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2018 Fantasy Football: PPR Draft Strategy and Rankings

Point per reception (PPR) leagues are the growing trend in fantasy football and they are rapidly becoming the standard format, but there’s a PPR draft strategy that you should employ when selecting your team. It’s all about volume. More and more fantasy football leagues are making the change to PPR scoring, and why not? People love high-scoring performances. It feels great to get 180 points from your team in a given week.

Now, some argue that a full point per reception is excessive, which is why some leagues award a half-point per catch. Either way, PPR leagues are the growing trend in fantasy football and they are rapidly becoming the standard format. Many of the most popular season-long providers default to PPR. Even daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel use the metric in their contests. It can also be incorporated in both head-to-head and points leagues, though making the change in keeper leagues requires some finesse. Even so, leagues are adjusting.

How PPR Differs from Standard Scoring

Your PPR draft strategy should certainly change as this format increases the number of fantasy-relevant players and it also increases the value of wide receivers and tight ends while closing the gap in points between backs and receivers.

Strategically, you need to change your expectations of pass-catching players. When a reception is made behind the line of scrimmage and goes for a gain of zero yards, that player still accumulates one point.

From a fantasy perspective, PPR scoring helps evaluate each position within a closer range. It removes luck and gives us more predictability. Targets and receptions help define a player’s role as they have a much stronger week-over-week correlation. Touchdowns, which are much more important in standard formats, are tougher to project. They are more influenced by team and game flow more than anything else. Tough calls will arise throughout the season and you’ll lean towards a favorable matchup, hoping for a red zone look and a score. In PPR formats, there is a bit more safety by projecting targets shares.

As I wrote in Benny Ricciardi’s Definitive Guide to Fantasy Football:

Wide receivers are the biggest benefactors in this format. They rule all as they usually have more of their kind finish in the top 20 in scoring at the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean your PPR draft strategy should involve drafting a wideout with the first overall pick. It’s typically a better strategy to fill out the end of your draft with WRs as opposed to RBs as the wide receiver pool becomes much deeper in PPR leagues. They have higher floors and it’s a lot easier to find a wide receiver on the waiver wire mid-season than it is to find a running back. Either way, possession receivers and pass-catching backs get a big-time boost, especially the value of an upper-tier RB or WR. Taking a premium wide receiver or an elite three-down running back with your first two picks is ideal.

It could be argued that running backs are the most important players impacted as very few excel in this format. There are only a handful of all-purpose backs who stand out each year and it’s rare to find one who will stay on the field for all three downs. Getting a three-down back should be a big part of your PPR draft strategy. The more versatile the better, and the more you grab the more you can separate yourself from the rest of the league.

It’s extremely important to try and get your hands on one of these backs as the days of the true bell-cow are less common than in years past. More and more teams are looking to form committees in their backfields which is smart on their part but doesn’t make for the best fantasy situation. The NFL has become an extreme passing league in the last decade and you have to keep in mind the depth at the WR position. Grabbing two wideouts off the get-go could really leave a major hole at the running back position.

PPR Draft Strategy: Who to Target

It’s more important than ever to secure a premium player at the running back and wide receiver position. By premium, we’re talking volume. Not just receptions, but targets. Fifty-plus catches from running backs and 100-plus from wide receivers is prime. You’ll find that deep threat wideouts with a high average depth of target tend to fall down the rankings a bit in this format, unless they are possession wide receivers who average plenty of targets per game.

You want to look for wide receivers who play in the slot and have a solid average of targets per game. Look at a guy like Wes Welker, one of the best slot wide receivers to ever play. He averaged 112 receptions and 154 targets a season over a six-year span in the NFL (2007-2012). He also scored fewer than seven touchdowns in half of those seasons and that gave him less value in standard leagues compared to PPR formats. You just knew Welker was going to get his looks no matter what and the catches made up for the lack of touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald has fit this model towards the end of his career as well.

Whether you want to join a league or start your own, Fantrax is the place to be. Fantrax can work with virtually any league configuration you can dream up, and you can draft a team 364 days a year.

Players continually get undervalued in PPR leagues. People shy away from players who play for bad teams because they have the notion they won’t score a lot of points. That’s a mistake many make. If they fall far enough, take them. Like any other format, sometimes you have to take what the draft will give you. You should have no problem taking the unsexy pick, especially if he is the number one option on his team as opposed to a wide receiver on a good team who is considered their third or fourth scoring option. There are no pictures in a box score.

Sure, they may not score a lot of touchdowns, but the name of the game is opportunity. There’s value in selecting a wide receiver on a bad team who you know will get 8-10 targets a game. Or a running back who may not have the hype because he doesn’t catch a lot of balls out of the backfield. Many who play fantasy will pass on a back because they feel they should only draft one who will catch 20-plus balls in a season, or they play on an awful team and they don’t think that team will be able to move the ball well enough, lacking red zone opportunities.

Drafting a back who can catch on a team that will likely play from behind often is not necessarily a bad thing. If a player on your team is down in games it most likely means they’ll have to pass the ball a lot to get back into the game. A third down back can easily rack up a ton of catches in later parts of a game (garbage time) as sometimes the defense plays off the ball, in more of a prevent defense.

