Over the last four years in the MFL10 of Death, Shawn Siegele has finished 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 1st, using his signature Zero RB approach to bring home three titles. But were these wins the result of avoiding RBs early? Or did he win because of player selection and in spite of a structural approach that might be doing more harm than good? The Fanball Roster Construction Explorer has the answers.
We’ve been using Mike Beers’ suite of advanced best ball tools to put together a plan for turning your best ball drafts into a money machine. We began the Best Ball Workshop series by looking at the onesie positions and found exploitable edges at Quarterback, Tight End, and Defense. We also discovered that if you follow the insights from the Roster Construction Explorer, you can win your league simply by dominating those three positions.
Now the preliminaries are out of the way and we get into the glamour positions. Today we start with Part 1 in our look at the RB position, and ask the question: Zero RB or RB heavy? If ADP is any indication, the answers are going to shock you.
Roster Construction Explorer
With the Fanball Roster Construction Explorer, we can look at more than 228,000 drafts over the last four years.1 We also have a great deal of flexibility in the settings we choose. For example, we could choose a potentially balanced lineup with the RB1 in the first two rounds and the RB2 selected at some point in the first four. We could also dictate waiting until at least Round 6 for our quarterback, as well as the total numbers of QB, TE, and DEF that we finish with on the roster. In this example, I’ve included all four years and every month, but you could also stipulate more select time frames in you wanted to only look at drafts in August, for example.
The great flexibility of the tool allows us to ask specific questions and find out what has happened historically.
We’re going to look at the RB and WR positions in more detail later, but today we’ll start with the provocative question: Zero RB or RBx4?
The RB-Heavy Solution
These are the results if we use the RCE settings to find drafts where owners began with four consecutive RBs.
Despite all of the RB-heavy rhetoric and the current state of ADP where 25 RBs are being selected in the first 48 picks, we can see that completely avoiding other positions has actually not been very popular. And that’s for good reason. With most of the highest individual win-rates coming from the RB position over this time period, it’s surprising to see that RBx4 crushes your chances to this extent.
We can test this a little more by looking at the teams that select four RBs in the first five rounds.
This formulation is more popular but almost equally unsuccessful. Let’s contrast it with Zero RB before breaking down some of the results by year.
Squads that avoid RBs entirely in the first four rounds finish with league-average win rates. To be clear, league average is not what you’re shooting for, but this also undermines all of the arguments that Zero RB is a silly strategy that immediately relegates you to the back of the pack. As we’ll see in a later lesson when we dive into the WR position, squads that invest early picks at receiver benefit from taking more RBs, and that’s reflected here in higher scores and slightly above average win rates for 6-, 7-, and 8-RB rosters.
We can also use the RCE to take a look at the year-by-year results.
The first two rows are win rates, the second two provide average points.
As we might expect, the results are not consistent season-to-season. If the relevant injury rates and the overall shape of scoring relative to ADP is usually more similar to 2016 and 2017, we might expect RBx4 to win out over time, regardless of our results during this current BestBall10 window. Fortunately for Zero RB drafters, that’s not the case (as we’ll discuss in a moment). Here are a few other takeaways:
- 2018 was quietly a fantastic season for Zero RB. The scoring gap between Zero RB and RBx4 was over 200 points. There was also a large gap between Zero RB and 2018’s overall average of 2,277.
- If you’re looking only at individual-player win rates to plot your course, you may end up going completely in the wrong direction. Christian McCaffrey (27%) had easily the highest win rate in 2018. Five of the top six players were RBs, while only two of the top-10 were WRs. I discuss how owners are using these win rates to cripple their squads in One Big Mistake Owners Are Making in Early Drafts.
- One of the advantages of Zero RB is that when scoring trends hit on the more favorable range for the strategy, Zero RB teams benefit disproportionately. Win rates in 2015 and 2018 were both above 13%.
- 2016 was one of the all-time great RB seasons, both in terms of RB scoring and the prices you had to pay for top studs. In many ways, that makes it even more disconcerting that the win rate for RBx4 was far below that of the top two Zero RB seasons and that the point gap between RBx4 and Zero RB was much less than the gaps favoring Zero RB in 2015 and 2018.2
- Although we want to be careful when we see the lack of consistency year-to-year, it’s also the case that Zero RB had the superior win rate in three of four seasons, and that the worst win rate for Zero RB – during the RB Renaissance of 2016 – was still better than average win rate for RBx4.
Making It Work With Our Onesie Tactics
One of the other problems for RBx4 is that it limits what we can do to boost win rates through our onesie tactics. At QB, TE, and DEF there are a number of advanced approaches you can use, but the RBx4 method locks us into a less favorable 7-onesie approach that only lets us improve win rates slightly. Zero RB fits with a more favorable 7-onesie approach that allows us to easily boost win rates above 10%.3
What Should We Expect for 2019?
Drafters are certainly planning for another explosion of RB scoring. The first five players off the board are all RBs.
After more balance between positions in Round 2, we get a second big RB run in toward the middle of Round 3. Six consecutive RBs are taken, including the following five and then Kerryon Johnson.
As we go into more depth in Part 2, we’ll discover why we want to participate in one of these runs and avoid the other like it’s the final season of Game of Thrones.
ADP tells us what drafters are expecting, but what should we expect? Recent history indicates that you can still make a living drafting WRs even in a more RB-centric NFL, but we want to make sure 2016 isn’t the reality we should actually be anticipating. To do this, we can extend our window by looking back at some numbers for prior seasons. The Fantasy Douche spent a good deal of time on positional value in the early days of RotoViz, and the results were not good for RBs.
This is from a 2014 article looking at scoring from 2011 to 2013. FD used the relationship between ADP and positional scoring to determine where you would draft players if you simply wanted to score the most points. Value is the difference between where, say, the RB5 is being drafted overall and where he should be drafted.
While there are considerations other than points,4 it’s certainly the case that RBs have been overdrafted for a long time. The current excellent crop of RBs makes a season like 2016 more likely than it was in the first half of the decade, but 2016 is still much more the exception than the rule.
Part 2 – League-Winning Tactics at RB
Despite its large edge over a RB-heavy strategy, Zero RB is often not the way to approach best ball leagues. In Part 2 we’ll take a look at the easy way to benefit from the rebirth of the uber-back and how to combine it with most of the advantages of Zero RB. The result is a hybrid strategy that provides the best of both worlds and gives a win rate that will make you wildly profitable in BestBall10s.
Until then, make sure to catch up on the rest of the Best Ball Workshop.
Lesson 1: Owners Are Taking the Wrong Lesson from 2018 Player Win Rates
Lesson 2: Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz Want You to Stop Giving Away This Big TE Advantage
Lesson 3: QB Is More Important Than You Realize and Easy to Exploit
Lesson 4: Best Ball Owners Are Abandoning the Dominant Defense Approach in Record Numbers
Lesson 5: You Really Can Ride These Simple ‘Onesie’ Tactics to a Best Ball Title
Lesson 6: Deploy These 8 Players to Execute Our Tactical Plan So Far
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- A time period that corresponds with the current set of rules. (back)
- My Zero RB team finished second in the 2016 MFL10 of Death, illustrating the success you could still have that season. (back)
- If you want to know more, click on the link or wait until the end of the article and select Lesson 4. (back)
- And these mostly favor WRs since the difference between needing to start three WRs and only two RBs is substantial for roster construction. This makes it less imperative to dominate the RB position and much easier to benefit from RB breakouts. (back)