Zero RB is heavily debated every year, and the debates burn even hotter in the slower parts of the offseason like right now. Ever since the great “RB Apocalypse” of 2015, RBs have dominated fantasy leagues while WR scoring has been trending downwards and reached an all-time low this past season. This has led to best ball drafts to be dominated by RBs in the early rounds: 9 RBs are currently being picked in the 1st round on average, and 15 RBs are being taken in the top 2 rounds.
This RB dominance has been further enhanced by the format of best ball leagues. One of the central tenants of Shawn Siegele’s Zero RB theory is the ability to use the waiver wire. Considering that there is no waiver wire in best ball, this has led many intelligent fantasy players to conclude that Zero RB can’t work in best ball, and to win you need to draft RBs early. I’m here to tell you that they are wrong, and Zero RB is a league winning strategy this year.
Note: This article is focused on the classic “winner take all” MFL10 format. Zero RB is a strategy that should be used when playing for 1st place, not when you are playing to finish in the top 6 like in the 2X format.
Note: I believe this strategy works in “best ball” when you take your first RB in the 5th or 6th round. Many people are staunch advocates that zero RB means waiting until very, very late to select your first RB. While this may have been true in its inception, the strategy has evolved (rightly or wrongly) to be seen by the general fantasy football public as taking your first RB quickly after the first four rounds or so. This is what I advocate for, and do not believe waiting till round 8+ to select your first RB will be profitable consistently in best ball drafts.
Why It Will Work:
I believe that there has been a clear market overcorrection in the prices of RBs and WRs this offseason, as RBs have become overvalued while WRs have become undervalued. This is in complete contrast to what happened in 2016 following the “RB Apocalypse,” which makes 2015 an illuminating example to analyze in order to understand best how to maximize market overcorrections to your advantage. Best ball guru Mike Beers of Bestball Command recently posted an invaluable win rate analysis on twitter:
While many will try to use this graph to cement their argument that Zero RB is a failure, that is misguided. Zero RB was massively profitable in 2015 as seemingly every top RB went down and mid round Devonta Freeman won everybody their leagues. This lead to Zero RB being incredibly prominent in 2016, as the market overcorrected and made WRs overvalued and made RBs undervalued. Only 4 of the top 12 picks were RBs that year, and only 13 RBs went in the top 3 rounds. Great RBs in high volume, three down roles like LeSean McCoy (2016 ADP 32.7) were going in the 3rd round. It looks ridiculous in hindsight, but there is an excellent chance we will view the ADPs of this year’s 2nd-4th round receivers similarly this time next year.
Jacob Rickrode (@ClutchFantasy) of Rotoviz shows us in his chart that while RB production over the past two years has dominated the top 12 overall scorers (excluding QBs), this has indeed not always been the case:
RBs dominated the overall top 12 in 2008, yet WRs rebounded in the following years. I fully anticipate a similar scenario in 2018 where the top WRs once again match or outmatch RB production, but they will do so at a much cheaper draft cost.
Furthermore, when everyone is utilizing a specific strategy, and you follow the crowd by using it as well, it becomes more difficult to gain a competitive edge. In these instances, the most likely edge you can achieve is through “picking the right players,” which is more random than even the best fantasy players would care to admit. This is where the saying “zig when everyone else zags” actually holds tremendous merit; if the consensus says that RBs need to be picked early, then doing the opposite will give you a fantastic opportunity to achieve a competitive advantage over 90+% of drafters.
Mid-Late Round RB Targets to Maximize Zero RB:
A huge reason why I’m an advocate of the strategy this year is the incredible value at RB in the mid rounds. The DFF team will likely cover many of these values in depth shortly, but my favorite RB1 upside value targets when going Zero RB are Alex Collins (ADP 58.57), Lamar Miller (ADP 71.27), Duke Johnson (ADP 68.20), and Marshawn Lynch (ADP 101.99).
Miller has fallen due to concerns about D’onta Foreman, yet drafters have conveniently ignored how difficult it is for players to recover from torn Achilles and how good Miller was for fantasy when Watson was at QB. Duke has fallen after finishing as an RB1 last year primarily due to the addition of Nick Chubb at RB. However, Duke’s role as what Matt Kelly of Player Profiler would call a “satellite back plus” from last year should remain intact. Marshawn Lynch has fallen because drafters have a perception of him as “washed” lead back, yet last year per Player Profiler he ranked 2nd in the NFL in evaded tackles with 99, 1st in juke rate at 43.6%, and 13th in breakaway runs with 9. All 4 of these guys have incredible opportunities in front of them and have just fallen out of favor with drafters due to misguided public perceptions over their abilities and job security.
How It Looks:
Even last season in a year dominated by elite RB production, Zero RB still managed to give drafters massive upside. This team (not drafted by me) finished as the 3rd highest scoring team in all of MFL10s last year, and was in 1st place heading into week 16:
Note: I was able to access this team and the historical ADP from Gentan Schulteis’ (@GentanSchulteis) and his incredible best ball resource https://ffpages.com/mfl10/ (Login required). The site has recently flipped over to 2018, but be on the lookout for a historical viewing page where you will be able to filter the highest scoring teams from last year yourself and analyze their rosters. Also, follow him if you haven’t already. He provides incredible information and has backed it up with years of success.
Gentan was able to combine two of the highest upside strategies possible: Zero RB and drafting two elite TEs early. He identified perfect Zero RB targets like Mark Ingram in the 6th round, stacked Kamara with Ingram in the 14th, and took a shot on Kareem Hunt rising to prominence in the 11th round. The man even lost his WR3 before the season when Julian Edelman tore his ACL, yet his team still dominated. It will be borderline impossible to replicate Zero RB this perfectly in the future, but the underlying point remains the same: you can win big with Zero RB in best ball.
Many people’s biggest worry with this strategy is that they won’t like how their team will look at the end, so here are a few examples of my teams this year to give you a better understanding of what a Zero RB roster may look like:
While Zero RB may not be for everybody, you can essentially get many of the same benefits of the strategy by utilizing a “modified Zero RB” approach where you take one RB in the top 3 rounds but hammer WR or other positions immediately after that. It may be a perfect compromise for drafters who get nauseous without at least 1 RB before round 5. Here are examples of mine:
All of these rosters maximize their upside by locking in elite WR production (and occasionally elite TE production) to fill all 3 WR spots and the flex position while drafting mid-round RBs with legitimate RB1 upside and 250+ touch potential. I feel very confident in all of these teams’ chances to win especially if any of the top RBs go down early like David Johnson did last year. Go out and draft a Zero RB team today before the perfect mid-round RB targets rise in ADP.