Consider zero-WR in your 2016 fantasy draft

With zero-RB increasing in popularity, Mike Tagliere says this might be a good time for the savvy player to zig in the other direction.

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Consider zero-WR in your 2016 fantasy draft


In recent years in fantasy football drafts, the zero-RB strategy has flourished. Dominant wide receivers combined with appetizing waiver running backs have made for a potentially viable fantasy strategy.

Today, though, we’re going to posit a new variant, one that has gotten less traction: Zero-WR.

Ultimately, running backs and wide receivers as a unit make roughly the same contribution to a fantasy roster. Generally speaking, the yardages are similar and the scores are similar. Materially, there isn’t the difference between the two positions that there is between, say, running backs and quarterbacks.

But after a period where running backs dominated the whole first round of fantasy drafts, the movement of late has been more wide receiver-heavy. According to early ADPs on FantasyPros, running backs are now only five of the top 12 picks in fantasy, and some sites have it even more dramatic (as few as two of the top 12).

Have you been to McDonald’s? The restaurant has both the double cheeseburger and the McDouble. They are the same sandwich, with the exception that the double cheeseburger has one extra piece of cheese (that you are unlikely to notice when eating) and costs 30 cents more. The savvy diner (or at least, as savvy as a diner can be and still choose McDonald’s) will opt for the minor savings of the McDouble. On one meal, 30 cents is nothing, but if you make the choice regularly, the savings can add up.

That’s the thinking in fantasy, then. Even small savings matter a lot in this game, where a few points or a slightly smarter late-round pick can win a season. With wide receivers moving back up to the top of fantasy drafts, they are now the double cheeseburger, with running backs this season serving as the McDouble.

The more predictable position

The conventional wisdom that has wide receivers at the top of drafts says that players at that position realize their draft-day value more often, while the top running backs are more likely to struggle. Recent examples like 2013 Trent Richardson and 2015 Eddie Lacy exemplify that.

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Mike Tagliere is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. He's ranked as a top-six fantasy football expert twice over the last four years by FantasyPros.com.

  • Zach

    First of all I love the McDonalds analogy, spot on to this discussion and it’s what I order when I got there every time for that exact reason. I assume that this strategy is contingent on the rest of the players in your league overvaluing receivers. If the top receiver available is Odell Beckham and the best running back is say Mark Ingram, however unlikely this situation may be, I assume you’d still go with Beckham. Or am I wrong?

    • Mike Tagliere

      That’s fantastic, Zach! You’re a smart man. In regards to your question, every draft is unique. This article is based on ADP, assuming your draft follows that pattern. But for instance, if Ingram is the best RB available, and a guy like Beckham is on the board, deviate from your strategy and take the superior player. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy the season with us!

  • Scott Prouty

    I’ve implemented this very strategy in two 32 team league startups. One league is an auction, it isn’t completed. The other league is snake draft and has yet to begin. I’m working zero-WR in both leagues as they come with a premium cost. In the auction league I won Ameer Abdullah & Carlos Hyde, each cost me 9% of my Cap, 18% total.

    I won Nelson Agholor (6.5%), Jarius Wright (3.5%) and drafted Pharoh Cooper at pick 2.01.

    I’ve got several targets at WR in the 2nd auction phase, and I’ll try to win as much of the 49ers depth chart behind Hyde as I can.

  • Mike F

    Mike, I understand the “bust percentage” argument (it’s also news to me – thanks!), but I’m not sure that I buy it. It dismisses the high number of games missed by the top RBs. Shouldn’t those games be counted as “busts” as well? Maybe not complete busts since you generally know beforehand that they will miss a game, but they should at least be accounted for. I don’t know if it’s easy to say that top RBs relative consistency outweighs the fact that they play fewer games.

    • HTTRer

      Very true.

    • Zach

      But you can get a top RBs handcuff for relatively cheap and as we saw last year, often the backup is almost just as productive as the starter (Seattle with Rawls, Pittsburgh with Williams etc).

  • Tony

    Would you suggest this even for PPR leagues?

    • Ryan Skolrud

      I would suggest starting with the WRs in PPR leagues. Depending on how people in your league draft, a couple of the “2nd tier RBs may fall through the cracks to get you a really solid RB.

  • Ryan Skolrud

    Mike, As a guy who plays mainly PPR leagues, I wouldn’t use this strategy for my teams. Most of the Standard scoring leagues that I have seen, and the few that I have played in, most players are still focused on the RB position which would still allow me to take the top WRs and watch for RBs who may have fallen through the cracks.

    I can see the validity of this draft strategy only if you are in a league where players focus on WRs. While the Zero-RB strategy has gained momentum in the past few years, I am still considered an “outcast” and laughed at for suggesting not taking a RB with my first couple of picks. I have multiple discussion groups that think I am crazy, but I make it work every year.

    Also, depending on how well you scout players and focus on the guys who are in the places where they can succeed, you still can find RB depth later in your drafts. You just need to know where to look.

    Just my two cents. Find the strategy that works for your leagues, it may be Zero-RB, it may be Zero-WR. You may even mix it up.

  • Mike B

    Thanks for the article! It does seem like WR are being overvalued this year. Having said that, I would like to see the bust data for WR 1-12 and RB 1-12. Is that something you could share? Maybe even RB 1-6 and WR 1-6.

  • Frank

    I love the advice and strategy. I am actually thinking of trying to implement this. But my league is a PPR 3 WR league, so rather than 2 RB and 2 WR with a flex each week; my league has to start 2 RB and 3 WR each week. Does this strategy still hold viable in this format??