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Why I'm Not Going Zero RB ... And You Shouldn't Either

By Jared Smola 8:23am EDT 7/27/23

Let’s start with a confession: I’ve always been anti-Zero-RB. And I’ve been wrong.

I started playing fantasy football in 1997, when RBs dominated the game. Barry Sanders ran for 2,053 freakin’ yards that year. Terrell Davis went over 2,000 the following year. And Marshall Faulk racked up 2,429 total yards in 1999.

So as my moldable fantasy mind was forming, RBs were the key to winning championships.

Then the NFL changed. More passing. More specialized roles for RBs. Fewer workhorses like Sanders and Davis and Faulk.

But changing fantasy mindsets isn’t easy — at least for me.

While Rotoviz’s Shawn Siegle was penning the brilliant Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based Drafting back in 2013, I was still stuck in the ‘90s. Still loading up on RBs early.

And that was wrong. Early-round WRs won fantasy championships in the next few seasons after Siegle's article, while many of the allegedly elite RBs busted hard.

Being anti-Zero-RB was wrong.

Was.

I’m anti-Zero-RB again in 2023. And I don’t think I’m wrong this time.

  

How does Zero-RB work?

The idea behind Zero-RB is to capitalize on the volatility and fragility of the RB position. You let your opponents take those early-round RBs that are riskier in comparison to the high-end WRs you’re gobbling up.

I’ll let Siegle take it from here:

“You can see fairly easily how Zero RB benefits from randomness. Whenever a starting RB gets hurt, my lineup gets better. It gets better in relation to my opponents because I didn’t have the player in question, and it gets better in the sense that I either own the backup or I have a shot to acquire the backup in free agency.”

That makes a ton of sense. RBs get hurt more often than any other fantasy-relevant position. And backup RBs are often capable of stepping in and providing nice production.

TIP

Find Projected Games Missed for every fantasy-relevant player in our Injury Predictor tool.

But Zero-RB also relies on your ability to load up at WR and gain a big advantage over your competition at that position. And that’s where this strategy fails in 2023.

 

Zero-RB is no longer contrarian

Zero-RB was so successful because it was so contrarian.  

The folks who went full-on Zero-RB were able to assemble a dominant group of WRs.

In 2013, for example, just 17 WRs were selected in the first four rounds of drafts, according to My Fantasy League ADP data. That means, theoretically, you could land four top-17 WRs. Do that and you’re gonna be tough to beat — even with minimal production at RB.

In 2023? You ain't landing four top-17 WRs.

FFPC ADP has 22 WRs coming off the board in the first four rounds.

Underdog Fantasy and Drafters ADP have a whopping 26 WRs inside the first 48 picks.

Even Yahoo and ESPN, which are historically RB-heavier draft rooms, have 19 WRs in the top-48 of ADP.

So it's much tougher now to assemble a truly dominant group of WRs than it was back in 2013.

Basically, the popularity of the Zero-RB strategy has killed the effectiveness of the Zero RB strategy.

 

2023 Draft Strategy

"You want to be greedy when others are fearful. You want to be fearful when others are greedy.”

- Warren Buffett

With the rest of the fantasy community shifting more and more toward Zero-RB, we can capitalize by moving in the other direction.

Check out the number of RBs selected in the first one, two, and three rounds in 2013 vs. 2023:

RBs in first roundRBs in first two rounds rbs in first three rounds
2013 1015 19
2023 610 15

Early-round RBs have plummeted in popularity, especially in Round 1.

300+ touch RBs like Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor would have been top-five picks 10 years ago. Now they're available deep into Round 2.

Even the next tier of RBs -- guys like Tony Pollard, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Najee Harris -- are a half-round to a full round cheaper than they would have been in 2013.

Take advantage of that over-correction.

TIP

You'll find plenty of strong early-round RB targets in our Fantasy Football Draft Guide.

 

Can Zero RB work in 2023?

Sure.

Every draft plays out differently. If you're in a room that's RB-hungrier than most, going Zero-RB can certainly pay off.

Zero-RB is particularly interesting this year if you're picking near the end of Round 1. Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb, and Amon-Ra St. Brown are all nice picks in the first two rounds; D.K. Metcalf, Keenan Allen, and Deebo Samuel are enticing in the third and fourth.

What won't pay off is going into a draft fully committed to Zero-RB. Or fully committed to going with any rigid draft strategy.

One of the key tenets in our Fantasy Football Draft Strategy is: "Pursue Value Above All Else."

To do that, you need to be flexible in the early rounds of your draft. Be willing to take the best player available, regardless of position.  

 

Don't be a Zero-RB sheep

Be flexible. Take the best player available.

How do you do that?

With the Draft War Room.

The Draft War Room is a customized and dynamic cheat sheet that uses 17 value indicators to show you the best pick every time you're on the clock.

See how the Draft War Room optimizes your draft:

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