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Is Zero RB Actually Working in 2017?

Zero RB truthers (that’s me) - this article is for you. Did you do the right thing by sticking to your guns after a rough go in 2016?

If you were savvy/lucky enough to select the right WRs in the first 4-5 rounds (Antonio Brown, Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, Michael Crabtree, Larry Fitzgerald, Adam Thielen), then you’re probably in good shape. And if you were savvy/lucky enough to follow that up with the right RBs (Chris Thompson, James White, Jerick McKinnon, Alvin Kamara, Duke Johnson) in rounds 5-8, then you are most likely at the top of the league.

But if you didn’t do both of those things, then your fantasy teams must be struggling as you watch RB-heavy teams rise up the ranks. So is Zero RB actually working in 2017? Let's break it down.

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2017 RB and WR Disappointments

It is not the job of an analyst to look at anecdotal evidence as the crux of an argument, but in the world of fantasy the performance of the big names plays a big role in perception. So let’s take a look at those names and see if it follows our narrative.

Some of the disappointments on the RB side include David Johnson, DeMarco Murray, Jay Ajayi, Isaiah Crowell, Marshawn Lynch and Ameer Abdullah.

On the WR side, we have names like Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, TY Hilton, Amari Cooper, Terrelle Pryor, Demaryius Thomas, Alshon Jeffery, Martavis Bryant, Devante Parker, Willie Snead, Jamison Crowder, Sammy Watkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Eric Decker, Donte Moncrief and Kenny Britt.

There are clearly more disappointments on the WR side, which leads us into some analysis that furthers this notion.


Zero RB Results Through Week 8

After wasting my time researching those lists above, I needed to get to the real info that would validate Zero RB truthers or bury them in the past. I looked at the top 48 ranked players pre-draft, at both RB and WR, and their respective season  point totals (half-PPR scoring).

I tiered these players out into four tiers, reflective of a 12 team league, and looked at the average total points of each group.  Something to point out is that I included injuries, suspension and byes. Points are points, and your guys either played or did not. We can’t worry about other variables such as depth chart changes, roster moves etc. We are evaluating Zero RB in a vacuum, isolated away from your ability to work the waiver wire or start the right matchups.

Well after completing this simple analysis, we have our answer folks. At least thus far in the season, the tables have turned in a big way and Zero RB has let you down. Check it out:

  • The top 12 ranked pre-draft RBs (RB1s) have on average outscored the top 12 ranked pre-draft WRs (WR1s) 114 versus 90, or a 24 point difference. Over an eight game stretch that’s a three point difference per player/per game.
  • For the next group of 12 (RB2s), the RBs outscored the WRs (WR2s) 83 versus 73, or a 10 point difference. That’s 1.25 points per player/per game difference thus far. Are you following me?
  • The RBs ranked 25-36 (RB3s) on average have been outscored 55 versus 44 points over the first eight weeks. That’s 1.375 points per player/per game less.
  • Anything different for RBs ranked 37-48 (RB4s)? Nope, it actually gets worse. This group was outscored 50 versus 31 on average. That's 1.58 points per player/per game less.

The other data that is pertinent is the drop off in points from RB2 to RB3 and WR2 to WR3. This is around the area that a Zero RB strategy would have you shifting to draft RBs. For RBs, the drop-off from RB2 to RB3 was 39 points on average. Holy Shmoly. For WRs, the drop-off from WR2 to WR3was only 18 points.


The Bottom Line

So, what does this data analysis mean? I’ll try and make it as simple as possible with some quick bullets:

  1. The top two tiers of RBs have drastically outperformed the top tiers of WRs. The deficit you had to make up in the later rounds after drafting early RBs was massive.
  2. RB3s and RB4s are performing well below WR3s and WR4s. So when you looked to make up your RB deficit after going early on WRs, you actually widened it.
  3. Zero RB has been flipped on its head, with the data showing that the exact opposite strategy would have reaped you optimal rewards.

Of course, there are and were exceptions as I mentioned above. You may have drafted the exact guys needed to defy this analysis. You may have made up for the deficit mentioned above at QB or TE. But for the most part, Zero RB has been disproven through Week 8.


How Did This Happen?

My last article showcased the reason why this is happening. Simply put, RBs are getting more passing targets than ever before.

This trend is decimating the Zero RB argument from both sides of the equation. More RBs are receiving more targets, scoring more in half and full point PPR leagues, and taking targets away from WRs. And most importantly, RBs receiving more targets and in-turn running less is lowering the injury risk. Compound that with an inherently lowered injury risk for many teams employing RBBCs, and you’ve got your secret sauce. Mind Blown.

As always, this has been a fun column to write. Thank for taking some time to read this, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well. I can be reached on Twitter @BrettMitchellFB.

Brett Mitchell


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