Tales From the Underworld 5: #BattleZero

by Ray Marzarella, February 3, 2021

The date was August 9th, 2020. It was about 2:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, which I’m told is the only legitimate time zone. People were set to arrive to our house for the NOLA-themed birthday party we were hosting for my wife. The night before, I had agreed to join a league known throughout the fantasy community as #BattleZero.

The brainchild of Underworld friend Hilal Chami, #BattleZero is an exercise in fantasy football creativity. An experiment to discover which oft-argued draft strategy is optimal in a given year. This year’s edition featured 14 teams, but a 12-round draft ensured short benches. With half of the field locked out of either RB or WR selections for the draft’s first half, it made for interesting, if not surprising, team builds.

At about 2:30 PM, Hilal tells us it’s time to choose our side and it’s first come, first served. I don’t have to think too long about this one. I’m going #ZeroWR. Partly because I’d already been doing it in drafts to that point. Partly because I knew with the draft likely to start as I began drinking and indulging in Cajun cuisine and crawfish (editors note: so much crawfish), I wouldn’t have to think too hard about my targets or my strategy. 

Tales From the Underworld – Part V – #BattleZero

First, the final roster drafting from the 1.06, followed by how we got here. We started QB/RB/RB/WR/WR/TE/Flex (R/W/T), with five bench slots and six IR slots.

#BattleZero2020 Draft Board

I was legitimately surprised that I was the only team to start RBx6. Conversely, there was only one ZeroRB squad that started WRx6. I figured that more teams would take advantage of the fact that they had access to a positional grouping that half of the field had no access to until the seventh round. Instead, 12 of the 14 teams took a QB before Round 7, with two doubling up on TE (editors note: I see you, Hilal, starting that particular trend).

Because there were teams that only took three or four RBs or WRs in the first six rounds, it pushed many viable starting options at each position into the draft’s second stanza. Naturally, I felt that the WR options available to me from that point onward were better than the RB options. While many viable starting options remained at the other positions post-draft, the pool of available RBs was the thinnest. In the first half of the draft, 32 of a possible 42 RBs were selected compared to 31 of a possible 42 WRs. In the second half, this shifted to 35 RBs and 32 WRs. This was due to two #ZeroRB teams picking six straight RBs in the second half as opposed to only one #ZeroWR team going WRx6 to close.

In a league as experimental as #BattleZero, there’s no question we all thought our approach was optimal. Though only one of us was on the right side of history. Had I not lived out a literal nightmare and left the winning points on my bench in the championship game, it would have been me. But even though a #ZeroRB took the crown home in 2020, the way the season ended up playing out made me feel great about the approach that I took.

The RB Core

Knowing full well I would be starting RBx6 unless a top-tier TE or QB fell drastically made the decision points easier in that I only had to decide between two different players as opposed to two different positions. Miles Sanders over Derrick Henry at 1.06, as the fourth RB off the board, made more sense at the time; at least before Sanders was pegged with the dreaded preseason “week-to-week” label and a “lower-body injury” designation. Though, in a half-point PPR format, it’s hard to imagine that I would pass on The Big Dog in that situation again.

Decision such as Josh Jacobs over Kenyan Drake, Jonathan Taylor over Leonard Fournette and D’Andre Swift over Cam Akers proved vital to the run that I made to the finals. With only two starting RB slots and one Flex slot, I went true YOLO and picked J.K. Dobbins with Mark Ingram still on the board. Though I did secure Ingram in the sixth to keep a potential starting RB away from the #ZeroRB squads who were about to start loading up on the position. Right idea, but Ingram’s 5.3 (No. 65 among qualified running backs) Fantasy Points per Game average rendered that particular strategy useless.

Luckily, I was able to snag Wayne Gallman off waivers in the middle of the season to make up for the Ingram disaster. And despite the fact that having only one Flex spot really hamstrung my options on a weekly basis, Gallman did make it into my starting lineup once in a victory. More importantly, the RB-needy teams weren’t able to enjoy that production.

The Rest

Even despite taking my first loss in Week 3 by a margin of nearly 57 points (and to a ZeroRB team, no less), I didn’t mess with this roster much throughout the season unless I had to. The T.J. HockensonMike Gesicki combo was one I drafted in a handful of leagues, and both can be safely lumped into the category of “more usable than most of 2020’s TEs.” The 11th-round selection of Cam Newton ensured that I wouldn’t be locked into starting him all season and could play waivers as needed, even in a 14-team league since not many teams rostered backups with the shallow benches. The QB Frankenstein of players I started at least once: Newton, Gardner Minshew, Teddy Bridgewater, Tom Brady, Taysom Hill and Jalen Hurts. The Hurts pickup proved particularly vital, as he single-handedly lifted me to victory in the semifinals.

