Draft Prep: The Zero-RB Draft Strategy

Matt Dean is here to help you decide if the Zero-RB draft strategy is right for you and who you should be targeting when it comes to waiting on the RB position.

Happy Football Season. It is good to be back with you all talking about the sport we all love: Fantasy Football.

Believe it or not, the NFL season is fast approaching and with it your Fantasy Football drafts. I, along with others on staff here at QBList, are here to help you prepare as you head into your draft.

The topic of discussion today is a Zero-RB draft. I will be discussing what this strategy could look like for you, how long you should wait on your first RB, as well as the pros and cons of choosing this drafting method. While every league is dynamic and you know your fellow league members best, it is good to have several strategies in mind as you approach your draft, especially if you are in a league where the draft position isn’t decided until an hour before the draft begins. In other words, don’t have your draft strategy set in stone, but also don’t rule out a strategy, as it could be what works best for you depending on positioning and draft outcome.

All research done on QBList and in this article is based on 12 team PPR leagues with standard roster configuration (1QB, 2WR, 2RB, 1TE, 1WR/RB/TE, 1K, 1DEF, 7 Bench)

Side note: I will be releasing a Zero-WR draft guide later in the week, so make sure to check that out as well.


Why You Should Consider Zero-RB


The Zero-RB strategy is nothing new. In the years of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander, you would have been called crazy to implement this strategy. Back then, the running back was king and standard point scoring was the norm. As it happens, the makeup of the NFL has changed, along with what the fantasy football community deems as “standard.” Most leagues now employ, at the minimum, a half-PPR scoring system, if not a full-PPR system. This has led to the rise of top wide receivers. As fantasy has changed, so has the NFL. Gone are the days where there is a workhorse back on a majority of teams. In fact, there were only eight running backs who finished 2018 with at least 60% of the offensive snap share:

Running Back Offensive Snaps (%)
Christian McCaffery 91.3%
Saquon Barkley 83%
Ezekiel Elliot 82.6%
David Johnson 79.5%
Todd Gurley 75%
James Conner 64.3%
Alvin Kamara 62.6%
Dion Lewis 60.9%

While this is an almost foolproof indicator to success (thanks Dion Lewis), this goes to show that the workhorse is just not the same. Couple that with the fact that a whopping 32 running backs received at least 40 targets last year, this is a recipe for waiting on running backs and stacking your other positions.

Another theory for drafting WR-heavy early in drafts is because the RB position often carries the highest injury risk, so investing in pass catchers early allows for the most draft capital to be invested in safer assets. The saying goes, “You can’t win your league in the first couple of rounds, but you can definitely lose it.” This allows you to have a turnstile of high upside, pass-catching running backs to plug and play. Also, this lends to playing match-ups and gives you less of a sting if one of the horses goes down due to injury.


Why You Shouldn’t Consider Zero-RB


In case you thought this was a persuasive article on why Zero-RB is the golden path to success, it is not. I am merely here to inform you, and hopefully, give you another tool in your belt come draft day. As I said earlier, there is not a strategy that is perfect, but you also should not write off strategies, as having the most information could be the difference come draft day.

Now, there are instances, as with any strategy, that would lend you avoiding the Zero-RB draft strategy.


  1. You have a top 3 pick.

Please, for the love of God, do not mess up if you have picks 1-3. As of this writing, Ezekiel Elliot is not in official trouble with the NFL, so the top three picks in every draft in the world should be, in some order, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffery, and Zeke Elliot. After those three, sure, take Davante Adams or DeAndre Hopkins, but please, if you have a top 3 pick, don’t get cute. This is not the strategy for you this year.


  1. Listen to your heart.

As I said earlier, only you know your league mates, and I won’t be in the draft room with you. If you want to fly me out or skype me in, comment below, but otherwise, I won’t be there. This is where the idea of not sticking with one strategy comes into play. Here is the scenario – it is the middle of the second round, and you are coming up to pick. You see that somehow Melvin Gordon or David Johnson has hung around, after a wild run of wide receivers. Patrick Mahomes and the top three TE’s (more on that later) are off the board. This is a scenario where you need to be flexible, and decide that taking the best player available, is better than taking TY Hilton. No offense to him, he is a great player, but there is too much value to pass up.


