Best Player Available is a Sham and You Should Beware Those Who Peddle It

“I mean say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” – Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski

Perhaps in response to the rising popularity of Zero RB as a strategy there’s been something of a recent backlash where some fantasy analysts have emerged to say that you shouldn’t get locked into Zero RB or any trendy strategy, and instead you should employ the revolutionary and groundbreaking strategy of just picking the best players. Thank Christ we have these people because I really am not sure what we would do without them.

Let’s think for a second about their admonition to not get locked into a strategy, and instead we should take best player available. How would we do that? Should we take kickers in the third round if that kicker is better at his position than the wide receivers who we could draft there? If not, why not? Is it possible that there are positional value considerations at play?  And how do we know who the best players are? Should we follow the rankings of the people who are there to save us from getting locked into a strategy? And then if we do that, are we using their rankings in the same way if our league is a PPR league with three wide receiver spots and two flexes, as we would if it’s a standard league? Also if we’re going to follow these people, would it be too much to ask that they’ve previously identified that WRs were structurally undervalued, you know just so that we can be sure that we know that their current year ranks are based on an understanding of fantasy football grounded in reality? Basically, is it fair to ask that fantasy analysts don’t take the same analytical approach to RBs, that the National Association of Realtors takes on the question of whether it’s a good time to buy a home?

If we have to use those analyst rankings in the same order for a standard league and also a PPR/two flex league then GUESS FUCKING WHAT? You’re doing the exact thing that these supposed nimble thinkers are telling you that you shouldn’t do. You’re needlessly locking yourself into something that isn’t going to help you.

Say what you want about Zero RB, at least it’s a strategy for one format. And if these best player available savants offer you advice for a PPR league where you can start four to five wide receivers, and their advice doesn’t look pretty close to Zero RB, then all they’re probably doing is telling you to use a standard league strategy in your PPR draft. I wouldn’t draft a standard league team the same way I draft a PPR team, but if you put a gun to my head and told me I could either roll with Zero RB in a standard league, or Early-RB in a PPR, I’ll take my chances with Zero RB.

So we have a few choices in terms of trying to figure out what the best player available crowd is up to:

  1. They’re being overly pedantic about WR-heavy starts in PPR leagues and saying they don’t advise Zero RB when they’re fully on board with drafting just one RB in the first five or six rounds.
  2. They’re giving you standard league advice in a PPR league, which is just the reverse of the thing they’re criticizing.
  3. They are making a good faith prediction that RBs are likely to rebound from their recent down seasons, or that WRs have become too expensive. This is a reasonable prediction on its face and it’s also not best player available. It’s a strategy informed by the idea of positional value – just like Zero RB.

I have filled this post with faux outrage and anger that I really don’t mean. The fantasy industry is full of smart and nice people who work hard to give advice to strangers. But inherent to my understanding of Zero RB is the idea that it’s possible to exploit competitors who overvalue running backs. It’s a positional value thing. If people want to say that RBs are due for a rebound, that’s totally fine. It might happen and I won’t argue it couldn’t happen. But it’s also not really best player available either. In fact best player available has to have some sense of positional value underlying it in order to not make it totally worthless (we have to have some reason not to start the draft by going DST/K/QB).

So all an analyst is saying when they say draft best player available is that their understanding of positional value is more correct than Zero RB’s understanding of positional value. Maybe they’re right, we really won’t know until after the season is played. But best player available isn’t an antidote to the alleged shortcomings of Zero RB that it purports to be. In fact, when you look at it that way, what these analysts are really doing is engaging in a bait and switch where they can avoid talking about positional value in order to advance a proposition people would have a tough time disagreeing with. It’s the fantasy football equivalent of screaming “Knibb High Football Rules.”

And no, I haven’t seen any movies since about 2001.

By RotoViz Staff | @rotoviz | Archive

Comments   Add comment

  1. I AM drafting best player available in PPR this year.....and my teams are going to wind up as Zero RB teams, because WR-heavy is just that much superior of a strategy.

    I think you nailed it with the "standard mindset" in PPR leagues. I play in medium stakes leagues, and I am still floored at how RBs are being valued compared to WRs. Yes, the market adjusted slightly after last year, but not near as much as I was afraid it would. I have seen all of Elliott, Gurley, DJohnson, and even Peterson go before the big 3 WR are off the board. People still just haven't learned that "bell cow" running backs who don't catch a high volume of passes really aren't too much more valuable than waiver wire flotsam, and have none of the risk priced in. Drafting Jarvis Landry over Doug Martin is just walking into free money.

    At this point, I think we need to be more concerned with how to perpetuate the "BPA" myth and encourage people to keep overdrafting RBs than with convincing people that Zero RB is the best strategy. The debate is over as far as I'm concerned; for PPR, Zero RB is how you win. How much longer we will have this glaring advantage to exploit is the real question.

  2. I consider 2 RBs in first 5 rounds to be Zero RB considering the climate of the times then (average ~21 RB taken in first 30 picks). 2013 was peak craziness in terms of RB drafting (Trip down memory lane: Jamaal scored 5 TDs in week 15 against the Raiders and Peyton threw only 55 TDs). To me, Zero RB doesn't mean you have literally zero RBs, just that you're fading them on the high leverage picks, assigning them a lower value than the WOTC. Perhaps I'm too liberal in my interpretation?

    It's easy to see which year was 2013 and which is 2016. Value shift akin to move away from parachute pants. What were we thinking?

    2013: Doug Martin sucked before his injury (I drafted him 1 overall in a league, Knowshon and LeVeon saved my bacon though). CJ Spiller still gives me night sweats. Rice was a dud. TRich began his epic decline. Alfred, oh Alfred. Wilson never played. MJD was done. Ridley didn't score all those TDs again. Reggie, Steven Jackson and CJ2K I'm sure sucked. 2013 was epic confluence for Zero RB strategy.

  3. What a mediocre article. Those that understand that Zero RB doesn't actually mean blindly ignore RBs also understand how VBD works as described in this article. Thus there is no purpose of writing a butt hurt article aimed at defending yourself in those people's eyes. FYI, Zero RB is a really shitty name for a draft strategy. Maybe "Value WR" would have been better.

  4. i wonder why it seems to have caught on then....

  5. Many people have said it many different ways, but IMO it was best said by someone on here as "Projections are fragile". My two cent spin on it: acknowledging that projections are fragile is the same as admitting to yourself that you just don't know. (People are generally really bad at admitting that they just don't know.) When you admit that, you go zero RB. You go zero RB instead of best available or any other strategy because what you do know is that RB's get hurt way more than WR's, especially in early rounds: Why Zero RB Works: Quantifying Positional Injury Rates. So if you're trying to get 6 top 15 WR's a la @FF_Contrarian The Zero RB Bible 2016, you don't really have the luxury of 2 RB's in the first 5 rounds, as @NewJerichoMan wrote above. There's certainly a time and a place for 2 early round RB's, but then it's not zero RB: It's 2 RB.

    There will always be sheep; I did a half ppr $ draft last night on espn where Jordan Reed fell to me at 4.10. I know the guy at 4.9 well. He took 3 WR's to start the draft (which he mentioned that he couldn't believe he did), but he just couldn't pull the trigger on a 4th non-RB. I took him. I wanted to go WR/RB or vice versa, but I wasn't about to pass up the value. On the way back at 5.4 he took Olsen, which is why I think he recognized that Reed was a good pick there. I just feel like he needed someone to break the seal on TE's.

Discuss this article on the RotoViz Forums

12 more replies