Zero RB: Avoiding Volatility Early in Drafts

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Over the past few seasons the strategy Zero RB has started to gain traction first among people in the fantasy football industry then to more casual players. Based upon ADP over the past few seasons it is far from the prefered method. However this strategy absolutely has merit and should be considered.

For those that don’t know, employing Zero RB means typically waiting until the 4th or 5th round before taking a running back. There is often a cluster of players in this range that have question marks but can be reliable week to week plays if things go the right way. For example, last year names like Doug Martin, Latavius Murray, Chris Ivory, and Jonathan Stewart all went in fourth or fifth round range. Three of those players finished in the top 10 Martin RB3, Ivory RB7, and Murray RB10. Stewart finished as RB16 including an impressive stretch in the second half. On the opposite end of the spectrum many of the running backs taken early underwhelmed. Let’s take a look at the success rate of early running backs over the last few seasons.

*All data comes from FFToday.com

2015 was one of the worst seasons in recent history for running backs returning draft day value. Only two players drafted in the top at the position finished there and only four of those guys provided even top 20 seasons. Injuries were a major issues at the position with Jamaal Charles, Le’Veon Bell, and Marshawn Lynch missing significant time. Other names like C.J. Anderson and Jeremy Hill got vaulted based on impressive rookie campaigns but seemingly underwhelmed in their sophomore seasons. As for wide receivers half of the players drafted inside the top 10 finished the season in the top 10 and 7 finished inside the top 13.

PlayerDraftedFinishDifferenceTop 10 Finish
Adrian PetersonRB1RB2-1.0Yes
Le'Veon BellRB2RB46-44.0No
Jamaal CharlesRB3RB41-38No
Eddie LacyRB4RB25-21No
Marshawn LynchRB5RB56-51No
CJ AndersonRB6RB30-24No
Matt ForteRB7RB9-2.0Yes
Jeremy HillRB8RB14-6No
DeMarco MurrayRB9RB18-9No
Justin ForsettRB10RB43-33No
Avg Diff-22.9

In 2014 there was a better hit rate but still not as solid as many fantasy owners would like. Half of the running backs drafted in the top 10 finished there with LeSean McCoy just on the outside looking in. All but two of the running backs taken in the top 10 finished with 10 spots of their ADP. Adrian Peterson missed basically the entire 2014 season or the hit rate may have been even better. Despite the success from the running backs, wide receivers still had a better hit rate. Six of the ten wide receivers who were drafted in the top 10 at the position finished there and eight such players finished in the top 15. Reliability for your early round picks is crucial to avoiding early season issues.

PlayerDraftedFinishDifferenceTop 10 Finish
Lesean McCoyRB1RB11-10No
Adrian Peterson RB2RB124-122No
Jamaal CharlesRB3RB7-4Yes
Eddie LacyRB4RB6-2Yes
Matt ForteRB5RB41.0Yes
Marshawn LynchRB6RB33Yes
Montee BallRB7RB89-82No
Demarco MurrayRB8RB17Yes
Gio BernardRB9RB18-9No
Doug MartinRB10RB48-38No
Avg Diff-25.6

The 2013 season was a return to top running backs not living up to their draft day value. Four players drafted in the top 10 at the position returned that value. Only five of the players finished within single digit difference of their draft spot with four of those players returning top 10 value. The other five running backs took a significant drop from their ADP forcing their owners to make trades or attack the waiver wire. As for wide receivers drafted in the top 10, five finished in the top ten, six finished in the top twelve, and seven finished within 10 spots of their draft day price.

PlayerDraftedFinishDifferenceTop 10 Finish
Adrian Peterson RB1RB6-5Yes
Doug MartinRB2RB56-54No
Marshawn LynchRB3RB4-1Yes
Jamaal CharlesRB4RB13Yes
Arian FosterRB5RB44-39No
Lesean McCoyRB6RB2-4Yes
CJ SpillerRB7RB27-20No
Trent RichardsonRB8RB34-26No
Ray RiceRB9RB30-21No
Alfred MorrisRB10RB14-4No
Avg Diff-17.1

The 2012 season looked much like the 2013 one. Once again it was just four running backs giving their fantasy owners first round value. Six of the ten players had a single digit difference between their ADP and finish in 2012. All six of those players finished in the top 13. And yet among the top 10 wideouts taken on draft day, six finished in the top 10 and 8 finished within the top 13. Once again a higher percentage of wide receivers returned the value owners paid on draft day.

PlayerDraftedFinishDifferenceTop 10 Finish
Arian FosterRB1RB2-1Yes
Ray RiceRB2RB6-4Yes
LeSean McCoyRB3RB21-18No
Darren McFaddenRB4RB28-24No
Chris JohnsonRB5RB12-7No
Matt ForteRB6RB13-7No
DeMarco MurrayRB7RB26-19No
Marshawn LynchRB8RB44Yes
Jamaal CharlesRB9RB81Yes
Maurice Jones-DrewRB10RB52-42No
Avg Diff-11.7

In order to find a season where running backs returned their draft day price, you have to go back to the 2011. Six of the players taken in the top ten finished the season there and eight players finished in the top 20. Wide receivers were still reliable with five players returning their draft day price tag and seven finishing in the top 20 at the position.

PlayerDraftedFinishDifferenceTop 10 Finish
Adrian Peterson RB1RB8-7Yes
Ray RiceRB2RB11Yes
Arian FosterRB3RB4-1Yes
Chris JohnsonRB4RB16-12No
Jamaal CharlesRB5WR98-93No
LeSean McCoyRB6RB24Yes
Rashard MendenhallRB7RB19-12No
Maurice Jones-DrewRB8RB35Yes
Darren McFaddenRB9RB34-25No
Michael TurnerRB10RB64Yes
Avg Diff-13.6

Over the past five seasons wide receivers have returned the prince paid on draft day with more regularity than running backs. Of the top 10 wide receivers taken over the last five seasons 54% have finished in the top 10 at the position, where as running backs have only do so 42% of the time. If you look at those same numbers over the last four years wide receivers jump to 55% while running backs drop to 38%.

SeasonRB Hit RateRB Average DiffWR Hit RateWR Average Diff
201520%-22.950%-12.9
201450%-25.660%-5.0
201340%-17.150%-17.0
201240%-11.760%-12.0
201160%-13.650%-14.7

RB and WR Average Diff is the number of spots between where they were drafted and where they finished at the end of the season.

Between 2011 and 2013 the average running back and wide receiver have seen almost identical returns on draft day value. In 2011 backs and receivers taken in the top 10 dropped 14 spots on average. It  was much of the same for both positions with a 12 spot drop in 2012 and 17 spot drop in 2013. However over the last two seasons each position has swung opposite ways. Wide receivers saw an impressive drop of just 5 spots in 2014 and 13 spots in 2015. Running backs on the other hand dropped 26 spots in 2014 and 23 spots in 2015.

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“You can’t win your league in the first few rounds of your draft, but you can lose it” is a motto I try to live by. Stability early provides a strong base for your team and allows owners to take more risk as the draft marches on. While knowing for certain that a player will not “bust” is not realistic, it does help to have a good feeling your early picks should finish within a certain range. If safety is your goal early in drafts scoop up those wide receivers early and take your running back shots later in the draft.

For more Fantasy Football coverage check out Fake Pigskin’s Angle of Pursuit podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.

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