  1. League Settings.

Again, this article is based on the standard roster, in a 12 team PPR league. It makes sense, with the balance of this roster, to have this as a tool to use on draft day. However, sometimes league managers can get crazy and mess around with things. My wife would call this the creative date of the fantasy football world. There is nothing wrong with it, it just spices up the mundane and I get it. If you play in a league that is not a PPR, or has a higher number of RB starters required than WRs, then I would suggest finding a strategy that aligns with your settings. The Zero-RB strategy can work in a lot of league setups, but I would not recommend for a standard league that doesn’t give points for receptions. This drastically decreases the RB pool and you need to read my article about the Zero-WR strategy later in the week.


I’m In, Now How Should I Draft?


Great question, and I am glad you stuck around. After completing several mock drafts using this strategy, I found that there was great value from the 5th round, and on, in the running back market. Zero-RB targets will be discussed in an article that releases tomorrow, by our very own Paul Ghiglieri. I can tell you some great pieces that I found in rounds 6-9, were guys like Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, Tarik Cohen, and Jerick McKinnon. Other than that, I don’t want to spoil Paul’s article, so be on the lookout. However, what I am here to tell you is, what I have found to be the most successful way to employ this strategy, round-by-round. In a Zero-RB strategy, the idea is to wait on RB until the 6th round. The way that it should go is this: 

Round 1: WR

Round 2: Big 3 TE(Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Zach Ertz)

Round 3: WR

Round 4: WR

Round 5: QB

Round 6-9: High upside, pass-catching RB

Round 7+: Best available

I’ll break this down. If you are going with this strategy, this is what I have found to give me the best outcome. The difference for me, in the RBs in rounds 5 and 6, is not substantial, which leads me to select the best available QB in round 5. This should still be a top-five caliber QB. The biggest standout of this strategy is that you have all of your major positions filled, so you can heavily focus on RB in rounds 6-9. Meanwhile, others are filling TE, QB and WR spots. The key to this entire strategy is landing one of the big three TEs in round 2. The fall off after them is huge, and I like them in the order that I have listed above. The last thing I will say is please…do not pick a kicker or defense, until your last two picks. There is simply too much upside to be gained from using higher draft capital on position players, rather than the Jaguars defense.


With all of that said, I hope you are as excited as I am, to start mocking, prepping, and drafting for a successful 2019 Fantasy Football campaign. Be on the lookout for my next Draft Prep article, where I will be looking at the flip-side in my Zero-WR Strategy article.


(Photo by Kyle Emery/Icon Sportswire)

25 responses to “Draft Prep: The Zero-RB Draft Strategy”

  1. Bryan Kaplan says:

    Very intriguing article. Great job and thanks for the detail. One question for you:10 team league would you implement this strategy pick 5-10?

  2. Matt Dean says:

    Thanks Bryan! As I said, don’t go in with only one strategy, but I think from pick 5 on this is a great strategy. Another of our writers just implemented this in a league and ended up with Hopkins, Keenan Allen and Diggs and got Sony Michel in the 6th. Sound good to you?

  3. John Anderson says:

    Hi Matt,
    I was wondering if I could actually cover your transportation to come to my living room for my fantasy drafts this year? I think you have a lot of keen insight that could help me win my leagues!

  4. Jake Dean says:

    Great article man! Question for you, if you end up having a top 3 and of course get one of the three amigos (saquan, Zeke, Christian) would you recommend not eyeing another RB until the late rounds and from there focus on the TE in round 2 then WR until round 5? Also, would you recommend this in a keeper league? Great stuff man!

    • Matt Dean says:

      What’s up cousin? Glad Le’Veon is out of Pittsburg?

      If I had that scenario, meaning you probably have a top 3 or 4 pick, then I would take TE in round 2 if there is one of either Kelce, Kittle, or Ertz then take best available WR the next 2 or 3 rounds. Hope that helps. Did that last night and went McCaffery – Kittle – Cooper – Golladay – Robert Woods and was very happy. And ended up with McKinnon and Lamar Miller in rounds 7 and 8 so that was a great outcome for me.

      • Jake Dean says:

        Very glad he’s gone! Conner will be a great replacement and I’m excited to watch Snell get in there. I tried a mock draft with this stat why and ended up with (Matt Ryan, Saquon, James White, Adam Thielen, Cooper Kupp, Ertz, and Jarvis). McKinnon and Hunt on the bench. This may be my new strategy!

  5. Joe says:

    Thank you for taking time to write this article. Let’s say you don’t have a first round pick. Would you still target a TE in round 2? Would you adjust your entire strategy?

