If you have been reading RotoViz for any length of time, then you’re familiar with Shawn Siegele’s Zero RB strategy. It is easily one of the most influential draft pieces of the past few years, and undeniably has won leagues for many people. What is probably much less known is the Zero WR strategy (or similarly Matthew Freedman’s RB5x strategy), which is executed somewhat similarly, but with an emphasis on early RBs instead of WRs.
Before starting, it is important to inform you that the purpose of this article is not to tell you that Zero RB is a bad strategy, or that it can’t win leagues in 2016. It absolutely can.1 But in 2016, I’m going to be hunting for upside and drafting for the win through Zero WR. Here’s why.
A Changing of the Guard
As is natural with anything that is successful, the Zero RB movement has produced some changes in ADP. Take a look at how much RB and WR ADP has changed since 2014.2
In 2014, RBs were going earlier than their WR counterparts3 through the first 15 or so of each position off the board. In 2015, we saw a small shift towards WRs, and ADP became a little more mixed.
However, the biggest changes are in effect right now, as the RB-pocalypse of 2015 seems to have dramatically affected how people are drafting their 2016 teams. Right now, there is not a single RB going ahead of his WR counterpart. Furthermore, there are three WRs going off the board before the first RB, as well as 15 WRs with an ADP under 25 to just eight RBs. This dynamic shift in ADP is why I declared that 2016 would be The Year of the RB, and is the primary motivation for this piece.
Win the Race to Fill the Flex Faster…With Upside
A critical component of the Zero RB strategy is that you are trying to win the race to fill the flex. The goal of any race is to complete the objective before your opponent right? So what if I told you that you could win the race faster, and with additional upside?
I took a look at some RB and WR comparisons through the first five rounds of drafts using the Sim Score Apps. For each round I’ll be taking a look at one RB and comparing him to all of the other players within one standard deviation of his ADP. Since we are looking to maximize upside here, I will be using the PPR “high” projection from the apps.
Also, I will be using the Sim projection for each player (RBs and WRs) taken from what I believe to be their most representative sample of games. In other words, I removed some 2015 games for certain players due to injury, teammate injury, or unrepresentative usage. I did this to get the best picture of what a given players upside may be.
Round 1: David Johnson
|Johnson, David ARI RB||RB||3||9.48||2.51||24.8|
|Bryant, Dez DAL WR||WR||6||9.59||2.09||9.8|
|Elliott, Ezekiel DAL RB||RB||4||9.75||12.46||N/A|
|Robinson, Allen JAC WR||WR||7||11.79||2.45||19.8|
Note that I tweaked the projection for Johnson in order to find what I believed to be the best sample of his play. To that point, I used just Weeks 12 to 17 for this projection. Why? Because I wanted the weeks in which he was a focal point of the offense. Johnson received 21.7 touches per game over Arizona’s final seven contests (including playoffs), and is expected to be heavily featured again in 2016. He averaged a tick under that in this six game sample (19.5 touches), but still comes away with a monster projection. It is difficult to argue with Mike Braude’s points that Johnson should be the first RB off the board, but he still has a late first round ADP.
The rest of this ADP range is hard to get a handle on. Dez Bryant is coming off of a year in which both he and his quarterback were injured, so his projection is probably a very poor representation of what might happen in 2016. Ezekiel Elliott has no sim projection since he is a rookie, but is already the most valuable dynasty RB. Perhaps the best competition here is Allen Robinson, who is coming off of a dominant 2015 campaign. The stark contrast between him and Johnson really emphasizes the upside the second year RB has.
Round 2: Jamaal Charles
|Charles, Jamaal KCC RB||RB||8||19.53||3.26||24.5|
|Miller, Lamar HOU RB||RB||6||14.63||2.64||17.2|
|Evans, Mike TBB WR||WR||8||15.89||3.15||17.4|
|Allen, Keenan SDC WR||WR||9||16.36||2.67||21.9|
|Nelson, Jordy GBP WR||WR||10||16.83||2.89||N/A|
|Freeman, Devonta ATL RB||RB||7||18.18||3.74||23.4|
|Jeffery, Alshon CHI WR||WR||11||18.92||2.87||21.4|
|Cooper, Amari OAK WR||WR||12||20.86||3.32||14.9|
The second round has an absurdly high upside RB in Charles, whom RotoDoc wrote could be a Best-Ball winner this year. He has been an RB1 in fantasy points per game four years running, and does not need heavy volume to get there. Bias against Devonta Freeman is another reason I believe the Zero WR strategy can eviscerate opponents in 2016. He was last year’s RB1 by almost 60 points in PPR, and he is going firmly in Round 2 of drafts. Why? Because people simply don’t like him. I was one of those people, but now I simply must agree with Siegele’s stance that he is wildly undervalued.
