Draft Prep: Zero-WR Strategy

Matt Dean is here to tell you the pros and cons of going RB heavy with the Zero-WR Draft Strategy.

Welcome back! Many of you were able to read my article from earlier in the week, Zero-RB Draft Strategy. If you would like a refresher, click the link and give it a read. The next part in this series, the Zero-WR Strategy, is what we will be focusing on today.

First, a quick refresher on how this works. The Zero-WR Strategy centers around the concept of waiting until at least the fifth round to grab your first wideout. The goal here is that you will be bursting at the seams with talent at RB, and possibly TE, before investing in the wide receiver market.

Again, before we jump in, remember that here at QBList, we are primarily focusing on 12 Team Full PPR leagues, with standard roster configuration – 1 QB, 2 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, 1 WR/RB/TE, 1 K, 1 DEF, 7 Bench. 

I will again stress to you that this is not a persuasive article, but an informative one;  that will allow for you to have an extra tool in your tool belt, come draft day and a leg up on your league mates. There is not a perfect draft strategy and value always trumps strategy. After reading, I would love to hear your thoughts, now, let’s hop into our pros and cons of using the Zero-WR Draft Strategy.

Why you should consider Zero-WR

Like the Zero-RB strategy, this one isn’t new. This used to be one of the go-to strategies when running back was king, but even today, you can find success using this strategy. Will it be the best strategy? Only time will tell, but even so, it is one that you need to have in mind as your pick comes, and you see the players available in the first couple of rounds. While arguments can, and will, be made against this strategy further down in this article, we will start with the reasons that this is a viable strategy in 2019.

1. This strategy works regardless of drafting position.

If you read my article on the Zero-RB Strategy earlier in the week, you know that my number one reason to stay away was if you had a top-three pick, where Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffery, and Ezekiel Elliot are going based on current ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator. The reason this works regardless of your drafting position is that the consensus top three to four players are at the running back position. Based on ADP, the top four to five players off the board this year, are running backs. This means if you have an early pick, you are getting the best possible value in selecting a running back.

“But Matt, I have a mid-round to late-round pick so this won’t work for me”

To that I say, no sir. If we look at the outcomes from the 2018 Fantasy Football season, there were 23 wide receivers to score 200 points or more in a regular PPR setting. When you compare this to the RB position, there were only 16 running backs to reach the 200 point threshold. Zooming in, there were 12 WRs to hit 250 points, while only eight running backs completed that feat last season. You may think that this is not a big enough difference to matter, but I would say that you are wrong, because the cliff for running backs is steep and the top dogs will be gone in a hurry. The top four scorers last year were all running backs. In my last article I said the bellcow back is dead league-wide, but the value of a true bellcow is unmatched.

2. Wide Receiver vs Running Back Replacement Value

Carrying over from my last point, the market for wide receiver overshadows that of running backs. Just doing the math, there is usually only one, rarely two, running backs on the field at a time, but there are three-to-five wide receivers on the field on any given offensive snap. This alone will tell you that loading up on other skill positions first, will still leave you playable options later, but let me prove it to you. Since you are required to start two RBs and two WRs, value is everything and, more specifically, replacement value is everything. Let me break it down below.

On average, in a 12 team league, based on Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP from 2018, there will be roughly 70 players taken at each of the RB and WR position. Below is a chart that graphs each tier of those players 1-70 at each position based on the results in a full PPR league from 2018:

2018 Full PPR Results
Wide Receivers Average Points Scored Running Backs Average Points Scored Difference
WR1-10 312.3 RB1-10 314.8 -2.5
WR11-30 199.75 RB11-30 174.55 25.2
WR31-50 154.15 RB31-50 113.8 40.35
WR51-70 120.35 RB51-70 82 38.35

For me, this data was eye-popping. As you can see, the only place where RBs outperformed WRs, is in the top-ten, or roughly the top-20 picks in a draft. Even then, it was almost a wash. If you do the math, that equates to roughly the entire first two rounds of a draft, ten WRs, and ten RBs, add in a few TEs and one crazy league mate that takes Patrick Mahomes, and you have your full 24 picks of the first two rounds. If you didn’t believe me earlier, the cliff for RBs is real and this proves it. This also proves that there will be almost no difference in you taking a running back or a wide receiver, barring a down year or injury, in the top-two rounds of your draft. Where it does matter, however, is in the gaps left in your roster that you will need to fill for the rest of the draft.

Let’s play a couple of scenarios involving two post-draft teams. I have used conservative estimates of draft position for the starting slots.

