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Is Zero RB a Viable Strategy in 2022?

Maybe the most controversial draft strategy in a redraft league is the idea that you want to wait until the 5th or 6th Round before you draft a running back. This concept gained traction after Shawn Siegele perfected it in 2013 by continuing to hammer the value at wide receiver and grabbing running backs with a high upside potential later on.

Commonly known as "Zero RB," the concept is to zig while others zag. Instead of taking a RB early, you counter with a top receiver while avoiding some of the injuries that can happen to running backs before the season even starts. Last year players saw their rosters torpedoed by season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins, Travis Etienne, and Cam Akers before they could even get out of the gates.

Let's review the details of this strategy and decide whether it is still a viable way to attack RB in 2022.

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Overview

This strategy has become more popular over time as more committees and shared backfields are becoming more common and true bell-cow running backs are dominating offensive snap shares less and less. While the 2023 class looks promising and may bring some of the bell cows back with Bijan Robinson and others, for now, they are becoming extinct. Let's take a look at all of the running backs who played at least 60% of their team's offensive snaps in 2021:

  1. Najee Harris - PIT - 84%
  2. Alvin Kamara - NO - 75%
  3. David Montgomery - CHI - 75%
  4. Derrick Henry - TEN - 71%
  5. Dalvin Cook - MIN - 71%
  6. Jonathan Taylor - IND - 69%
  7. Joe Mixon - CIN - 67%
  8. D'Andre Swift - DET - 67%
  9. Ezekiel Elliott - DAL - 66%
  10. Darrell Henderson - LAR - 65%
  11. Austin Ekeler - LAC - 64%
  12. Eli Mitchell - SF - 64%
  13. Leonard Fournette - TB - 63%
  14. Josh Jacobs - LV - 63%
  15. Saquon Barkley - NYG - 61%
  16. Christian McCaffrey - CAR - 60%
  17. Devin Singletary - BUF - 60%

All the rest played 59% or fewer of their teams' snaps league-wide. To put this in perspective, these snap percentages have been dropping since 2019 when five RBs played 82% of the snaps or more and the same was true in 2018 when four RBs played 82% or more. In 2021, just three running backs saw 75% of their teams' snaps. Why is this relevant? By continuing to see fewer snaps per game we could argue that the dominant backs of running back's past are becoming fewer and far between, which opens up the value to draft other positions earlier.

 

Criteria for a Zero RB Draft

There are certain situations where the odds of putting together a strong roster with a Zero RB Strategy are good and this is the criteria for doing it:

  • Leagues that have FAAB Bidding instead of a Rolling Waiver Wire
  • Draft position of 1.09 - 1.12 when you are likely missing out on the top RBs anyway
  • At least half point PPR but full PPR is preferred
  • Leagues that start 3 Wide Receivers
  • A Superflex League
  • An offense-only league like the Rotoviz Triflex on FFPC where you start 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, 2 Flex, 1 Superflex
  • Leagues that allow for more bench spots and have 2+ flexes
  • Earlier drafts that take place in June, July, and early August where injuries are more likely to happen to running backs in Training Camp and the Preseason. By rostering handcuffs and later RBs down on the depth chart you get a good chance of having one of your later RBs see significant snaps. Think of the injuries that happened to JK Dobbins, Travis Etienne, and Cam Akers last preseason. While we aren't wishing or cheering for anyone to get injured, it does happen often to running backs and we must be prepared.
  • When we are drafting later handcuffs or bidding on free agents with FAAB, typically we are looking for backs who are solid pass catchers and are on good offenses.

