While Zero RB and late-round QB get the majority of attention and ire from the fantasy football community, a growing draft strategy revolves around Zero WR. To better understand and possibly help you decide if this could be a viable strategy, we go over some keys and targets for you come draft day.
What is a Zero WR draft strategy?
Every year in fantasy, we see more and more alternative drafting styles pop up and force-fed on our timelines. These styles promise to be the next big wave and revolutionize how we think about the game. More times than not, it ends up being the equivalent of that door-to-door salesman trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. All of the ones that get discussed, late-round QB and Zero WR, make the most sense.
Zero wide receiver uses the massive depth of the positional group as a whole to its advantage. Rather than selecting wide receivers who all could have a similar outcome, managers can pivot during the draft and target positions with a steeper fall-off. This year — just as much as any — wide receiver is as deep as it ever has been. I’m sure this will not be the last time you hear that phrase.
By waiting to address the position later, it ends up being reasonably easy to walk out of a draft with one of the top three tight ends, two elite running backs, and even one of the best quarterbacks if you so choose. Contrary to the name, this draft strategy does not mean you draft zero wide receivers. It just means waiting a bit to draft your first one and then hammering the position for several rounds in a row.
What are the advantages of a Zero WR draft strategy?
I’m going to tell you something right now that the people who advocate for one draft strategy to rule them all will never say. There is no perfect draft strategy. No one strategy is guaranteed to give you higher results than another. What it comes down to is value, and value should supersede strategy every time.
With that said, the Zero WR strategy uses that value to its advantage. If we look at the running back position as a whole, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find those true three-down, workhorse-style running backs. Offenses are more frequently wanting to use a committee approach. Because of this, anytime we can target that handful of upper-echelon running backs in fantasy, it is an advantage.
If we look at drafts, there is a steep drop-off once you hit the RB22 to RB24 range and on down. More than likely, those are not players who you want to rely on to win your match up.
The same rings true for tight ends, except to an even more extreme level. It’s a position that struggles for weekly relevance due to the lack of usage in most offenses. There is a clear “big three” (Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle) and then a second tier of three more players (Mark Andrews, T.J. Hockenson, and Kyle Pitts). Beyond that, consistency can become scarce.
Regardless of the strategy, I go into a draft trying to leave with one of the elite tight ends. And going Zero WR makes this even easier to do.
What are the disadvantages of Zero WR drafting?
The first thing to consider as a disadvantage is volatility. The wide receiver position as a whole tends to see massive swings in weekly outcome and consistency. In 2020 alone, only 18 wide receivers finished as a top-24 player in 50% or more of their games played. Of those receivers, 12 finished inside the top 20, meaning they’re likely going to be out of our draft range when we start to select wide receivers. Losing stability needs to be considered.
There is also the concern of how quickly things can fall apart if you have an injury to your top running back. This is nothing new because everyone suffers regardless of the draft strategy when someone like Christian McCaffrey goes down for the season. However, running backs tend to play in fewer games than receivers.
Of the top 24 running backs in points per game last year, only two played in all 16 games (Derrick Henry and Kareem Hunt). When you invest heavily in a position like you do in a Zero WR strategy, injuries can quickly throw your season out the window.
How to approach a Zero WR Draft
Heading into the draft, it’s good to have an idea of targets or positions you want to address each round. As a general rule of thumb, most who use a Zero WR strategy wait until Round 6 to draft their first receiver.
In the first round, it’s all about the running back. I’m trying to get one of the top RBs who have the upside to be the RB1 for the season. Some of these players include McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley, and Jonathan Taylor. The only exception I would make would be if you have a back end of the first-round pick, and those players are gone. In that case, I would look at Kelce.
In Round 2, look to either double down on the running back spot or select one of the elite tight ends mentioned earlier. If Kelce slipped into Round 2, that’s an easy decision for me as he is in a tier by himself.
The third round is going to go identical to the previous. You’re looking at the RB position or grabbing a tight end. In this range are players like Najee Harris, Antonio Gibson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Darren Waller.
In Round 4, target either another RB that is still inside the top 25 rankings or look at a quarterback.
As I have always said, I am a late-round QB drafter. However, the benefit of the Zero WR strategy is that you can go after an elite QB. It’s likely by this point Patrick Mahomes has already been selected, but that’s okay. I believe five quarterbacks could finish as the QB1 in 2021, and they should all be available outside of Mahomes.
That would be Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, and Lamar Jackson. If you want to push this around later, intriguing running backs include Chris Carson, David Montgomery, and Travis Etienne.
Once again, target a running back here. In this range, my three favorite players would be Myles Gaskin, Javonte Williams, and Hunt. In 10 games last year, Gaskin averaged 18.3 opportunities per game (seventh-most) and was on pace for over 70 receptions.
Williams is a bruising running back who will eventually take over the Denver Broncos’ backfield probably sooner than we think. As for Hunt, he’s one of the more versatile running backs in the NFL. Furthermore, he is on an offense that wants to do nothing but run the ball. Even with Nick Chubb in the lineup, Hunt has RB2 upside.
Round 6 and beyond
Now the gloves are off. We’ve loaded up our roster with talent at all three positions and begin selecting wide receivers.
In Round 6, players still available include Tyler Lockett, CeeDee Lamb, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Brandon Aiyuk. This goes to show how stacked and deep the wide receiver class is. Lockett was the WR9, and Lamb has a high-end WR2 to low-end WR1 upside with Prescott back in the lineup.
In Round 7, there is a ton of upside with players like Courtland Sutton, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, and dynamic rookie Jaylen Waddle.
Wide receivers highlighting Rounds 8 and 9 include Jerry Jeudy, Brandin Cooks, Laviska Shenault, Will Fuller, Diontae Johnson, and Robby Anderson.
Based on ADP, you could easily walk out of a draft with a team looking like this:
QB – Kyler Murray
RB – Jonathan Taylor
RB – Austin Ekeler
WR – CeeDee Lamb
WR – Tee Higgins
WR – Diontae Johnson
TE – Darren Waller
Flex – Myles Gaskin
Despite waiting until Round 6 to draft our first receiver, it is by no means a team’s weakness. Zero WR is a very viable draft strategy that can produce consistent and balanced contending fantasy lineups.
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Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.