Team A:

Team A Drafts WR Early and Addresses RB later
Position Average Points
WR(1-10) 312.3
WR(11-30) 199.75
RB(31-50) 113.8
RB(31-50) 113.8
Total Points 739.65

Team B:

Team B Drafts RB Early and Addresses WR Later
Position Average Points
RB(1-10) 314.8
RB(11-30) 174.55
WR(31-50) 154.15
WR(31-50) 154.15
Total Points 797.65

Again, I played this conservatively based on starting slots at each position generally being filled within the top-40 at each position. I did the math for you and the difference is that Team B, the one presumably using the Zero WR strategy, outscored Team A by a grand total of 58 points. While not a significant margin over the course of a full season, it is enough to prove that getting WRs late generally leads to more points that waiting on the RB position.

Why you should not consider Zero-WR

As with every strategy, none are perfect. There are pros and cons to each, and Zero-WR is not excluded from that. Here are a few you should consider when thinking of employing this strategy.

1. Injury and playing time risk at RB position.

You won’t find many people that are not burned by losing a top running back to injury in recent years. Look no further than the guy that drafted David Johnson two years ago. Look at the poor soul in your league that rode Todd Gurley to the playoffs last year, only to have CJ Anderson take over the lion’s share of the work due to Gurley’s knee woes. While it may not be season-ending injuries, running backs take a pounding every play in either pass blocking someone as big as Myles Garrett or getting hit head-on by a linebacker while a defensive lineman tries to wrap up his legs. It can be a series here, a game there, but you can bet that your top running back will get dinged up and it’s more of a matter of when than if. On top of that, the league is constantly headed more and more towards committees and the realization that a top RB really isn’t as valuable as it once was. This has led to the risk of player hold out (thanks Le’Veon Bell) or loss of playing time in a committee (see Dion Lewis, the entire Eagles’ backfield, the entire Ravens’ backfield, etc.).

2. You will need to waste bench spots on handcuffs.

I say this because if you don’t and one or two of your top studs go down, then your season is instantly in the tank. With this strategy, you are looking at your top WR options being the likes of Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, Tyler Lockett, or someone in that range. No offense to those guys, but they cannot carry a team with free agent level running backs to the playoffs. If you have your handcuffs, then you have a level of security, but even then we never can truly tell who the proper handcuff is. Noone thought CJ Anderson was the clear handcuff to Gurley, and yet he won some people leagues (me being one of them) at the end of last season. Also, when you are forced to stash handcuffs, you hurt your depth everywhere else, leaving not only your RB position vulnerable but also your WRs.

I’m in, now how should I draft?

Like with my other article, I will be telling those of you that either chooses to draft this way or fall into it by happenstance how you should set up your roster round by round. Again I will stress, there is not a perfect strategy. Value always trumps strategy and you should never hold so tightly onto something that you let a deal go by you. You already passed up asking that girl to dance that is out of your league in high school, don’t let another golden moment pass you by just because your brain is telling you not to. With that said, this can be a viable strategy and will happen for some people simply because your draft lends itself to you picking this way. With that said, here is my round by round approach that I believe you should take if using this strategy.

Round 1: RB

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

Round 3: RB

Round 4: RB

Round 5: QB or WR (I prefer waiting on QB, but I’m not mad if you take one here)

Round 6-9: WR

Round 7-10: Handcuffs and bench WRs

Now, as with Zero-RB, I still want you to lock in that big three TE in the second round. I think it is even more vital with this strategy because they can sneakily serve as your number 1 WR without drafting that specific position. For the rest of the draft, it is pretty straight forward, except for the necessity to draft handcuffs to your top studs.

As I did before, I will close with this. Please don’t tie yourself to one strategy. My hope was that this article was informative on why this strategy can and cannot work given situations. Be flexible and have fun at your draft, it is one of the best days of the year. And please, whatever you do, lock yourself into the strategy that you will not take a defense or a kicker until the last two rounds of your draft.

Comment below with any questions or hit me up on Twitter @MattDeanQBList and I will see you around the Waiver Wire this coming season.

Photo by Tim Williams/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire

One response to “Draft Prep: Zero-WR Strategy”

  1. Tyler says:

    Hey Matt
    I read both the rb and wr articles you wrote and I like the strategies. I’m curious if your opinion on the draft order would change for a keeper/dynasty league, as I am looking at starting one (w/ no kicker or defense) and adding another rb and wr in place of them. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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