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Zero RB vs. Extreme Late Round QB in the Apex Experts Finals

Shawn Siegele discusses the Apex Experts finals, looking back at his 2018 draft strategy and contrasting it with the path taken by finals opponent Denny Carter.

The tremendous Apex format is the brainchild of RotoViz contributor Mike Braude. If you’re not familiar with Mike, you should definitely check him out. He’s one of the best in the industry at picking players, and after multiple years of helping our readers grab league-winners, he came through again in 2018. His breakdown of last year’s Super Bowl foreshadowed the innovation and offensive explosion of 2018, he told you this was the year to finally grab Eric Ebron, and warned against using on early pick on Jordan Howard.

Apex is the perfect medium-stakes format for fantasy. You play two games a week – one against an opponent and one against the average – to cut down on luck, and Apex leagues allow the most fun aspect of fantasy: making trades. You won’t find that option in most money leagues. In the Experts League, Mike was the reigning champion, and he was the No. 1 seed again this year. Unfortunately, he fell in the semis after leaving Damien Williams’ 30 points on the bench and losing the kicker battle by 16 points in a contest decided by only four.

How Little We Know

It’s always a good idea to go back and analyze your drafts after the season. Drafts abound in mistakes that now seem “obvious,” even for the top teams. Drafting toward the end of the round, my plan was to follow a normal Zero RB approach. I began with DeAndre Hopkins and hoped Michael Thomas would come back around, but he was selected one spot ahead of me at 2.03. This was the situation as I described it in Deploying the Draft Dashboard to Attack the Apex Experts.1

R2 Possible Picks

Dalvin CookDavante AdamsChristian McCaffrey, and Rob Gronkowski are the players I’m considering. In the end, Gronk’s similar point-scoring profile at a much lower-scoring position carries the day. Chris Hogan and Rex Burkhead are going to go much earlier than they would have a couple of weeks ago due to teammate injuries and suspensions. That rise is justified, but the easiest way to play New England’s depth chart issues, both from a value perspective and from a “draft stars” perspective is to select Gronk in the same range you would have considered him anyway.

This was an obviously unfortunate selection when I could have had the WR1 or the RB2, a player averaging over 25 points. Missed On Kamara and Can’t Acquire Him in Trade? There’s a Better Option was the best article I wrote this year, and that better option was McCaffrey.2

But I still like the logic behind the selection, especially when considering it in the context of the note about Hogan and Burkhead. Drafting a TE early is also one of the keys to my draft philosophy across formats. The double-elite TE approach that I discussed in 20 Rounds of Death has paid off in a big way, with Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz carrying me into a Week 16 dead heat in this year’s MFL10 of Death.3 Kelce has been the foundation for many of my dynasty squads, while Ertz has been the key piece on my top Main Event squad.

I regret the Gronkowski selection from a points perspective, but I don’t second guess the selection of a TE in general or the best TE in fantasy history in particular.

My third-round pick of Jarvis Landry was no better. I was still able to snag my other main target – JuJu Smith-Schuster – at 4.04, limiting the damage, and while a Smith-Schuster/Brandin Cooks pairing would have been far preferable, the next really strong picks didn’t come until Mike selected Tarik Cohen at 6.11 and Denny grabbed Robert Woods at 7.05. I argued before the season that the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds were both flat and depressing, and, in many ways, this turned out to be the case.

Avoid Value Drafting

You can read this as avoid value drafting or avoid value-based drafting. Both are good ideas to keep in mind. Zero RB has many advantages, but avoiding the temptation to make the volume play is one of them. Draft stars and then select evidenced-based breakouts. Tyler Boyd was my key selection in this draft, and while I won’t have the WR13 in the championship, getting there is the key.

In any given year, we see different types of breakouts and different ADP levels at which the risk makes sense, but the evidence can help us make league-winning picks and avoid overpriced risks.  Before the season I explained why the breakout projections still liked Smith-Schuster even at his aggressive cost,4 and detailed why you should select Boyd as a third-year breakout candidate late in every draft.

I also liked being aggressive at QB with the silly prices. I picked Deshaun Watson as the QB2 at 8.04 and double-dipped with Patrick Mahomes. This year’s breakout superstar fell into Round 16. We’ve talked for years about Zero RB as the Race to Fill the Flex, and I value that flex position more than most owners, but part of my success across years and leagues is based on the emphasis on all starting positions. The advantages at QB and TE matter just as much as those at RB and WR. There are very good arguments against Zero RB in the current fantasy landscape – my earlier note about McCaffrey is Exhibit A – but the approach allows you to fill out an elite starting lineup without overspending at RB and WR.

Of course, 2019 has been one of the most fun fantasy seasons in memory because it provided such varied pathways to success. With a free agent period before Week 1, Living the Stream star, Denny Carter, didn’t even select a QB. At all. He’s also gotten more points from Ebron than I have from Gronkowski.

Likely Starting Lineups

Denny Shawn
QB Baker Mayfield Patrick Mahomes
RB Chris Carson Tevin Coleman
RB Jamaal Williams Gus Edwards
WR Odell Beckham DeAndre Hopkins
WR Mike Evans JuJu Smith-Schuster
WR Tyreek Hill Jarvis Landry
TE Eric Ebron Rob Gronkowski
Flex Robert Woods Mike Williams

If Odell Beckham plays this week, Denny’s high-powered, WR-heavy roster will be difficult to beat. Although this has undoubtedly been a tremendous year for RBs, the costs to acquire those players are still significant. Three of the four Apex semifinalists didn’t select an RB in the first three rounds. And yet Mike and Denny still started an RB in the flex position in their semi. It’s just that much easier to find appealing RB starters late. In fact, Mike had both Cohen and Damien Williams on the bench because his lineup with Nick Chubb, Phillip Lindsay, and Justin Jackson didn’t have room for them.5 This certainly fits with Blair Andrews’ must-read article on the subject: Proof Rookie RBs are the Key to Fantasy Success.

Good luck to Denny this week. He’s one of my favorite people in the fantasy community, which will make losing to him more palatable.

For more on the specific picks and the big picture behind contingency-based drafting:

Breakouts, Values, and Busts – The Apex Experts Draft

How to Create League-Winning Scenarios Using CBD

Good luck to all of our readers this week as you take down your own titles!

  1. This is how the Dashboard projected the picks. I selected Gronkowski.  (back)
  2. I do break from Zero RB in some very specific situations – although generally not in industry drafts as these are good opportunities to discuss and educate on the strategy – and have some McCaffrey ownership, especially in dynasty.  (back)
  3. My Zero RB squads will now finish 1-2-1-2 or 1-2-1-1 over the last four years in the MFL10 of Death, not exactly fitting with the Zero RB is Dead refrain.  (back)
  4. The projections also recommended buying Cooper Kupp and Kenny Golladay while avoiding Corey Davis.  (back)
  5. Sadly, Chubb and Lindsay picked a bad time to struggle, but their presence certainly explains why Mike ran away with the No. 1 seed.  (back)

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