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Zero RB Will Win Someone $1,000,000: NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship Strategies

Michael Dubner looks at how we can use the Zero RB fantasy football draft strategy in the NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship tournament

It’s been nearly six years since RotoViz’s Shawn Siegele penned the ground-breaking article “Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value Based Drafting.” Despite the re-emergence of workhorse RBs, Zero RB is still thriving. While Zero RB may be effective in traditional best ball leagues, how effective is this strategy in the NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship format?

We’ve already explored:

Shawn Siegele’s Best Ball Workshop has done an excellent job outlining the best strategies we should look to use as well as the mistakes to avoid in drafts. Now I’m interested in applying these lessons in a way that will improve our chances of taking home the $1 Million first-place prize of the DRAFT Best Ball Championship.

And there’s no better place to start than with the RotoViz staple: Using Zero RB in the NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship tournament.

Comparing Zero RB on DRAFT versus MFL10

Understanding your league settings is the first thing a winning  fantasy football player should focus on. When fantasy football analysts discuss different strategies, it’s always important to note the scoring format they are referencing. Since many analysts discuss Zero RB in the context of full-PPR leagues, such as MFL10, our first exercise here is to compare Zero RB on DRAFT versus MFL10. For this article, I will define “Zero RB” as selecting your RB1 in Round 5 or later.

As you may intuitively expect, Zero RB appears to be more effective on a full-PPR site. However, the average person may find it surprising that Zero RB has the potential to create win rates exceeding 11% on a half-PPR scoring system.

Optimal Month for the Zero RB Strategy

Siegele has extensively written about the success of Zero RB in the best ball workshop, among other league winning tips. He also just showed that Zero RB drafters benefit more when using the strategy closer to the start of the season. Using the MFL10 Roster Construction Explorer, we see the average score for Zero RB rosters progressively increases throughout the offseason.

This makes sense when we compare it to the optimal month to draft our Best Ball Championship teams for maximizing points.

While the average Zero-RB score increases closer to NFL kickoff, it’s also possible that other roster constructions will do the same. Thus, next we’ll look at how the Zero-RB average score compares to strategy agnostic drafts, using “Zero RB Average Score Over Expectation.”1

Not only do Zero-RB scores increase with each draft month, on average, but we also see that Zero RB scores generally increase with each draft month to a greater extent than other strategies do. The advantage Zero RB provides generally improves progressively from March to August.

Now that we know Zero RB is an effective roster construction on DRAFT, especially in the later months of the draft season, we must explore whether the same benefits we see in traditional best ball leagues apply to the NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship.

Zero RB in the 2018 NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship

In the DRAFT Best Ball Championship, 8.53% of entries survive to the first round of the playoffs, 2.13% advance to the second round, 0.53% to the third round and 0.13% to the fourth round, and are thus the baseline rates to consider when analyzing the effectiveness of specific strategies. Here’s how Zero RB faired in the 2018 NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship.2

Zero RB in the 2018 NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship

In 2018, Zero-RB teams greatly exceeded expectations in Rounds 1 and 2, and survived at a rate around expectation in Rounds 3 and 4. Zero-RB teams exceeded baseline survival rates in the first and second rounds by a tremendous 21% and 28% respectively.

The success of Zero-RB teams advancing in the NFL DRAFT Best Ball Championship appears to be consistent with the strategy’s win rate in traditional best ball leagues in 2018. While this may seem like an obvious statement, there was a possibility that Zero RB could have differing results in traditional best ball leagues based on total season points versus the Best Ball Championship which becomes a weekly event in Weeks 13-16.

Zero-RB teams were able to advance in the tournament despite eight of the top-10 RB scorers from Weeks 13-16 being RBs drafted in the top-40 overall picks. This demonstrates the strategy’s success even in a year where some of the early round RBs continued to perform well late into the season. Imagine the survivorship rates of Zero RB teams if more of the elite RBs flamed out at the end of the season.

Tournament Ownership: Zero RB Performs Even Better Than Advertised

Now that we’ve seen how successful Zero RB was in the DRAFT Best Ball Championship tournament, we have to examine the other aspect of what makes a strategy successful in tournaments, namely, ownership.

Daily fantasy players understand the importance of ownership in a tournament. When thinking about tournaments where the prize money is concentrated at the top of the payout structure, we also have to think about what other people are doing with their rosters.

We aren’t necessarily trying to post the highest scores possible, but are really just trying to post the highest score relative to our competitors.

Rostering players that are highly owned means that even if that player “hits” then you still have to out-score all of the other teams with that player, while rostering a low-owned player that exceeds expectations means you are ahead of most of teams in the tournament field. Similarly, teams drafting with similar roster constructions will have more overlap with their players rostered.

Of course the highest owned players and roster constructions are the ones with the highest probability of succeeding — or so it would seem.

Of the 90,060 rosters in the 2018 DRAFT Best Ball Championship (both the main $25 and mini $5 tournaments), just 2,926 rosters used a Zero-RB build. Even though Zero-RB teams advanced to the first round of the playoffs with an absolute rate increase of +1.8%3 and a relative rate increase of 21%4, less than 3% of teams decided to use the Zero-RB roster construction strategy.

One would expect a draft strategy used so infrequently to provide a win rate lower than expectation, not a win rate above expectation.

On the other hand, teams that drafted “RB Heavy” — drafting three RBs with their first three picks — suffered devastating survivorship rate consequences despite being used nearly four times more frequently, which you can see using the tournaments tab in the DRAFT RCE.

Using Zero RB in 2019

The amazing thing about Zero RB is that it fits into the “low ownership” category while simultaneously providing a structural advantage for your roster. Zero RB is a +EV roster construction because it provides a structural advantage and is not used frequently; the perfect one-two punch for a large-field tournament like the DRAFT Best Ball Championship.

My prediction is that a Zero RB team that was drafted in August will be in the running for the $1,000,000 first-place prize in the DRAFT Best Ball Championship and the $20,000 first-place prize in the Mini Best Ball Tourney.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean I’m using Zero RB on every roster. If I draw picks 1-5, I’m sure as hell drafting Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliot, Alvin Kamara, or David Johnson. I’ll be looking to use Zero RB when I draw a pick in the second half of the first round. The RotoViz redraft rankings show that RotoViz rankers are also higher on the WRs in their overall rankings compared to industry-wide rankings.

Your homework is to use the DRAFT Roster Construction Explorer to see the advantage gained when using Zero RB combined with the onesie position roster construction you can use in every best ball entry, and then to take home $1,000,000!

Image Credit: Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Rashaad Penny.

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  1. Zero RB Average Score Over Expectation was calculated by subtracting the average score of all draft strategies from the average score of Zero RB teams.  (back)
  2. Keep in mind this is a one year sample size that is made even smaller considering the overlap of players on teams that advance in the playoffs.  (back)
  3. Absolute Rate Increase = 10.32% – 8.53%  (back)
  4. Relative Rate Increase = 10.32%/8.53%  (back)

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