Valuing Pass Catchers in Different Scoring Formats (Fantasy Football)

by Sam Schlesinger | @avishai41 | Featured Writer
May 17, 2019

Christian McCaffrey’s high target volume makes him one of the few RBs you should take before a WR in PPR drafts

Fantasy football has an incredible amount of diversity today. When joining a league there are tons of settings and rules to consider. Dynasty or redraft? 10, 12, 14, or 16 teams? Superflex? IDP? And then within those options, there are an infinite amount of possibilities to set up your league’s scoring settings. The most basic of which, and possibly the most contested issue among fantasy players, is whether or not your league will award points for receptions.

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Despite the fantasy community shifting towards points per reception (PPR) as ESPN and Yahoo both have PPR (half PPR in Yahoo’s case) as their standard setting, many fantasy players who have been playing for years are reluctant to make the change (which unfortunately includes my two main home leagues). Since points are earned differently, there are obviously distinctive player rankings across the three main scoring settings which we’ll refer to as PPR, half PPR, and standard. Players who are peppered with targets and play more of a possession-style role on their team, but aren’t the go-to deep guy, generally get a rankings boost in PPR leagues since every time they catch a pass, they get a full point. Seven catches for 50 yards is a busted week in a standard league, but in PPR you’re coming away with 12 points. In this article, I’m going to outline how to value pass catchers in your rankings and drafts across PPR, half PPR, and standard leagues.

Valuing Pass Catchers in PPR Leagues

Let’s first look at PPR leagues. Obviously, pass catchers are more valuable here, but how much should you be bumping guys up in your rankings? While pass-catching, bell-cow running backs become lethal in PPR leagues due to the combination of their high usage rate and the fact that each catch is a point, wide receivers become the more valuable commodities here. Over the past five years, the top-24 flex fantasy finishes have been occupied by 42 running backs, 67 wide receivers, and 11 tight ends in PPR leagues, and 65 running backs, 51 wide receivers, and four tight ends in standard leagues.

There are only a handful of running backs each year that will truly be more valuable than the elite receivers. They have to be the focal point of their offenses and also a big threat as a receiver. In 2018, the average amount of rush attempts for running backs in the top 24 (in that category) was 215 attempts. The average amount of receptions among wide receivers in the top 24 was 90. The only running backs in the last 10 years to have had at least 215 carries and 90 receptions in a season were Matt Forte, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey. In my PPR rankings, I put a small group of running backs with that potential at the top, followed by a long list of elite wide receivers. I like to make two of my first three picks wide receivers in PPR leagues.

Next, I want to look at what types of receivers — who may not be considered “elite” — get a bump in the middle rounds. One guy who has always been considered a PPR-friendly target is Jarvis Landry. Since he came into the league, here are his finishes: PPR – WR30, WR10, WR13, WR4, WR19, and in standard – WR42, WR15, WR16, WR11, WR22.

He always finishes at least three spots higher in PPR than in standard, and it’s because of his style of play. Landry is a specialist in the first level of the field. He gets peppered with targets near the line of scrimmage and tries to create the yards on his own.

Despite his YAC success, he’s picking up a whole point for making the catch. Since 2014 (Landry’s rookie season), Landry is third overall in receptions, but just 24th in receiving touchdowns. These are the types of players who need to get bumped up in your PPR rankings.

The other players who get a bump in rankings in PPR leagues are passing-down running backs. James White was the RB7 in PPR in 2018 while handling only 94 carries. Theo Riddick moved from an RB56 finish in standard leagues to RB43 in PPR. While White has a loftier role on the Patriots, Riddick is almost exclusively used in passing situations and could even go undrafted in a standard draft. In PPR leagues though, he’s on the radar as a potential flex play.

Valuing Pass Catchers in Standard Leagues

In standard leagues, we have to look at pass catchers completely differently, as catching a pass brings no added value to your team. Guys who catch a lot of short passes, but don’t get called on for the deep ball or score a lot of touchdowns have to be moved down in rankings. An example of a pass catcher who moves up in standard rankings is Tyreek Hill. He’s put up some incredible numbers over the last two seasons, but he was even better in standard (WR1 in 2018, WR4 in 2017) than in PPR (WR3 in 2018, WR9 in 2017) because he doesn’t catch as many balls as elite receivers usually do. He was 10th in receptions in 2018 and 11th in 2017.

In standard leagues, you need to value pass catchers with higher big play and touchdown probabilities. It’s generally understood in fantasy football that volume is king. The higher usage rate you have, the more opportunities you’ll have to score fantasy points. While I find that true for running backs, when it comes to wide receivers and tight ends, it really depends on the scoring settings you’re playing with. In PPR leagues, pass catchers with high volume are indeed valued higher, but in standard leagues, volume matters a lot less, and big-play potential means a lot more.

Valuing Pass Catchers in Half PPR Leagues

Half-PPR leagues are where it gets a bit tricky. You naturally want to move heavily targeted players up your rankings as you would for PPR, but the catches are only half as valuable, so you don’t want to exaggerate how you value your Jarvis Landrys, your Julian Edelmans, or your pass-catching running backs. I think half PPR levels out the value discrepancy between running backs and wide receivers.

Above, I showed how many more running backs were in the top-24 finishes in standard leagues and how many more receivers were in the top 24 in PPR. Half PPR was right in the middle with 52 running backs, 61 wide receivers, and seven tight ends comprising the top-24 fantasy finishes over the last four years. Wide receivers still carried a slight advantage in that sample and that’s why pass catchers do receive a bump in half-PPR rankings, just not quite as much as full PPR.

Valuing pass catchers across the different scoring formats is about knowing what’s significant in each situation. In PPR leagues, a screen pass for no gain is worth a full point, so volume becomes a big factor in your rankings. In standard, it’s a lot more about what the player does with his targets and how often he’s in scoring situations. Obviously, volume is still important, but its importance becomes inflated when you start awarding any amount of points per reception.

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Sam Schlesinger is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Sam, check out his archive and follow him @avishai41.

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