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To Zero-RB or Not To Be: Redraft Strategy for the Passing Revolution, Part 8

Welcome to my NFL Passing Revolution series, where I examine how the NFL’s shift towards efficient pass-heavy offenses has affected the landscape of fantasy football.

We’ve now arrived at the final installment of this series; and for my final entry in this epic, I’m going to shift gears a bit. For seven straight articles, I’ve analyzed the NFL and fantasy football with a global lens. Now, it’s finally time to focus-in on 2019 redraft strategy. Using my findings from each of my previous pieces, I’ll guide you through the early rounds in a 12-team, snake-style draft.

I don’t pretend to cover every nuance of draft philosophy in this single piece. Moreover, at each pivotal point in the draft, the decision to go Zero-RB — or not — changes the entire game. Nonetheless, I’ve distill this series’ key findings into a cohesive draft philosophy from which every kind of drafter may benefit.

Be sure to check out this series’ previous installments:

Round-by-Round Guidelines

Round 1

Round 1 is fairly straightforward. If you have an early draft position, you will naturally will choose an elite RB like Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley or Alvin Kamara. Alternatively, if you don’t have an early drafting position, you likely must accept whatever valuable asset falls to you. Most often, this will be a top-end WR like DeAndre Hopkins or Davante Adams.

But, you also may want to differentiate yourself from the pack by drafting JuJu Smith-Schuster or Travis Kelce earlier than most. In Round 1, there are few wrong answers; just competing draft philosophies.

Round 2

This is the round where you probably need to target TE no matter your draft position. Of course, there are only three truly elite tight ends in the mix, so you may or may not be in position to draft one. Nonetheless, drafting a top-three tight end is a strategy I have championed in this series. I highly recommend pulling the trigger in Round 2 before the “Big Three” pass you by.

If you’re in the back of the draft order in Round 1, don’t expect Zach Ertz or George Kittle to still be around in Round 3 if you don’t grab one now. Don’t be afraid to reach to get the guy you want — even if it feels like you’re leaving value on the table.

But, if you’re in a position to wait on TE (or if they’re all drafted ahead of you), don’t fret. You can still grab a tight end from the TE4-TE6 range a couple rounds later. Meanwhile, focus on collecting the WR and RB value that will naturally fall to you. Don’t be afraid to take a risk by drafting someone like Damien Williams or Tyreek Hill, whose draft stock continues to bob up and down like a buoy in an inlet. Go ahead: Be the butt of the draft-day jokes, and laugh your way to the bank.

Round 3

This is mostly a value round. If you grabbed a wide receiver and tight end in the first two rounds, you may want to consider a Zero-RB strategy at this point. If you opt for that particular strategy, you should be pleased with the wide receivers available here, which likely include Stefon DiggsBrandin Cooks, T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green and Amari Cooper.

If instead you grabbed two running backs in Rounds 1 and 2, then you probably missed on a top tight end. If Ertz or Kittle is somehow still available, grab them immediately and laugh like a schoolgirl. But, if those players are gone, you likely need to pivot to WR, because elite WR value will evaporate faster than you think.

Keep in mind that many teams may be targeting WR in this round — or over-drafting rush-heavy running backs. Either way, you win — so long as you play the value game and don’t get nervous. The first two rounds dictate what you’re targeting here, so don’t overthink it: Just accept what falls (although most value is likely to be had at WR).

Round 4

Let other teams draft potential RB2-style disappointments like Derrick Henry and Sony Michel while you sweep up WR value to solidify your core. If running backs like Kerryon Johnson (ADP: 36) or Josh Jacobs (ADP: 37) fall to you here, don’t be afraid to take them. But, remember that high-upside receiving running backs are still available in Round 5.

Round 4 is still too early to debate taking a quarterback or TE4. Instead, focus on WR primarily, but be open to drafting a high-upside RB like Johnson, Marlon Mack or Aaron Jones.

Round 5

This is finally when you should strongly consider targeting players like Kenyan Drake (ADP: 52), James White (ADP: 55) and Tarik Cohen (ADP: 59). The RB pool begins to thin out in this round, so this is a pivotal point for team-building. If you’ve committed to a Zero-RB build, you’ve got a difficult choice to make. You can either continue building your WR corps, or you can grab one of the three running backs above who have elite receiving skills and sneaky RB1 upside. There’s no wrong answer here: Let your own intuition be your guide.

