Hero Vs Robust VS Zero: best running back strategies

Drafting RBs in fantasy football

By Jesse Moeller (Twitter @JMoeller05)

I cannot tell you how excited I am about writing this article. We have five days until the first game, and I cannot contain my enthusiasm for the NFL season. However, having spent this offseason honing my craft, I wanted to mention a topic essential to set you up for success early in the year. But, of course, that would be dependent on the strategy you will be employing this year to guide your championship run.

For this article, we will be using the traditional redraft roster settings:

QB – 1
RB – 2
WR – 2
TE – 1
Flex – 1
Def – 1
Kicker – 1
Bench – 6

Now, let us dive into some of the more popular strategies that players use involving the crown jewel of fantasy, running backs. The reason every plan has a running in the title is simple. If you hit on a running back, the ceiling is higher than other positions. Below are three strategies garnering the most publicity this year:

Hero RB:

You anchor your team around one elite player at the running back position and then fade the position while you collect talent at other spots before dipping back into the running back pool later in the draft. The theory with this strategy is you gain such a significant advantage with the one running back that you grab other elite players at different positions to balance out your overall roster.

What makes this strategy so fascinating to me is you are clearly placing all your eggs in one basket, and if that Hero RB goes down early, your season likely goes down the drain with it. Let me tell you why this has been my preferred strategy this offseason. It lets you load up on elite pass catchers in the draft and then tackle running backs with upside later in the draft to help balance out your roster. There is no value-added in rostering many bench wide receivers in a traditional fifteen-round draft, as they will not see the field for you with the elite talent you have at the wide receiver and tight end position.

You want to load up on running backs with pass-catching upside or a role to a significant workload due to injury or a cloudy backfield. Teams with those uncertain backfields are ideal targets under this scenario, such as Cardinals, Buccaneers, Ravens, Rams, Bills Patriots, Texans, etc. Targets the player you prefer from these backfields. If you hit on that choice, it instantly boosts your team’s value. Looking at your roster, and if you see names like Dillon, Pollard, Bernard, White, Drake, Johnson on the bench, you have executed this strategy to a T. When one of those players hits this year, the value on your team exponentially grows. The fragility of the build makes it seem like a fair risk-reward play. But, in reality, those elite wide receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks can also carry you.

Robust RB

You are taking the hero strategy and amplifying it to grab a stranglehold at the running back position and giving yourself a surplus of talent early and often while looking to find discounted valuable players at other positions. Hitting on this strategy can extinguish the rest of your league. Additionally, by finding dependable players at wide receiver, you maintain the edge of your team’s running backs.

By grabbing early running backs early and often, you will want to tackle the wide receiver position beginning in the middle rounds. It would be best if you also filled your bench with higher upside wide receivers. Like the Hero RB strategy, you are helping guard against a potential vulnerability if the wide receivers you selected earlier flame out. You will want to target wide receivers who are the unquestioned number one option on their team or undervalued WR2/3 in high volume passing attacks. These are the perfect players to target as they give you similar production to receivers earlier in the draft.

While those wide receivers you take late provide you some insurance with this strategy, do not be afraid to add some dart throw running back options on your bench as well. If you hit with that running back, the upside is far superior to the wide receivers going in that range.

Zero RB

The last and most challenging strategy to achieve. As what it does is flips the value of the running back position on its head. You are punting running back early in the draft to give yourself an advantage at another. What makes this strategy so tricky is the perceived lack of depth at the running back position. When you connect with the Zero RB strategy, you gain a more significant edge than any other strategy due to a value boost you gain when one of your Zero RB choices hits.

Now the margins are narrow, as the chances of that happening are slimmer, so this is why you take as many shots as possible. Once you have locked in your wide receiver core, you should line the bench with upside running backs, providing the boost you need with this strategy. The critical part of that phrase mentioned is upside running backs. Take last year, for instance. You could have picked Carlos Hyde and Devontae Booker and rolled craps. However, if you selected James Robinson and Antonio Gibson, you likely felt better about this strategy.

When picking candidates to support this strategy, you must ask yourself if the situation breaks right for the late-round running back you select, does the role improve enough for that player to make a difference? For example, there is a massive difference in selecting Jamaal Williams or Tony Pollard in your draft if both Zeke and Swift are lost for a significant portion of time. Pollard would walk into an actual league-winning role that sets you on a path towards the playoffs. Williams does not present that upside, as he would split work on a bad offense. The upside is just not the same.

Williams still has some allure for those of you brave enough to take the Zero RB plunge. But, unfortunately, it pails in comparison to a player like Pollard. So, select the actual upside play at this point in the draft. We all know that upside is the name of the game in the double-digit rounds.

I hope you enjoyed my breakdown of these three strategies. I look forward to hearing about your favorite strategy for this season. If it paid off for you in the draft, or if it went down in a blaze of glory.

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