Here’s a fun story about being denied what you want: Some family, friends and I go to a chain restaurant we all normally enjoy. Turns out, they are out of one of the appetizers we wanted. Then we’re informed they are out of one of the main courses multiple people have ordered. Then they deliver the wrong order to one of us, and they have since run out of what was originally ordered, so one of us has to alter their order yet again.
It is a parade of denial: Can we have this thing? No, you cannot.
But there was a happy ending. They made up for it, gave us a big discount, free dessert, free substitutes. It somehow was still an enjoyable experience — the alternative dishes were good, the server was apologetic, and we tipped handsomely on the extraordinary service in difficult circumstances. So despite a situation that should have been a disaster, it turned out fine.
Such an experience provides a useful lesson applicable to fantasy drafts: Sometimes, you don’t get what you want, but you can still come out OK. To wit: You might miss out on top running backs, the draft could work against you in the early rounds, forcing you to either take a top wide receiver or tight end, or reach too early for a lesser running back.
This isn’t ideal. It doesn’t happen to everyone. It doesn’t even happen in every draft. But when it does, this is when the zero-RB theory could be employed.
Zero-RB essentially means bypassing running backs in the early rounds. Never — we repeat never — should you go into a draft with this approach. Such a strategy is an escape hatch, an audible, not a preferred plan. It is an alternative when everything goes wrong. But sometimes, things don’t go your way, and you don’t want to bypass, say, JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round to take Leonard Fournette or bypass Amari Cooper in the third to take Marlon Mack.
So next thing you know, you might be into the fourth round with no RBs on your roster. And it is possible you have done so without making a mistake in your picks. The draft just falls that way.
This is when you employ zero-RB. You adjust on the fly. You don’t pass on more productive players, whose role are more defined, just to fill empty RB slots by reaching for rushers who have sketchy outlooks.
Be aware, this strategy does not come without a price. You will then have to overpay for middle-round RBs or go over market value in auctions. However your draft plays out, you have to finish with a stable of RBs of at least five in basic 12-team PPR leagues. You need the depth for bye weeks, for injuries, for bad matchups.
What you end up with might be a fleet of barely usable runners. For example, let’s say you go heavy on wide receivers early, maybe grab a tight end, possibly even reach for a quarterback early. Next thing you know, you are in round five or six searching for your first running back. What you find will not be attractive.
We like Tevin Coleman, but more of an RB3 than an RB1. Same with Sony Michel or Lamar Smith. Your second RB using this strategy could end up being a speculative pick — like Derrius Guice coming off a significant knee injury and with no NFL experience, or Royce Freeman, great as a bench player with upside but as an every-week fantasy starter is like betting the Belt Parkway is going to be clear every day, or Darryl Henderson, practically useless unless Todd Gurley gets hurt.
And those would be options who would be in your lineup every week. You haven’t started to build a bench yet. So though your receivers might look unbeatable, your RB position would be a train wreck.
It means nearly all of your free-agent auction bidding budget would be devoted to RBs, because you would need to land a dependable free agent in-season, after an injury to a starter or a surprising breakout from someone who wasn’t on the draft radar.
The point being, a lot more things can go wrong using zero-RB than go right, and the long string of success required in dart throws later in the draft and in free agency have to register multiple hits. It is much harder. And often unnecessary.
So draft smart, adapt to a changing environment during the draft, and only check down to a plan that provides unlikely success when the menu items you wanted are no longer available. Make the situation force you to use zero-RB as a last resort, don’t make it your primary play call.
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