This was the case for Danny Woodhead in 2015 when he caught 80 balls, many of which came in fourth quarters when the San Diego Chargers (now Los Angeles) were playing from behind. Woodhead had about 80 more points in PPR formats that season than in standard scoring. He finished as RB3 that season and RB11 in standard leagues. It’s easy to find players who are considered wide receiver or running back threes turn into wide receiver or running back twos or ones in PPR formats. There’s a significant change in value in PPR versus non-PPR in guys like Woodhead and LeGarrette Blount who has 34 total catches from 2012 to 2018.

PPR Draft Strategy: Scoring History

From 2007 to 2017, a running back finished with the most fantasy points in a season seven times, while a wide receiver finished at the top only four times, including the last two seasons. This is excluding quarterbacks who had a representative finish at the top over that time span on four occasions.

This is where it gets interesting, though; An average of 10.9 wide receivers per season finished in the top 20 in PPR formats from ‘07 to 17. Compared to an average of 7.1 running backs per season over the same time frame. Only an average of 1.3 tight ends managed to finish inside the top 20 in scoring.

This tells us a couple things; It’s not surprising to see a running back finish with the most points in a PPR league, but it’s rare to see so many. Also, wait it out on the tight end position as most are touchdown dependent and don’t typically bring much to the table in PPR formats. When deciding between who to draft, look for one who is involved in the offense outside of just the red zone. What you miss in fantasy points with the tight end you can make up with a receiver. There’s value to be had in rounds 3-9 of drafts.

There’s not much separation in the number of wide receivers and running backs who hit the 300-point total over the years. From 2007 to 2017, there was an average of 2.7 running backs per season who had 300-plus fantasy points compared to 3.0 wide receivers. You start to really tell the difference when you look at players who surpassed the 200-point mark. 15.1 running backs per season hit 200 points over the 2007-2017 time frame, compared to 22.1 wide receivers per season. Not once in those 11 years did we see a season where the NFL produced 20 running backs with at least 200 points. The same can’t be said for wide receivers as at least 20 wideouts managed 200 plus points in 10 of the 11 years. The streak ended in 2017 as only 19 wide receivers hit the 200 point mark. From 2014 to 2016 there was an average of 25 wide receivers per season who hit the 200 point mark compared to only 12.6 running backs.

In 2015, five of the top scorers in PPR formats were WRs (excluding QBs again). Only three running backs placed inside the top 20 and it made many turn their focus to a ‘zero RB strategy’ which turned out to be a mistake because in 2016 and 2017, the top three scorers in fantasy were running backs. Now that’s not to say you did anything wrong when drafting, but if you got your hands on one of those running backs, you were well on your way to success.

PPR Draft Strategy: Scoring Settings

Knowing your league settings and understanding your scoring settings should be an important aspect of your PPR draft strategy. Whether your league is switching to PPR scoring or you’re starting a new league with those scoring settings, your PPR draft strategy does not change when selecting a quarterback. It’s easy to look at the top of the scoring list each year and see a number of quarterbacks sitting there, but fight the temptation of taking one early. In fact, they are devalued in PPR leagues and it’s not because they typically don’t catch any balls, it’s because everybody else gets a boost in value due to volume. The QB position is extremely deep.

Selecting a quarterback in the first couple rounds hurts the balance of your team unless you are playing in a two-quarterback league or have a six-point passing touchdown setting. That said, quarterbacks shouldn’t be ignored completely and they should be an important part of your PPR draft strategy. Are they part of a pass happy team? Did they bring in a new coach or offensive coordinator who has a history of throwing the ball a lot? How many pass attempts did they have last year? Or the previous few years? This will give you a good idea of how to look for targets to both wide receivers and running backs.

PPR Draft Strategy: In-Season Decisions

When it comes to deciding to play a back or a wide receiver in PPR leagues, it’s almost always the right call to play the wide receiver who you know will get you a few targets. You can really play matchups against weaker defenses rather than playing a back you think may only get a handful of carries. Unless you have a back that you know will touch the ball 7-10 times and is involved in the passing game.

You may know a back won’t get a single red-zone carry, but if you think he’ll get a few looks in the passing game then he has more value in PPR leagues. Many wouldn’t think to draft a Christian McCaffrey, Chris Thompson or Theo Riddick type in standard leagues, because they don’t typically have many rushing attempts. However, these three players often make for solid flex plays in PPR formats as they all have roles in their offense through the air.

As you head into your draft make sure you go in with a game-plan and prepare yourself by completing as many mock drafts as possible. Targeting a slot and possession wide receiver is key, but you don’t need to have all slot guys. Safety is nice, but it’s important to grab high ceiling guys as well. You don’t have to change your entire draft strategy because it’s a PPR league. If you take anything away from this, it should be leaving your draft with a three-down back.

Chris Meaney’s 2018 PPR Rankings

Getting your PPR strategy right is just one part of building your PPR team. Check out all of our Fantasy Football Draft Prep to get ready for the coming season.

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