2024 Fantasy Best Ball Draft Strategy: Zero RB vs Hero RB – Top Targets and Overview

How should we be drafting running backs in Best Ball?

Ah yes, here we are again, discussing the outlook of the running back position in fantasy football. It’s not even June, players aren’t in pads yet, but it’s as good a time as ever to discuss how we should attack running backs in fantasy best ball drafts.

The value of the running back position has changed drastically over the last five years. This holds true for both fantasy football and the actual NFL. Fantasy managers and NFL GMs are beginning to realize that production from running backs is quite frankly, replaceable.

In an ever-changing fantasy football landscape, it’s essential to be aware of how other players are drafting and how the “market” operates.

THE BEST BALL RUNNING BACK LANDSCAPE

Before discussing how to attack running backs in Best Ball Mania V (BBMV) drafts, we should examine how other drafters perceive the position. As expected, running backs are not highly valued in Underdog drafts. The RB12 can be scooped up in Round 4!

The RB hate doesn’t stop there. Based on current ADP, the RB24 (Jonathon Brooks) lasts until the middle of Round 8.

Running backs who project to have meaningful roles are available throughout the middle rounds of drafts. D’Andre Swift, Najee Harris, James Conner, Jaylen Warren, Zack Moss, and Tony Pollard are all available in Round 8.

What’s driving the slip for running backs across the board?

There are a multitude of reasons. However, the “demise” of running backs is primarily driven by the importance of the WR position in Best Ball. And in 2024, drafters are very good at recognizing which WRs are “good.” Wide receiver is undoubtedly the most difficult position to find production in the late rounds. Sure, there will be players like Puka Nacua and Tank Dell. But, relative to other positions, production from late-round selections at WR is much harder to come by.

The top-end receivers also do not have replaceable production as many running backs do. If CeeDee Lamb goes down with an injury, we shouldn’t expect Kavonte Turpin or Ryan Flournoy to produce even remotely similar numbers to Lamb. However, just last season, we saw Zack Moss put out high-end production in relief of Jonathan Taylor. Wide receiver is talent-driven to a higher degree than any other position. And as I previously mentioned, drafters are very good at identifying talented WRs.

While the high-end running backs are very talented, fantasy production for most RBs is often driven by volume. If given the opportunity, secondary running backs are more likely to produce in fantasy. Because it is difficult for secondary receivers to replicate the production of star WRs, it makes more sense to save late-round stabs for running backs (or other positions) than WR.

Because it is so difficult to find production at WR outside of early-round studs, leaving the first few rounds with several talented receivers is essential. After reviewing data from the last four BBM tournaments, Hayden Winks of Underdog Fantasy found it optimal to draft 4-5 receivers through seven rounds of drafts. He calls this the Golden Rule of Best Ball.

Attacking WR in the early rounds is necessary, so running backs often fall by the wayside. With many drafters also interested in grabbing an elite TE or QB, running backs slide further down draft boards.

APPLYING BEST BALL RB DRAFT STRATEGY

We know it is essential to be WR-heavy in the early round of drafts. How should we allocate these other draft picks if we leave Round 7 with 4-5 WRs? In my opinion, either zero or one of these picks should be RBs. This approach should be used in the vast majority of drafts.

ZERO RB STRATEGY AND TARGETS

Zero RB,” a draft strategy popularized over the last few years, involves completely avoiding the RB position until the middle rounds of drafts. The specific round in which the first RB should be drafted in Zero RB builds is debatable but is generally defined as somewhere between Rounds 6-8.

Top Fantasy Best Ball RB SLEEPERS to Target in Late Rounds

Zero RB takes advantage of a few things. First, it establishes a WR core full of firepower, which has proved valuable in Best Ball.

Next is the high injury rate and replaceability of running backs. Running backs have the highest injury rate of any position, and as previously discussed, secondary running backs are often capable of delivering quality production when given starter-level volume.

The replaceability of running backs doesn’t always apply to injuries, either. When an offense has a suspect RB1, we often see that running back surpassed by the RB2 at some point in the season.

The Panthers and Texans were prime examples of this in 2023. Miles Sanders and Dameon Pierce each began the season as the “RB1” for their respective teams. Midway through the season, they were each phased out of their offenses, and their “backups” were seeing 15-20 touches per game.

This is often referred to as attacking “ambiguous backfields.” Targeting ambiguous backfields is a great tactic when building a Zero-RB team.

Zero RB was considered outlandish and contrarian just a few years ago, but in BBMV, it is very feasible, considering the current landscape of the RB position. As previously mentioned, a plethora of running backs with varying traits are available in middle rounds.

Do you want a running back who projects to handle a significant number of touches? David Montgomery, Zamir White, Najee Harris, Zack Moss, James Conner, and Brian Robinson Jr. are all available in Rounds 7-10.

Do you want a talented, young RB with upside? Jaylen Warren, Jonathon Brooks, Chase Brown, Trey Benson, and Tyjae Spears can be picked up even later in Rounds 8-11.

Not to say that every running back in this range will be a fantasy success. But there are many RBs available in this range with varying skill sets, each with intriguing fantasy outlooks.

With this much available at running back in the mid-rounds, it is perfectly reasonable to completely hold off at RB until this point in drafts.

HERO RB STRATEGY AND TARGETS

Hero RB, also known as Anchor RB, refers to taking a single running back in Rounds 1-3 of drafts to provide consistent production and hold down the running back room.

Even with the necessity to address WR early in drafts, applying the Hero RB draft strategy is still feasible. However, we must be careful about which running backs we target early in drafts.

If we allocate an early draft pick to a running back, we want this player to be someone who can absolutely “break” fantasy football. They must be in a thriving offensive environment and have the talent to deliver massive fantasy production.

Christian McCaffrey, Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson, and De’Von Achane are great examples this season. Each of these guys will be featured weapons in potent offenses and certainly has the talent to put up 30+ fantasy points in any given week.

Other guys can be found in Rounds 2-3 of drafts that can be the focal point of Hero RB builds. These players are Jonathon Taylor, Saquon Barkley, Kyren Williams, and Derrick Henry. In my opinion, these players do not offer the same weekly upside and often require a bit of a slide past ADP for me to make them the central piece of a Hero RB build.

Hero RB is very much an effective strategy in Best Ball drafts. As long as we don’t lose sight of what we must do in the early rounds, load up on WRs. If you decide that a running back is worthy of a pick in the early rounds, understand that we must hammer WR in the following rounds to “catch up.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS: ZERO RB VS HERO RB

Given the current landscape of the running back market, it’s clear that Zero and Hero RB should be applied in most drafts.

Is it acceptable to grab multiple RBs in the first few rounds or even start with back-to-back picks at RB? Yes.

But we must understand that building a team with WR firepower is critical. If we select multiple RBs in the early rounds of drafts, we are playing from behind at wide receiver and must “catch” up to other teams by overloading at WR at other picks before Round 7.

Personally, I have started a couple of drafts with CMC in Round 1 and Achane in Round 2. I believe that both of these guys can deliver an RB1 performance in any week. However, I recognize that on these teams, I can’t stray to TE or QB in the early rounds, as it’s necessary to fill out my WR room.

This draft strategy can be effective, but I have utilized it very rarely. Juicy running back talent is available in Rounds 7-11. This makes it so easy to load up at WR, grab an elite TE or QB (or both), and wait to add running backs until the middle rounds. For this reason, I will be applying Zero and Hero RB draft strategies in nearly every draft, and I recommend that you do the same.

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