 

When not to do Zero RB

In contrast to when we might look to execute a Zero RB strategy, there are situations when the data doesn't favor trying to pull it off:

  • Standard scoring leagues
  • 1QB leagues with only one flex
  • If you are up early in drafts with the likes of Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, Najee Harris, Dalvin Cook, or even Austin Ekeler on the clock. Depending on your tiers, we aren't trying to pull Zero RB with elite running backs still on the board
  • If you are in the 1.01 - 1.04 range in 1QB drafts

 

Strengths of Zero RB

By using a Zero RB strategy we are more likely to be dominant than the rest of our league mates when it comes to Quarterback, Wide Receiver, and Tight End due to the overall fragility of the running back position. With the use of FAAB and rostering later handcuff backs, the idea is that we will be just as strong as the rest of our league by midseason because several of the backs we drafted late or acquired with FAAB will be starting for us.

This strategy works best when the majority of our league mates are going running back heavy early on in drafts because this allows us to roster top-tier players at all of the other positions. Should you have two other people in your drafts who are executing the same strategy it becomes a lot less effective, so keep an eye on the overall draft board to see who is doing what.

 

Zero RB Example from 2021

In a Superflex league with FAAB on Yahoo, I was able to take home the championship by pulling off a Zero RB Strategy even after being mocked and made fun of by all of my league mates when my first running back was chosen in Round 6. My team was 3-5 halfway through but ended up finishing 9-5 and took home the championship. Elijah Mitchell was picked up on FAAB the first month of the season and he had some tremendous weeks which helped to power me through.

QBs: Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins

RBs: AJ Dillon, Javonte Williams, Eli Mitchell, Melvin Gordon, Alexander Mattison

WRs: Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Tyler Lockett, Brandin Cooks, Darnell Mooney

TEs: Mark Andrews, Dawson Knox

 

How Zero RB Might Look for 2022

Implementing a Zero RB strategy from the 1.06 in a Superflex half PPR redraft, this is how the roster looks for the upcoming season.

QB - Justin Herbert (1.06)
RB - Elijah Mitchell (6.07)
RB - AJ Dillon (7.06)
WR - Mike Evans (3.06)
WR - Keenan Allen (4.07)
TE - Dalton Schultz (10.07)
Flex - Michael Pittman (5.06)
Superflex - Jalen Hurts (2.07)

Bench
QB Marcus Mariota (12.07)
RB Tony Pollard (9.06)
RB Isaiah Spiller (11.06)
RB Kenneth Gainwell (13.06)
RB Nyheim Hines (14.07)
WR DeVonta Smith (8.07)
WR Corey Davis (15.06)
WR Joshua Palmer (17.06)
TE Cole Kmet (16.07)

It's important to note that many of the Running Back ADP's will likely settle at a higher value as we get closer to the season. When that happens getting guys like Elijah Mitchell and AJ Dillon may not be possible. The sooner we decide to draft a running back, the less effective Zero RB becomes, within reason of course. We aren't going to wait until Round 8 to draft a back, but taking one in Round 3 isn't really a Zero RB Strategy.

The easiest time to pull off a Zero RB strategy is now being that we are still relatively early in the offseason. If you don't want to get in a redraft league just yet, you can execute this strategy in a Best Ball league and see how it pans out. Right now if you are interested in trying out Underdog Fantasy, feel free to use my code: LUCKISMADEFF, and they will match your first deposit up to $100.

When executing a Zero RB we must draft around 6 running backs total to give ourselves a higher chance of hitting on one.

 

Conclusion

While some do consider the Zero RB approach to be reckless, it can be effective when used properly and preferably when no one else in the draft is doing it.

Personal preference is a Zero RB Anchor or a Hero RB strategy with a bell cow back like Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, or Derrick Henry early on but not taking another one until many rounds later. This way one of your RB spots is secure and instead of drafting another one you can scoop up the rest of the value that exists elsewhere. Of course, this is much easier to pull off in leagues with FAAB.

Even if Zero RB doesn't seem like the thing for you, it's important to have an overall idea of differing draft strategies in case you are ever thrown into a situation where the draft board goes much differently than you had anticipated. When that happens it's important to know when to pivot versus tilting and watching your entire draft fall apart.

Have you had any personal experiences with Zero RB that you'd like to share? Feel free to comment on this thread on Twitter.



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