Intro to Zero Wide Receiver Drafting
I’ll be working on a series this offseason regarding players to target when zero wide receiver drafting. I will update after free agency opens and again after the NFL draft. That being said, it’s never too early to start looking forward. If your redraft league prefers chaos and will be drafting before either of those offseason events, this article is for you! For those who aren’t familiar with zero wide receiver drafting, check out my article that shows why it’s the way to go.
Why Zero Wide Receiver Drafting?
Simply put, the league is becoming more pass-heavy and teams are no longer relying on bellcow running backs. The positional advantage that you can lock in at running back, tight end, and quarterback by drafting “zero wide receiver” is enough to draft late-round pass-catchers to round out a competitive roster. Five of the top-ten wide receivers from last year came after the fourth round and there are many in 2021 that will look to do the same.
This will be in regard to redraft leagues, not dynasty. I will be using FantasyPros PPR consensus rankings for projected average draft position (ADP). I will assume the fifth overall pick in a 12-team PPR league for this article.
Round One – Best available running back
The first round is the toughest to speculate as so much depends on draft position. FantasyPros currently has their top-12 running backs ranked as Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Ezekiel Elliott, Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones, D’Andre Swift, and Joe Mixon. Of those players, Elliott, Taylor, Jones, Swift, and Mixon have the highest standard deviation, so recognize the risk if taking them. If you’ve got a late first-round pick and don’t like any of the remaining players, you can make a strong argument for drafting Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, or Antonio Gibson here. Because we’re mocking with the fifth pick, I can’t find any reason not to draft Mr. 2K himself, Derrick Henry.
1.05: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
Round Two – Best available running back
Heading into the second round, you should still be targeting a running back again. Between your first and second pick, your leaguemates will start to snatch up top wide receivers. It will be hard to resist taking DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, or Stefon Diggs if they drop but stick to the process and take the best available running. With the mid-round pick we are drafting from, Jonathan Taylor and Aaron Jones would be the primary targets, but they are unlikely to fall. D’Andre Swift, Joe Mixon, Miles Sanders, and Josh Jacobs make great RB2 options though, and should be around. I’m assuming all four will be available; I prefer Joe Mixon, so we’ll lock him in as our second pick.
2.08: Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Round Three – Best available running back, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, George Kittle
Let’s be honest, unless you’re playing in your grandma’s office league, none of these studs will be available. The reason I point them out, is to allow yourself to recognize zero wide receiver drafting should be used as a guideline more than a set-in-stone rule. Assuming Mahomes, Kelce, and Kittle are already gone, there are still some great running back options. Not only does a third running back allow you to withstand injuries and bye weeks, but they can also make for some alluring trade bait as the season progresses. Based on projected ADP, Miles Sanders and Josh Jacobs may still be available, while Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Antonio Gibson are almost guaranteed. Because we’re assuming the top quarterbacks and tight ends were picked before us, let’s imagine Miles Sanders dropped and we’ll lock him in with the third pick.
3.05: Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Round Four: Best Available Wide Receiver/Running Back, Darren Waller, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray
At this point, regardless of where your draft spot was, you should have a great trio of running backs. If not, you’ve got Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and a solid one-two punch at running back. If you were able to snag Mahomes, Kelce, or Kittle, now’s the time to take your third running back. Guys like Antonio Gibson, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, and David Montgomery would be great RB3 options to lock in with a top quarterback or tight end. This is where your leaguemates will start to reach for the best available running backs. You’ve already got three great options, so you can start compiling high-upside wide receivers. Adam Thielen, Cooper Kupp, D.J. Moore, and JuJu Smith-Schuster all make great options here if they’re available. But because I missed on Mahomes, I’m locking in my QB2, Josh Allen.
4.08: Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
Round Five: Best available wide receiver, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson
If you haven’t snagged a quarterback yet and Murray or Jackson are still available, now is the time to take one ofthem. After this point, Dak Prescott is the only top-tier quarterback left. An important part of zero wide receiver drafting is locking in a quarterback or tight end advantages so don’t feel bad reaching for one here. Because I locked in a top quarterback already, it’s time to start stockpiling wide receivers. I’m more than happy with Diontae Johnson as my wide receiver first option.
