Zero RB Strategy Explained: How to Use It In Your 2023 Fantasy Football Drafts


It’s a weird time to be a running back. We’re only a few seasons removed from running back being the most important position in fantasy football. Now, you can argue there isn’t a single position in all of sports that has been devalued so dramatically in such a short period of time. They’re even holding emergency Zoom calls to discuss the state of the RB union.

The NFL has never been more pass-happy than it is today, which is certainly one major factor in the decline of the bell-cow back. We’ve also seen many teams adopt a committee approach to the running game. In many cases, there isn’t one single player garnering the lion’s share of the carries out of the backfield. There are a few exceptions, but the correlation between stud RBs and fantasy success has never been weaker.

If you’ve consumed any fantasy football content over the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard of the Zero RB strategy. What is Zero RB, and is it a viable way to approach your Best Ball and season-long drafts?

We’ll tackle all of that and more so that you know when and how to use Zero RB strategy to dominate your fantasy football contests.

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What is Zero RB Strategy?

Zero RB isn’t exactly what it sounds like. You can’t go through an entire draft without meeting every position’s minimum requirement. Sites like Underdog won’t let you finish a draft unless you’ve filled every starting position, so you have to take at least a couple of running backs at some point.

However, Zero RB means you simply don’t make the position a priority. Rather than spending your early-round picks on Josh Jacobs or Saquon Barkley, you wait until later in the draft to fill the need. While everyone else is grabbing RBs in the first few rounds, you’re using those picks on wide receivers, quarterbacks, and tight ends.

The vast majority of drafters will take the best player available once they’re on the clock. Many also use ADP as a guide, and high-end running backs tend to come off the board early. Back in the mid-2000s, it wouldn’t be shocking to see 8-9 RBs go in the first round of a 12-team season-long draft, for example.

The origins of Zero RB date back to 2013, back when you wouldn’t find much outside-the-box thinking when it came to fantasy football draft strategy. Fantasy analyst Shawn Siegele was credited with bringing the strategy to the forefront.

Because many drafters will spend those premium picks on RBs, it can be advantageous to take a contrarian approach in the early rounds.

When to Use Zero RB

Zero RB is particularly viable in PPR formats. If players are getting an extra 0.5 to 1 point per reception, it’s easy to make the case that pass-catchers have more value than most traditional running backs. Obviously, this applies to both season-long and Best Ball formats with PPR scoring.

Your strategy may also change depending on your draft position. 2023 is a bit unique in that a receiver – Justin Jefferson – is the most popular target at 1.01 in PPR drafts. Three more WRs – Ja’Marr Chase, Cooper Kupp, and Tyreek Hill – are consensus first-round ADP players, while Stefon Diggs and CeeDee Lamb are on the fringe.

In terms of ADP, the consensus first-round RBs this year are Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Bijan Robinson, and Saquon Barkley. It’s no secret by now that the NFL is largely a pass-first league, and we’re finally starting to see premium receivers coming off the board early in drafts.

Zero RB is still viable because of the depth at wide receiver. There are still a number of potential WRs available (Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen, Deebo Samuel) available in drafts by the time the running back supply has been almost exhausted in the third or fourth rounds. Of course, you can also fade an RB in order to grab an elite QB or TE in those first few rounds. Tight end, in particular, drops off considerably in terms of quality once you get past the first 3-4 players at the position.

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When To Draft Your First RB

Taking the Zero RB route generally means waiting until after the fifth round to snag your first RB, but some will advocate for waiting even longer before taking the plunge. Taking a look back at the 2022 ADP of several players at the position can help to give you an idea as to why Zero RB is a potentially fruitful strategy.

Jonathan Taylor – last year’s consensus No. 1 overall pick in most drafts – finished as the RB17 in terms of per-game scoring. Injuries played a role, but he was also just not as efficient with his opportunities. JT’s rushing yards per game average dropped by nearly 30 a season ago, while he scored a total of just 4 touchdowns in his 11 games.

Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Najee Harris were 3 more first-round RBs that didn’t come close to living up to those draft positions.

If you waited, though, you could’ve found similar – if not better – production later in the draft. Josh Jacobs had an ADP in the fourth round. Rhamondre Stevenson was typically drafted in the latter stages of the seventh round, while Dameon Pierce and Kenneth Walker typically came off the board in the middle of the eighth. Noted touchdown machine Jamaal Williams ADP was 11.11 in 12-team PPR leagues!

Those stud RBs may feel like a safe way to fill a thin position, but there’s really nothing “safe” about them. Playing running back at the NFL level takes quite a physical toll, and we’ve seen countless stars at the position struggle to stay healthy over the years. You can’t predict specific injuries, but injuries will happen. It isn’t a coincidence that many RBs are absolutely cooked by the time they turn 28.

Some other running backs just may not get the workload we might’ve expected them to. Cam Akers is an infamous example from last season, though D’Andre Swift and Aaron Jones often found themselves splitting work, as well.

Pros and Cons of Zero RB

The pros of going with a Zero RB strategy are obvious. While your direct competitors are using their top picks on risky running backs, you’re stacking your roster with high-end pass-catchers and, perhaps, a stud QB.

Because PPR formats favor WRs and TEs in the first place, jamming as many of those high-volume players onto your roster as possible is a logical approach. Bell-cow RBs like Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb may get most of the work on the ground for their respective teams, but they’re giving you essentially nothing extra in a PPR league.

The clear downside of Zero RB is the potential for the position to be an utter black hole on your roster all year long. In season-long leagues, Zero RB drafters have to be wise to the waiver wire and ready to react to injuries or changing situations over the course of a season.

Waiting to take your first RB certainly doesn’t mean you’re a lock to nail that pick, either. For every later-round gem like Tony Pollard, there are 3 more Clyde Edwards-Helaires, Melvin Gordons, and Antonio GIbsons. There’s plenty of luck involved there, too.

2023 Zero RB Targets

Elite WRs coming off the board early makes the Zero RB strategy a bit riskier this year, but it’s certainly still in play. More and more teams taking RB-by-committee approach more and more late-round running backs can play their way into bigger roles if things break a certain way over the course of the season.

Who are some Zero RB targets to consider heading into 2023?


Positional scarcity is one reason many people will still insist on drafting RBs early. “You can’t win unless you have a stud running back,” reports your uncle that still has a landline at home.

Don’t let FOMO scare you into making rash decisions on draft day. Best Ball and season-long leagues can be won and lost depending on the choices you make in those first few rounds.

Zero RB may not be for everybody, but it’s absolutely a winning strategy when applied correctly.

Image Credit: Getty Images

About the Author

Taylor Smith (tcsmith031)

Based in Southern California, Taylor Smith (aka tcsmith031) has been working for RotoGrinders since 2018 in a number of different capacities. In addition to contributing written content for NBA, MLB, and NFL, Taylor is also a member of the projections/alerts team and makes regular appearances as an analyst on NBA Crunch Time. Follow Taylor on Twitter – @TayeBojangles