Point Per First Down (PPFD) Fantasy Football League Primer
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With the growth of fantasy football, more and more league types have been created to expand how people play the game. One of those league types is using Point Per First Down (PPFD) scoring. It’s a simple — yet effective — way to add even more points to fantasy football.
Often times, when watching football through a fantasy football lens, we’re rooting for our player to reach the end zone and score a touchdown. With PPFD scoring, you can introduce dozens of mini-goal lines to each game that you watch.
Many will make the case for PPFD leagues over typical PPR leagues because a first down is more valuable to a player’s NFL team than simply catching the ball (especially if the play doesn’t gain any yards). Additionally, it adds some value to players who excel between the 20s and aren’t as much of a threat in the red zone.
So, if your league plans on switching to PPFD scoring, allow me to walk you through some of the strategy and key stats to keep in mind on your way to a championship.
The scoring is pretty simple, as it’s in the name of the league type. Players are awarded a full point (or half of a point) for every rushing or receiving first down. PPFD leagues typically don’t award points for a passing first down, but that’s another way to customize the league scoring to fit your preference.
Some leagues will also give extra points for tight ends earning a first down, similar to other tight-end premium leagues. For those involved with the coveted Scott Fish Bowl each year, this league employs a very similar scoring system, awarding an extra half-point for a tight end first down.
As I go through the rest of this primer, I’ll be analyzing player stats through the lens of half PPR and full PPFD scoring, comparing those to player stats in a regular half PPR league.
Player Value Changes
A key part of succeeding in a league that has abnormal scoring is understanding how player values change. You can’t go into a season assuming that the same players at the top of your standard-scoring league will be the same as those in a PPFD league.
For this analysis, I looked at how player values changed in the context of the 2019 season to provide some timely examples. The chart below shows the average change in overall total fantasy point player ranking, by position (note: a negative number indicates a drop in ranking).
|Position||Average Change in Overall Ranking|
Quarterbacks take the biggest hit in value compared to other positions. On average, a quarterback drops over eight spots in overall player rankings when using full PPFD scoring. This is clearly explained by the position’s inability to score on receiving first downs — and fewer quarterbacks scoring on rushing first downs.
What this also means for quarterbacks is that a rushing quarterback becomes that much more valuable. Only eight quarterbacks rushed for at least 20 first downs in 2019. The four quarterbacks that had the most rushing first downs — Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and Kyler Murray — only dropped an average of 1.5 spots, a stark contrast from the eight-spot drop that the position averaged as a whole.
|Player||Team||Total Half PPR Fantasy Points (2019)||Total PPFD Fantasy Points (2019)||Half PPR QB Fantasy Rank||PPFD QB Fantasy Rank||QB Fantasy Rank Difference|
On the other side of the coin, you will find that running backs get the most benefit from the scoring change, rising by an average of two spots in overall player rankings. Though two spots may seem small in the grand scheme of a season, knowing this can provide another data point to use as a tie-breaker on draft day. Conversely to quarterbacks, running backs are a threat as a rusher and a receiver, so they benefit from the opportunity to score by converting either a rushing or a receiving first down. Within the running back position itself, there was quite a bit of movement, as only 10 of the top-24 running backs held their original positional ranking when shifting from regular half PPR to PPFD scoring.
|Player||Team||Total Half PPR Fantasy Points (2019)||Total PPFD Fantasy Points (2019)||Half PPR RB Fantasy Rank||PPFD RB Fantasy Rank||RB Fantasy Rank Difference|
Wide receivers saw a slight boost as well, improving their overall ranking by just under one spot on average. This doesn’t paint the whole picture, though, as the movement within the position is quite chaotic, similar to the movement at running back. Among the top-24 wide receivers in half PPR scoring, over half of them moved at least one spot in the positional ranking. Again, this may not seem like a lot at the end of the season, but on a week-to-week basis it could mean the difference between a win and a loss.
|Player||Team||Total Half PPR Fantasy Points (2019)||Total PPFD Fantasy Points (2019)||Half PPR WR Fantasy Rank||PPFD WR Fantasy Rank||WR Fantasy Rank Difference|
Lastly, tight end values relative to others are nearly unchanged by switching to a PPFD scoring format. A couple of the elite tight ends in Travis Kelce and George Kittle rose eight and five spots in overall rankings, respectively. Other than those two, most tight ends’ final overall ranking changed by only a spot or two, if that. The same can be said within the tight end position as the top-12 players at the position remained exactly the same when switching from half PPR to PPFD scoring.
|Player||Team||Total Half PPR Fantasy Points (2019)||Total PPFD Fantasy Points (2019)||Half PPR TE Fantasy Rank||PPFD TE Fantasy Rank||TE Fantasy Rank Difference|
Using nflscrapR, I ran a correlation analysis to determine which stats for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends are most correlated with a player’s following-year fantasy football performance. The following table shows the correlation coefficient of several stats, using data since 2009.
|Average First Down Rush Length||0.215||NA||NA|
|Average First Down Reception Length||0.120||0.114||0.176|
|% of Team Rushing First Downs||0.433||NA||NA|
|% of Team Receiving First Downs||0.332||0.517||0.463|
|% of Team Total First Downs||0.519||0.537||0.486|
|First Downs Per Opportunity||0.193||0.278||0.446|
|First Downs Per Game||0.541||0.584||0.614|
Among the least correlated stats is a player’s average length of a receiving or rushing first down. These stats measure, on average, how long a player rushes (or has a reception) for on plays in which he converts a first down. Though they are not particularly indicative of fantasy performance, this stat can be used to understand how a player is used on his team. For example, deep-threat receivers like A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, and Mike Williams all average 22 yards per receiving first down.
