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Using the Zero RB Strategy to Murder Your Auction League

In one of RotoViz’s most popular articles, Shawn Siegele explains his dominant Zero RB drafting strategy. Zero RB is a strategy that is often used in your typical snake drafts, but there is no reason it can’t apply just as well to an auction draft. In fact, I think it even has some advantages specific to the auction format. Here is why and how you should use the Zero RB strategy to dominate your auction drafts:

Opportunity Cost

All drafts are really about opportunity cost. If you use your first round pick to draft Adrian Peterson, the cost isn’t really the pick itself. It’s the opportunity you gave up to draft other players instead of Peterson who won’t be available to you when you pick in the second round. In this way auction drafts are just like any other.

How that opportunity cost manifests itself is quite different in auctions. If you draft Adrian Peterson, that doesn’t prevent you from drafting any other individual player. You can still draft Le’Veon Bell even though there’s no way he’d be available to you in the second round of a snake draft. The opportunity cost manifests itself later in the draft as you no longer have the budget to acquire certain players that you want.

This difference in opportunity cost is actually conducive to successful Zero RB drafting. You can still construct the rest of your non-RB roster like you would in a snake draft, with talents equivalent to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc., rounds. Or you can stockpile first and second round talents. Where this really comes in to play though is when you want to draft your RBs. As an example, I really like both Doug Martin and Duke Johnson as Zero RB targets, but their ADPs are so close that it is incredibly unlikely I’ll be able to get both in a snake draft. That’s not a problem in an auction, allowing me to acquire a higher quantity of higher quality cheap RB options.

Actual Cost

I decided to look at ESPN’s auction pricing data to get a sense of how expensive (or more accurately, cheap) some Zero RB targets are. Note that most ESPN leagues are standard non-PPR leagues that start only two wide receivers. Your mileage may vary in regards to pricing. Shawn recently published his top 15 Zero RB targets, here’s how much they cost according to ESPN:

RB Price
Duke Johnson 0
Devonta Freeman 2.3
Charles Sims 2.4
Bishop Sankey 2.5
Doug Martin 3.5
Chris Ivory 4.7
David Johnson 0
David Cobb 1.2
Andre Williams 1.5
Javorius Allen 0
James White 0
Lance Dunbar 0
Mike Davis 0
Khiry Robinson 0
Zac Stacy 0

Note that only seven of the RBs even have an average listed price, and that Shawn’s most expensive target in snake drafts, Duke Johnson isn’t one of them. The seven with prices come out to a cumulative total of $18.10, less than 10 percent of a $200 auction budget. And if you wanted to be extreme you could draft seven of the RBs with no average listed price for just $7.1

Easier Preparation

In snake drafts you have the benefit of ADP data to accurately guess where players will be drafted. In auction drafts, you don’t often have that advantage. This can lead to a lot of guessing and trying to figure out how much players will cost you ahead of time.

But there’s a way around this. By mostly targeting super expensive players and super cheap players, you can draft the players whose prices are likely to see the least variance on draft day. Because he’s a top end wide receiver Julio Jones is going to go for a lot, and you know it, even if you don’t know the exact price. On the opposite end of the spectrum Duke Johnson’s price is probably not going to vary much. This strategy allows you to spend your money on the players with the most predictable prices, helping you form a concrete plan ahead of time. Even if one of your RB targets, David Johnson, starts to go for more than you want to spend, you can just aim for another cheap RB like Javorius Allen instead.

Some Hypothetical Rosters

Ultimately, seeing is believing, so I decided to construct some hypothetical rosters that should be possible according to ESPN’s pricing data.

In this one, spending at RB is completely avoided in favor of acquiring top-tier players at the other positions instead:

Position Player Price
QB Andrew Luck $33
QB Eli Manning $2
RB Duke Johnson $1
RB David Johnson $1
RB Javorius Allen $1
RB James White $1
RB Lance Dunbar $1
RB Zac Stacy $1
WR Calvin Johnson $38
WR Julio Jones $38
WR TY Hilton $30
WR DeAndre Hopkins $21
WR Allen Robinson $5
TE Jimmy Graham $25

In this one, I spend a little more on RBs, but still less than 10 percent of a $200 budget.

Position Player Price
QB Matt Ryan $6
QB Tony Romo $4
RB Devonta Freeman $2
RB Charles Sims $2
RB Bishop Sankey $3
RB Doug Martin $4
RB Chris Ivory $5
RB Andre Williams $2
WR Antonio Brown $47
WR Demaryius Thomas $42
WR Odell Beckham $42
WR Jordan Matthews $15
WR Julian Edelman $15
TE Greg Olsen $9

In this one, I spend on two medium priced RBs in Tevin Coleman and Giovani Bernard, and also get Devonta Freeman to lock up the Atlanta backfield. I still spend less than 15 percent of my budget on RBs.

Position Player Price
QB Sam Bradford $1
QB Marcus Mariota $1
RB Tevin Coleman $10
RB Giovani Bernard $9
RB Ameer Abdullah $4
RB Devonta Freeman $2
RB Duke Johnson $1
RB David Johnson $1
WR Julio Jones $38
WR Jordy Nelson $37
WR DeAndre Hopkins $21
WR Brandin Cooks $19
WR DeSean Jackson $13
TE Rob Gronkowski $41

Depending on your roster requirements, scoring format, and the quality of your competition, these specific rosters may be overly optimistic. But I believe they serve as a helpful illustration of the benefits of this strategy. Because RBs are so rare, they tend to go for top-tier prices in auction drafts. But if you decide not to pay the sticker price on top-tier RBs you can build a roster that’s strong everywhere else, and will get stronger at RB as the season progresses.

  1. You’ll have to spend at least $1 to draft each of them in an auction draft.  (back)

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