Keenan Allen looks ready to live up to his new contract, but Charles and Freeman still blow him away. Alshon Jeffery was a target hog last season, but loses the ingenious mind of Adam Gase.
We can’t draw a ton from Lamar Miller’s projection since he is now on the Texans, but I found it interesting that Arian Foster’s high projection came in at 21.5. Miller definitely has some additional upside this year. Perhaps the most dangerous player in this group for Freeman is Jordy Nelson, who doesn’t have a projection after missing 2015 with a torn ACL, but was a top-5 WR the last time he was seen playing football.
Round 3: Mark Ingram
|Ingram, Mark NOS RB||RB||9||26.21||3.59||18.8|
|Marshall, Brandon NYJ WR||WR||14||23.3||3.49||21.4|
|Thomas, Demaryius DEN WR||WR||15||24.78||3.09||18.6|
|Lacy, Eddie GBP RB||RB||10||26.5||4.37||15|
|Hilton, T.Y. IND WR||WR||16||26.52||3.01||16.6|
|Watkins, Sammy BUF WR||WR||17||29.01||4.22||18.2|
|Martin, Doug TBB RB||RB||11||29.53||4.29||15.7|
I confess that the top projection of the group goes to Brandon Marshall and not Ingram. However, he is on the earlier end of Ingram’s ADP range, is entering his age 32 season, and may be without QB Ryan Fitzpatrick if he can’t get a deal done with the Jets. Meanwhile, Ingram is playing for an offense that has been top six in points per drive and trips to the red-zone each of the last five seasons.
Ingram is also coming off of a season in which he averaged over four receptions per game, one of the top marks in the league.
Even before we start factoring in Watkins’ broken foot, he is looking like an early fade candidate for 2016. T.Y. Hilton doesn’t have a great projection, and it should be noted that it comes from only the games he played with Andrew Luck. Eddie Lacy is my favorite candidate to be the 2016 Doug Martin, though both have mediocre high projections. Demaryius Thomas has a history of production, but will face an interesting test at QB with either Mark Sanchez or Paxton Lynch.
Round 4: Dion Lewis
|Lewis, Dion NEP RB||RB||15||40.01||4.66||20.8|
|Benjamin, Kelvin CAR WR||WR||22||35.57||4.92||N/A|
|Maclin, Jeremy KCC WR||WR||23||36.71||3.92||19.8|
|Forte, Matt NYJ RB||RB||13||38.6||4.75||14.3|
|Hyde, Carlos SFO RB||RB||14||39.52||5.55||14.8|
|Anderson, C.J. DEN RB||RB||16||41.45||5.42||13.6|
Earlier this offseason, I outlined six key reasons why you should be drafting Lewis. Add to that list that he has an outstanding high projection of 20.8 when I remove the game he left early against Washington. His receiving ability is unmatched, and he could catch more passes than many of the WRs drafted in this area.
Most of the players drafted within a standard deviation of Lewis are also RBs, with Carlos Hyde, Matt Forte, and C.J. Anderson comfortably behind him in terms of projected point output. Jeremy Maclin was a top 15 WR, but his projection also pales in comparison to Lewis, even when I take away the games in which Charles did not play. Kelvin Benjamin is another post-ACL wildcard, but with the emergence of Ted Ginn to go along with the continued growth of Devin Funchess, I’m not sure he receives enough targets to approach the WR1 level.
