How PPR Should Change the Way You Draft (Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Jul 5, 2019

Players like Tarik Cohen are much more valuable in a PPR format, but should a running back be in your flex spot?

With all the information available to fantasy players today, it’s tough to find things that give you a clear-cut advantage. When reading articles, you’ll obviously have an advantage over those who do little-to-no research, but what about advantages over those who do their research?

Scoring settings are something that are often overlooked. How do I know that? Because ADP doesn’t vary enough from format-to-format. When you listen to an analyst tell you Player X should go at the end of the first-round, or that they’d take another player in the third-round, what scoring setting are they talking about? Does it matter? Yes, that’s why we’re here today.

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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 19 running backs to score more than 300 PPR points over the last five years, while 29 wide receivers accomplished that feat in the same span. We’ll get more in-depth with PPR formats, but let’s start with standard.

Standard Scoring

This format is starting to fall by the wayside, as ESPN, Yahoo, and NFL have moved to at least half-PPR as their new “standard,” though we’re sticking with calling it standard scoring for now. Call it non-PPR, call it whatever you want, but just know that this is the format that makes most sense to go running back-heavy, though many have adapted this approach in all formats, including PPR. Does it make sense?

Finish RB Finish WR Finish RB Finish WR
RB1 299.6 WR1 232.2 RB26 121.9 WR26 127.4
RB2 272.6 WR2 222.3 RB27 119.8 WR27 125.5
RB3 246.7 WR3 212.4 RB28 117.4 WR28 122.6
RB4 237.0 WR4 206.1 RB29 115.1 WR29 121.2
RB5 229.2 WR5 197.5 RB30 113.8 WR30 119.4
RB6 218.2 WR6 193.5 RB31 110.4 WR31 117.8
RB7 208.0 WR7 182.8 RB32 108.2 WR32 115.8
RB8 196.8 WR8 178.9 RB33 105.4 WR33 115.4
RB9 187.0 WR9 173.7 RB34 102.2 WR34 114.8
RB10 183.5 WR10 168.2 RB35 100.9 WR35 112.0
RB11 178.6 WR11 162.5 RB36 100.4 WR36 111.4
RB12 172.0 WR12 161.6 RB37 97.1 WR37 109.7
RB13 170.5 WR13 156.4 RB38 95.7 WR38 107.6
RB14 164.7 WR14 154.9 RB39 93.4 WR39 106.0
RB15 160.9 WR15 150.8 RB40 92.2 WR40 105.3
RB16 155.0 WR16 148.0 RB41 89.1 WR41 103.1
RB17 152.8 WR17 145.0 RB42 86.8 WR42 101.6
RB18 150.3 WR18 141.4 RB43 85.6 WR43 100.7
RB19 146.5 WR19 139.6 RB44 84.6 WR44 99.9
RB20 145.0 WR20 137.9 RB45 83.7 WR45 98.3
RB21 141.7 WR21 136.4 RB46 82.2 WR46 97.3
RB22 135.8 WR22 135.8 RB47 80.5 WR47 95.8
RB23 132.7 WR23 133.2 RB48 78.6 WR48 95.0
RB24 128.8 WR24 130.5 RB49 75.4 WR49 94.3
RB25 125.5 WR25 129.5 RB50 74.3 WR50 91.9

 

The numbers listed above represent the average finish for each position since the start of the 2014 season, giving us a solid six-year sample size. As expected, running backs are king in standard formats. The average for the RB5 is practically the same as the average for the WR1 in any given season. On top of the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find potential workhorses later in the draft, but the drop-off in points at running back is much larger than the drop-off at wide receiver. Exercises like this allow us to take the names (and emotions) out of the equation and focus on pure numbers. Running backs should dominate the top of the board in standard leagues.

The running backs average more points per player all the way down to RB22 when the tide finally turns to wide receivers. Does this mean wide receviers should hold the tiebreaker when choosing between the two in that range? Not necessarily, because in traditional leagues, you start two running backs and three wide receivers. Let’s assume you’re in a 12-team league, which would mean you’re starting three of the top-36 receivers and two of the top-24 running backs. The last starting wide receiver has averaged 111.4 standard points compared to 128.8 standard points to the last running back. Current ADP has the 24th running back coming off the board 16 picks before the 24th wide receiver, which might be a bit too much of a gap when you consider they’re producing nearly identical points at year’s end.

The biggest question you’d like answered in this article is how to approach the flex spot and whether you should go wide receiver or running back. To do that, we’d compared the running backs in the 25-36 range to the wide receivers in the 37-48 range because that’s what’s left after the starting lineup requirements have been met. If your league starts just two receivers, I’ll save you the hassle – wide receivers should probably occupy your flex spot when you consider the cost of what it’d take to get the No. 25 running back or No. 25 wide receiver (the receiver is a full round cheaper and averages more points). Now, back to the standard two running back, three wide receiver leagues. The flex spot should probably go to running backs considering the running backs in the 25-36 ranged from 100.4-125.5 points while the wide receivers in the 37-48 range averaged 95.0-109.7 points. Not only do they average more points, but you’re getting guaranteed touches with most 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 we don’t know who is going to finish as the No. 35 running back and who is the No. 35 wide receiver, and you’re absolutely right, but then why go by rankings at all? 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.