First downs per opportunity is an efficiency metric used to gauge how effective a player is in converting first downs with the opportunities that he’s given. First downs per opportunity isn’t that strongly correlated to overall fantasy football success, but it can be used to spot potential breakout and regression candidates. If a player’s first downs per opportunity ranks near the top but he isn’t considered a workhorse, then he could thrive if given a larger workload.
Moreover, a player’s percent of a team’s total first downs is consistently correlated across all position groups. Rather expectedly, a player’s percent of a team’s receiving first downs is similarly correlated for wide receivers and tight ends. The percent of a team’s first downs is a simple market share indicator, similar to that of target market share or rushing market share. These end up being some of the most useful stats in fantasy football each year.
Finally, first downs per game emerge as the most predictive year-over-year stat across each position. This is a fairly rudimentary stat, but a powerful one in predicting following-year performance nonetheless.
Now that we know which stats are most indicative of following-year performance, let’s take a look at 2019’s leaders in some of these stats.
Unsurprisingly, last year’s fantasy darling, Christian McCaffrey, led all running backs in the percentage of his team’s first downs (36.9%). Notably, Le’Veon Bell (25.2%) found himself into the top ten running backs in that metric despite a down year in fantasy football. Another potential running back to keep an eye on is David Montgomery, who snuck his way into the top-10 running backs in percent of team rushing first downs at 58.8%.
Two Baltimore Ravens running backs, Gus Edwards (0.34) and Mark Ingram (0.30), landed in the top-five running backs in first downs per opportunity — the Ravens as a team ranked first in first downs per game. A couple of pass-catching backs in James White and Nyheim Hines were nearly as efficient, with each posting first down per opportunity marks of 0.28.
Outside of Michael Thomas (39.6%), the top of the wide receiver leaderboard in percent of his team’s receiving first downs is littered with some unexpected names. John Brown (32.7%), Courtland Sutton (30.9%), Jarvis Landry (30.6%), Davante Adams (28.4%) and Terry McLaurin (27.9%) are all inside the top 10 despite being outside the top 12 in total PPFD fantasy points.
In terms of efficiency, a couple of teams’ wide receiver tandems in Calvin Ridley (0.51) and Julio Jones (0.48), as well as Corey Davis (0.48) and A.J. Brown (0.47), worked their way into the top ten receivers in first downs per opportunity. Kenny Stills, who will likely now see an uptick in usage with the DeAndre Hopkins trade, also recorded 0.49 first downs per opportunity. This makes him a potential value in the middle rounds of your drafts this year.
As mentioned above, Brown (24.8), Diggs (23.6), and Williams (22.5), along with Marquez Valdes-Scantling (27.9), all boast the highest length of average receiving first down. One surprising name that fell just outside the top 10 in his average length of receiving first down was JuJu Smith-Schuster, who posted a 20.3-yard average — this is up significantly from his 2018 mark of 17 receiving yards per first down.
At the tight end position, one name in particular stands out among those leading the position in the percentage of his team’s receiving first downs — Colts tight end Jack Doyle ranked sixth among tight ends with a 17.6% receiving first down share.
Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph led tight ends at 0.49 first downs per opportunity each, a mark that would have put them among the top-five wide receivers. Rudolph was the only tight end inside the top five in first downs per opportunity while finishing outside the top twelve in PPFD fantasy points — with Diggs’ departure opening up several targets, he could be in store for a sleeper season.
Further down the leaderboard, Darren Fells (0.46) and Ryan Griffin (0.44) both took advantage of some particularly efficient seasons, as they also both converted over 12% of their targets into touchdowns, a rather high mark for tight ends.
For a full leaderboard of stats from the 2019 season, click here.
While your draft strategy may not change that much compared to your normal half PPR league, there are a couple of ways to exploit value in a PPFD league.
As is with most leagues, a late-round quarterback prevails as the best strategy. Especially with how depressed quarterback values are, it isn’t worth taking an elite quarterback early in the draft, as their point totals will make up even a smaller percentage of your overall weekly score. However, if you are compelled to spend up on a quarterback, be sure to spend it on a quarterback that adds value by rushing.
Your draft strategy when it comes to running backs and wide receivers will remain fairly unchanged. For running back, workhorses become that much more valuable because of the plethora of opportunities they’ll have to convert a first down, but they were already a large focus at the top of drafts regardless.
For wide receivers, you may find yourself targeting more of the possession guys as opposed to the deep-threat weapons. Similar to amassing points through receptions in any PPR league, possession receivers will be able to gather more first downs. To highlight this, below is a graph that compares players’ average depth of target (aDOT) to the number of first downs per game he converts.
That said, when debating between multiple wide receivers, you may also want to account for those on teams with efficient offenses that are able to move the ball. That may seem intuitive, but last year each of the top six receivers in PPFD fantasy scoring was on a team that ranked in the top ten in first downs per game.
Tight ends will still be one of the least valued positions, but there may be more evidence for taking an elite tight end. As I previously mentioned, a couple of the elite tight ends from last year saw a major boost in overall fantasy ranking, while the rest of the position remained fairly stagnant. Obviously switching to a league that offers an extra point boost for tight end first downs will change this — if you’re looking for guidance on how to value tight ends in a TE-premium league, you can apply similar draft tactics to those pointed out in our Tight End Premium League Primer.
In closing, PPFD leagues add another fun layer to scoring in fantasy football. With the relevance that first downs have in the actual game of football, it’s fairly easy to make a convincing argument to switch to PPFD scoring. If your league plans on switching, Yahoo!, Sleeper, and MyFantasyLeague all support PPFD scoring.
I look forward to following the trend of more and more PPFD leagues starting, and I hope this primer has provided you enough guidance to win your league this year!