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Zero RB and Early My Fantasy League MFL10s

A few years ago, I played a handful of Draft Champions leagues through the NFFC using Zero RB. I came out slightly ahead and felt like Zero RB would certainly work in the draft-only format. But I also came out thinking that the opposite approach would work better. As a result of that experience and some other research on the topic, I proposed Zero WR as the preferred approach to My Fantasy League MFL10s last summer. Although my specific team performed poorly – after the auspicious Jamaal Charles-Marshawn Lynch start, my draft was a disaster – this strategy was bolstered by a Monte Carlo simulation from A.J. Bessette and Greg Meade. It was further confirmed by Fantasy Douche’s recent look at the roster compositions that had the most success last year. It also tends to be the approach favored by MFL10 expert Kevin Cole.

In broad terms, you want to buy usage because changes in running back opportunity are difficult to predict and draft-only teams obviously don’t employ the waiver system. That approach works once ADP (somewhat) accurately reflects likely touches. If you’re drafting in an early MFL10, this is not necessarily the case.

The 5 Most Overvalued RBs

Tre Mason, RB12, No. 26 overall

Mason is a low moat back in a low ceiling offense. He was more efficient as a rookie than was Zac Stacy in 2013 (0.16 ruFPOEPA to 0.08) but on lower volume. He was also not as good after contact (2.23 YCo/Att to 2.45) and achieved that efficiency due to a small handful of big plays. Benny Cunningham held a significant edge in receptions (44 to 16). Although it’s possible Mason emerges as a second year workhorse, this isn’t the profile of a low end RB1.

Mark Ingram, RB14, No. 33 overall

Ingram’s ADP is baffling. He’s a lock to leave New Orleans and would need to land in Indianapolis or Dallas for his current draft slot to make sense. Despite the hype suggesting he “broke out” in 2014, Ingram again failed to generate yards after contact (2.38) or big plays. (Author’s Note: I’ve received some very justified static about this paragraph, and it serves as a good reminder that nothing is ever a “lock,” at least not when it comes to a team with horrible salary cap problems trying to distance themselves from a draft bust. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that Ingram’s situation actually got quite a bit worse during free agency since the Saints also added the far superior C.J. Spiller. And yet his ADP continues to rise. Some things are inexplicable.)

Justin Forsett, RB15, No. 35 overall

I absolutely love Forsett and object to the “journeyman” label he’s been given. He was the key figure on many of my Zero RB rosters in 2014. But one of my personal rules is never to pay for these backs once they become fairly priced, and Forsett has blown right by that designation. A 2015 free agent, Baltimore’s incumbent starter will receive competition for the job even if he re-signs. The Ravens have the intriguing Lorenzo Taliaferro waiting in the wings and are likely to use a mid-to-late round pick on someone like Javorius Allen, Josh Robinson, or David Johnson. It may be assumed that Forsett is a good fit for the Matt Forte role in Marc Trestman’s offense, but there is uncertainty here with Gary Kubiak departing. (Even if Forsett was not a free agent and Kubiak had returned, there wouldn’t be a lot of margin in selecting Forsett at his current ADP.)

Isaiah Crowell, RB18, No. 39 overall

After a particularly enthusiastic series of Week 1 waiver bids, I owned Crowell on almost all of my redraft teams last year, so this is another player for whom I’m accustomed to rooting. And Crowell did outperform on certain metrics in 2014. Among RBs with at least 100 attempts, he finished behind only Darren Sproles with 0.32 ruFPOEPA. He achieved those numbers due to a high breakaway percentage – 10 of his 148 attempts went for 15-plus yards – and a good touchdown rate. But those numbers are probably both fluky and a result of Kyle Shanahan’s system. Of all the runners in the NFL who played on at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps, Crowell ranked ahead of only Andre Ellington, Doug Martin, and Denard Robinson in broken tackle percentage. According to PFF, he finished with a paltry 1.87 YCo/Att. Moreover, Fantasy Douche has found that draft position is significant in predicting second year touches, a factor which may give Terrance West more of an edge in this battle than many realize. It’s also fairly likely that no Cleveland back will have fantasy value in 2015.

Andre Ellington, RB21, No. 46 overall

Three of the backs I’ve suggested you avoid were among the leaders in breakaway runs last season. Ellington was the poster boy for that list in 2013, and his 2014 results help illustrate how unsustainable that stat can be. The Arizona bell cow averaged almost as many yards after contact in 2013 as he did total yards last season, a year in which he plummeted from the top to the bottom of the YAC leaderboard. After failing as a workhorse, Ellington projects as a committee back for 2015 – possibly the lesser half – and will endeavor to do a better job staying healthy. Complicating matters, Arizona will be a difficult place to carve out significant committee value with a schedule that includes multiple matchups with Seattle, St. Louis, and San Francisco.

These are just a few examples of running backs where their ADPs seem to project usage that is wildly optimistic. For another example, what happens to Carlos Hyde’s enthusiastic ADP if the 49ers add competition as seems inevitable?

Zero RB and Early MFL10s

It may just be that my personal RB board always looks very different than ADP, but right now RB value appears flat from Round 3 to Round 10. The idea in any draft-only league is to buy as many touches as possible, and right now the easiest way to lock in high value opportunity is in the form of wide receiver targets. If nothing else, the receiver position scores more total points, and early MFL10s require fewer points to win a league.

I recommend perusing the RotoViz research on optimal positional allocations, and using a hybrid Zero RB/BPA approach to get to that roster construction.1 With extreme uncertainty right now about touches, it probably makes sense to err on the high side of the optimal allocation for RBs. Based on the numbers, I would suggest aiming for a 2-QB, 6-RB, 7-WR, 2-TE, 3-DEF allocation – probably with at least one strong quarterback and hopefully one elite tight end – and then make the necessary adjustments if your draft falls a different way.

For more on the topic of RBs in MFL10s, be sure to check out Justin Winn’s Four Rules for Selecting RBs and his list Do Not Draft list which includes five more early RBs to avoid.

  1. Even if you end up with a first round selection in the first five picks, you have to deal with Le’Veon Bell’s suspension and Jamaal Charles’ age and offense.  (back)

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