- If you play in a fantasy football PPR league, you'll want to highlight these players.
Points-per-reception, or PPR, fantasy football formats should have been consigned to the dustbin of history earlier this decade. Introduced during the heyday of the workhorse running back, PPR set out to even the playing field for wide receivers by awarding them with points for performing their position’s fundamental act: catching the football. Never mind the fact that receptions that gain zero yards would be worth the same amount of fantasy points as a 10-yard run. Receivers were falling too far behind backs, and they needed the help.
In the modern game, receivers no longer need that thumb on the scale. From 1990 through 2006, a period covering 17 seasons, a receiver racked up at least 1,400 yards 36 times. From 2007 through last year, a period covering 11 seasons, there were 39 such seasons. In the last five seasons alone, there have just two fewer 1,400-yard receivers, 22, than there were from 1990 through 2000. On top of that, with today’s elite backs doubling as dangerous pass-catchers, PPR is exacerbating the problem it was designed to combat. The best running backs now have a thumb on the scale that they certainly don’t need. It’s time for PPR to go.
Yet, nearly all fantasy leagues award some points for every reception, with full PPR, as outdated as it is, an industry hallmark. All those points for all those receptions make a difference, most notably for the following players.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
Ron Rivera can make all the protestations about McCaffrey getting 200 carries that he wants. I cannot see that happening with C.J. Anderson, an obvious upgrade from Jonathan Stewart, in town. Still, McCaffrey is going to be a key player for the Panthers, and he’s arguably the most dangerous receiving back in the league. He racked up 113 targets last year, first among backs and 21st overall. He caught 80 of those targets for 651 yards and five touchdowns, which comes out to 175.1 points in full PPR leagues. That would’ve been good for 29th among receivers, ahead of Michael Crabtree, Jamison Crowder and Amari Cooper. Greg Olson spending as much time on the shelf as he did certainly helped, but McCaffrey’s role in the passing game likely won’t be diminished. He may not make a greater impact as a rusher this year than he did last year, but he has obvious RB1 upside in PPR formats.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Browns
Landry has been in the NFL four seasons. His finish those four years ranked 40th, 13th, 14th and 14th among receivers in standard-scoring leagues. His PPR-format ranking in each of those seasons? Thirtieth, 11th, 13th and fourth. No receiver gets a greater boost in PPR vs. standard than Landry. With Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and David Njoku all clamoring for targets, as well as a great pass-catching back in Duke Johnson who we’ll discuss below, there’s reason to believe Landry’s target share could decrease in his first season in Cleveland. Even so, his high catch rate and reliability for quarterbacks help lock in his PPR value.
Golden Tate, WR, Lions
Two receivers have caught at least 90 passes in each of the last four seasons: Antonio Brown and Tate. By reaching the 90-catch mark again last year, Tate became the seventh receiver in NFL history with a streak of at least four seasons with 90 receptions. The other six are Brown, whose active streak is at five, record holder Torry Holt (six), Marvin Harrison, Demaryius Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald and Jerry Rice. Take another look at those names. There’s a good argument that Tate is one of the most underrated skill players of his era. With Matthew Stafford under center, there’s no risk of a sudden dropoff in quarterback production. Tate may not have huge touchdown upside, especially sharing the receiving pie in Detroit with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, but he’s a lock for 90-catch and 1,000-yard floors.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears
In our fantasy football draft magazine special (on newsstands now), I compared the Bears’ move from John Fox to Matt Nagy with upgrading from the telegraph to an iPhone. Cohen will gain more than any roster holdover, other than Mitchell Trubisky. Cohen was criminally underused last year, touching the ball just 140 times despite playing for one of the most punchless offenses in the league. That won’t be the case this season. Nagy’s offense will funnel far more than the 71 targets Cohen got as a rookie in his direction this year. He should approach 100 targets this season, and is an intriguing bet to lead all running backs in receptions. Jordan Howard’s demise is greatly overstated in the fantasy world, and the third-year running back out of Indiana should still be Chicago’s bellcow rusher. Cohen, however, can be a PPR machine. Combine his big-play ability with Nagy’s creativity as a play designer and offensive schemer, and you have a match made in modern-day NFL heaven.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Redskins
Crowder is another receiver out of the Jarvis Landry, Golden Tate mold in terms of size—Crowder measures in at 5’9” and 177 pounds—and where he plays on the field, primarily out of the slot. He has yet to approach Landry or Tate in terms of production, however. Crowder set career highs across the board in 2016, his second season, when he pulled down 67 passes for 847 yards and seven touchdowns. How can a player with a career high of 67 catches get a value bump in PPR leagues? First, take a look at the roster. Behind Crowder on the depth chart are Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson. Tight end Jordan Reed, the team’s most dangerous pass-catcher, is the league’s greatest injury risk. Add to the equation new quarterback Alex Smith, who made great use of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in Kansas City, and you get the formula for a breakout season. One player, the next in this column, could complicate matters, but the bet here is that there’s enough for both of them to excel in PPR formats.
Chris Thompson, RB, Redskins
Thompson was on his way to a breakout season in 2017 before breaking his fibula in Week 11. He ended the year with 804 total yards, 510 of which came through the air. He caught 39 passes, four of which he turned into touchdowns, giving him 104 PPR points strictly as a receiver in just 10 games. Extrapolate that over a full 16-game campaign, and you get 62.4 receptions, 816 yards and 6.4 touchdowns. In other words, he was on pace for a season approximating what Christian McCaffrey did last year. Jordan Reed could change everything for the pass-catchers in Washington if he stays healthy, but short of that Thompson and Crowder should lead the team in targets this season.
Delanie Walker, TE, Titans
Walker has totaled at least 100 targets in each of the last four seasons. You know how many other tight ends can say that? Zero. Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz have done it each of the last three years, while Rob Gronkowski missed the cut in 2016 due to injury. Walker has ridden all those targets to 296 receptions the last four years, the second-most among tight ends in that span, behind Kelce. The Titans did add Dion Lewis in free agency this spring, and Corey Davis, last year’s first-round pick who was compromised all season by hamstring injuries, will have every opportunity to prove he can be a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but Walker is going to get his looks from Marcus Mariota. Any player likely to be among the leaders at his position in targets gets a boost in PPR leagues. Walker will be toward the top of the tight end leaderboard once again.
Duke Johnson, RB, Browns
Cleveland is one of the league’s most fascinating offenses from a fantasy perspective. Tyrod Taylor could start all season, or give way to Baker Mayfield by October. Josh Gordon could reassert his dominance, or finish fourth on the team in targets. The Carlos Hyde-Nick Chubb battle should be one of the preseason’s best. It seems likely that at least one Brown will crush his draft-day ADP, but it’s hard to peg his identity. Meanwhile, Johnson has turned into the team’s safest fantasy play. No matter what happens between Hyde and Chubb, Johnson will reprise his role as one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. He has had at least 53 catches, 74 targets and 514 receiving yards in all three of his NFL seasons, topping out at 74-93-693 last season. Touchdown upside is a bit of a concern, but he should once again push the 100-target, 75-reception marks this year.