Fantasy football is right around the corner. Now is the time to start putting together cheat sheets and reading up on depth charts of all 32 teams. Another thing people are doing is mock drafting and using different strategies. Depending on different strategies and draft order, the slew of players you get for your roster is different. One strategy that is pretty common is the zero RB strategy.
This strategy was popularized by Shawn Siegele a couple years ago. The whole point of this strategy is that you don’t draft a running back until at least the sixth round. There are many reasons as to why this strategy has become more popular over the years.
- By skipping over the top-tier running backs, you can avoid crippling your fantasy team if your first round running back suffers a serious injury. Case in point, all the owners that took David Johnson in 2017 with their first pick. If the proper back-up was not drafted, you were forced to scour the waiver wire every week for a suitable starting running back. By drafting running backs in the middle round, you can avoid these big injuries and avoid sacrificing your team.
- With the NFL shifting into a pass-first league, the quality of wide receivers has become more important. By drafting two elite level wide receivers with your first couple picks, you can keep with the league offensive shift. Using your first handful of picks on wide receivers and a tight end is just another way of building a solid roster.
- If you play in a PPR league (which has become the norm now), having quality receivers can be more important than having a stud running back. Later in the draft, you can still get good running backs that can help in PPR leagues, as opposed to standard leagues. This will allow you to get more points week to week when you have balance across your roster based on your PPR scoring settings.
So this article dives into this strategy and will offer three different mock drafts using this strategy. One is based off a selection in the first four slots of the draft, one is based off a selection in the middle four slots of the draft, and one is based off a selection in the last four slots in the draft. Let’s see what happens!
*Please note that these mock drafts were based off the following stipulations:
- The scoring was based on ESPN’s standard PPR scoring rules
- The roster construction was based on ESPN’s standard roster: 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, 1-FLEX, 1-K, 1-DST, 7-BENCH
Fantasy Football 101: The Zero RB Draft Strategy
#2 Overall Pick – Zero RBs Strategy
Easy choices to make here as Brown is one of the best fantasy players in the league. He finished fifth in total scoring and is sure to maintain a top-five ranking when the 2018 season comes to a close.
In the second round, Evans was a gift as he was still on the board after 10 selections. He just signed a massive contract in the off-season. This can now let Evans focus on football and not worry about contracts weighing on his mind. One thing to note, Jameis Winston is suspended for the first three games of the year and this may affect his early numbers.
The next three rounds were about solidifying the flex spot and having a solid match-up based starter on the bench. Kelce was the highest scoring tight end in 2017. Even with the switch to Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, this offense relies heavily on Kelce producing.
Landry comes to the Browns after finishing 2017 with a career-high 112 receptions. This left him as the fifth-best wide receiver in the league last season. Pair him up with Josh Gordon and you have a deadly game of who you want to single cover.
Finally, Cooks playing in the Rams offense should play to his strengths more than when he was in New England. The Rams will rely on Cooks being able to stretch the field, similar to how he did in New Orleans. He can be used as a flex player or a match-up based starter off the bench.
Other options at 3.26: Zach Ertz, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Fitzgerald, Baldwin, Hill
Other options at 4.47: Delanie Walker, Greg Olsen, Evan Engram, Devin Funchess, Cooks
Other options at 5.50: Walker, Olsen, Engram, Funchess, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder
Now, this is where the running backs come off the board. This is a stretch of five straight to fill our starting spots and also depth behind them. Some really good options still on the board this late in the draft. Lewis brings versatility to the Titans offense. He will be a perfect complementary piece to Derrick Henry in the backfield.
The Seahawks shocked a lot of people by selecting Penny in the first round. This speaks to their need to be able to run the ball to take the pressure off Russell Wilson. Penny will have his opportunity at leading that charge and he has the skills to handle the load in the Northwest.
Michel was also drafted in the first round. His selection signifies that he will get some touches in the Patriots offense. Showcasing his skills in the BCS Championship game against Alabama, Belichick will get to utilize Michel’s dual-threat ability. This is a great addition to an offense that is going through a bit of a change due to free agency losses.
Another rookie runner comes off the board as Chubb was the fifth straight running back chosen. He may lose touches to Duke Johnson in the passing game, but he will be a vulture in the end zone. His running style and ability will also keep Carlos Hyde from snagging more touches from him.