Round 5: Duke Johnson
|Johnson, Duke CLE RB||RB||21||54.97||6.83||17.6|
|Fitzgerald, Larry ARI WR||WR||28||49.28||7.37||18.3|
|Murray, Latavius OAK RB||RB||18||50.12||6.72||15.1|
|Decker, Eric NYJ WR||WR||29||50.83||6.03||18.5|
|Woodhead, Danny SDC RB||RB||19||54.7||6.71||14.7|
|Jones, Matt WAS RB||RB||20||54.73||7.56||15.6|
|Parker, DeVante MIA WR||WR||30||54.75||7.38||17.2|
|Sanders, Emmanuel DEN WR||WR||31||56.78||5.86||15.6|
|Murray, DeMarco TEN RB||RB||22||56.81||9.08||13|
|Brown, John ARI WR||WR||32||57.05||6.15||14|
|Mathews, Ryan PHI RB||RB||23||58.62||7.65||13|
|Ajayi, Jay MIA RB||RB||24||59.25||7.44||8.4|
|White, Kevin CHI WR||WR||33||61.47||8.61||N/A|
Johnson was profiled as a great dynasty buy-low back in February, and was featured in the RotoViz Mailbag podcast as someone with top 12 upside. You can think of him as Lewis-lite, as he compiled over 60 receptions as a rookie. To achieve this projection, I removed the Week 1 game for Cleveland since Johnson received zero targets (it was easily his worst game of the year).
That said, this is the largest tier of players, and there are actually two WRs with higher upside than Johnson: Larry Fitzgerald and Eric Decker. Since Decker was the WR13 last season, this seems like an obvious pricing error, and Matt Wispe has already written about how we may be forgetting about him. Ditto for Fitzgerald, who was last year’s WR7. They are both going ahead of Johnson, but if the opportunity arises, it seems reasonable to take that value here in Round 5 after starting with four straight RBs.
Matt Jones could he be a feature back for a top 10 offense. The Sim App doesn’t know that, and it still gives him a strong high projection of 15.6 points per game in PPR leagues. There is definitely upside here for more than that. DeVante Parker is a leading breakout candidate, and the Sim App seems to somewhat agree. The rest of this tier doesn’t really jump off the page.
Once you’ve started RBx5, the natural question to ask is what do you do next? Simply stated, now you can load up on WRs, with your roster settings ultimately determining just how many. This is, perhaps, the best part of the Zero WR strategy. You don’t have the studs that other players will have at the position, but you can still take plenty of swings on potential breakout candidates starting in Round 6. Below is a complete list of the WRs that can be had after Round 5 courtesy of the Best Ball App. Included with the ADP is the current projection from the RotoViz staff along with projected rank.
|White, Kevin CHI WR||WR||45||33||61.61||8.42||347||172|
|Hurns, Allen JAC WR||WR||38||34||62.79||7.81||353||191|
|Coleman, Corey CLE WR||WR||34||35||65.64||14.77||340||195.2|
|Crabtree, Michael OAK WR||WR||37||36||66.43||7.3||346||191.5|
|Lockett, Tyler SEA WR||WR||44||37||73.26||8.8||345||173.4|
|Jackson, DeSean WAS WR||WR||30||38||76.23||7.42||348||208.8|
|Jones, Marvin DET WR||WR||36||39||76.59||9.07||353||191.8|
|Green-Beckham, Dorial TEN WR||WR||40||40||82.08||10.3||345||185.7|
|Treadwell, Laquon MIN WR||WR||48||41||83.74||16.8||333||161.6|
|Shepard, Sterling NYG WR||WR||46||42||89.17||15.81||342||170|
|Snead, Willie NOS WR||WR||33||43||89.3||9.73||348||198.2|
|Smith, Torrey SFO WR||WR||22||44||91.22||10.43||358||236.4|
|Austin, Tavon RAM WR||WR||47||45||94.1||12.25||355||163|
|Diggs, Stefon MIN WR||WR||41||46||98.19||11.71||344||183.4|
|Wheaton, Markus PIT WR||WR||53||47||99.56||11.68||337||152.7|
|Benjamin, Travis SDC WR||WR||50||48||101.51||11.3||345||156.1|
|Smith, Steve BAL WR||WR||42||49||105.48||14.13||347||180.7|
|Perriman, Breshad BAL WR||WR||43||50||112.77||16.02||309||174.4|
|Thomas, Michael NOS WR||WR||67||51||112.86||20.62||357||125.3|
|Jackson, Vincent TBB WR||WR||52||52||117.36||13.04||334||153.8|
|Doctson, Josh WAS WR||WR||51||53||117.4||22.96||317||154.1|
