2023 Fantasy Football RB-Heavy Draft Strategy

by Garrett Ball
2023 Fantasy Football RB-Heavy Draft Strategy

Getting ready for your fantasy drafts huh? Well, you're in the right place because we're talking about how to approach Fantasy Football RB-Heavy Draft Strategy in 2023 today. More casual leagues or players looking to get back into this are probably familiar with this strategy, I certainly was when I first started playing fantasy football. So why do we need an article on it? Let me provide some background.

A newer, sexier strategy has taken over the fantasy football space: Zero RB. For those unfamiliar with it or those new to the fantasy space, let me quickly break it down for you.

Zero RB is where you hyper-focus on receivers and quarterbacks through the first several rounds of your fantasy drafts, typically not drafting a running back till about round 6 or 7. Why six or seven? First off, you can draft high-end talent at the receiver position, especially in half or full-PPR formats in the first couple of rounds. Secondly, about the middle of round 3 begins the dreaded "RB Dead Zone" where RB values are hard to come by. Right around round 6 and 7, the RB dead zone ends and values return to the RB position. It's where you can still find guys like Cam Akers, James Conner, Isaiah Pacheco, and James Cook.

It's all well and good and very successful. I've used it myself. The problem is if everyone else is doing it, your chances of nailing that strategy are harder, especially in best ball formats, where it's most popular. But it's crept into the redraft space as well and is making its presence known more and more.

But as you probably guessed, this article is about zigging when everyone is zagging. I'm going to show you how I approach the exact opposite strategy of Zero RB: by going running back heavy. I'm going to approach this draft assuming a regular 1QB, 12-team league with half or full PPR scoring, as those are the type of leagues you'll see Zero or Hero RB most often, rather than standard scoring.

It's a weird year for the RB Heavy lifestyle with all the uncertainty at running back. Josh Jacobs and J.K. Dobbins are holding out, and Jonathan Taylor is struggling to get a contract, it's one thing after another. But with uncertainty comes opportunity. If you play your cards right and draft wisely, you can get yourself a league-winning RB room for cheaper than you could have otherwise.

2023 Fantasy Football RB-Heavy Draft Strategy

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What's the optimal draft spot?

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Ideally, you're approaching this from the top or bottom of the draft order. So somewhere in the 1.01-1.03 or the 1.09-1.12. That way you're snagging either Christian McCaffrey or Austin Ekeler at the top. Alternatively, you'll get someone like Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, or if you're lucky, Bijan Robinson at the back. How do I know this? Because yours truly jumped in head first to this article and did several different mock drafts between those draft slots I mentioned above. I went ten rounds, nothing crazy, just to show what a starting lineup would look like plus a couple of bench spots.

Why would you want to be at either the top or the bottom? Couldn't you draft heavy RB when you have a pick between the 1.04 and the 1.08? You can, and those slots I mentioned above aren't hard and fast rules. There's a bit of nuance to them. Let the draft come to you. Maybe a great RB falls to you when you're drafting at the 7 spot in the second round. Fantastic! But if one doesn't, here's why: opportunity cost.

When you're picking at the turn, the tier drop between players isn't usually all that massive (if any). So grabbing two RBs when you're at the 1.11 and 2.02 isn't as big of a deal. And the receivers in the third round should still be solid. When I did a mock at the 11 spot, I drafted Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry with my first two picks, and then Keenan Allen in the third. I think that's a great start.

Meanwhile, if you're drafting from the 7 spot, for example, and you are just dying to go RB-heavy, you might skip a top-tier wide receiver and overdraft a running back. I had one draft from the 10 spot where I snagged Saquon. When I came back on the clock Derrick Henry was on the board. But so was AJ Brown, the last true top-tier wideout left. I felt drafting a back for the sake of RB heavy was the wrong choice and went with AJB. I still got Jahmyr Gibbs as the 14th RB off the board, a little pricey but if you're trying to beat the dead zone, go young.

And that is one way you can still adopt an RB Heavy approach from the 1.04-1.08, going RB WR RB. If the value is there, take it, but don't force yourself into having running backs as your top two picks.

How many running backs should I draft at the beginning?

First off, how many do you need to start? League settings are important. Usually, it's two and a flex spot. So even with "RB-Heavy" don't feel you need to draft four in a row. Heck, not even three in a row unless the value is right. When I was at the 1.12, I got Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry, and Joe Mixon with my first three picks. Since I was at the turn, I took Keenan Allen with my fourth pick.  I then waited till the eighth round to pick James Cook as my RB4, which I feel great about. My receivers ended up being Allen, Hollywood Brown, Diontae Johnson, and Elijah Moore. A little on the weak side but my RB room is strong.

Running back heavy to me just means an emphasis on securing running back talent early because there is so much depth at receiver. Another time at the 10 spot I ended up with Saquon, Travis Etienne, Jahmyr Gibbs early, and Devon Achane at the end of the draft. I then targeted wide receivers in the middle rounds (aside from the first name on this list), with Davante Adams, Hollywood Brown, Treylon Burks, and Quentin Johnston as my selections. Tight end and quarterback were Kyle Pitts and Geno Smith respectively. Pitts is effectively my WR3 in my TE spot, so I felt pretty good about this team. A lot of speed and explosiveness on it. Geno was a 10th-round selection, and I probably should have gone QB earlier, but I don't mind it.

Preferably, you attack running back in rounds 1 and 2 and target receivers heavily until after the dead zone is past. But, like I said above, I won't go RB for the sake of RB-Heavy. It's ok to target a top-tier wideout and then grab a potential young stud RB in the third round.

What about the middle and late rounds?

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I'll group these together here. The foundation of your team comes in the first four-ish rounds. If you went robust with three running backs in your first four picks, you're drafting more receivers. You don't have as much top-end WR talent as other teams, so you'll want to take more shots to find that breakout receiver.

If you went with two running backs in your first three picks to go along with a solid WR, you can afford to take a balanced approach. You can grab a tight end like Kyle Pitts or George Kittle if they fall. You'll want to avoid the RB dead zone as much as possible, so wait until the 6th round or later to draft another RB, which I did in most of the mock drafts. Then you can go for guys like Cam Akers, James Conner, James Cook, Brian Robinson, Rashaad Penny, Isaih Pacheco, and so on.

Once you've drafted your RB3, your running back room is fairly solid at this point, don't succumb to the feeling you have to draft a running back. Fill out those other positions and if a RB happens to fall to you, scoop him up! Don't let value slip by if at all possible.

Sure, sounds good but I just want to read the highlights!

Ok, ok—here are the basic premises for the RB-Heavy draft strategy. First, be near the turn, whether it's the front or back of the order. Preferably you're not in draft slots four-through-nine (the ninth spot can work, but not as often in my opinion). Secondly, target running backs early, getting at least two with your first three picks. Third, don't fall into the trap of passing up value at other positions for the sake of drafting a running back. Fourth, after picking your first two RBs, wait until about round 6 or 7, then grab your RB3. Use those intermediate picks to fill out your wide receiver room or get one of the onesie positions: tight end or QB.

That will do it for our 2023 Fantasy Football RB-Heavy Draft Strategy how-to! Hope you all enjoyed and make sure to come back for more fantasy football content at Fantasy Six Pack! We'll be here all off-season getting you ready to dominate your fantasy leagues!

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