Other options at 6.71: Penny, Ronald Jones II, Mark Ingram, Tarik Cohen, Miller
Other options at 7.74: Jones II, Ingram, Cohen, Miller, Chris Thompson, Royce Freeman
Other options at 8.95: Cohen, Johnson, Michel, Tevin Coleman, Marshawn Lynch
Other options at 9.98: Coleman, Trey Burton, Lynch, Jordan Reed, Theo Riddick, Marlon Mack
Other options at 10.119: Tyler Lockett, Tyler Eifert, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Jared Goff, D.J. Moore, Martavis Bryant
Once the double-digit rounds roll up, this is where getting you starting quarterback is a good idea. The fact that Rivers is still available this late in the draft, shows you that this league has a surplus of quality quarterbacks. Getting a quarterback that finished eighth in 2017 at pick 122 is excellent value.
The rest of the draft is geared towards filling out your roster with quality depth players. Ridley will be a good addition in Atlanta and could be a sneaky offensive rookie of the year candidate.
Gallup is part of an offense that has no true number one receiver. This means he can be a big part of the passing attack, as the offensive load will be shared by all the receivers.
Taking a defense in the thirteenth round may be slightly early in some people’s eyes. Taking your defense in this round will give you a choice as to which defense you want, with the exception of the topmost defense. Getting a defense like San Diego’s will lead to lots of sacks and pressure picks.
Other options at 11.122: Luck, Goff, Ridley, D’Onta Foreman, Charles Clay, Bryant, Moore
Other options at 12.143: Luck, Goff, Gallup, Mike Williams, Vikings DST, Cameron Brate, Matt Ryan
Other options at 13.146: Williams, Brate, Vikings DST, Ryan, Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, Ty Montgomery
Other options at 14.167: Broncos DST, Texans DST, Saints DST, Ravens DST, Carr, Mariota, Chris Carson
The last two picks are for a kicker and a final bench player. Similar to getting a defense one round early, getting a kicker one round early will let you have a choice of the field. In this case, scoring the highest scoring kicker in 2017 can lead to some double-digit points every week. Those points can make a difference between winning and losing more often than not. Lastly, Hurst is the last selection in the draft for the team. Hurst will be a good receiving option for Joe Flacco in the Baltimore offense. Flacco likes to utilize his tight ends and Hurst bring serious receiving ability to the tight end position for the Ravens.
Other options at 15.170: Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, Jake Elliott, Wil Lutz, Robbie Gould, Carr, Mariota
Other options at 16.191: Mason Crosby, Kalen Ballage, Dante Pettis, Cole Beasley, Keelan Cole, T.J. Yeldon, Alex Smith
#6 Overall Pick – Zero RB Strategy
The first five rounds were dedicated to getting top tier starting receivers and then solid depth behind them. Hopkins is an elite level receiver. He has been one of the best in the league, even with a carousel of quarterbacks throwing to him his entire career.
Adams gets to become more of a focal point of the offense now that Jordy Nelson is playing in Oakland. He has a gift for high-pointing the ball and his height leads to lots of jump ball scores in the red zone. He could be one of the big breakout stars in fantasy football this season.
Coming into the end of his career, Fitzgerald is playing like he could play another five years. He will be there to groom the young rookies on offense including Josh Rosen and Christian Kirk. Fitzgerald can still perform at this stage in his career and will be a great starter or flex play every week.
Tate was twelfth in fantasy scoring for receivers last season. He also plays in a pass-first offense that has a gunslinger quarterback, in Matthew Stafford. Tate will get his opportunities to score and that can lead to serious points.
Finally, in the fifth round, Walker comes off the board as the starting tight end. Walker has a great rapport with Marcus Mariota in the Tennessee offense. This leads to him being one of the more underrated tight ends in the league. Fantasy owners know his name though, as he finished fourth in points amongst all tight ends. Mariota will rely on Walker in the red zone for sure and he can finish top five again in 2018.
Other options at 1.6: Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Josh Gordon, A.J. Green
Other options at 2.19: Adam Thielen, Amari Cooper, Josh Gordon, Doug Baldwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Rob Gronkowski
Other options at 3.30: Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, Stefon Diggs, T.Y. Hilton, Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks, Golden Tate
Other options at 4.43: Jimmy Graham, Kyle Rudolph, Jamison Crowder, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen
Other options at 5.54: Corey Davis, Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan, Michael Crabtree, Pierre Garcon
Jay Ajayi (6.67), Dion Lewis (7.78), Royce Freeman (8.91)
A mini-streak of running backs come off the board in the next three rounds. Starting with Ajayi. He has been named the lead back in the Philadelphia with LeGarrette Blount now wearing a Lions uniform. This can only mean good things for Ajayi as the Eagles led the league in rushing last year.
