Waiting to pick running backs in your fantasy football draft is not as crazy as it sounds


(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

There are a ton of fantasy football strategies out there, but one recently caught my attention on Twitter: Zero RB.

The Zero RB theory is the brainchild of Shawn Siegele, who suggests steering clear of running backs until the fifth or sixth round of a draft.

Zero RB is basically what it sounds like. You simply don’t draft running backs in the high leverage rounds. Depending on how a draft is progressing, I will draft either one high upside running back in Round 4 or 5, or I will draft none at all. My preferred lineup after five rounds is to own one tight end (Graham/Gronk) and four wide receivers. I then focus on selecting potential breakout players, the receiving back in timeshares, and backups in good offenses.

You read that right: you don’t draft a running back until the fifth or sixth round. That means no LeSean McCoy. No Marshawn Lynch. Not even Reggie Bush or Alfred Morris. None.

The point of the strategy is to lessen the risk of drafting running backs early in the draft so that you can capitalize on elite wide receivers and tight ends in the those rounds. It sounds wacky, but the historical numbers support it.

Just look at last year for a recent example. Here are how the highest-picked running backs fared in terms of fantasy points.

Three of the first four picks were busts (defined here as failing to score at least two thirds of the points for an average player at the same position taken in that round), as were Ray Rice and Trent Richardson. That’s five of the first 12 running backs taken.

Over the last three years, 12 of the 45 running backs drafted in the first two rounds were busts. Four of the 13 running backs taken with the first six picks in the first round were also busts, which likely means that one of LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Eddie Lacy will disappoint an owner in the upcoming season.

Wide receivers, on the other hand, were a bust just three out of the 17 times they were drafted in the first two rounds over that same time span: Andre Johnson in 2011, Larry Fitzgerald in 2012 and Julio Jones in 2013.

For Zero RB to be successful, you need to target running backs with upside. Here are three running backs projected to be available in the later rounds who could help make this strategy successful:

Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

Freeman was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft and is behind a 31-year-old Steven Jackson on the depth chart. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter cautions that Freeman is “going to go through some growing pains,” but the upside is the youngster rushed 404 times for 2,255 yards and 30 touchdowns over three seasons at Florida State.

Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

The expectations for Ridley were high last season after he tallied 1,263 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in 2012, but he failed to meet them. With just 773 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, he is now a late sixth-round pick in mock drafts. However, when given his opportunities in the preseason, Ridley has run hard and held onto the ball.

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers

Williams had 201 rushing attempts for 843 yards and added 333 receiving yards last season, when he scored four total touchdowns. That was good the 19th-most receiving yards for a running back, and he was just outside the top 20 in terms of scoring for running backs in standard scoring leagues. Four of Carolina’s top receivers are gone, so there should be an increased emphasis on the running game.

Fantasy football requires luck to be successful, and this crazy strategy may just be crazy enough to work.

More Fantasy Football

2014 Fantasy Draft Home | Cheat Sheet | Mock Draft Analysis

Positional Rankings: Top 30 QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | Ks | DEF

Draft Talent Tiers: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

Fancy Stats Value Players: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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