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I believe in the Zero RB Theory.

However, I am not a fundamentalist who holds on so strongly no matter the situation. And the time has come to question those who pray at that alter.

The theory is a great theory. But it works when others are trying to gobble up the RBs and passing on WRs. If others are also all adapting the Zero RB Theory, it is far less effective.

There’s security in conventional wisdom, but if you follow the herd, you’re gonna step in cow dung.

This is why I will introduce the “Zero WR Theory” in part two. And I’ll show an application of it in part three. But let’s set the scene first.

Using the Zero RB Theory is a HUGE mistake

Five Reasons NOT to use the Zero RB Theory

1. Game Theory

Imagine a race across the country. If everyone is racing on the same road, that road is going to be quite congested. The ability to pull ahead of the other racers on the road will be extremely limited. However, now imagine a racer that has found a road that follows a similar path, but none of the other racers are using. It’s going to be a lot easier to cross that finish line with less competitors than those jostling on the same congested road.

Adopting the same strategy for Fantasy drafts as your competitors puts you on that congested road and leaves little to no margin for error. And nearly every Fantasy website out there is espousing the virtues of the Zero RB Theory in some form or another. If you use it, enjoy rush hour.

Additionally, you can think of a Fantasy draft like a poker game too. You can pick out people trying to use Zero RB Theory pretty quickly. Do you really want to show your hand? If everyone is doing it, the benefit is a lot less and the best opportunity is to zig while everyone is zagging.

 

2. Few things more valuable than a bell cow

There are about four or five “bell cow” RBs–RBs that don’t exit the game in special situations like “passing downs” or “goal line” situations. Securing one of them will give you a big leg up. Need proof?

Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, and Devonta Freeman were the three leaders in carries last year and I’m guessing that regardless of your scoring, all three finished within the Top Five RBs in your league. But it’s not just at the top.

I looked at the 50 best RBs last year by yards per game (so as to not exclude those who might have played in less games) and there was better than a 95% correlation between carries and rushing yards. Let me repeat that, 95 percent. How many other stats can help predict production at an “A” level? It’s so simple, it sounds stupid to mention.

But Zero RB Theorists are allowing the fact that the NFL is becoming a passing league to overshadow this simple correlation, but the truth is, guys that get more carries get more yards. 18 WRs had 130 or more targets last year; only five RBs had 250 or more carries.

Player Att Yards
Adrian Peterson, RB 327 1,485
Doug Martin, RB 288 1,402
Latavius Murray, RB 266 1,066
Devonta Freeman, RB 264 1,061
Frank Gore, RB 260 967
Chris Ivory, RB 247 1,070
Jonathan Stewart, RB 242 989
Darren McFadden, RB 239 1,089
Todd Gurley, RB 229 1,106
Jeremy Hill, RB 223 794

 

And you want those guys, but you’re handicapping yourself in finding them if you are using the Zero RB Theory. The great news, however, is if nearly everyone is using the Zero RB Theory, you might be able to get two of them!

 

3. The WR position is DEEP

Are you telling me that if you have a couple stud RBs, that a WR corps of guys ranked outside the Top 20 WR, including Doug Baldwin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Smith Sr. couldn’t hold its own? And maybe those guys are inside your Top 20. Pick some others–Jarvis Landry? Donte Moncrief? John Brown or Michael Floyd? The point is the same.

At any given time, there are about 30 RBs that have a chance of giving you RB1 or even RB2 numbers and 60 WRs that have a chance of giving you WR1 or WR2 numbers. Wouldn’t you rather be forced to choose from the bigger pool than the smaller one? Speaking of choosing from the pool…

 

4. Are you that confident in beating the odds to finding RB replacements?

Sure, stud RBs can be found on the waiver wire. David Johnson this past year; and Justin Forsett in 2015 are two that immediately come to mind. A quick counterargument for those Zero RB Theory zealots of course is Doug Baldwin. But I would argue that finding waiver wire replacements is extremely challenging and we tend to forget about all the failures and just remember the successes.

Play along as we look at a very real situation from as recently as last year….

 

Getting Zapped on the Waiver Wire

Week 5 has wrapped up and you just lost Jamaal Charles. Looking for a replacement, there’s this young running back who seems to be vulturing TDs. He only had six yards, but he scored two touchdowns this past week! The previous week he only had 18 yards rushing, but had a 23-yard TD reception that was part of a 4-reception 63 yard day. Not too shabby, right? So you grab him off the wire thinking his arrow is pointing up.

