Fantasy football strategy – What does a zero-RB draft look like?


Every year, zero-RB is the most-discussed fantasy football draft strategy. This year is no different. It’s a viable strategy yet again in 2021, but there are new wrinkles in the plan.

This article will review what a zero-RB draft looks like in 2021. We’ll review the strategy for those in “regular” fantasy leagues — e.g., leagues that start 1 QB, don’t have a premium on the TE position, etc. 

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The basics of zero-RB

Let’s get some of the basics out of the way, first:

  • Zero-RB means you do not draft any running backs in the premium rounds (at least Rounds 1-3) or in some cases not even until Round 8 or later. Instead, you load up on premium WRs, TEs and maybe even a top-tier QB.
  • There are two basic premises behind zero-RB:
    • RBs are more likely to get hurt than other positions, making your early-round RB picks riskier by nature.
    • League-winning RBs are out there to be found in the later rounds (think James Robinson from 2020 or David Johnson from 2016 — there are numerous examples every year). If you target the right late-round RBs in zero-RB, your roster can feel unbeatable.
  • There’s a “modified Zero-RB” strategy in which you take an RB in Round 1 and then wait a long time before taking your second. That’s not what this article is going to discuss.

What to do in the first round of zero-RB

If you own pick 1.01, do not go with the zero-RB draft strategy in 2021. Just take Christian McCaffrey. You can try zero-RB next year.

If you own anything between picks 1.02 and 1.06, you’d be fine to try on zero-RB — but in my opinion, it’s best reserved for those drafting in the second half of the first round for 2021. Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley are all strong enough cornerstone fantasy players that deploying modified zero-RB is likely your best bet.

So who should your Round 1 targets be if you’re planning to go zero-RB? Here’s the short list:

Travis Kelce TE KC
Tyreek Hill WR KC
Davante Adams WR GB
Stefon Diggs WR BUF
Calvin Ridley WR ATL

What to do in Rounds 2 and 3 of a zero-RB draft?

For starters, you will absolutely want to exit the first three rounds of your zero-RB draft with one of the Big 3 elite TEs: Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle. They typically go in the first, second and third rounds, respectively. By rolling with zero-RB, one goal is to maximize your positional advantage at WR and TE. You’re failing to do so if you don’t take one of the elite TEs.

These players should be on your target list in Rounds 2 and 3:

Calvin Ridley WR ATL
DeAndre Hopkins WR ARI
Keenan Allen WR LAC
A.J. Brown WR TEN
DK Metcalf WR SEA
Justin Jefferson WR MIN
George Kittle TE SF
Darren Waller TE LV
Allen Robinson WR CHI
Amari Cooper WR DAL
CeeDee Lamb WR DAL
Terry McLaurin WR WAS
Robert Woods WR LAR
Mike Evans WR TB

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Take an RB in Round 4-5? Or keep waiting?

Rounds 4-9 are being described as the Dead Zone for RBs in 2021 fantasy drafts. FTN’s Matt Jones penned an excellent piece explaining why.

There are, of course, several RBs you could take a shot on in this range. Chris Carson, Darrell Henderson, Miles Sanders, Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery are often going in the Rounds 4-5 range (though Henderson will likely fall in response to the Rams trading for Sony Michel Wednesday). These are RBs who have fallen out of style entering 2021, but perhaps a bit too much, making them potential values.

Pulling the trigger here does mean foregoing additional WR value, including D.J. Moore, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, Tee Higgins, Adam Thielen, Diontae Johnson and more. 

The late-round targets (10+)

A zero-RB drafter who sticks to his or her guns will, at some point, have to start drafting RBs. If you wait and wait and wait, the best place to start is Rounds 10 and later. Here are some targets in this range:

Devin Singletary RB BUF
Tony Pollard RB DAL
Alexander Mattison RB MIN
Leonard Fournette RB TB
James Conner RB ARI
Latavius Murray RB NO
Kenyan Drake RB LV
Damien Williams RB CHI
Darrynton Evans RB TEN
Chuba Hubbard RB CAR
Rhamondre Stevenson RB NE
Qadree Ollison RB ATL
Samaje Perine RB CIN

Example of a successful zero-RB draft

Here’s an example of a zero-RB draft through 13 rounds. In Round 14, you could take another RB, but five is probably enough. So feel free to swing for a receiver or another running back in that slot. In Round 15-16, you’ll likely be forced to take a K and DST, but if not, you should definitely load up on at least one more zero-RB target.

Round 1 Tyreek Hill WR
Round 2 DeAndre Hopkins WR
Round 3 George Kittle TE
Round 4 D.J. Moore WR
Round 5 Odell Beckham WR
Round 6 Dak Prescott QB
Round 7 Chase Edmonds RB
Round 8 Will Fuller WR
Round 9 Corey Davis WR
Round 10 Tony Pollard RB
Round 11 Leonard Fournette RB
Round 12 Devin Singletary RB
Round 13 Alexander Mattison RB

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