Zero RB Strategy in 2021 Fantasy Football

The Zero RB strategy was first created a while back, but can you apply it in 2021? And what does that look like? The overall premise of the strategy is to avoid taking an RB early, instead you load up on talent at other positions before attempting to get your starting RBs.

Everyone has a slightly different version of just what that means, and the earliest you can select an RB and for it to be considered a Zero RB approach. Some will say that you have to wait until round three, some say you should wait until the double-digit rounds. When I’m considering it, it’s really at the point where I don’t think I’m getting a significant advantage in not selecting an RB. To put it another way, at which point is it now hurting me to not select one. (I know there is an argument that not taking an RB early could hurt you from the start).

When to implement this strategy early

This strategy is best used at the turn of the opening round, after the top talent at RB has likely been snapped up. At that point, you are looking at a board that you would be taking a lesser talent at your RB1 slot, and be slightly ahead or on a par at your RB2 position. Instead of doing that with the RB selection, you are taking a top talent at the WR1 position, and furthering that advantage at the WR2 position.

Typically, the smaller the league is in terms of teams, the more influential the Zero RB strategy becomes. In an ideal world, you also are forced to start more WR’s, so that your advantage at that position can be pressed harder.

How to implement this strategy early

Wide Receivers

As mentioned already, targeting the wide receiver position tends to be the optimal play when utilising the Zero RB strategy. This is often because elite wide receivers can consistently produce year-on-year for your teams whereas even the round one running backs can be hit and miss for their cost. Additionally, when it comes to in-season and the waiver wire, fantasy-relevant wide receivers are much harder to come by than say a running back, where injuries can occur more frequently plus depth is often there. 

Players to Consider

The types of players you should be considering are absolute target hogs for their team, ideally on heavy passing offenses. You really want to be grabbing two Tier One players, so that your WR2 is significantly better than any that your opponent is able to grab.

Tight Ends

The same argument can be made for tight ends, although not to the same quantity as wide receiver unless you are drafting in a league with a unique scoring system where multiple is required early. Locking up elite talents at any position is never a bad thing.

Players to Consider

The list here is really small. You ideally want to be able to grab Travis Kelce, and really get a tier ahead of the other teams in the league. Otherwise, selecting George Kittle or Darren Waller. Outside of that, you are best leaving it and waiting.


Alternatively, especially if you are a part of 2QB leagues and Superflex leagues, then it should be a consideration to pick up an elite QB (or even two if you are looking to lockdown in the position!) in the early rounds to secure that position moving forward in the draft. This becomes more of a priority if you only have eyes on a few QBs that are going early, rather than the group as a whole. 

RB Targets

You really need to think about the type of RB that you are aiming/ thinking that you are going to be able to obtain. You really want a mix of players that are likely to be given a heavy workload, and some players that are going to stand a chance of breaking out further in the season, or good level backups.

Heavy Workload Options

You aren’t going to get a bell-cow option, that’s just not going to happen, but you can still get a player that is going to be leaned on heavily. The types of players you are looking for are ones that face little competition for touches out of the backfield, but they might not be on a great offense. For 2021 options are:

  • Mike Davis
  • Myles Gaskin
  • Michael Carter
  • Damien Harris

That type of player, obviously if there is a better talent on the board then take them. There is the subset too, players that could be in for a big workload, but there are two players that are vying for the role. In that case, select one and hope you get the right one:

  • Leonard Fournette
  • Ronald Jones
  • Chase Edmonds
  • James Conner
  • Trey Sermon
  • Raheem Mostert
  • Jeff Wilson

Late Season Breakouts

Late season breakouts might be solid players that you can lean on later in the season. Their role isn’t assured, but there is a chance that a team could move to giving these guys more snaps later in the season. In an ideal world you want an option that has some value early in the season too- as part of a committee that they have a good chance of winning out. Targets that fall into this category are:

  • Travis Etienne
  • Javonte Williams
  • Zack Moss

Good Level Backups

This is obvious, getting players that have a role in the offense already that expands if the starter is injured. These are the types of players that you can put in your flex, but then they could step up into a big role if given the opportunity. Targets like:

  • Kareem Hunt
  • AJ Dillon

Worked Mock Draft

To demonstrate the Zero RB strategy in play, I completed a 1QB 12-team, 15-round PPR draft. Below is our roster and clicking through to the link will show you how this ranked amongst the other teams in the league. 

Link to the overall draft board

Early Rounds

In the first four rounds I took:

  • Tyreek Hill
  • Davante Adams
  • Julio Jones
  • Darren Waller

This gave me three top options at WR, and a top TE option in Darren Waller. At this point, my WR group is going to be leaps ahead of any others in the league. Unfortunately, as I expected, Travis Kelce was off the board before I had the chance to select him. But grabbing Waller is fine, as I’ll still get that advantage at the position over the majority of the league.

Middle Rounds

My next picks were:

  • Mike Davis
  • Travis Etienne
  • Javonte Williams
  • James Robinson
  • Kenyan Drake

At this point of the draft, the top tier QB talent was gone. With a solid WR group and TE locked up already, it was at this point that my thought went to the RB position. From the above, you’ll see some names that I recommended. My strategy was to go for a balance between players I thought would produce straight away, and some players for later in the season. With this group I should be able to patch together production through the season.

Late Rounds

My last picks were:

  • Tom Brady
  • Tarik Cohen
  • Darrel Williams
  • Henry Ruggs
  • Mecole Hardman
  • Carson Wentz

My late picks started out with a QB who has one of the most complete groups on offense, Tom Brady. With my last pick, I took Wentz as an option that could outperform his ADP with the Colts. Given my zero RB strategy, I went for some more lottery ticket RBs.

Tarik Cohen should have some flex value in this scoring format, as a pass-catching RB. Darrel Williams is (currently) the backup for the Kansas City Chiefs, and was used in a rotation towards the end of last season.

I then opted for two players at WR who could have some big weeks, in Henry Ruggs and Mecole Hardman. Both have the ability to score big points any given week, and if they hit consistently I’ve got trade bait, or flex options.

Image Credit: Jason Getz – USA TODAY Sports