Lewis is next off the board and he is a great player to have for a PPR league. Being a force in the passing game, Lewis will complement Derrick Henry nicely in the Titans offense. He will also give Mariota a solid safety net out of the backfield on passing downs.
Next comes a rookie from Denver, in Freeman. He was a battering ram in college and we can only hope that he can translate those same skills into the NFL. He has a strong chance to take the number one spot in the backfield. This can lead to great points in the flex spot or a match-up based starter.
Other options at 6.67: Rashaad Penny, Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Carlos Hyde, Royce Freeman
Other options at 7.78: Derrick Henry, Royce Freeman, Sony Michel, Carlos Hyde, Lamar Miller, Devante Parker
Other options at 8.91: Ronald Jones II, Marlon Mack, Lamar Miller, Sterling Shepard, Tevin Coleman, Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo (9.102), George Kittle (10.115)
Taking a quarterback in the ninth round is a great addition without sacrificing an early pick. Garoppolo showed a lot of promise in his five wins in a Niner uniform last year. His second year in Kyle Shanahan’s offense can lead to serious fantasy points. He is a sneaky pick to end up as a top-ten finisher in 2018 as a fantasy scoring quarterback.
Pairing with Garoppolo is the tight end, Kittle. Kittle also showed great things last season playing with Garoppolo. He is a great hybrid tight end that can block as well as go out on receiving routes. He had a quick rapport with Garoppolo and this can lead to dual points starting both together based on matchups. This roster already has a solid starting tight end in Walker, but Kittle could be great for spot starts.
Other options at 9.102: Trey Burton, Marshawn Lynch, Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Tarik Cohen, George Kittle, Jamaal Williams
Other options at 10.115: Nick Chubb, Isaiah Crowell, David Njoku, D’Onta Foreman, Jared Goff, Tyler Eifert
More running back to fill out the bench as Foreman and Powell are the next picks. Foreman played well when he shared a backfield with Deshaun Watson. If it wasn’t for a terrible ACL injury, he could have had a solid rookie year for the Texans. Lamar Miller is the starter for now, but if Foreman returns from injury strong, he can grab hold of the lead role in the Houston backfield.
Powell has to share the load again with new Jets running back, Isaiah Crowell. Powell is familiar with the offense and he should see more of the carries early on. His field vision and patience can also lead to him having more snaps than Crowell over the course of the season.
Taking the Vikings defense may be a little early, but they allowed the least amount points in 2017. This led to them having great production every week, even with not as many turnovers or defensive touchdowns.
This is the final running back taken here, with Hines. Marlon Mack is still in Indianapolis but he is not an every-down running back. Joining the backfield is Hines and he is more of a runner than Mack. He will be able to come in and get some red zone carries as well as handle a good portion of the running plays. Good complement piece to the agile and receiving back, in Mack.
Other options at 12.139: Jared Goff, LeGarrette Blount, Charles Clay, Corey Clement, Cameron Brate, Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger
Other options at 13.150: Hayden Hurst, Ben Roethlisberger, Dak Prescott, Frank Gore, Chris Carson, Philip Rivers
Other options at 14.163: Ravens DST, Texans DST, Broncos DST, Chargers DST, Philip Rivers, Saints DST
Keelan Cole (15.174), Jake Elliott (16.187)
Nice to have another bench wide receiver so Cole is the option here. Cole came onto the scene during the last couple weeks of the NFL season. He really was a great fantasy playoff pickup. He can be a great fantasy producer as Allen Robinson left to sign with Chicago. Offensive snaps need to go to someone and Cole can build on a promising end to 2017, in 2018.
The last pick for the roster is more traditional with draft strategies as it’s a kicker. The Eagles had an excellent season last year, capping off 2017 with a Super Bowl victory. Philadelphia ended up scoring more touchdowns than settling for field goals. This still is good for Elliott as he was towards the top of the list in extra points attempted (fourth). Elliott was also 17-19 on field goals of 40 yards or longer, which are great for leagues with higher points for longer field goals.