5.05: Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Round Six: Best available wide receiver, Dak Prescott
Although I prefer locking in a top tight end, Kelce, Kittle, and Waller are likely gone by now. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes! If I’m unable to lock in one of them, I’ll hold off on drafting one now and wait to compile a few high-upside guys later on. Right now, I’m focused on drafting wide receivers that can outperform their ADP. The good news is, there are still plenty available and your leaguemates are probably still focused on filling their running back spots! In the sixth round, I’m loving Tyler Boyd, Brandon Aiyuk, CeeDee Lamb, and Will Fuller V. We saw Lamb perform well as a rookie with four different starting quarterbacks. Assuming Prescott is back in Dallas I expect Lamb to smash his expectations and would be more than happy to take him as my second wide receiver. We will see if it changes with Prescott’s pending situation in the post-free agent and draft updates.
6.08: CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Round Seven: Best available wide receiver
It could be tempting to take Ronald Jones II or Devin Singletary here, but remember, you’re already set at running back. When zero wide receiver drafting, you want to focus on stashing these mid-round wide receivers in the hopes that two can end up “set ’em and forget ’em” starters, like we saw Calvin Ridley, D.K. Metcalf, Keenan Allen, and Stefon Diggs do last year. We drafted Lamb and Johnson already but they both have some question marks that shouldn’t be ignored. Between Devante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Robby Anderson, Marquise Brown, and Brandin Cooks, some should still be on the board and make for a great “WR3” option. I put “WR3” in quotes because we don’t really know who will end up the weekly starters out of our wide receiver corps. We’re going to keep drafting receivers and hope one of them hits. Of those guys available, I like Robby Anderson. He’s fresh off of a career year in Carolina and could smash his ADP in 2021.
7.05: Robby Anderson, WR, Carolina Panthers
Round Eight: Best available wide receiver, elite handcuff
If you ended up with an “injury-prone” running back early on with an elite handcuff, now’s the time to lock that up. Although it could be a bit of a reach, Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison, Latavius Murray, Wayne Gallman, and Mike Davis are just a tweaked ankle away from ending up as an RB1 next year. I’m confident in the running backs we’ve compiled so far and none of them have a standout handcuff, so I’m going to keep stashing wide receivers. At this pick, we should have Michael Gallup, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, Corey Davis, or Jerry Jeudy available. Out of this group, I’m partial to Higgins, especially if Burrow will be ready for Week 1. So we’ll lock that in with the eighth pick.
8.08: Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Round Nine and beyond: Best player available
At this point in the draft, you should have a rock-solid group of running backs, a top quarterback or tight end, and a slew of high-upside wide receivers. Congratulations! You followed the footprints for zero wide receiver drafting. Now it’s time to start going after the best players available and get your guys. We’ll stick with FantasyPros ADP’s and round out the remaining rounds to see what a final roster with zero wide receiver drafting could potentially look like.
9.05: AJ Dillon, RB, Green Bay Packers
10.08: Jamison Crowder, WR, New York Jets
11.05: Jonnu Smith, TE, Tennessee Titans
12.08: Logan Thomas, TE, Washington Football Team
13.05: Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
14.08: Travis Etienne, RB, Rookie
15.05: Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants
16.08: Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Now, let’s see what this team looks like after zero wide receiver drafting!
QB: Josh Allen
RB1: Derrick Henry
RB2: Joe Mixon
WR1: Diontae Johnson
WR2: CeeDee Lamb
TE: Jonnu Smith/Logan Thomas
FLEX: Miles Sanders
FLEX: Robby Anderson
Bench: Tee Higgins, AJ Dillon, Jamison Crowder, Laviska Shenault, Jr., Travis Etienne, Sterling Shepard, Jalen Reagor