A Look at the RB Dead Zone


*Ominous organ music* Welcome…to the Running Back Dead Zone. A lot of work has been done about the running back dead zone over the years. Ben Gretch wrote about it at CBS in 2019 and it’s exploded in popularity ever since. The concept is all wrapped up in ZeroRB and Modified/Hero/Anchor (whatever you want to call it). The simple fact of the matter is that we have years of data (my ADP database goes back to 2015) showing that this is a real thing. You might have drafted a 6th round running back that absolutely smashed for you. I’m super happy for you. But, you have to understand that you beat the odds in doing so and that it’s not the norm. 

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Hits, Smashes, and Demolitions

I broke up Win Rate outcomes from my database into three categories. The first is hits. A “hit” simply means that a given player hit 8.3% Win Rate or higher, which would be average for a 12-team league. A “smash” means 10% Win Rate or higher. Lastly, a “demolition” is a 15% Win Rate or Higher. The results might shock you. I’m as big of a ZeroRB believer as there is and the actual rates still surprised me. 

Rounds Drafted Average Win Rate


(8.3%+ Win Rate)


(10%+ Win Rate)

Demolition (15%+ Win Rate)
Rounds 1-3 8.6% 34% 27.6% 14.9%
Rounds 4-9 (Dead Zone) 8.1% 38.5% 21.6% 4.7%
Rounds 10-13 8.4% 39.5% 22.2% 3.7%
Rounds 14+ 7.7% 31.5% 16.1% 1.9%

The takeaways are very clear here. Drafting an early round running back gives you the absolute best chance at a 15%+ win rate from your draft pick. The thing that stuck out most to me about the dead zone is that it’s not actually that dead. Yes, I think theoretically “dead” is more of a binary thing and doesn’t have levels, but you get what I mean. The idea that Rounds 10-13 produces more hits and smashes and just slightly fewer demolitions than Rounds 4-9 is a hard one for people – myself included – to wrap their heads around. 

The Current Dead Zone

As things stand right now, there are 19 running backs being taken in the dead zone. That’s actually a bit lower than the historical averages. Since 2015, we’d been averaging about 24 RBs taken in that range. On the other hand, there’s been an average of 15.6 running backs taken in the first three rounds in that timeframe and we’re at 16 this year. So, as a community, we’re letting some of these potential dead zone running backs slip a little later in drafts where they likely should be going. 

Any of the following running backs are technically in the dead zone. If we combine this work with my recent piece on how teammate ADP affects running back performance,  we can come up with a Don’t Draft List.

We ideally want to avoid running backs in this range that also have a small gap to their nearest drafted teammates. That list is:

The San Francisco and Jacksonville running backs fit in the dead zone and have a small gap from RB1 to RB2. If you’re drafting either, in theory, you’d be taking the cheaper one. Both RB1s are rookies that look poised to oust their RB2 teammates, though, so I’m largely avoiding them either way. 

Post-Dead Zone Targets

The sweet spot is Rounds 10-13, historically. You can take a look at the avoid list from above and pivot to any of their teammates. 

I’m putting my money where my mouth is on Devin Singletary. He’s my second-highest owned running back on Underdog right now and has found his way onto 25% of my teams. When I’m not drafting Stefon Diggs, who I wrote about way back in June, I’m looking to grab Singletary every so often. It’s not ideal having Josh Allen’s rushing ability near the goal line when you draft one of the running backs, but if the offense hums the way I think it should Singletary should be just fine.  

Another running back I’m targeting – despite the fact that he’s a large gap RB2 – is Tony Pollard. That doesn’t mean I’m avoiding Ezekiel Elliott by any stretch, but when I have a later pick and don’t have any Cowboys, I’ve been making sure to scoop up Pollard at cost. It’s a similar argument here. If the offense goes at the rate we expect, we should see plenty of opportunities for Pollard whether that’s alongside Zeke or not. Pollard is my most owned running back through 43 completed teams on Underdog right now. 

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