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Why You Should Use Zero RB in Your DRAFT Best-Ball Leagues

With July finally underway, we have entered the heaviest draft season of the year. From now until the Chiefs and Patriots kick off, many will be trying to get into as many drafts as possible, particularly best-ball drafts. Recently, the daily fantasy sports platform DRAFT began to offer best-ball leagues, and I explored the optimal strategy for this format.

Two things differentiate DRAFT leagues from an MFL10. First, it is only half PPR instead of full PPR. There are also no defenses drafted, and 18 rounds total. I don’t think the optimal strategy should differ much between the two platforms but wanted to establish that this work is presented through the DRAFT format lens. The big question I’m looking to answer today is if we should favor WRs or RBs in the early rounds.

Methodology

What I love about best-ball leagues is the “set it and forget it” format. We don’t have to worry about messy start/sit decisions like we do in redraft because the computer sets your best possible lineup for you each week. As a result, variance is your friend. My overall thesis is that we should be looking to get as many high scoring weeks into our lineup as possible over the course of a season.

To that end, I took a look at the highest scoring weeks over the last five seasons. Specifically, I observed the top 50 and 100 single-game scores at the RB and WR positions for each season.1 As a reminder, this is based on 0.5 PPR scoring. Here are the results.

WRs Produce More High Scoring Weeks

If you want high scoring weeks, you should be looking at the WR position. Here’s a look at how the top 50 weeks from 2012 to 2016 were distributed between RBs and WRs.

YearRBWRRB%WR%
2016311962%38%
2015212942%58%
2014183236%64%
2013183236%64%
2012232746%54%
Total11113944%56%

As you can see, 2016 appears to be a pretty significant outlier with respect to how big weeks were distributed. It featured eight more RBs in the top 50 than the next closest year (2012), and is the only season of the last five where more RBs made the top 50 than WRs. Let’s see if those trends continue when we look at the top 100 scores.

YearRBWRRB%WR%
2016554555%45%
2015406040%60%
2014445644%56%
2013396139%61%
2012425842%58%
Total22028044%56%

Sure enough, the overall distribution is exactly same over the five-year sample, with 56 percent of all top 100 scores coming from WRs. Again, 2016 differs greatly from the other four seasons, though the distribution is smoother overall.

Early WRs Are Your Best Bet

We’ve established that WRs produce more high scoring weeks than RBs, but that doesn’t paint a complete picture. We need to know where those weeks come relative to ADP. I took the ADP data for 12 team PPR drafts over the last five seasons,2 and looked to see, on average, how many high-scoring weeks came at each position in the first 16 rounds of drafts.3

Top 50 Weeks by Round

Not only are WRs producing more top 50 weeks than RBs, but there are also more WR hits than RB hits for the first nine rounds of drafts. It is also worth noting that we get the same amount of big RB weeks in round six as we do in rounds 11 and 12. Let’s see what happens when we expand to the top 100.

Top 100 Weeks by Round

We see a lot of the same here, with one major exception. RBs actually produce more top 100 weeks in round one than WRs, who have the same number of top 100 weeks as top 50 weeks. A big reason for this is probably that two more RBs have been drafted in the first round, on average, since 2012.

In light of this, it appears to be important to account for not only the raw number of big weeks obtained in each round, but how that relates to the number of players drafted in that round. I took a look at the number of high scoring weeks each position produced, and divided it by the total number of players at that position drafted in that round to find the percent of players drafted to produce at least one high scoring week.

Top 50 Weeks Percent

The results here are even more drastic. Over 80 percent of WRs taken in the first round since 2012 have produced at least one top 50 week over the course of the season, more than double the hit rate for RBs. The hit rates level out in the fourth and fifth rounds between the two positions, before WR takes a commanding lead once again through the ninth round. Now for the top 100 scorers.

Top 100 Weeks Percent

The gaps narrow some in the early rounds, but WRs still are your clear best bet for top 100 scorers for the first nine rounds of drafts.

Takeways

If you’re trying to build a team that has true high-end upside capable of winning DRAFT leagues, it appears that you should be attacking the WR position early and often. In other words, Zero RB for best-ball. I particularly like this in conjunction with RotoDoc’s Two-TE1 strategy.

Since there doesn’t appear to be a distinguishable difference in high-scoring weeks from RBs in the mid-rounds to RBs in the double-digit rounds, rounds four through six seem like a prime spot to select two TE1s, and a perhaps even a top six QB.

One obvious objection to this is that if I really wait until round 10 or so to start selecting RBs, that I’m putting myself in a huge hole made deeper by the lack of a waiver wire in best-ball leagues. My counter to this is that the most fundamental tenant of Zero RB isn’t that we can find RBs on the waiver wire,4 it’s that Zero RB makes my roster anti-fragile.

If I can obtain RBs with an established role in the offense, preferably in the pass game, I can give myself a nice floor at the position, while also having upside should an injury occur to other RBs.5 Meanwhile, many of my opponents’ backfields will be made weaker than they looked on draft day. And as I already showed and stated, you aren’t giving up as much as you think by eschewing the RB position until later. All the while I can load up on high scoring weeks at WR that will set me apart from my opposition.

  1. Combined, not individually.  (back)
  2. The ADP data comes from My Fantasy League, which only filters by non-PPR and PPR. Given the choices, I decided PPR would better represent ADP in DRAFT leagues.  (back)
  3. ADP data did not go out far enough in some of the years to capture a full 18 round draft.  (back)
  4. And in fact, waiver wire RBs probably aren’t as trustworthy as we think.  (back)
  5. Especially since I don’t even have to worry about figuring out which of my RBs to start.  (back)

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