?

Enter The Hybrid Zero Running Back Strategy

The Hybrid Zero RB strategy is a combination of both a traditional RB draft and the Zero RB strategy, just reversed.

While we cannot ignore running backs until the mid-to-late rounds, wide receivers take precedent. An example of what a Hybrid Zero Running back strategy may look like is:

Round 1: WR
Round 2: WR
Round 3: WR
Round 4: RB
Round 5: RB
Round 6:RB or WR or TE
Round 7: RB or WR or TE
Round 8: RB or WR or TE
Round 9: QB or WR or RB
Round 10: QB or WR or RB
Round 11-15: TE, RB/WR, DEF, K

While this strategy still encompasses the value of a wide receiver and drafting a Qb in the late rounds, drafting a running back is still a key factor.

Not convinced a WR has more value than a RB?

It’s hard to break old habits.

The fact of the matter is not only is most leagues set up for a 2 RB, 3 WR starting lineup, but over the last three seasons in fantasy football, more wide receivers have finished with total points than running backs at the completion of the regular season.

Below is a comparison of the last three seasons of fantasy football ADP (average draft position) versus final point standings for the season. You will notice that while the first round of drafts were heavily dominated by running backs, final point standings reflected wide receivers finished the season with higher total points.

Note: For the final points column, all QBs were removed unless they were originally drafted in that round. This will accurately compare and contrast the value of a running back versus a wide receiver.

1st Round ADP vs Final Season Points (Standard league,12 players)

Round:Pick 2015 ADP Round 1 2015 Final Points
1:1 Adrian Peterson Antonio Brown
1:2 Leveon Bell Julio Jones
1:3 Eddie Lacy Devonta Freeman
1:4 Jaamal Charles Brandon Marshall
1:5 Marshawn Lynch Adrian Peterson
1:6 Antonio Brown Allen Robinson
1:7 CJ Anderson Odell Beckham
1:8 Dez Bryant DeAndre Hopkins
1:9 Julio Jones Doug Martin
1:10 Jeremy Hill Doug Baldwin
1:11 Andrew Luck DeAngelo Williams
1:12 Demaryius Thomas AJ Green
Total 7 RBs, 4 WR, 1 QB 4 RBs, 8 WRs

*Players marked in red in the final points column denote that player was not drafted in the first round.

If we analyze the 2015 ADP compared to the final points standings in standard leagues, you’ll notice that although 7 running backs were drafted in the first round, 8 wide receivers actually finished with more points. Among the 4 running backs that finished in the top 12, only 1 was originally drafted in the top 12.

2nd Round ADP vs Final Season Points (Standard league,12 players)

Round:Pick

2015 ADP Round 2

2015 Final Points (11-24)

2:13

Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski

2:14

DeMarco Murrary

Todd Gurley

2:15

Odell Beckham Jr.

Lamar Miller

2:16

Matt Forte Eric Decker

2:17

Calvin Johnson Larry Fitzgerald
2:18 Randall Cobb

Calvin Johnson

2:19 A.J. Green

David Johnson

2:20

LeSean McCoy Brandin Cooks

2:21

Justin Forsett Matt Forte
2:22 Aaron Rodgers

Chris Ivory

2:23 Lamar Miller

Demaryius Thomas

2:24

TY Hilton Allen Hurns
Totals 5 RBs, 5 WRs, 1 TE, 1 QB

5 RBs, 6 WRs, 1 TE

In analyzing the 2nd Round, both the number of RBs and WRs drafted almost equaled the final point standings. While this may not help the case of solely focusing on WRs in the first few rounds, you’ll notice that only 2 of the 5 RBs that were originally drafted finished on par.

3rd Round ADP vs Final Season Points (Standard league,12 players)

Round:Pick

2015 ADP Round 3

2015 Final Points (25-36)

3:25

Brandin Cooks

Jarvis Landry

3:26

Frank Gore

Sammy Watkins

3:27

Jordan Matthews

Jordan Reed

3:28

Alshon Jeffery

Gary Barnidge

3:29

Mark Ingram

Danny Woodhead

3:30

Mike Evans

Jeremy Maclin

3:31

LaTavius Murray

Latavius Murray

3:32

DeAndre Hopkins

Frank Gore

3:33

Jimmy Graham

Darren McFadden

3:34

Alfred Morris

Jeremy Hill

3:35

Davantae Adams

Greg Olsen

3:36

Emmanuel Sanders

Delanie Walker

Totals

4 RBs, 7 WRS, 1 TE

5 RBs, 3 WRs, 4 TES

The 3rd round ADP vs. Final Points comparison would disprove selecting a wide receiver here until you look at the tight end position. 4 tight ends finished in the top 36 for overall points. If your league utilizes a flex position vs a third wide receiver position, it would make a lot of sense to lock down a TE1 in one of the earlier rounds.

2014 results

Round

2014 ADP

2014 Final Points

1

7 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1QB

7 Rbs, 5 WRs

2

5 RBs, 6 WRs, 2 QBs

4 RBs, 7 WRs, 1 TE

3

5 RBs, 5 WR, 2 TEs 5 RBs, 6 WRs, 1 TE

While 2014 results disprove WR is more valuable than RB in the first round, rounds 2 and 3 show project greater value for drafting WRs.

2013 Results

Round

2013 ADP

2013 Final Points

1

11 RBS, 1 WR

5 RBs, 3 WRs, 2 QB, 1 TE

2

7 RBs, 4 WRs, 1 QB, 1 TE

5 RBs, 6 WRs, 1 TE

3

5 RBs, 5 WRs, 2 QBs,

5 RBs, 5 WRs, 2 TEs

 In 2013, we find an astounding 11 running backs drafted in the first round, to which only 5 finished in the top 12 in total points. Both in the 2 and 3 rounds, WRs were either under-drafted or drafted the same amount as RBs, to which they either outperformed or stayed the same in total points.

All ADP stats from Fantasy Football Calculator

Final points stats from Pro-Football-Reference and Espn

Should you use the Hybrid Zero Running Back theory for your draft?

Based on the statistics and comparison above, it absolutely makes sense to target wide receivers within the first three rounds of your standard league draft. With more of today’s teams dedicating their rushing strategy to an RBBC and the increased volatile state of running backs, wide receivers are too valuable to pass up.

If you’re still not convinced this may be the best strategy for your fantasy football draft, attempt several fantasy football mock drafts utilizing the Hybrid Zero Running Back Strategy. You’ll find that your results will reflect a solid core team that revolves around top tier wide receivers rather than boom-or-bust running backs.

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Written by Chad Lio

Chad Lio is Fantasy Football fanatic in the sense that he spends way too much time researching players only to blow it by second guessing himself. His attempts to be a scratch golfer are quite comedic. Favorite Team: Chicago Bears