Once upon a time, a man named Shawn Siegele created a little strategy in fantasy football called Zero RB. This approach focuses on accumulating top receivers early in a draft, waiting to target high-upside running backs in the later rounds. The idea behind the strategy is to account for fragility at the running back position. The situation in 2020 isn’t ideal for Zero RB, but PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats and metrics reveal that a modified version of the strategy may prove to be league-winning: Anchor RB.
The State of the Running Back Position
Frank DuPont, creator of Rotoviz, made the argument back in 2012 that the baseline for running backs needed to be lowered. The reason being that the injury factor at the position makes them more expendable. This logic led Siegele on his journey to Zero RB, where he discovered that picking running backs early in drafts wasn’t as optimal as believed. In recent years, the actions of NFL teams have added to that belief.
The “workhorse” back is a dying breed in the NFL. Teams are less likely to offer running backs quality second contracts; it’s been made clear that drafting a replacement is the more optimal route. Many teams also use multiple backs, adding options in the later rounds of a fantasy draft. If NFL teams view the position as so easily replaceable, why shouldn’t fantasy players?
The Robust RB strategy is becoming popular among fantasy players, right as Zero RB is losing steam. However, there is evidence that an updated version of Siegele’s strategy is the optimal draft approach for 2020. The top-end running backs are few, making acquiring one crucial. With multiple committee-type backs available in later rounds, the options are available to build depth.
In this modified version, the idea is to draft one elite running back, otherwise leaning heavily on wide receiver in the early rounds. Following this strategy, selections of RB-WR-WR-WR would set up a solid core; leaving rounds five and up to acquire productive backs with upside. According to FFPC ADP for 2019, a combination of Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, Chris Godwin and Julian Edelman was possible. All four players finished in the top 10 at their respective positions.
Running Back Production in 2019
For a new version of the Zero RB strategy to work, value must be found in the late rounds of a draft. In 2019, players such as Austin Ekeler and Mark Ingram were drafted after the fifth round. Ekeler finished as the RB4, averaging 19.3 (No. 6 among qualified running backs) Fantasy Points Per Game. Ingram finished at RB11, averaging 15.9 (No. 10) FP/G. Chris Carson, with an ADP in the fifth round, also finished as an RB1, averaging 15.5 (No. 12) FP/G.
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James White and Kenyan Drake are two backs that finished in RB2 territory; their ADPs landing in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. Drake came on late in the season after being traded to the Cardinals, helping fantasy teams win championships along the way. He averaged 20.5 FP/G with the Cardinals, including two near-40 point performances in the fantasy playoffs. Raheem Mostert also came on late to boost fantasy squads, averaging 17.7 FP/G in the final six games as San Francisco’s lead back.
The RB Position in 2020
Similar to 2019, this season offers multiple options in the later rounds of fantasy drafts. While the high-end backs are worth their price, there is enough value late that wide receiver can still be the focus early on. According to current ADP, Chris Carson and Mark Ingram are once again going in the fifth round or later. Derrius Guice, a player with compelling metrics, is going in the seventh round. Though there is history of injury and competition in Washington, Guice is a prime breakout candidate.
Check out Derrius Guice’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:
Digging deeper into 2020 ADP, There are plenty of names that stand out. Matt Breida and Damien Harris are two players going in the tenth round, both of whom can outplay their draft position. Breida joined a Miami backfield this offseason featuring Jordan Howard and little else. Harris will look to rebound from his disappointing rookie season and the injury to Sony Michel may provide such an opportunity.
The incoming rookie class deserves mention, being among the more talented running back groups in recent years. While the top five backs of the class are picked early in seasonal league drafts, they all have player profiles resembling a featured back. In addition, there is opportunity available. Jonathan Taylor and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are two players that will produce right out of the gate. These names are ideal for the “one back” in this strategy, given their talent, landing spot and youth.
Not only does this running back rookie class ooze talent, but there is also depth. Zack Moss, Anthony McFarland and Joshua Kelly are late-round rookies with intriguing player profiles. They also have an opportunity to make an instant impact given their situations. Moss and Kelly will have opportunity right away and McFarland is a James Conner injury away from becoming Ben Roethlisberger‘s best friend. These players can be added to the list of names to target in the later rounds to fill out depth at the position.
Further Modification- QB
Inserting a quarterback into the first four rounds is another modification that can boost the core of 2020 fantasy teams. There is no Lamar Jackson to be had late in this year’s draft. In fact, the top fantasy quarterbacks of 2019, aside from Jameis Winston, are all being drafted ahead of round four in 2020. The top quarterbacks being drafted also all have the mobility factor, evidenced by their upper-percentile Agility Scores; a dimension of the position once rare.
With the advantage that mobile quarterbacks offer, and how early they are being drafted, it behooves fantasy teams to strike early. Drafting a quarterback in the third or fourth round is not the land mine that it once was. Rather than a third receiver in the first four rounds, grabbing one of the top QBs offers another advantage over leaguemates. The days of stealing a league-winning QB in the double digit rounds are over.
The running back position has always been one of debate. Their value and draft position has changed over the years, not unlike other positions. The difference with running backs is the aforementioned fragility factor. In recent years, it is evident that NFL teams have caught on to the idea that the position is more expendable than others; hence a lack of big second contracts. Even the best of backs carry a shorter shelf life than players at other positions.
While league mates target running back early, the Anchor Zero RB strategist can build a solid core; compromised of high-end talent across multiple positions. The later rounds are then used to build depth at running back and elsewhere, given the value and upside available. In both dynasty and redraft formats, Anchor Zero RB is the contrarian strategy that will lead to fantasy football glory in 2020.