What does he then proceed to do? He scores zero TDs the next two weeks and gets a whopping 41 rushing and receiving yards combined. Okay, it’s been only two weeks you tell yourself, let’s give him one more week. This time it is better…barely, as once again he doesn’t score and gets all of 48 rushing and receiving yards.

Now it’s his bye week. There is another young RB who looks to be taking control of a muddled backfield situation. He has a respectable 137 combined yards the last two weeks and is playing the porous Saints defense this week. So you drop your earlier grab and are somehow able to pick up that hot running back. The good news is that he gashes the Saints for a solid 88 yards. The bad news is that he doesn’t come close to that total again. He scores only two touchdowns the rest of the Fantasy season. And you just dropped David Johnson to pick up Antonio Andrews.

And that’s part of the point—even David Johnson, who became a stud later and people rode throughout the playoffs, was so poor earlier in the season that he could have cost you the opportunity to get into the playoffs!

 

More Examples

I’m sure many of you out there are saying, “But yeah, I would have been smarter than that.” Riiight. Can’t argue with such strong rational thinking like that. For the rest of you, maybe you (and maybe our aforementioned smarter owners too) might have grabbed or tempted to grab some of these examples?

Player A: He was the first back taken in the draft and immediately starts paying dividends, scoring twice and notching more than 22 points the first game he played this year.

Player B: Even after a huge Week 2 performance, his owners got weary of him. And more so after the bye week, when he couldn’t even score five points. But now, he had another huge performance in Week 10, putting up a combined 187 yards and a touchdown. That’s worth a grab, right?

Player C: Has over 60 points over the last three weeks. Even his low was just under 20 points. He has scored a touchdown each of those last three weeks and with a Week 16 Super Bowl this week, you have to grab him, right?

Congratulations, you just picked up Bishop Sankey, Matt Jones, and Bilal Powell. Feeling good about your RB stable?

And this was not just last year. The year before was the same thing: Do the names Antone Smith or Jonas Gray send a familiar shiver down your spine?

 

The value of the WR3/WR4

Here’s another consideration. Let’s imagine it’s mid-way through the season….would you rather be picking from the best of WR3s or RB3s? Who do you think is more likely to score or is going to see more action—a team’s third best RB or a team’s third best WR? I present to you Jaelen Strong, Chris Conley, and J.J. Nelson. They are just three of numerous WRs that did not finish in the Top 100 but were a Top 20 WR in a given week.

There are just as many failures, actually more, from the waiver wire as there are success.

But let’s suppose that grabbing RBs from the waiver wire are not even an issue and you were able to get a couple good ones in the draft using the Zero RB theory. There’s another problem….

 

5. Those top WRs–they are all risky too!

Let’s start with Antonio Brown whom I still really like, but I expect some minor regressions due to a more difficult schedule this year, the loss of Martavis Bryant, and the addition of Green. Plus I think Ben Roethlisberger gets injured again this year and we’ve seen how Brown’s numbers often drop when that happens.

But look at the other options. Julio Jones (injury history), Odell Beckham Jr. (will be less of the focal point this year with the Giants having more weapons), and DeAndre Hopkins (look at his splits below–he was far better, usually by about 30%, in 1st half than 2nd half) don’t feel like locks to me either.

Target Totals Receptions Yards
Weeks 1-8 112 66 870
Week 9 bye
Weeks 10-17 80 45 651
Split Index 71.4% 68.2% 74.8%

 

And if you’re drafting deeper in the round, your options are no better. If Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson were OL, I would’t worry. But unfortunately they are receivers who need to run, and run fast. Yet both are coming off surgery to various parts of their body used to run. And the former has a 36-year old quarterback who has had plenty of back problems. And that is in addition to last year’s clavicle injury.

Allen Robinson? The Jacksonville offense regression is coming and Robinson will be a part of it. If nothing else, an improved Jacksonville defense should reduce the amount of times they have to pass. You can’t win a draft with your first pick, but you can lose one and all of the top WRs make me nervous.

 

And that is why I will be introducing the “Zero WR Theory” in part 2, but hopefully you now agree that the Zero RB Theory, especially if everyone else is using it, is a very shaky proposition.

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Mark Strausberg

Mark Strausberg

Mark Strausberg remembers making Jerry Rice his first round selection as well as taking a flyer on a young pitcher named Doug Drabek. His Fantasy analysis has spanned multiple sports including football, baseball, basketball, and even golf. A FSWA finalist, his fantasy analysis has been featured in various outlets including but not limited to SI.com, USA Today national magazines, Yahoo! and RotoExperts.
Mark Strausberg

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