In the first three parts of this series, we looked at running backs and wide receivers drafted in the “RB Dead Zone” — Rounds 3 through 6 — and those drafted in the double-digit rounds. Today, we’ll combine everything we’ve learned (with some help from the Fanball Roster Construction Explorer) to talk about one of the most potent strategies in fantasy football.
A Quick Refresher
On the off chance that you have not been fervently waiting for each subsequent part of this series to be posted, here’s a quick summary of the first three parts:
- In Part 1, we talked about how RBs drafted in Rounds 3-6 this year scored significantly more points than RBs in that range did in previous years, but their average win rate was the same as usual. These RBs were able to score a lot of points because they got more volume, had better efficiency, and played more games (truly groundbreaking stuff here). There is no reason to think this is anything but an anomaly, so you can safely expect next year’s dead-zone RBs to be more similar to those from previous years.
- Part 2 focused on how WRs picked in Rounds 3-6 also smashed this season, though their performance was much more in line with previous campaigns. As such, you should generally lean toward picking wideouts in these rounds because they have consistently had great average win rates over the last five years. The RBs, on the other hand, had an unusually productive year in 2019 and still posted a below-expectation average win rate.
- Part 3 discussed how late-round RBs and WRs both had a better-than-usual median win rate this year; RBs were 0.2% higher than the 2015-18 median, while WRs were less than 0.1% better. Despite that, the RBs had a horrible average win rate because they didn’t have any true league-winners (like a James Conner or Alvin Kamara). Chase Edmonds had the best win rate of any RB drafted in Round 10 or later at 11.2%. Meanwhile, late-round WRs set a new five-year high in average win rate because there was an abnormal number of breakout pass-catchers. Based on previous seasons, it seems likely that the distribution of win rates will return to normal next year, and you shouldn’t overreact to the underperformance of these RBs.
I recommend you go back and read each of the previous articles if you haven’t already, but I’m probably also a little bit biased.
One Strategy to Rule Them All
There is a strategy that has posted an above-expectation win rate in four of the last five seasons. It’s had a win rate of at least 10.7% in three of the last four years and an overall win rate of 11.0% over the last five years combined. It also fits with everything we’ve discussed in the first three parts of this series.
Modified Zero RB is an absolute juggernaut.
There’s no formal, industry-wide definition for what counts as modified Zero RB, but I’m going to define it as when a team picks their RB1 in the first round and their RB2 after Round 6 (the end of the “RB Dead Zone”).
RB1 in Round 1, RB2 After Round 6 (2015-19)
It’s also possible to execute this strategy by picking your RB1 in the second round, although it’s clearly less effective than when you get a bona fide stud RB with your first pick. Still, this method has had an above-expectation win rate in three of the last five seasons and sports a healthy overall win rate of 9.1%.
RB1 in Round 2, RB2 After Round 6 (2015-19)
Intuitively, modified Zero RB makes a lot of sense. We know that Rounds 3-6 are jam-packed with wide receivers, so it makes sense to hammer WR in those rounds. On a related note, a lot of the RBs that go crazy and carry their owners to victory are found in the first round; Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, and David Johnson are three recent examples. Merge the league-winning upside of an early RB with the year-over-year consistency of mid-round WRs, and you’ve got a pretty lethal combination on your hands.
How Modified Zero RB Worked in 2019
Even though it was a down year for late-round RBs, modified Zero RB with an RB in Round 1 was even better than average, with a 12.6% win rate in 2019.
RB1 in Round 1, RB2 After Round 6 (2019)
It wasn’t as effective for those who waited until the second round to pick their RB1, as those teams had a win rate of just 7.5%. That discrepancy can mostly be explained by looking at the individual players who were taken in those rounds; a good number of the teams who picked their RB1 in the first round likely had McCaffrey, who posted the highest win rate ever, whereas Round 2 RBs were significantly less successful.1 Furthermore, it’s not like there weren’t any good RBs outside of the first few rounds; Austin Ekeler and Miles Sanders were both integral parts of many championship teams, and they were both picked in the late single-digit rounds (so we didn’t talk about them in Part 3 of this series, which only focused on RBs picked in Round 10 or later). That, combined with the fact that mid-round WRs had a strong year, made modified Zero RB teams a force to be reckoned with despite the historically bad year for late-round runners.
How Modified Zero RB Fits Into This Series
As we examined in Parts 1 and 2, you can expect WRs picked in Rounds 3-6 to continue to smash in 2020, and RBs selected in those rounds will likely fall short of your expectations. Furthermore, you can expect late-round RBs to rebound next year, as there was an extraordinary lack of breakout runners this year. Conversely, there will likely be fewer breakout late-round WRs in 2020, as this season was an anomaly in that regard. As such, you can capitalize on recency bias by loading up on WRs in Rounds 3-6 and RBs in the double-digit rounds in best ball drafts this offseason. Because dead-zone RBs scored so many points and had so many obvious hits (Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, Chris Carson, the list goes on) and late-round RBs underperformed so severely, more owners will go after RBs in the wrong rounds. Meanwhile, you can hammer WRs in Rounds 3-6 and RBs late and profit off of other owners’ mistakes.
Especially if you’re picking early in the first round and have the opportunity to draft McCaffrey, Kamara, Saquon Barkley, or another three-down workhorse, modified Zero RB is a great way to gain an edge over your opponents. You never want to force a strategy, so don’t pigeonhole yourself into taking a certain position in a certain round, but I encourage you to utilize the modified Zero RB strategy this offseason if you are given the chance to begin your draft with a star RB.
Image Credit: John Byrum/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Christian McCaffrey.
- Dalvin Cook was the exception, but his 12.4% win rate was nowhere near McCaffrey’s 36.3% and was itself partly explained by Cook’s being paired with McCaffrey on some teams. (back)