Fantasy football 2014 draft preview: Tips and advice for PPR leagues
Point-per-reception fantasy football leagues have become all the rage over the last few years, throwing the usual process of rankings players out of whack. Owners in full PPR leagues will need to adjust the way they view the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions, as that single point for every reception has a significant impact on how players at those positions are valued.
Within position groups, PPR has less of an effect than you likely think. The top-10 running backs in standard leagues last year, in order, were Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Knowshon Moreno, Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, DeMarco Murray, Chris Johnson and Reggie Bush. In PPR leagues, the top 10 went Charles, Forte, McCoy, Moreno, Lynch, Murray, Bush, Lacy, Johnson and Peterson. The deck was shuffled a bit, but all the cards were the same.
Of the top 20 backs in standard-scoring leagues, only Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t in the top 20 in PPR leagues, and he finished 21st. Ryan Mathews, Frank Gore and Alfred Morris experienced the biggest declines, each dropping five spots. Mathews’ teammate, Danny Woodhead, leapt up to 12th from 19th, while Pierre Thomas climbed to 16th from 23rd. Again, PPR resulted in little more than a shuffling of the deck.
The song is the same at the wide receiver position. The top 10 in standard leagues included Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Antonio Brown, Eric Decker, Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. In PPR leagues, the top 10 was Thomas, Gordon, Brown, Green, Johnson, Marshall, Bryant, Jeffery, Decker and Andre Johnson.
DeSean Jackson was the only casualty, and he fell to 12th from 10th. Wes Welker was the only receiver who was inside the top 20 in standard-scoring leagues, and outside the top 20 in PPR leagues. Just like Jones-Drew, he finished 21st in PPR formats. Reception machine Kendall Wright jumped up to 20 in PPR leagues while finishing 31st in standard leagues, and Edelman ascended six spots to 12th from 18th. Again, there was little difference within positions.
Where the big change happens, however, is in comparing players across positions. Let’s lump backs and receivers into one flex group. Eleven of the top-20 scorers in standard leagues were running backs. Flipping over to PPR leagues, 12 of the top 20 were wide receivers, including six of the top nine. In other words, receivers are more important than running backs in PPR leagues. The elite pass-catching backs like Charles, Forte, and McCoy are still the best players, but once they’re off the board, your PPR draft should be heavy on receivers.
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Another result of PPR leagues is the further devaluation of quarterbacks. The difference between the No. 3 quarterback in points per game, Nick Foles, and the No. 12 quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was 2.5 points per game. McCoy, the third-ranked running back in PPR leagues, scored 20.8 points per game. The last-ranked RB2, Jones-Drew, had 12.3 points per game.
At receiver, the third-highest-scoring player in terms of points per game was Demaryius Thomas with 19.9. He outscored the worst WR2, Victor Cruz, by 5.8 points per game. The gap between the best backs and receivers and the merely good ones is even wider in PPR leagues. Meanwhile, the difference between the top-tier quarterbacks and the back-end of the starting class at the position remains flat.
Now that we’ve gotten to the core of how awarding a point for each reception shifts the dichotomy in fantasy football leagues, how do we put the information into play in drafts?
Get yourself a pair of great receivers
Again, these receivers do not necessarily need to be huge reception guys. Calvin Johnson ranked 16th in receptions, but fifth in points among receivers. Josh Gordon was 12th in receptions and second in points. On the flip side, Julian Edelman was fourth in receptions and 14th in points. Pierre Garcon led the league in receptions, but finished with the 11th-most points among receivers.
You don’t need to put Antonio Brown ahead of A.J. Green just because Brown was a receptions beast a year ago. What you do need to do, though, is realize that all the elite receivers deserve to be off the board within the first 13-to-15 picks of a PPR draft. If you’re selecting at the end of your league’s draft, grabbing two of them is the best way to build a foundation for a championship.
Many of you won’t have the chance to get two of the very best receivers, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to wait on the position. Quite simply, you cannot win a PPR league if you have poor production from your receivers. You can patch up other roster holes, but not this one.
Continue waiting on quarterbacks
This should be obvious from the statistics above, but the opportunity cost associated with any highly ranked quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees is simply too great. When the Matthew Staffords and Andrew Lucks of the world are flying off the board, savvy PPR-league owners will be loading up on receivers and pass-catching running backs.
Even more so than in standard-scoring leagues, you want Tony Romo or Jay Cutler late in a PPR league, rather than Stafford or Luck five rounds earlier.
Make getting one pass-catching back a priority
Last year, 13 running backs had at least 50 receptions. Of those 13, just two -- Darren Sproles and Jacquizz Rodgers -- ranked outside the top-16 running-back scorers in PPR leagues. Of course, Sproles and Rodgers were total non-factors as runners, as the former had just 53 carries while the latter had 97.
Receptions amount to easy points for pass-catching backs in PPR leagues, and owners should invest in at least one of them. That means giving a slight bump to guys like Pierre Thomas and Woodhead, and considering second-year players Le’Veon Bell and Giovani Bernard at the end of your first round. It also means the following player could be the biggest steal on draft day.
Target Shane Vereen
Where politics has RINOs, football has RBINOs, because Vereen is a Running Back In Name Only. Vereen was limited to eight games due to injury last year, running the ball 44 times while catching 47 of his 69 targets for 427 yards and three touchdowns. In standard-scoring leagues, he ranked 20th among running backs in points per game with 11.1. In PPR leagues, he put up 16.8 points per game, good enough for 11th.
What’s more, while Julian Edelman can expect to see fewer targets this year with Rob Gronkowski (and, for that matter, Vereen) healthy, Vereen’s target percentage will likely remain flat. That’s because Vereen and Gronkowski missed four of the same games. In the four that both played, Vereen still got 45 targets. He has the trust of both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and will play an important role in the New England offense. Believe it or not, Vereen has legitimate RB1 upside in PPR leagues.