    • Matt Dean says:

      So a keeper then or you traded away your first? I would need more context but would love to help. Send me a DM on Twitter and I’d love to help out. @MattDeanQBList

      • Joe says:

        Thank you for actually reaponding! I don’t have twitter unfortunately. You’re right on both guesses. Traded my 1st this year for Kamara last year. Won the league because of the trade. I have Tarik Cohen, Tevin Coleman, and Tyler Lockett to chose from for this year. Tarik or Tevin will will cost me my 8th round and Lockett at the cost of 11th. I do however have two 4th round selections this year. So not having a first isn’t all that disappointing all things considered. Thanks Matt! I look forward to your response.

        • Matt Dean says:

          Honestly, I’d keep Lockett, assuming PPR, as he will be playing a lot of slot. He was like top 4 in slot production or something crazy like that. And I would probably say go best available in the second, whether it be RB or WR, and target OJ Howard, Vance McDonald, Henry, Hockenson, Burton later on.

  6. Nick says:

    Are George Kittle and Zach Ertz really good value options for round 2? Is that where their ADP is? That seems a bit high to me. Regardless, great article, I will probably go with your strategy (barring I get a top 3 pick).

    • Matt Dean says:

      They are in the early 20’s per fantasy pros, I wouldn’t take them beginning of the 3rd, I’d only take Kelce around the turn in the early second. Should’ve included that caveat. Wouldn’t pass on top 8 WRs for those two.

  7. Nick says:

    Wait, this comment is confusing. You wouldn’t take Ertz or Kittle in the early third? In your article it says to take one of the big 3 TE’s in the second round. Or am I missing something?

    • Matt Dean says:

      Sorry about that, didn’t mean to be confusing. Was basically saying I’d go Kelce – Ertz – Kittle. Looking for Kelce as the first one off the board in the early second. Was really wanting to just restate the fact to be flexible and if Julio falls to you at the beginning of the second then there are situations where value trumps strategy. Hope that makes more sense. Ideally with this strategy you have a top 3 TE.

  8. Stephen says:

    No sure if you’ll see this (month late), but I’m curious if this strategy would work in a 10 team, 2QB, half point PPR league?

    • Matt Dean says:

      I’m still here! What pick do you have?
      I’d say that you could do it and aim in the 5th/6th/7th for a Winston/Lamar Jackson combo or something like that. A fellow writer on QBList was just in a league of similar makeup and got that combo in the 5th and 6th. Hope that helps.

      • Stephen Tripodi says:

        I have pick 9, and I’ve been doing this league with the same guys for 7 years. I can also guarantee that no QBs will be drafted in the first round and will almost for sure be undervalued as they normally pick QBs in the third and later. Thats just has always been the sentiment of the large because we also start 3 receivers 2 running backs, and a flex (also only three bench spots).

  9. Greg says:

    How does the pattern change if your league scoring allows one starting QB and has 2 flex, but one can be a QB in a flex spot

  10. randy west says:

    I’m in a .5 ppr, 3 player keeper league, 12 teams and I pick 5th. I’m considering strongly keeping Saquan, Zeke and Eckler foe obvious reasons….on my roster I also have Julio, AJ Brown, kittle and Mixon. Is it dumb to consider keeping Brown, Julio and Kittle and targeting Tanehill in later rounds? His adp implies he’s a late rounder but I can double up on points. Then addressing rb with my 1st round pick. Chances are I’d get back Saquan, zeke, eckler or Mixon as my rb1. For transparency I also have Lamar and Kyler on my roster.

    • Matt Dean says:

      Hey, glad you are still around even though the article is an older one.

      Stay tuned here in the next week as I will be putting out an updated Draft Prep series of articles to help with the current state of the NFL!

      But I do love Tannehill, top 5 QB since mid 2019 I believe. He is so undervalued it is silly. You’d be heavy Titans, but is that a bad thing? Just cover your bye weeks.

  11. Tim Berry says:

    what is wrong with taking No, 1 QB on first round? I look at the average of QB1 vs Top WR and RB and it is Greater than RB or WR?

    • Matt Dean says:

      To give you context, I am in a 16 team league and QB still isn’t addressed round 1. The only scenario I would take Mahomes in round 1 is in a 2 QB, Superflex, or some other setting that beefs up QBs (passing yard bonus, points per completion, etc). Otherwise, you are doing yourself a disservice at all the other skill positions you need to fill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.