2014 Fantasy Football: Breaking Down Zero Running Back Strategy

Last year in one of my drafts, I selected Ray Rice, Stevan Ridley and Maurice Jones-Drew. Only Jones-Drew finished as a top-20 back, and he tied for 19th with Danny Woodhead, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I only had a six-win season. To eliminate completely whiffing on the running back position, I am going to implement a “Zero-Running Back” strategy into my 2014 fantasy football plans.

Implementing this strategy, however, has a lot to do with your draft position. If you have the third-overall pick, I don’t think any fantasy analyst could suggest for you to draft Calvin Johnson. If you do take that advice, please let me know what league you are playing in and how much it costs to buy in.

The zero-running back theory really takes shape in the fifth position for the 2014 NFL season. After LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are off the board, the running back depth looks a little dicey. Sure, Eddie Lacy finished with the third-most rushing touchdowns last season, but how much will his carries decrease with a healthy Aaron Rodgers in the lineup every week? Can you trust Marshawn Lynch to provide you with another top-five performance with his contract dispute, reported retirement contemplation and Christine Michael waiting to snipe touches?

After doing some research into this strategy, I found this great article by Sean Berenbaum of Gridiron Experts. He stated the following: “Top-6 wide receivers drafted in the last five years have returned WR1 value (top-12 at the position) 22/30 times, a 73% success rate that is much higher than the 53% rate of running backs”. So in the general order of McCoy, Charles, Peterson, Forte, Lacy and Lynch, you or your opponent has a good chance of drafting a running back who is going to under perform compared to his draft position. I feel confident in my fantasy football skills, but I am not going to put my money on a 53% rate compared to a 73% success rate.

In the league where I drafted Rice, Ridley and Jones-Drew, C.J. Spiller was the 5th running back off of the board as the seventh-overall pick. If that individual had drafted Calvin Johnson instead, he would have been a happy fantasy manger, as Johnson outscored Spiller by 103 points. 103 points. If we look at the sixth running back selected and the ninth-overall pick, Trent Richardson, selecting A.J. Green at that spot instead would have netted you 104 more points.

I have tested this strategy in several mock drafts, and the roster below is a very typical example of the players this strategy will provide you with.

Zero RB Fantasy Football Strategy

My picks from rounds 1-4 in this order: Demaryius Thomas, Green, Andre Johnson and Victor Cruz. After that, I drafted Toby Gerhart and Rashad Jennings. With Lamar Miller, Jeremy Hill and Ahmad Bradshaw, I have identified running backs who could be able to outperform their draft positions, and since there is little data to predict how my two starting running backs will do, they can exceed expectations. I only need my running backs to be serviceable options from week to week, and my wide receivers from rounds 1-4 just need to stay healthy for fantasy production.

While your uncle Bill could have been doing something like this for the last eight years, this specific strategy seems to have only reached the public in the last year. This leaves room for interpretation, and every fantasy analyst will have an opinion on what round you should first draft a position other than wide receiver.

While I didn’t draft wide receivers in rounds 1-4 like I did with the first team, I really like how the roster below came together.

Zero RB Strategy

I selected Jimmy Graham with the fifth pick in the second round, Vincent Jackson in the third round and Cruz in the fourth. According to our 73% success rate, Johnson should find himself in the top 12. My other receivers may not be such a lock, as Jackson is a 31-year old receiver and will have Josh McCown throwing the ball, while Cruz’s success is tied to Eli Manning‘s performances. Even with a little bit of uncertainty surrounding those two receivers, I like their upside as opposed to drafting Frank Gore or Ryan Mathews in the fourth. My running backs are once again filled with potential, and Mike Wallace is in line for a top-15 performance.

This strategy will look scary when you first give it a try. You are going to see running backs flying off the board, and you may panic and want to pull the trigger on Zac Stacy in the third round, but be strong and fight that urge. I have personally never tried this, but it looks like a way to make sure your investments are performing where you need them to.

If you finish in the middle of the pack or near the bottom of your draft each season, this could be the shake up you were looking for.


Categories: Fantasy Football

6 replies


  1. Fantasy Football 2014: Zero-RB Theory Targets « Your Fantasy Football Coach
  2. Fantasy Football: Testing Zero-Running Back Theory « Your Fantasy Football Coach
  3. The Zero Running Back Strategy: Pros and Cons « Your Fantasy Football Coach
  4. Zero Running Back Strategy: Cheap Non- Rookie Running Back Targets «
  5. Zero Running Back Strategy: Thoughts From the Fantasy Football Industry | Your Fantasy Football Coach
  6. Zero Running Back Strategy: Marshawn Lynch vs. Eddie Lacy in Week 1 | Your Fantasy Football Coach

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: