Fantasy Football: How PPR Should Change the Way You Draft
How many times have you heard a writer say something like, “know your league’s settings,” or “understand the scoring system in your league”? Probably more than once. While yes, you want to know the scoring settings in your league, but if you’re here reading this article, you likely know your league’s settings. But not many explain what those settings mean and how it should affect how you draft your fantasy team.
One of the biggest settings is PPR (points per reception) vs. standard scoring. Sure you’ll see rankings that have both scoring settings, and while the players are ranked differently, it doesn’t tell you how to change your approach when drafting. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m going to attempt to explain how you should draft based on your scoring setting.
I remember a time when fantasy players said that wide receivers were king in PPR, but this year, you’ll see three running backs come off the board before any wide receivers. Did you know that David Johnson scored 100.5 more PPR points than Antonio Brown, the No. 1 wide receiver, last year? Think about that for a second… 100.5 points over a span of 15 games (Johnson got hurt at the start of Week 17, while Brown didn’t play), which comes out to 6.7 points per game. That is the difference from WR1 to WR23. Not just Johnson, but Le’Veon Bell himself missed four games during the season, yet he outscored every wide receiver in PPR formats. So, does this mean you should draft running backs over wide receivers? We’ll be focusing on those two positions, since they are the two that are the biggest source of debate. We’ll talk about both scoring formats, but let’s start with standard.
Fantasy players tend to follow the most recent trend, which happens to be pass-catching, workhorse running backs right now. I’d argue that this is the way it should have been for the past few years, but 2015 was a brutal year for running backs in general, leading most to gravitate towards wide receivers in 2016 and go with a Zero-RB approach.
You see, in today’s NFL, it’s rare to find a running back who’ll stay on the field for all three downs. That’s why Zero-RB was created to begin with, because of the volatility at the position. But instead of gravitating towards the few top-tier running backs there were, most just held off drafting the position all together. I’d still stand by drafting top-tier running backs in standard, but this is where scoring settings come into play. Let’s just take the names out of it and match up the points totals in standard formats:
As you can see, running backs led all the way down until the No. 26 player at each position, where wide receiver took over. What this shows is that if you were able to project every player perfectly, you’d want to draft more running backs than wide receivers with the top 50 picks, because they score more. We aren’t talking about fragility right now between players, but rather looking at raw numbers of those who played, regardless of their game totals. As you can see, this isn’t on a per-game basis; that would actually change things.
But there’s many more layers than just points, Mike. Yes, and it starts with the fact that you’ll be starting three wide receivers in most leagues, while starting just two running backs. You also have a flex position, which is the most important part of this article. No matter which side you fall on the Zero-RB debate, you have to figure out what you’ll be doing in your flex spot. If you start three wide receivers, you’re looking at the wide receivers drafted outside the top-36 in 12-team leagues, which ranged from 105-119 points on the year. If you’re starting two running backs, you’ll be looking at those drafted outside the top-24. Going down the list, they scored anywhere from 78-132, which is quite the spread and difficult to judge.
If you took every player from the RB25-RB48, as well as the WR37-WR48 and averaged them out, the running backs averaged 99 points, while the receivers came to 111 points. This isn’t the largest gap, and it’s quite possible that you land your 24th ranked running back while the WR40 is taken off the board. This is why I’ve always said to remain fluid during your draft, and not to lock yourself into one strategy. In standard leagues, running backs are worth nearly as much as wide receivers are, it just depends on the ratio that they’re coming off the board. Just know that the turning point for value is right around the 26th player at each positon. In early ADP, the 26th running back is coming off the board at the start of the sixth round, while the 26th wide receiver is coming off the board at the start of the fifth round, making running backs a value in the top six rounds.
Some don’t like the PPR format because they believe it gives ‘free’ points. I’d argue that it’s the most predictable scoring format and why it removes the majority of luck from fantasy, which is what we all strive for. Make your rosters as big as possible and include PPR scoring to increase predictability. Without going on a rant here, let’s look at that same chart for PPR formats:
Quite the change going to the PPR format, right? Wide receivers overtake running backs by the time you get to the No. 7 player at each position. Compared to standard leagues, the No. 26 player difference is massive with the running back finishing with 161.7 points while the wide receiver was up at 197.1 points. It really is easy to see why fantasy players are gravitating towards the top three running backs, but we must remember that it was a historic season for them and not likely to be repeated. Here’s the chart from 2015 and the reason why fantasy players may be overvaluing the top-tier running backs:
The top five wide receivers in 2015 were better than each and every running back, showing recency bias in early ADP. But combining the two is likely the most likely of scenarios, so we need to do what we did with the standard leagues and look to see which player you should be aiming for in your flex position. To recap, if you start three wide receivers, you’re looking at the wide receivers drafted outside the top-36 in 12-team leagues, which ranged from 159-184 points on the year in the PPR format. If you’re starting two running backs, you’ll be looking at those drafted outside the top-24. They scored anywhere from 100-162 points.
So the No. 48 wide receiver scored nearly as many points as the No. 25 running back in PPR formats last year, suggesting that you should really lean wide receiver for your flex spot. In early ADP, the No. 25 running back comes off the board at 5.12, while the No. 48 wide receiver doesn’t come off until 10.10, which is essentially a five-round difference, making mid-round wide receivers extremely undervalued in PPR drafts.
What We Learned
Over the years, the game of football has changed, as has the supply and demand. 10 years ago, almost every team had a workhorse running back. Going through my projections for 2017, I have just eight running backs eclipsing 250 carries, and that’s assuming they all play 16 games, which is extremely unlikely. Going back to 2007, there were 12 running backs who hit the 260-carry mark and 22 running backs that hit the 200-carry mark.
So getting to the point, wide receivers are king in PPR, but that doesn’t change the fact that you want to get as many of the top-10 running backs as possible. In fact, with the extreme discount you’re getting on mid-to late round wide receivers in early drafts, I’d likely snag at least two running backs in the first four rounds to eliminate as many questions about their workload as possible. But if there’s one thing that I want to make clear: You should be drafting more wide receivers than running backs, and you should be playing wide receivers in your flex spot, unless you snagged a running back who has a matchup with the 49ers or something like that.
It’s a bit cloudier in standard leagues, because there isn’t nearly as much of a gap in between the wide receivers and running backs. So while you’re in your draft, you want to pay attention to where you can get value. Looking at the early ADP, you’re getting very solid value on running backs in the fifth and sixth round. I’d likely try to get at least one top-12 running back, but then load up on wide receivers in the early rounds. Different than PPR, you’ll likely want to start a running back who is guaranteed at least 10 touches in your flex spot. Again, don’t be opposed to starting a wide receiver there, just as long as you aren’t reaching to fill that spot with one.
If you’re wondering which players have more value in PPR compared to standard, I’ll have you covered on that next week when I write an article about the player to value more, as well as those you should value less in PPR formats. Until then, send me all your questions on Twitter @MikeTagliereNFL.