PPR Scoring

Some don’t like the PPR scoring format, citing it gives fantasy players “free points.” While there are moments when a player will catch a pass that goes for negative yardage, and yes, while that shouldn’t be worth more than a five-yard carry, there’s a flip-side to that argument. It’s much easier to predict when a receiver will catch five passes for 70 yards than it is a receiver with one 60-yard catch for a touchdown. My advice for those against PPR leagues: Embrace predictability. Want to separate the best from the rest in your league? Make your starting rosters as big as possible and include PPR to increase predictability.

Finish RB Finish WR Finish RB Finish WR
RB1 372.8 WR1 342.9 RB26 156.4 WR26 193.3
RB2 332.9 WR2 333.2 RB27 152.4 WR27 190.6
RB3 318.7 WR3 316.7 RB28 150.1 WR28 187.8
RB4 296.7 WR4 306.2 RB29 146.8 WR29 187.0
RB5 283.3 WR5 295.7 RB30 144.3 WR30 184.3
RB6 269.2 WR6 287.1 RB31 141.3 WR31 181.9
RB7 251.2 WR7 278.1 RB32 138.7 WR32 180.2
RB8 241.7 WR8 271.5 RB33 136.9 WR33 177.4
RB9 228.3 WR9 264.9 RB34 135.3 WR34 174.8
RB10 223.6 WR10 254.0 RB35 133.6 WR35 172.7
RB11 215.9 WR11 252.2 RB36 130.9 WR36 170.0
RB12 210.2 WR12 248.7 RB37 127.9 WR37 169.0
RB13 205.0 WR13 239.3 RB38 127.6 WR38 166.9
RB14 199.7 WR14 235.2 RB39 124.0 WR39 166.1
RB15 194.6 WR15 230.4 RB40 121.1 WR40 164.8
RB16 192.4 WR16 222.3 RB41 119.3 WR41 160.5
RB17 186.9 WR17 220.1 RB42 115.5 WR42 159.0
RB18 185.5 WR18 215.7 RB43 110.7 WR43 156.5
RB19 182.0 WR19 214.2 RB44 108.6 WR44 155.6
RB20 175.9 WR20 209.5 RB45 106.0 WR45 153.5
RB21 171.5 WR21 207.7 RB46 103.6 WR46 151.8
RB22 167.3 WR22 205.0 RB47 102.7 WR47 149.3
RB23 165.2 WR23 202.3 RB48 100.9 WR48 147.2
RB24 161.4 WR24 197.8 RB49 97.0 WR49 143.4
RB25 159.0 WR25 194.6 RB50 95.1 WR50 141.3

 

Remember when the RB5 was nearly equal to the WR1 in standard scoring? Well, not here. In fact, there’s nearly a 60-point gap between the two. Or how about when the running backs were above the wide receivers up until the RB22 range? The wide receivers start to score more points at the RB2 spot in PPR leagues, while there’s a 38-point gap at the RB22 spot. It goes to show just how different these two formats are, yet most disregard them when doing their rankings. How do I know this? Because 10 of the top 16 picks in PPR leagues are running backs while just five of them are wide receivers.

Similar to the way we did in standard leagues, let’s take a look at which players we should aim to have in our flex spots. Again, this is assuming the top-24 running backs and top-36 wide receivers are started. In the PPR format, wide receivers are a much better bet, averaging in between 147.2-169.0 points in the 37-48 range, while running backs in the 25-36 range average anywhere from 130.9-159.0 points. This chart shows that the No. 42 wide receiver scores almost as much as the No. 25 running back. The current ADP for the No. 42 wide receiver is 103rd overall, while the No. 25 running back is coming off the board at 52nd overall. Needless to say, wide receivers are extremely undervalued in PPR formats.

What We Learned

The game is changing as we know it, which is why we stuck with the last five years rather than going back to a time where running backs regularly topped 1,000 yards on the ground. While we’ve been losing workhorse running backs, we’ve also been losing extremely high-targeted wide receivers, as teams are running more and more three and four wide receiver sets. Over the last three years, there have been just two wide receivers who’ve seen more than 170 targets. In the three prior years, there were 10 such wide receivers. So, while workhorse running backs are rare, so are extremely heavy-targeted wide receivers.

Going by the data, wide receivers are king in PPR formats. This doesn’t mean you should completely ignore running backs in the early rounds. In fact, there’s a lot of value to be had with wide receivers later in the draft (as indicated by the No. 42 wide receiver going 103rd overall and the No. 25 running back going 52nd overall despite scoring the same amount of points. Because of that, I’d look to secure one of the rare running backs who are guaranteed 300-plus touches if healthy in the first round. Those running backs include Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Melvin Gordon, and David Johnson. There are others who will hit that criteria, but most play on much worse offenses and offer limited upside. After those guys, start loading up on wide receivers in PPR formats. You’re likely going to be playing a wide receiver in your flex spot, so give yourself more of a selection.

It’s different in standard leagues because there isn’t much of a gap between the running backs and wide receivers, so you should lean towards the position that comes with a guaranteed workload, particularly on the goal-line, and that’s the running backs. You still want to pay attention to value, however, as your league may be going running back heavy, leaving value at the wide receiver position. You can use the value chart above to give you an idea as to what each position would be projected for if ADP was aligned with the season’s results.

Like everything in fantasy football, you want to adapt to what’s taking place around you. This article should have showed you why the change in scoring setting should have a massive impact on overall rankings, though judging by ADP, most fantasy players don’t adjust enough for their scoring format.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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