Other options at 15.174: Chargers DST, Ravens DST, Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr, Saints DST, Patriots DST, Stephen Gostkowski, Greg Zuerlein
Other options at 16.187: Harrison Butker, Mason Crosby, Robbie Gould, Matt Prater, Cole Beasley, Dante Pettis, Kalen Ballage
#12 Overall Pick – Zero RB Strategy
Michael Thomas (1.12), A.J. Green (2.13), Josh Gordon (3.36)
My first three picks are all solid wide receiver additions. Thomas is the clear-cut number one receiving option in New Orleans. Drew Brees shows a lot of faith in the young receiver and he has not disappointed. Thomas has amassed at least 90 receptions and 1,100 yards in each of his two years in the league. This is a trend to continue and Thomas is a force in the fantasy world.
Green is also a player of consistent production. There is a reason why he has made the Pro Bowl in seven straight seasons and that goes back to his rookie year. Andy Dalton knows he can rely on Green to move the chains and put points on the board.
Last of the three straight receivers off the board is Gordon. He only played in a handful of games in 2017, but he showed why he is one of the best in the league when playing. Pairing him with Jarvis Landry will also lead to his production rising as that gives the Browns two legit weapons from the position. Gordon led the league in receiving back in 2013 and he only played in 14 games. With hopes of playing a full season, the best of Gordon is yet to come.
Other options at 1.12: A.J. Green, Davante Adams, Adam Thielen, Julio Jones
Other options at 2.13: Davante Adams, Adam Thielen, Julio Jones, Mike Evans
Other options at 3.36: Jarvis Landry, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks
Greg Olsen (4.37), Corey Davis (5.60)
Olsen is one the best tight ends in the NFL right now. With an influx of young and inexperienced receivers in Carolina, Cam Newton will be relying on Olsen more often than not. A full offseason to recover from a broken foot and Olsen should be back to producing at a high-level.
The last of the first five picks leads to Davis. A few other options such as Devin Funchess or Pierre Garcon might have been a better selection, in some eyes. However, Davis offers more upside as he flashed his athletic prowess in the postseason when there was more on the line. If he can build off a great showing in the playoffs, Davis can rock the fantasy world and be a solid top-25 fantasy receiver.
Other options at 4.37: Allen Robinson, Golden Tate, Jarvis Landry, Evan Engram, Jimmy Graham, Alshon Jeffery, Brandin Cooks
Other options at 5.60: Randall Cobb, Robert Woods, Kyle Rudolph, Sammy Watkins, Will Fuller, Jamison Crowder
Dion Lewis (6.61), Royce Freeman (7.84), Duke Johnson (8.85), Tarik Cohen (9.108)
A bevy of running backs come off the board, as four straight quality backs are chosen in a row. The best thing about all these backs is that there is a lot of versatility with their usage in the offenses they play in. Lewis will be used as a perfect supplement piece to the Titans offense. He will give Derrick Henry breathers and also be utilized in the passing offense.
Freeman is an accomplished collegiate player from Oregon and will bring a lot to the table in Denver. He may still need to work on his pass-catching ability, but that can come with time. For right now, he is a workhorse running back that will be the opening day starter once training camp opens up.
Johnson is going to get his share of the load in Cleveland. They have a bit of a crowded backfield with rookie Nick Chubb and offseason acquisition Carlos Hyde joining him. The thing that will separate Johnson from those two running backs is the ability in the passing game. Chubb and Hyde are good in the passing game, but not at Johnson’s level. This guarantees him work in the this rebuilt offense.
Cohen is a guy that showed lots of promise in his rookie season. Bring in a guy like Matt Nagy as your new head coach and the versatility will be put to the max. Cohen is going to play the “Tyreek Hill” role in Nagy’s offense in Chicago. This can only spell wonders for Cohen and the offense, and nightmares for opposing defenses.
Other options at 6.61: Royce Freeman, Carlos Hyde, Jay Ajayi, Mark Ingram, Jamison Crowder, Lamar Miller
Other options at 7.84: Trey Burton, Duke Johnson, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones II, Chris Thompson, Sony Michel, DeVante Parker
Other options at 8.85: Trey Burton, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones II, Chris Thompson, Sony Michel, DeVante Parker, Jordy Nelson
Other options at 9.108: Philip Rivers, Nick Chubb, D.J. Moore, George Kittle, Marshawn Lynch, Jared Goff, Ben Roethlisberger, Allen Hurns
Philip Rivers (10.109), O.J. Howard (11.132), D’Onta Foreman (12.133), Vikings DST (13.156)
Getting Rivers this late in the draft is a steal. Having the eighth-best fantasy quarterback on your roster after building the rest of a starting roster, is value at its finest.
