While the Zero RB theory has been around for some time, Zero RB started gaining a massive amount of converts prior to the 2016 fantasy season. It was the tipping point for an idea that had been scoffed at years ago as angry fantasy owners responded to the plethora of injuries to top running backs during the 2015 season.
New Zero RB disciples went eagerly to their drafts loading up on wide receivers until their bellies were full. However, the fantasy season did not end well for most of these teams. Running backs like Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson turned out to be two of the top five players in fantasy.
What exactly is Zero RB? The essential idea is to wait to select running backs in fantasy drafts. Proponents hold to this theory in varying degrees. Some wait until the double-digit rounds to select their first running back, while others will take one sooner than that.
It is a theory aiming for antifragility with the running back position more susceptible to injuries than any other fantasy position. The thought is when a top running back gets injured, the team not only benefits from not having that player on their roster. It benefits from their opponents losing a player they selected with a high draft pick.
Rotoviz’s Shawn Siegele explains his position in his article outlining Zero RB.
You can see fairly easily how Zero RB benefits from randomness. Whenever a starting RB gets hurt, my lineup gets better. It gets better in relation to my opponents because I didn’t have the player in question, and it gets better in the sense that I either own the backup or I have a shot to acquire the backup in free agency.
The theory is sound, and my issue has more to do with going into a draft eliminating your options. Heading into a draft saying you are not going to draft a particular position ties your hands on draft day.
Let’s say you go to the grocery store. On your list you have pork chops, but while you are at the store you notice a great sale on T-Bone steaks. You have the option of getting a pack of great steaks for the price you were expecting to pay for the pork chops. You want to put the steaks in your cart, but refuse to do so because they were not explicitly on your list.
For me, the real strength an owner has in the draft does not come from a particular theory, but from flexibility. While many of your opponents will enter draft day with some sort of rigid formula, you are able to take the draft as it comes to you.
Last year, I entered one of my leagues with a sense that I wanted to load up on wide receivers early. My pick was at the end of the first round, allowing me to get two top wide receivers with my first two selections.
However, I expected David Johnson to be selected inside the top six. When he fell to me at the end of the first round, I eagerly abandoned my plan to select him. Johnson would go on to not just be the best player on my team, but the top fantasy player last season.
Had I held tight to my original strategy, I would have missed out on the best player in fantasy football. While it is okay to have a plan entering your draft, hold loosely to it, allowing yourself to take advantage of your draft. Every draft becomes its own unique event, and offers up value in different places.
This year, we are likely to see fantasy owners burned by Zero RB load up on running backs early. In this case, the value may end up being at wide receiver, but it is difficult to know until you are conducting your draft.
The point is not what you do with running backs. The larger idea is flexibility can help you win championships. When the T-Bones fall to you on draft day, make sure to put them in your cart regardless of what is on your grocery list.