Tyler Boyd being available as my first WR in the seventh round validated my decision to go ZeroWR. Diontae Johnson also proved vital for the first few weeks before I became trigger-happy and swapped him for Chase Claypool after the rookie’s 40-burger in Week 5. Miles Sanders going into one of my IR slots to start the year allowed me to pick up Robby Anderson to tie the WR core together for the year, though leaving his 20-plus points on the bench almost cost me a Week 1 victory.

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Late in the year, the lack of WR depth begun to sting. Boyd had lost Joe Burrow and subsequently tanked, while Claypool and Anderson had become too streaky to rely on starting every week. Though once the playoffs began, I was still able to luck my way into a startable option in Emmanuel Sanders. The fact that Sanders was available on the wire that late in the year, while players such as Devontae Booker and Jamaal Williams were being started by teams who needed any sort of RB production, should tell you all you need to know about which strategy was ideal for such a specific format.

The Finish

I entered the #BattleZero playoffs with a league-best 10-3 record and the No. 1 overall seed. Two of my three losses came at the hands of ZeroRB squads, one of which occurred in Week 9 against the same team I would meet in the finals. After squeaking into the championship game on the back of a massive game from Jalen Hurts, all I had to do was set the correct Week 16 lineup to take the whole thing home. Miles Sanders and J.K. Dobbins were no-brainers, while I knew my Flex would be devoted to either Josh Jacobs or Jonathan Taylor. Needless to say, I made the wrong choice.

It’s hard to blame the fact that I lost in the championship on one simple roster decision, though I did do enough to make it to this point and the winning points were on my bench (editors note: he said for the 178th time that season). We all leave wins on the bench at some point, and I’m sure it happened to more than one person in this league. Either way, I wouldn’t change how I approached my first foray into this extravaganza. The running back position yielded precious few viable waiver options in comparison to what was available throughout the year at wide receiver, which made me feel better about my choice to go ZeroWR. And when those players did become available, a la Wayne Gallman, I made sure to try and be the one to snag them.

The Actionable Takeaways

This league was something of a social experiment, but definitely a learning experience. I do have what I consider to be actionable takeaways.

 

  • -Know how to best take advantage of your league’s roster construction and settings.

 

I knew I wanted to start my draft RBx6, and I would’ve started WRx6 had I decided to go the ZeroRB route. Either way, my main focus was to take advantage of half the field being locked out of a position I had access to. From there, I decided to only devote one bench spot to a WR in order to ensure that I could keep myself in play for any potential RB waiver pickups.

 

  • -Don’t be afraid to change from one hot handed QB to another. 

 

Had I decided to stay with the “hot hand” in Taysom Hill, I would’ve started him over Jalen Hurts in the semifinals and I would’ve lost. It’s easier to talk yourself out of starting a QB in the face of an injury or a bad matchup if you just take one late. It’s also easier to engage in the game of QB Frankenstein as I did.

 

  • -Never bench Jonathan Taylor. Ever. Under any circumstances. 

 

I have nothing to say regarding this takeaway except that my wife wanted to let it be known that she won a home league championship by playing Taylor against me in the finals and that she never considered benching him. Sure it was an eight-team league, but the sentiment holds true. If I’m invited back for next year’s edition of #BattleZero, you can bet that I won’t make that mistake again.

And now for something completely different

For as good as my first foray into #BattleZero went, the exact opposite can be said about my run in #SFBX. If you’re reading this, you likely already know what the Scott Fish Bowl is. If not, I explain it in my recounting of my draft for Tales From the Underworld IV. After peaking at No. 3 in the overall standings after Week 2 of the 2019 season and subsequently cratering from there, I was out for revenge and thought I had a great team.

The first takeaway previously mentioned was to know how to best take advantage of your league’s roster construction and settings. With Lamar Jackson the highest scoring player in this format last season, and with tight ends earning a full point per reception as opposed to only a half point for RBs and WRs, it felt optimal pairing him with Mark Andrews. Unfortunately, much more drafters had that strategy than they did in 2019, which was the right time to have that stack. I also unfortunately took those two over Alvin Kamara and Aaron Jones. Which leads to a more important takeaway:

 

  • -Don’t get so wrapped up in the roster construction that you pass on better players at other positions. 

 

Unlike #BattleZero, I took Leonard Fournette over Jonathan Taylor, and that sucked. In hindsight, D.J. Chark over Keenan Allen was also probably a bad idea. While you need to hit on at least a few draft picks in order to have a shot at winning a typical league, you can’t make any sort of run in a league like the Scott Fish Bowl if you leave the draft with as many stinkers as I did. Not even snagging James Robinson for $33 of my $100 FAAB dollars before Week 1 could save my disaster of a squad.

In the end, I finished with a career-worst 5-7 SFB record and the fewest points in the Rubik’s Cube division. This was “good” for a rank of 1,230th out of 1,440 teams. To put into context how bad that is, there were “only” 1,200 teams in the entire field the year prior.

And unlike #BattleZero, I wasn’t even drinking or indulging in copious amounts of crawfish during this draft.

Maybe that’s the secret…