How Half-PPR Scoring Should Change the Way You Draft
Standard scoring leagues generally amount to a contest of who has the best running backs. Point per reception (PPR) leagues fix that, but only by over-correcting in favor of wide receivers and severely overvaluing dump-off passes.
Enter half PPR, the Goldilocks of fantasy scoring. Not too hot and not too cold, half PPR gets the balance between running backs and receivers just right. In this article, I’m going to look at how you should alter your approach for half-PPR scoring. If you like your porridge scolding hot, Mike Tagliere has you covered on full-PPR strategy.
To see how the three skill positions stacked up in half-PPR scoring, I looked at the average points per game within each position over the last four years.
For another way to look at this, here’s a snapshot in table form:
|Pos. Rank||Avg. PPG||Pos. Rank||Avg. PPG||Pos. Rank||Avg. PPG|
As you can see, elite running backs are still the kings in half-PPR scoring. After that, wide receivers and running backs are basically on par for the first two rounds. The mid-third round is the turning point. Once the top 14 wide receivers and running backs are off the board, receivers overtake their running back counterparts. The difference is slight, but constant, for the remainder of the draft.
So by all means, keep the elite running backs atop your draft boards even in half-PPR scoring. Once those guys are gone, the top wide receivers and the remainder of the top 10 to 12 running backs are more or less on even footing. Whereas in standard leagues, there’s a panic to grab running backs early and in PPR leagues the balance shifts to receivers, in half-PPR leagues you should be making decisions more on player evaluation than positional value. If there’s been a run on running backs, your best value is probably at receiver and vice versa.
As for tight ends, they enter the discussion in the latter half of the second round, with the TE1 averaging about the same points per game as the RB11 and WR11. The TE2 and TE3 score comparably to running backs and receivers in the 15-20 range at their respective positions.
After the early rounds, receivers generally score more points than their running back counterparts. In half-PPR leagues, this means you’re usually going to be better off with a wide receiver in your flex spot. Just don’t take it too far. Based on average points per game, the WR30 is roughly equivalent to the RB25. Again, in a vacuum, receivers generally have the edge at flex, but it’s close.
Here’s another way to look at it. Last year the 36th ranked player among running backs and wide receivers each week scored on average 12.6 points. Over the course of the season, 331 wide receivers hit that mark, while only 274 running backs did so. In other words, wide receivers accounted for 55% of the flex-worthy scores in half-PPR leagues.
Of course, that’s not the full story. Removing last season’s top 24 running backs and wide receivers from the equation, there were 172 wide receivers and 172 running backs who put up flex-worthy scores last season. A perfect 50/50 split among the tier of players typically in consideration for your flex spot.
Putting this all together, in half-PPR leagues your best outcome is to grab three receivers who are borderline top-24 wideouts to fill your receiver and flex spots. The best-laid plans can go awry, however, so you shouldn’t force a receiver into your flex each week if your roster is stronger at running back. Half-PPR scoring does achieve a nice balance among running backs and receivers.
Among the top-50 running backs in 2017, here are the biggest movers up and down in points per game comparing standard scoring to half PPR.
|Player||Standard Rank (PPG)||Half PPR Rank (PPG)||Difference|
With a few exceptions, there wasn’t a ton of movement within the running back ranks, and most of the movement occurred outside the top-30 backs. Only McCaffrey and Johnson came close to RB1 territory due to half-PPR scoring.
The reason is simple: only about 11% of running backs’ points came from receptions last season. That matters, obviously, but yards and touchdowns are much bigger drivers of fantasy scoring. It takes a lot of receptions to move the needle in half-PPR scoring, and very few backs get that volume.
The other thing to note is that top backs generally saw the most significant increase in points per game when moving from standard to half PPR. Le’Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Mark Ingram, LeSean McCoy, and Chris Thompson – six of the top nine backs in points per game last season – all improved by at least 1.8 points per game in half-PPR scoring. Only four other players (McCaffrey, Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and White) did so. This makes sense. One of the reasons elite backs are elite is they play all three downs, gaining extra touches through the air.
This all boils down to three points. First, the elite running backs who catch passes are relatively more valuable in half-PPR leagues compared to standard leagues. Of course, they’re already at the top of the draft board, and we’re about to see that elite wide receivers get a similar bump, so I’m not sure there’s much to act on here. In auctions, I suppose I’d be more inclined to take a “stars and scrubs” approach.
Second, you should only be tweaking your standard scoring ranks for half-PPR leagues, not re-writing them. Running backs who receive significant receiving work generally don’t jump up to starter territory in half-PPR scoring, so while they may move up a bit in your rankings, they’re still mostly mid- to late-round picks.
Third, running backs who don’t catch passes don’t lose that much value in half-PPR leagues. If you like Derrius Guice in a standard league, you should like him about 95% as much in a half-PPR league. The fact that he’ll lose snaps on passing downs and in negative game scripts hurts him more than Chris Thompson stealing a few half points does.
Compared to running backs, there was more movement within the receiver position when changing from standard scoring to half PPR. Five players (Brandin Cooks, Juju Smith-Schuster, Sammy Watkins, Paul Richardson, and Marvin Jones) fell by at least four spots in the receiver rankings (PPG). 11 players improved by at least four spots (Jarvis Landry, Demaryius Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Jamison Crowder, Jermaine Kearse, Jordy Nelson, Marqise Lee, Mohamed Sanu, and Randall Cobb). Receptions made up 21% of a receiver’s points last year – nearly double that of running backs – so it’s no surprise the impact was felt more strongly here.
As with running back, the impact of half-PPR scoring is felt more strongly at the top. 13 players saw at least a 2.5-point per game increase when moving to half-PPR scoring last season. Nine of them were top-10 receivers in 2017, and all were top-24 receivers. Again, this is no surprise, as the top receivers tend to dominate targets.
Top receivers are more valuable in half-PPR scoring relative to standard leagues, so there’s an advantage to nabbing at least one in the early rounds. Further down the draft board, possession receivers also get a bump up. Otherwise, like with running back, don’t go too crazy re-writing your receiver rankings.
Receptions matter, but yards and touchdowns account for a much more significant portion of a receiver’s scoring. Lower-volume guys like Brandin Cooks, Marvin Jones, and Juju Smith-Schuster all took a hit in half-PPR scoring, but still finished as top-16 receivers last year.
Tight end, as always, is a story of haves and have-nots.
The four tight ends who saw the biggest increase in points per game in half-PPR scoring included the elites, Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz (Jack Doyle was the other). Delanie Walker, Jordan Reed, and Evan Engram were the only other tight ends to improve by more than two points per game.
At a position starved for volume, it’s no surprise to see the rich get richer. The top 10 tight ends accounted for 630 receptions last season. The next 20 tight ends totaled only 798. With a handful of players handling a disproportionate share of the volume, the impact in moving from standard scoring to half PPR is much stronger at the top. And unlike running back, we’re talking about a significant percentage of scoring — 23% of a tight end’s points came from receptions last season.
There was minimal movement within the tight end ranks when moving from standard to half-PPR scoring. O.J. Howard dropping from TE12 to TE19 is the only name you care about that rose or fell more than a few spots.
In other words, the impact on the tight end position is mostly when to take a tight end, not which one to take. Since the impact is heavily weighted toward the top, I’m more inclined to go with an early tight end in half-PPR scoring. The advantage of a Gronk, Kelce, or Ertz is more pronounced when accounting for receptions. Even the mid-round guys offer more of an advantage in half-PPR scoring.