If you’ve drafted a more balanced lineup so far (or if you’re not a fan of Zero-RB), then simply continue playing the value game. Another alternative is to target TE4-TE6 if you missed on an elite TE in Round 2-3.

Round 6

This is about the time when some teams will begin reaching at QB and TE. Don’t play their game. There’s loads of WR value on the board here, and the running backs available in this range are mostly rookies, backups or high-range of outcome guys. Depending on your team build, you may want to take on some of that risk/upside with running backs in this range. But, most builds should accept WR value like D.J. Moore (ADP: 61), Jarvis Landry (ADP: 64) or Tyler Boyd (ADP: 65).

If you drafted Cohen, don’t feel like you have to go get David Montgomery immediately. Sure, a handcuff is nice, but not at this kind of premium. There’s plenty of rookies later (like Darrell Henderson at ADP: 82) who will also serve that “handcuff” role if you want to grab one. Whether a player is your handcuff or another team’s is mostly irrelevant: You want to target players that afford you leverage over other fantasy teams when injuries inevitably occur. So, be patient, and don’t get swept up in the tail end of the RB position run.

Round 7 and Beyond

Once you hit Round 7, all bets are off. Big Boards and ADP matter far less as the draft progresses, and most of your decision-making will be based on your particular team build rather than the best value available.

At this point, my best advice is to draft with conviction. Some of the previous rounds have been “value” rounds, but now you should pivot towards upside. If that means hoarding risky running backs, cool. If that means drafting Kyler Murray before everyone else, go for it. It could also mean drafting as many wide receivers as you can fit onto your roster.

Every drafter is different, and every league is different. So long as you embrace volatility and think independently, you’ll be fine from here on out.

My Quintessential 2019 Redraft Strategy

In this, the final section of my “Passing Revolution” series, I want to recap some of the big redraft takeaways from each of my installments. In less than 300 words, I want to summarize my nearly 13,000 words of analysis into a cohesive draft philosophy for 2019.

Side note: If you’re one of the brave souls who has ingested every word of this series, cheers to you. If ever we’re in the same town, DM me on Twitter @racollinsworth, and I’d be happy to join you for a dram of Laphroaig and an Ashton cigar – my treat.

Here goes nothing:

Target Pass-Catching Running Backs

Running back data shows a significant edge in drafting elite pass-catching backs. Current ADP reports also reveal significant value in the middle rounds of the draft to target players with RB1 receiving upside, such as James White and Tarik Cohen.

Spend Early Draft Capital For a Top-Tier Tight End

Tight end data suggests that drafting a top-3 tight end is almost essential in modern fantasy football. This means you’ll likely have to spend early-round capital to obtain one. If you miss on an elite tight end, you must pick up a player from the TE4-TE6 range, or risk punting the position altogether.

You Can Wait on a Quarterback

Though I never really addressed the quarterback position explicitly, I’ve hinted at this take a number of times. Since JJ Zachariason pioneered the Late Round QB strategy years ago, it has proven effective nearly every season – including and especially last year with Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. If your draft is going well, don’t be afraid to take a quarterback earlier than most, but don’t freak out if you miss on Mahomes. Let someone else take the risk, and continue to hoard your draft capital.

Accept Wide Receiver Value When it Falls to You

All three of the other fantasy positions have a specific draft strategy takeaway associated with them. But wide receiver doesn’t. Instead, my big talking point for wide receivers has been their “trendless-ness” and “anti-fragility.” So, feel empowered to: Reach for tight end, wait for quarterback, be judicious at running back, and accept wide receiver value when it falls to you – even if that’s in Round 1.

Think Independently

Most important of all, be a contrarian by being yourself. Don’t zig when others zag; march to the beat of your own drum, and let others fall in behind you. Avoid taking yourself too seriously, hold on loosely to your beliefs, be prepared to pivot and embrace being different. And always keep in perspective that we’re basically playing Pokemon for adults — with a cash incentive.

“Strong Pokémon. Weak Pokémon. That is only the selfish perception of people. Truly skilled trainers should try to win with their favorites.”

— Agatha, Johto Elite Four Member

Image Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: James White.

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