Why Zero RB Will Make a Comeback in 2017

In fantasy football, there are ebbs and flows to everything. We don’t have the luxury of 162 games or even an 81 game schedule with a plethora of data points to base our decisions. Small samples in a single season will always lead to higher variance, but the NFL has been around for long enough that we have a general idea of what to expect as a range of outcomes. The last two years have been fascinating from a variance perspective because the swing of what has happened to RBs and WRs is almost unheard of. 

In 2015, we saw the running back apocalypse. Only three of the twelve running backs drafted in the first two rounds exceeded their expected points based on ADP. More of the fantasy community became aware that running backs were too fragile to rely on in the early rounds and Shawn Siegele’s Zero RB strategy looked like a confirmed way to demolish every league. In that same year, wide receivers hit at an astonishing rate with six of the ten wide receivers drafted in the first two rounds exceeding their point expectations. The problem with both of those rates are that they just simply aren’t sustainable.

Fast forward a year to 2016 and the regression that took place on both ends made Zero RB seem like it wasn’t a viable strategy. Running backs drafted in the first five rounds had a success rate of over 56%. Wide receivers drafted in the first five rounds only had a success rate of 40% based on expected points and panic ensued. There will always be swings to these numbers but there are two questions; what makes Zero RB successful and can it be successful in 2017?

Disclaimer: I don’t believe in blindly following draft strategies and the thoughts in this article are primarily based on a Single QB PPR League. I’m a huge fan of Zero RB but if I’m picking at the 1.01 I’m taking David Johnson, 1.02 I’m taking Le’Veon Bell. After that, I’m most likely taking a WR but you need to gauge how the draft is going.

Zig When Others Zag

 

If everyone went Zero RB in a league, no one would gain value from it. The reason for that is simple, if no one is drafting running backs there aren’t going to be any “steals” or values in the draft. The strategy works when other drafters are overvaluing draft assets while you, the Zero RB-er, are ending up with WRs that never should have fallen that low in the first place. If you’ve been in a league for any number of years, you should begin to see certain tendencies emerge. In my main league, I know that there is always one or two people that will draft a QB in the first round and a half. That pushes value down the board at the positions that I put a premium on.

 

Expected Point Value

 

Based on data from 2010-2016, the points you can expect by drafting different positions show how successful (or unsuccessful) different drafting strategies have most likely been. I’m using PPR points because I think that it catches all of the data that we need. PPR points are directly related to the opportunity a player gets (targets, carries, etc.) and the amount of games they play (injuries equal fewer games and therefore fewer points).

 

Round RB WR
1 213.8 260.8
2 194.3 242.3
3 171.7 209.4
4 163.2 184.2
5 114.2 196.4

 

Let’s assume you’re an above-average drafter and are lucky enough to hit the average point expectation for each player you draft. The points your team would earn from your first three picks are in the chart below.

 

WR-WR-WR 712.5
WR-WR-RB 674.8
RB-WR-WR 665.6
RB-WR-RB 627.8
WR-RB-RB 626.8
RB-RB-WR 617.6
RB-RB-RB 579.8

 

Implications for the Upcoming Season

 

Look, I’d be lying if I said that I’m skipping over David Johnson if I’m at the 1.03 and he is still there in a PPR draft. The combination of an RB1 rush share and the same target share as guys like Cameron Meredith or DeVante Parker is too good to pass up. But, if I’m sitting at 1.08 and there have already been three or four running backs taken, I’m ecstatic at the possibility of landing AJ Green for my WR1 that late in the first round.

The dip in WR production in 2016 can open up some great values in 2017. If you’ve never tried Zero RB before, it can be a little daunting to stick to it as you’re drafting your 4th wide receiver while running backs are flying off the board. Some names that are making it easier for me are listed below. ADP is constantly changing and may eliminate some of these values but the beauty of Zero RB is that it embraces the chaos of the NFL season. Targeting RBs that have a floor of targets and some rush attempts that have the opportunity to take hold of a backfield are the primary guys we’re looking for. 

Zero RB Candidates (Currently Going after Pick 60)

 

Ameer Abdullah Likely Starting RB
CJ Anderson Starting RB (Value increased already due to Booker injury)
Bilal Powell Timeshare with 31+ year old RB that missed time last year
Tevin Coleman Week winning upside in high powered offense
Eddie Lacy Seems to be in shape and is on a new team with a run-heavy philosophy
Theo Riddick Solid target floor
Terrance West Young RB out for season in front of him, shares backfield with oft-injured 32 year old RB
CJ Prosise Explosive 3rd Down Back

 

These are some players to target if you find yourself going 0RB on draft day. As I said, be aware of whats going on in your draft and adjust accordingly.

Questions? Comments? I’m on Twitter @MattJonesTFR