Hero Running Back Strategy

There are many strategies that have popped up through the years to best exploit the differences in value for roster positions in fantasy football. For the last few years the Zero Running Back strategy has been deemed the Golden Child of strategies. This strategy has permeated into all formats of fantasy football. It continues to be the most effective strategy in dynasty formats.

For best ball and redraft leagues there has emerged a better strategy, the Hero Running Back Strategy. Hero Running Back Strategy is Zero Running Back Strategy’s cooler cousin.

What is the Hero Running Back Strategy?

The Hero Running Back Strategy is pretty simple. Draft a running back in the first round and then draft a wide receiver in the next four rounds. To many people, this will seem like overkill but there is method to this madness.

This strategy takes advantage of five things to optimize your lineup:

  • Limited quantity of running backs who score above 200 points per season
  • First round drafted running backs are almost guaranteed to be a starter for your team
  • The running back “dead zone”
  • Wide receivers score more points on average than running backs
  • Total points scored by your team is the most important thing

Some of these things seem obvious, others you are probably questioning. So let’s break it down.

The above graph, which was compiled by the awesome team over at RotoViz, really makes it clear why the Hero Running Back Strategy is the way to go in one quarterback best ball/redraft leagues.

What the data tells us is that running backs drafted in the first round (top 12 picks) are likely going to score more than 200 points per season in points per reception (PPR) leagues. It also shows us that the average points scored by running backs and wide receivers gets larger quickly after round one, becoming a significant gap after round two and does not return to a similar difference in points scored until round six. With this knowledge we can take advantage of the fabled “Running Back Dead Zone.”

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Most experts talk of the Running Back Dead Zone being rounds three through six. So why not draft two running backs in the first two rounds? The answer is twofold, wide receivers score more points than running backs and total points scored by your team is the most important thing. The first reason seems to tell us that we should also draft a wide receiver with our first pick, but the second reason tells us we shouldn’t. 

The reason we shouldn’t is that the point differential between first round running backs and wide receivers is roughly 15 points. In rounds two through six, the gap in points scored by running backs and wide receivers is larger than 25 points. The loss in potential points as a team is larger if a running back isn’t drafted in the first round because of the aforementioned gaps in points scored.

Most leagues require you to start two running backs and allow you to start at least four wide receivers with use of flex spots. Taking advantage of positional requirements and flexibility allows us to optimize our total points scored.

Positional requirements vary from league to league so it is important to pay attention to how many players at each position you are required to start, as well as the number of flex spots your league has. In a league that allows you to start five with wide receivers it is a perfectly good strategy to draft wide receivers in rounds two through six as there is little change in the points scored between running backs drafted in rounds six and seven.

What about Best Ball Drafts?

There is a slight variation that is even better when playing best ball. Drafting a tight end with one of your three draft picks in rounds two through four has proven to be more successful than drafting all wide receivers in these rounds. Using data from Rotoviz’s Roster Construction Explorer we are able to see that teams who added a tight end in these rounds had a 12.3 percent win rate versus an 11.0 percent win rate for teams who drafted all wide receivers. 

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Following these first five rounds teams should be looking to fill their starting quarterback position. In redraft teams should be looking to fill their tight end position as well.

The gap in points between running backs and wide receivers does not close until the 10th round. The fall off in points for wide receivers is about five points per round in rounds seven through ten. It is recommended that teams lean towards drafting wide receivers in rounds seven through nine, but it is not a hard rule. Wide receivers still produce more points on average and teams can start more of them, so it is good to have higher value backups. 

When should I backfill my Running Backs?

After round seven, running backs scoring is the same on average through round ten. Looking at your team and the draft board you may find that a running back who is still available is a better pick than a wide receiver in round seven through nine. It is best at this point to take the best available players to fill out your roster focusing less on which position is played. 

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Finishing out the draft make sure you have backups at each position. You should also make sure that you have some backup players that do not have the same bye week as your starters to play on your starters bye weeks. Your finished roster should feel wide receiver heavy with one running back that is the pillar on which the rest of your team is built.

While all the other hip managers will be laughing as they draft their teams using the Zero Running Back Strategy, you will be a paragon of fantasy knowledge. A true hipster of fantasy football strategies, because you used the Hero Running Back Strategy before it was cool. 

What does it look like in action?

Below are the first seven rounds of a redraft league draft I did using the Hero Running Back Strategy. For a more in depth look at the entire draft check it out here (content coming soon).

1.02RBDalvin Cook
2.11WRJustin Jefferson
3.11WRAmari Cooper
4.02WRCeeDee Lamb
5.11WRDiontae Johnson
6.02QBRussel Wilson
7.11RBDavid Johnson

Additional Information

Have you drafted using The Hero Running Back Strategy? Let us know how it went!

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Thanks to Getty Images for providing the featured photo by Abbie Parr / Getty Images.

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