There’s a lot of questions I receive on a daily basis, but one important factor that most leave out while asking their question is their league settings. You’ve likely heard analysts tell you to understand the rules for your league, but you probably know if your league is standard or PPR (point per reception). But what I’ve come to learn is that not many people actually change their strategy based on format. Today, you’ll have a better understanding on why you need a different approach, and what approach is best to take.
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When doing PPR rankings, most just bump up the players like Jarvis Landry and Julian Edelman, knowing they’re going to be more valuable in that format, that’s no surprise. What rankings don’t tell us is which positions we should be attacking at certain points of our drafts, because positional rankings can only do so much for you when it comes down to deciding whether you should take the No. 18 running back off the board, or the No. 12 wide receiver.
Those who have played fantasy football for a long time likely remember when wide receivers were king in PPR formats, but nowadays, you’ll likely see five running backs come off the board before the first receiver. Is that right? Well, even though wide receivers had a down year in 2017, there were just three running backs who scored more fantasy points than the top two wide receivers. This isn’t a rare scenario, either, as there’ve been just 14 running backs to score more than 300 PPR points over the last five years, while 22 wide receivers accomplished that feat in the same span. We’ll get more in-depth with PPR formats, but let’s start with standard.
I remember this exact article last year, when going by the Zero-RB approach was the cool thing to do. While I wouldn’t knock the strategy, because it can work at times, I did come to the conclusion that you should still go running back-heavy at the start of your standard formats based on what history told me. Let’s see if all remains status quo this year.
The above numbers are a representation as to what has happened in fantasy football since 2014, using the average of each finish by position. As you can see, running backs should dominate the top of standard drafts. Not only is it harder to find the workhorses later in the draft, but the running back drop-off in points is far significant than the drop-off at wide receiver. This takes names out of the equation and gives you pure results.
The running backs average more points per player all the way down to the RB22 and WR22 position, where things finally flip towards the wide receiver. What does this mean? Well, most leagues start three wide receivers at minimum, so you’d assume that the wide receivers come off the board slightly more rapidly, right? Early ADP suggests that the No. 22 running back is coming off the board roughly nine picks before the No. 22 wide receiver, so you can say it’s close to where it should be.
The thing you need to know about standard leagues is how to approach your flex spot and whether you use a running back or wide receiver. To do that, we’d have to compare the running backs in the 25-36 range to the wide receivers in the 37-48 range, because that’s after the starting requirements have been filled, assuming your league starts two running backs and three wide receivers. If you start just two wide receivers, let me save you the hassle – wide receivers would probably better occupy your flex spot, unless, of course, you have three running backs inside the top-22. But for those who start three wide receivers, the flex spot should go to running backs. The RB25-36 scoring range is from 100.1-123.9 points, while wide receivers in the 37-48 range score from 95.2-111.3 points. Not only do they average more points, but you’re getting guaranteed touches with running backs.
This is not an end-all-be-all scenario where you can’t lose if you draft a running back for your flex spot, because as the chart shows, if you can draft the 35th wide receiver off the board or the 35th running back off the board, go with the wide receiver. You can say that we also don’t know who is going to finish as the No. 35 running back and who is the No. 35 wide receiver. You’re absolutely right, but why do you go by rankings? Because it’s how you think it will wind up – this is just a way to put yourself in the best position to win if you do, in fact, pick the right players.
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.
This chart looks a lot different than the standard one, as the changing of the guard occurs at the No. 2 running back and wide receiver, as opposed to the No. 22 spot in the standard rankings where it took the wide receivers a while to catch-up. Here, the No. 22 wide receiver is worth an average of 38.7 points more than the No. 22 running back. It just goes to show that this format is one where you should look to value running backs a bit less. Despite this research, there are 15 running backs coming off the board in the top-25 picks with just nine wide receivers in early ADP.
Similar to the way we did in standard leagues, our job is to find out which players we should have in the flex spots, provided the top-24 running backs are gone, as well as the top-36 wide receivers to fulfill the starting lineups for most leagues. In the PPR format, wide receivers are a much better bet, averaging in between 149.6-172.1 points in the 37-48 range, while running backs in the 25-36 range average anywhere from 129.4-156.6 points. This means that the No. 48 wide receiver scores almost as much as the No. 25 running back. The current ADP for the No. 48 wide receiver is 119th overall, while the No. 25 running back is coming off the board at 59th overall. Needless to say, wide receivers are extremely undervalued in PPR formats.
What We Learned
Despite everyone changing their strategy by the year, most trends find their way back to where they’re supposed to be. Sure, the game is changing as we know it, which is why my study only went over the last four years. For as much as everyone complains that we don’t have workhorse running backs anymore, it’s kind of a bit overblown, as there were 23 running backs who had at least 200 carries back in 2012, and then we had 18 of them in 2017 (there were 19 in 2016), which is still quite a few. Each year we’ll go through this study and adjust, but it’s going to be a slow process, as the game doesn’t significantly change overnight.
But in general, wide receivers are king in PPR formats, but that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore the running back position. In fact, there’s plenty of value to be had later in drafts at wide receiver, as indicated by the 60-player gap between the WR48 and RB25, that produce nearly the same amount of points. Because of that, I would snag one of the top-tier running backs (Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Saquon Barkley) in the first-round if I had the chance, because they’re the running backs who are guaranteed 300-plus touches if healthy. Here’s the one thing that I want to make clear about PPR leagues: You should be drafting more wide receivers than running backs, and you should be playing wide receivers in your flex spot, unless you have a running back who’s projected for a large workload that week.
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.
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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.