Zero RB was a stone-cold disaster in 2021.
According to 4for4’s Underdog Roster Construction Tool, teams that had 0 RBs through seven rounds averaged an 11.0% advance rate. The standard advance rate is 16.7%, so this was about as bad as it gets for a strategy that gets deployed semi-frequently, often by drafters who spend a lot of time thinking through fantasy football.
Part of the reason why this happened is because the Round 2 RBs (Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon, etc) smashed while the Round 2/3 WRs (Stefon Diggs, Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Brown, Allen Robinson, etc.) got crushed for various reasons. This was an extreme outcome all things considered, so we should expect Zero RB to fair a little bit better in 2022 just based on these things evening out. But that’s not good enough to compete with Superhero RB, my personal favorite best ball strategy and properly named by TJ Hernandez.
We simply need to draft these Zero RB teams smarter. Let’s figure that out because I want as many strategies to be viable on Underdog Fantasy. It just makes the game more interesting.
This table only shows teams who had their drafted WR5 before Round 8. This doesn’t necessarily mean these are Zero RB teams, but this definitely means these teams were WR-heavy. If you look at the advance rate and average points columns, it’s clear that having fewer WRs in these builds performed better.
Teams that finished with 6 or 7 WRs after hammering the position early averaged just above a 20% advance rate, compared to a 15.7% win rate for teams that drafted 9 or 10 WRs after hammering the position early.
Not only is drafting fewer WRs more productive, but it’s also more contrarian. There were only 3,622 teams that went the 6-7 WR route versus 8,415 teams that had 9-10 WRs. And the 8 WR teams (n = 8,054) were still performing worse than the 6-7 WR teams and were the most popular.
So why do Zero RB teams with fewer WRs score more points?
Well, best ball is a game of diminishing returns – “proportionally smaller profits or benefits derived from something as more money or energy is invested in it.”
Since there are no waivers and trades, we must draft as if we are nailing our picks. If we’ve drafted a bunch of WRs early, we must assume that they will be filling our WR1, WR2, WR3, and FLEX spots with a bunch of points because if they aren’t, our team will be bad. In other words, there is not a great reason to add depth to a position that we’ve drafted early. That's too much investment.
What’s strange is that this is common practice at all other fantasy positions, but for some reason drafters don’t apply this to WRs. We never see Travis Kelce teams with other stud TEs. We never see Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes teams. We never see robust RB teams with 7 RBs at the end of the draft. But we often see Zero RB teams that still finish with 9-10 WRs. I think it’s because WRs are just fun to watch.
Once again, this table isn’t full of pure Zero RB teams, but they are most definitely teams that drafted a ton of WRs early, which is the focus of this column. This table only shows teams who drafted their RB2 in Round 10 or after, and the results are pretty clear:
Zero RB teams need to draft more RBs. No shit!
But I think there is an edge to getting really, really contrarian here. Of the 7,393 teams that waited until the double digit rounds to select their RB2, only 4.8% of them drafted 7 or more RBs in total. These rare teams finished with a slightly higher advance rate and slightly more average points than the large majority of teams with 6 or fewer RBs. Once again, that’s the perfect combination – better and more contrarian.
Another option is to punt early-round TE and fill the position with depth. This table shows teams that finished with 6 or 7 WRs and didn’t draft their TE1 until after Round 10. In this specific build, it was smartest to draft at least 3 tight ends, but it’s possibly sharp to take it to the extreme.
The 473 teams that had 4-6 TEs after punting TE1 until Round 11 or later had a 19.7% advance rate, compared to a 19.6% advance rate for teams with 3 TEs and a 16.6% advance rate for teams with just 2 TEs.
I’ll write a column dedicated to this later on, but I think this strategy will be even more profitable in 2022 based on my early projections of the position. The highest-ranked TEs have harder paths to elite ceilings this year compared to the last decade of the position; Travis Kelce (declining efficiency and 33 years old), Mark Andrews (RBs are healthier and second-year Rashod Bateman), Kyle Pitts (QB downgrade and tanking team), Darren Waller (Davante Adams added), and George Kittle (potential passing QB downgrade) are the consensus top-five.
Looking at basic roster construction (2-5-8-3 vs. 3-6-6-2 builds) isn’t good enough because we have pick-by-pick data in the year of our Lord, 2022. It’s now time to look at specific builds within wider buckets of strategies.
As a whole, traditional zero RB isn’t my favorite strategy for half PPR best ball and the baseline win rates reflect that, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a viable strategy. It certainly is… when done correctly.
In general, zero RB drafters are still drafting too many WRs. Teams with 6 or 7 WRs after drafting a bunch of early WRs performed better than teams with 9 or 10 WRs. We never invest a ton of early picks on QBs, RBs, or TEs, so why are we doing it with WRs? The laws of diminishing returns don’t care that we think WRs are more fun.
Instead of continuing the WR party into the double digit rounds, try "Even More Radicalized Zero RB". Draft 7 RBs, instead of 10 WRs. Draft 4 TEs, instead of 9 WRs. Draft 6 RBs and 4 TEs with just 6 WRs.
Lean into strategies that are showing profitability over years of drafts (look at the two charts below), especially ones that aren’t being drafted often. The best way to win the grand prize on Underdog Fantasy is to find strategies that score the most points and are contrarian. There are only so many of these.
One of them is "Even More Radicalized Zero RB".