Howard should have a breakout season in his sophomore campaign. He came on in the second half of the season, amassing 205 yards and three touchdowns in a span of five games. Not exactly jaw-dropping numbers, but at the tight end position and for a rookie this is pretty solid. Not a bad bench piece and bye week replacement at tight end.
Foreman is on the road to being the starting running back in Houston. His level of play in the RPO system with Deshaun Watson was something that looked potent. Unfortunately, he tore his achilles and Watson tore his ACL and the offense could not be on full display. 2018 looks to see this duo take the field again as Foreman should be able to steal the starting role from Lamar Miller sooner rather than later.
Getting the Vikings defense a round early gives us a quality defense before the run on defenses starts. The Vikings allowed the least amount of points to opposing teams last year. This bodes well for an offense that just added Kirk Cousins and could lead to this defense playing with leads more often than not. A top-five finish is on the horizon for the Minnesota defense in fantasy football.
Other options at 10.109: George Kittle, Marshawn Lynch, Nick Chubb, D.J. Moore, Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, Charles Clay, Theo Riddick
Other options at 11.132: D’Onta Foreman, Ty Montgomery, Calvin Ridley, Austin Ekeler, Michael Gallup, Tyler Lockett
Other options at 12.133: Ty Montgomery, Austin Ekeler, Calvin Ridley, Tyler Lockett, Michael Gallup, Ben Roethlisberger
Other options at 13.156: Texans DST, Chargers DST, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Carson, Nyheim Hines, Frank Gore, Alex Smith, Marcus Mariota
Mike Williams (14.157), Greg Zuerlein (15.180), Keelan Cole (16.181)
These final three picks lead us to close out the bench depth and select a kicker. Williams was not able to get things going in his rookie year. Dealing with a nagging back injury the entire season led to him not being able to display his abilities like he did back at Clemson. Entering his second season, Williams has a lot to prove and being in an offense with Rivers can lead to him being highly productive. Playing on the opposite side of Keenan Allen will help as well to let him take advantage of one-on-one situations.
Zuerlein is part of an offense that led the league in scoring with 478 points. This will allow him the opportunity to get a lot of extra points as well as field goals when the offense stalls.
The last pick for this team is wide receiver Cole. Filling the void of Allen Robinson will be tasked to Cole and free agent acquisition, Donte Moncrief. Cole was a bit of a fantasy playoff start as he came on the final weeks of the season. Looking to build on 2017, Cole showed the ability to play in the slot and also play on the outside. This offense may be run-first but the combination of Cole, Moncrief, and Marqise Lee could lead to a more balanced attack in Jacksonville.
Other options at 14.157: Christian Kirk, Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole, Chris Carson, Frank Gore, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement
Other options at 15.180: Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, Jake Elliott, Robbie Gould, Wil Lutz, Keelan Cole, Christian Kirk, T.J. Yeldon
Other options at 16.181: Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, Jake Elliott, Robbie Gould, Wil Lutz, Christian Kirk, T.J. Yeldon, Kalen Ballage
Regardless of where you select in the draft, you can get a quality quarterback in the double-digit rounds. Players like Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, and Marcus Mariota are still on the board when you are selecting in the last six rounds. Really depends on just who you have more faith in and you can prolong your selection of a quarterback.
Using the zero RB strategy, you’ll get elite level wide receivers both as starters, flex options, and match-up based staters off the bench. Depending on where you pick will affect which receivers are available, of course, but they will be dependable starters week in and week out. The drop-off between Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Michael Thomas may not be that huge in the long scheme of things.
Common trends between all of these mock drafts are that there are good PPR options at running back even after round six. The only risk is that the selection involves a lot of rookies and players in new locations. Guys like Dion Lewis, Royce Freeman, Rashaad Penny, and Nick Chubb are promising but there is no guarantee they will pan out.
So can you win with the zero RB strategy? As long as you follow some of the common draft principles, yes. Is it a guarantee that you will win? No strategy can guarantee you a win. Similar to any other strategy, once you are actually drafting things tend to go out the window. You need to be able to adjust on the fly and take advantage of value. If DeAndre Hopkins falls to you in the fourth round, you take him! Once you are in the draft room, you never know what can happen.
Happy drafting and check back soon for my in-depth breakdown of the zero QB strategy!