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Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: When Should You Draft a Running Back? Zero RB & RB/RB Showdown

Christian Mccaffrey 4Df50Db6
Source: iconsportswire.com

As part of Draft Strategy Week here at Fantasy Football Calculator, we published a survey to ask people what their biggest draft strategy questions were, and running backs were mentioned the most. When it comes to drafting running backs the most common questions we received were:

  • Do I need to go RB/RB in the first two rounds?
  • Does Zero RB work?

Which is crazy because these are polar opposites. The first situation assumes that running backs are so valuable that you must draft two right away in your draft. And the second assumes that you can pretty much ignore running backs entirely. As you'll see below, neither situation is crazy and depending on your draft spot and league settings, either one could work for you if done correctly.

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Positional Value

Before we get into running backs specificially, I want to get a lay of the land for each position. Everyone talks about positional value in a vague sense, but I want to first visualize it for each position in this year's drafts. Below is a series of graphs, which show our projected fantasy value (VBD) for each player plotted against their positional rank. This will help us visualize outliers, tiers and drop-offs in value. Note: Don't worry about the negative values. VBD is a relative number compared to a baseline player at each position with the baseline player being zero points of value. If you don't know what VBD is, head back to our introductory article and then come back.

Running Back Draft Value

The #1 running back is Christian McCaffrey and the 2nd is Dalvin Cook . You can start to see some tiers forming that end around the 18th running back and at the 35th running back.

Quarterback Draft Value

The quarterback value chart doesn't have a sharp outlier at #1 like RB does, and the drop off is a lot less dramatic until it gets to the 25th QB when it falls off a cliff.

Wide Receiver Draft Value

For wide receivers, there are a handful of players near the top tier and then it's a steady slow downward decline, similar to running backs.

Tight End Draft Value

And it's no surprise that Travis Kelce is the big outlier at #1 for tight ends with a smaller tier below him.

Draft Simulations

To get actual data on which draft strategies are the best, I ran a bunch of simulated drafts today and focused specifically on the running back position. To keep everything similar, I always drafted with these draft settings:

  • Half-PPR scoring
  • 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 Flex, 1 TE, 1 DT, 1 PK
  • 12 teams
  • 10th draft spot

These were all done with the customizable Draft Simulator . I included a screenshot of my personal Draft Simulator dashboard below. I tested Zero RB, RB/RB and a few others. I'll tell you below what I learned.

Zero RB

I did three drafts with Zero RB strategy. The result was an average projected fantasy points of 111.0, which is pretty great. Honestly, I was sweating throughout the drafts because all of the good RBs were being drafted. You can see my drafts here , here and here .

What I learned is that in Half-PPR from the 10th spot, Zero RB absolutely can work for you. The reason it does is that you can get a top-tier WR or Kelce in round 1, and follow it up with a top-tier WR in round two. If I was drafting from the 5th or 6th spot though, and in the 2nd round the top tier of WRs were gone, it might be a different story.

RB/RB

I did 6 drafts where I started RB/RB with different variations in round 3. You can find my drafts here , here , here , here , here and here . What I learned is that there was a huge difference in my draft results in RB/RB strategies that hinged on who I drafted in round 3. When I drafted yet another a RB in round 3, usually Darrell Henderson, then my team was great with an average projection of 108.9 fantasy points per week. That shows that RB/RB can work in the case of RB/RB/RB.

However, if I went WR in round 3, my average projected fantasy points per week plummetted to 89.0 fantasy points per week. Why is that? Well, on these teams I didn't have a top tier RB or WR or TE or QB. My team may have been "balanced" but there wasn't a single stand-out player at any position, which hurt me.

But why did my team do better at RB/RB/RB versus RB/RB/WR? Because in this league format I start two RBs and have one flex position, so I could start my 3rd RB every week in the flex position, which gave me an advantage. So the lesson here is that if you do end up going RB/RB, you are pot-committed to going RB again in the third (assuming you are in a flex league).

Others

To try another variation in the early rounds, I tried going RB/WR/RB, which ended up doing great with 112.6 projected points per week. I chalk that up to snagging Diggs in the 2nd round, which meant that I landed at least one top-tier talent on my team.

Conclusions

After running all of these simulated drafts, I learned that both Zero RB and RB/RB can work in a 12-team half-PPR draft from the 10th-spot. However, you have to make sure that you stand out in one of these areas:

  • Top tier RB
  • Top tier WR
  • Top tier TE
  • RB stud at the Flex position

If you don't have at least one of those then you're dead in the water, no matter what strategy you use. A top QB is nice, but the drop-off at QB isn't as steep as at other positions so it's not necessary. If you're drafting out of the 10th spot like I was, then a top-tier RB is out of the question. You then have the option to target one of the other three critical components of your team depending on how the draft goes.

I'll see you tomorrow when we talk about when to draft a quarterback.

In the mean time, you can do a public mock draft or use the customizable draft simulator to practice for yourself.


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