Does Zero RB Strategy Old News in 2023?
There are no running backs selected in the first ten choices in your dad’s fantasy football game. Your fantasy draft approach needs to change to keep up with how the NFL is evolving. This means it’s time to develop some balls and select a wide receiver in the first round of your 2023 fantasy football draft, like as Travis Kelce.
Now, I’m not advocating that you overlook Christian McCaffrey or other outstanding running back potential. What I’m trying to say is that wide receivers are becoming a more valued position in fantasy football, and you should take advantage of that.
The most important selections in the draft are the first two. It is crucial to choose these players carefully in order to reduntace risk and make sure you are getting the finest player available. Depending on how your draft plays out, going zero RB may be the best course of action for finding stars with minimum risk.
The facts and viewpoint offered will be based on PPR scoring, please take note.
What is ZERO RB?
The zero RB approach often involves holding off on picking a running back until the fifth or sixth round of your draft. In the first round, top players at WR, QB, and typically TE are chosen.
Running backs with a lot of upside are chosen in the later rounds. These are usually unproven players, individuals with the potential to take over a backfield, or those who are frequently ignored. Rhamondre Stevenson, Tony Pollard, and Kenneth Walker III were a few 2021 zero RB targets. All of them were young running backs with the ability to dominate their backfield.
You were looking at fantasy gold if you were fortunate enough to get one of these players along with elite skill at other positions.
When Should I Use ZERO RB?
Elite running backs like Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and Saquon Barkley will typically be selected early in fantasy leagues. When you are drafting in a late position, or when the top talent at RB has already been selected, this technique performs well. It could be time to start looking elsewhere once the stud ball carriers have left the field.
Only 0.5 and full PPR leagues should employ the zero RB approach. The reasoning for this is very straightforward: When players gain points for each reception, receivers have a greater likelihood of outscoring running backs. Additionally, this enables pass-catching running backs who are selected later in the draft and who have strong weeks to compensate for your RB weaknesses. Consider Jerick McKinnon, who was the RB20 in PPR formats in 2022 and may have been picked up off of waivers.
Let’s talk about why it could be a good idea to avoid selecting running backs in the first few rounds of drafts after defining zero RB and when it should be employed.
Risk vs. Reward
The running back position is unstable for a variety of unpredictable reasons. These factors include the rise of the “running back by committee,” the difficulty in predicting touchdowns, and coaches who appear to switch their starting running backs at random.
Just a brief word on touchdowns: Outside of quarterbacks, running backs are the positions most dependent on touchdowns for fantasy point production. This is a concern since touchdowns are a metric that is extremely difficult to forecast and can vary greatly from year to year. This might result in abrupt shifts in performance each year and make a first-round choice disappointing.
Injuries have a significant impact on the running back position as well. Running backs are more likely than any other position to have injuries that might end a season or their career.
In total, 81 running backs have been chosen in the first two rounds in fantasy drafts since 2017. Of these 81 RBs, 20 percent, or 16 running backs have had season-altering injuries. Season-altering meaning they missed five or more games over the course of the year.
There are many fantasy analysts and managers who stand behind the first-round running back. One point they often make is the steep drop-off in talent and production after the first few rounds. However, I don’t exactly find this to be the case.
Throughout fantasy football drafts, there are many hidden gems at the RB. What I mean is, many RBs significantly outperform their ADP.
Josh Jacobs, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Tony Pollard. What do these guys have in common? They all finished as top-eight running backs but were taken at pick 50 or later in preseason drafts. Not to mention Jamaal Williams who finished the year as RB13 but had an ADP of 126 (RB50).
While these are only a handful of players, you don’t need RB1 production if you have locked down elite WR and QB talent in the first few rounds. Your team is perfectly capable of success with talent in the RB2 range. Last year, this came in the form of players like Travis Etienne Jr., Kenneth Walker III, and Jerick McKinnon.
However, you might be lucky enough to find one of these elite late-round RBs. If you find one and pair them with your elite WRs and QB, I like to call this collecting the Infinity Stones…
Adapt or Die
Over the course of the 2022 NFL season, just 16 running backs had a snap share over 60 percent. Even more shocking, only six were on the field for more than 70 percent of snaps. As highlighted by the Roto Street Journal Fantasy Stock Formula, opportunity and usage are crucial pillars to success in fantasy football. What do you need to do to score fantasy points? Be available to play. Volume is key for fantasy success at the running back position. In an era where volume is being closely monitored for running backs, the value of non-elite RBs will continue to diminish.
To put into perspective how running back usage has diminished in just the last few years, only four running backs in 2018 saw at least 82 percent of snaps. In 2019, five RBs eclipsed this threshold. In 2022, only one RB achieved an 80 percent snap share. This was Saquon Barkley, who played exactly 80 percent of snaps.
This decrease in snap share is because running back by committee is becoming increasingly more common in the modern NFL. Unfortunately, this has been at the expense of fantasy production for that position. However, this is all the more reason to take WRs and a QB in the early rounds and embrace the zero RB strategy.
2023 ZERO RB TARGETS
It is the end of May, so ADPs will look different when redraft leagues are getting going in August. However, Best Ball players can take advantage of these targets now.
Joe Mixon: I just wrote about the upside of Mixon at his current fifth or sixth-round ADP. With the departure of Samaje Perine, Mixon’s touches will be through the roof. Mixon will have the opportunity, especially in the red zone, to make himself an RB1 come the end of 2023. Not to mention the fact that Mixon has finished as an RB1 in each of the last three seasons.
Kenneth Walker III: Despite performing well in his rookie season, Walker is still sliding into the fifth round of drafts. This is partly due to the Seahawks spending a second-round pick on UCLA product Zach Charbonnet. Despite the addition of Charbonnet, Walker is still a great target for zero RB drafters. Walker finished 2022 with the third-most red zone touches of any running back and the eighth-highest breakaway run rate. Walker has the ability to explode in 2023 and is a great fifth-round target.
J.K. Dobbins: Dobbins has seen a career riddled with injuries so it is hard to project how he will perform this season. However, in the small sample size we have from 2022 and 2020, it is hard to deny the talent of Dobbins. Dobbins will be the RB1 of the Baltimore Ravens, who ran the ball at the third-highest rate in the NFL. Dobbins will be fully healthy in 2023 and will certainly receive the volume to outperform his ADP.
Additional Targets: D’Andre Swift (ADP: 70), Rachaad White (ADP: 82), Alexander Mattison (ADP: 83), Javonte Williams (ADP: 93), Khalil Herbert (ADP: 122).