|Sanu, Mohamed ATL WR||WR||49||54||133.64||17.66||324||157.6|
|Coates, Sammie PIT WR||WR||70||55||138.17||21.14||351||120.3|
|Dorsett, Phillip IND WR||WR||69||56||138.46||19.4||334||121.7|
|Agholor, Nelson PHI WR||WR||64||57||141.11||21.87||276||130.8|
|Funchess, Devin CAR WR||WR||65||58||149.32||24.83||335||126.3|
|Aiken, Kamar BAL WR||WR||55||59||149.76||30.05||365||149.5|
|Wright, Kendall TEN WR||WR||56||60||151.02||22.43||304||148|
|Hogan, Chris NEP WR||WR||58||61||152.29||23.51||324||142.2|
|Wallace, Mike BAL WR||WR||60||62||156.27||25.37||351||140.2|
|Matthews, Rishard TEN WR||WR||61||63||160.25||24.34||316||139.4|
|Ginn Jr., Ted CAR WR||WR||74||64||164.01||29.79||292||116.2|
|Garcon, Pierre WAS WR||WR||59||65||164.42||26.25||318||140.9|
|Boyd, Tyler CIN WR||WR||66||66||167.47||32.87||292||125.9|
|Gordon, Josh CLE WR||WR||62||67||168||35.58||274||138|
|Fuller, Will HOU WR||WR||54||68||169.7||31.97||279||150|
|Williams, Terrance DAL WR||WR||57||69||174.09||23.8||311||146.8|
|Woods, Robert BUF WR||WR||63||70||193.3||24.57||279||131.8|
|Adams, Davante GBP WR||WR||77||71||196.76||27.78||262||97.7|
|LaFell, Brandon CIN WR||WR||73||72||196.81||25.72||279||117.4|
|Janis, Jeff GBP WR||WR||75||73||199.97||25.05||212||114|
|Randle, Rueben PHI WR||WR||81||74||200.17||27.25||251||89.7|
|Amendola, Danny NEP WR||WR||80||75||201.01||28.47||211||93.4|
|Kearse, Jermaine SEA WR||WR||68||76||201.26||23.66||249||124.1|
|Johnson, Stevie SDC WR||WR||71||77||203.07||22.42||231||118.3|
|Carroo, Leonte MIA WR||WR||79||78||205.44||30.96||122||95.2|
|Crowder, Jamison WAS WR||WR||72||79||205.64||28.02||138||117.8|
|Ellington, Bruce SFO WR||WR||76||80||207.45||24.99||132||106.2|
|Cruz, Victor NYG WR||WR||78||81||208.98||27.36||134||96.3|
Charles Kleinheksel already highlighted seven WRs we have projected to be values, and you can mine on your own for some more. I think that this rookie class offers some particular value on its own at the WR position. Later in the summer, I plan on compiling my complete list of Zero WR candidates.
What about QB and TE?
When you start a draft with five straight RBs, that means you’re probably going to have to give a little bit at QB and TE. But just how long should you wait? QB is fairly straightforward now that late round QB is the new black, as Joshua Lake pointed out.
In previous years we would have potentially missed out on at least seven QB1s, and probably a few more while trying to load up on WRs, but this year we can get the QB5 later than the QB12 has gone on average the past two seasons. That is fantastic for the Zero WR drafter, as he or she really doesn’t have to start looking to add a QB until Round 8, and could probably wait until as long as the 13th round. Kleinheksel has already outlined four QBs that we think are undervalued, and they are all going after Round 12.
He also presented three TEs that are undervalued, with the earliest one, Gary Barnidge, going in Round 9. I agree with Denny Carter in that you probably want to go Gronk or (very) cheap at the TE position, so I think the best way to approach TE if you are going Zero WR will be to use minimal draft capital, find someone you’re willing to commit to, and scour the wire.
A Robust World Worth Living In
In Siegele’s original piece, he presented the following table representing three different ways to approach fantasy drafts.
The anti-fragile qualities of Zero RB will always provide drafters with the opportunities to capitalize on the chaos that generally occurs during an NFL season. However, I think that a robust approach is going to be particularly appealing when ADP allows drafters to scoop up high-upside WRs to go along with their resilient RB corps. Right now, that is exactly the kind of situation in which we find ourselves. And that, my friends, is a robust world worth living in.