As you’re preparing for your fantasy draft, chances are you’ve come across many different draft strategies. One specific strategy I want to examine is the zero running back strategy. Zero running back is a bit of a misnomer, but the idea is to focus on drafting wide receivers and even a tight end and/or a quarterback in the early rounds and wait until the later rounds to draft running backs.
So what’s the point of this? Well, over the past decade the NFL has become increasingly dominated by the passing game. This has caused the fantasy value of wide receivers and quarterbacks to skyrocket at the expense of running backs. Furthermore, the number of workhorse running backs in the NFL has greatly diminished as time shares and running back by committees have become the norm. Think about it, there are only a handful of RBs in the NFL today that are every-down and goal-line backs. On the other hand, more wide receivers than ever before are posting 10+ touchdown / 1,000+ yard seasons. The same can be said for QBs. Throwing 30+ passing touchdowns in a season is no longer an incredible feat.
If you are in a 12+ team, PPR league, I believe this is a really solid strategy to ploy. This year especially, there are a number of running backs that have great value in the later rounds. So first you build up your passing game, and then focus on drafting high upside, great value running backs in the later rounds. Bottom line is there are always a number of running backs who come out of nowhere during the NFL season and finish as RB1s. Easier said than done, but this strategy is aimed at targeting these types of players.
Let’s put this strategy into action. Thanks to simulated drafts at Fantasy Pros, I’ll do a mock draft using the zero RB strategy and see how my team turns out.
Round 1- Odell Beckham Jr (WR)
I’m going to give myself the sixth overall pick in the draft. Reason being is I believe the first round presents an exception to the zero RB strategy. David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and LeSean McCoy are all elite running backs that handle 90% of their teams’ workload on the ground. Drafting these players is perfectly acceptable in the first round because I believe they are the exceptions, not the rules. But I digress. Easy pick right here with OBJ who is a surefire WR1 this year.
Round 2- T.Y. Hilton (WR)
Hilton very quietly led the league in yards last season with 1,448 yards. He now has four consecutive years with 1,000+ yards and 5+ touchdowns. If Andrew Luck can stay healthy for the whole season, who knows how good T.Y. can really be. My WR1 and 2 are really solid after this pick.
Round 3- Davante Adams (WR)
I was also considering Terrelle Pryor and Travis Kelce. Both would have been good picks, but I like Adams. From Week 4 on last season he was the number five wide receiver. With Jordy Nelson getting older, this could very well be his offense soon (other than Aaron Rodgers, that is).
Round 4- Golden Tate (WR)
Four WRs in a row, am I crazy? Maybe, but Golden Tate is a PPR machine and will be a great flex option and fill in during bye weeks. I was strongly considering Dalvin Cook and if this were an actual draft I maybe would have taken him, but for the purpose of the experiment I stayed true to pass catchers.
Round 5- Bilal Powell (RB)
Running back alert! Not your stereotypical RB1, but Bilal Powell offers a ton of upside operating in a less than stellar offense. The talent is there, Powell was a clear RB1 in the second half of 2016 when he was the Jets feature back. He was catching passes and running (5.51 YPC) very efficiently. With Forte already battling injuries and the Jets literally having no other adept options on offense, Powell will receive a heavy workload and should make it count.
Round 6- C.J. Anderson (RB)
Anotha one. I actually really like C.J. Anderson as an RB2. Sure, he’s had his struggles and the offense now has Jamaal Charles, but don’t forget the Broncos spent big money to keep Anderson around before the 2016 season. With a beefed up offensive line to run behind, Anderson’s outlook looks good even if he is splitting some carries with Charles, who is out of his prime. After all, Anderson has average 4.51 YPC throughout his career. RB1 and 2 slots filled.
Round 7- Paul Perkins (RB)
This is what you have to do. With a really solid receiving core, it makes sense to now start taking shots on running backs. Perkins played well and even won the Giants RB1 job toward the end of last season. The Giants’ decision to pass on a plethora of free agent running backs showed their commitment to Perkins. With a scary passing attack, the ground should be open for Perkins to wreak havoc.
Round 8- Delanie Walker (TE)
Delanie Walker is one of the more reliable options at tight end available. He’s had at least 800 yards in the past three seasons and at least six touchdowns in three out of the past four seasons. Walker has become Mariota’s favorite option and should receive a bunch of red zone targets this year.
Round 9- Andy Dalton (QB)
Maybe not the most flashy option at quarterback, but Dalton gets the job done. He’s finished as a top 12 fantasy QB in three out of the last five years. However, I will definitely need to take another quarterback at some point. If this was Rodgers or Brady then it would be a different story.
Round 10- C.J. Prosise (RB)
Another high upside running back to stash on my bench. Especially in PPR, considering that Prosise has essentially locked up the Seahawks passing down duties. If Rawls and Lacy both fail to get the job done, Prosise could be in store for an even bigger workload.
Round 11- Chris Thompson (RB)
Similar to Prosise, Thompson has locked down the Redskins passing down work this season. Last year, Thompson averaged 9.2 FPPG, which is very respectable. At the very least, I know I can put Thompson in my lineup and expect adequate production. You won’t find many players with his consistency this late in the draft.
Round 12- Ben Roethlisberger (QB)
Everyone is down on Big Ben this season, just look at what all the ESPN fantasy pundits are saying. However, at this late in the draft and pairing him with Andy Dalton, I think he’s a steal. Even if I’m only starting him at home, Big Ben offers a ton of value as he orchestrates one of the league’s best offenses.
Round 13- Zay Jones (WR)
Zay Jones stock is rising. For more explanation on why I like him, see here.
Round 14- Vikings D/ST
Round 15- Matt Bryant
Andy Dalton- QB
Bilal Powell- RB1
C.J. Anderson- RB2
Odell Beckham Jr- WR1
T.Y. Hilton- WR2
Davante Adams- Flex
Delanie Walker- TE
Matt Bryant- K
Golden Tate- WR
Paul Perkins- RB
C.J. Prosise- RB
Chris Thompson- RB
Ben Roethlisberger- QB
Zay Jones- WR
Personally, I’m really happy the way this team came out. My wide receivers are dominant and my running backs have the high upside I was looking for. With OBJ, Hilton, Adams, and Tate, I only have to start two RBs per week. It’s not crazy to think that my WR production will mitigate any problems my RBs might face. Bottom line, this is a strategy that could work, but it all depends on what happens on draft day. You have to be willing to adapt and mix and max strategies that best sets you up for success. The most important thing to know is that no two drafts are the same and certain situations call for different plans of action.