Strategy for points-per-reception fantasy football leagues

Are you -- or is your league -- considering a switch to PPR scoring this season? If so, here's a quick primer on what you need to know.

PPR (point per reception) scoring is as self-explanatory as it sounds: We take ESPN's yardage-and-touchdown-angled fantasy football scoring and add an award of one point per player reception. This helps elevate running back, wide receiver and tight end scoring within a closer range to that of quarterbacks, who routinely dominate non-PPR scoring systems.

That's not a linear correction, however, because certain positions and certain individual players tend to accrue a greater number of receptions than others. It's important to identify where those pockets of value lie in a PPR league compared to non-PPR leagues.

Ho-hum, the quarterbacks

First, and most obviously, quarterbacks shift the least as a result of changing your league to PPR scoring. You might've guessed that, as the position collectively has caught only 103 passes since the beginning of the 2001 season, an average of 6.4 catches per season. That's from the entire position.

Such little shift in scoring among quarterbacks means minimal -- and practically zero -- change in terms of a quarterback's value relative to replacement value at this position. You might have heard this referred to as VBD, or the "value based drafting" method of player valuation. A 300-point quarterback in a non-PPR league in which a replacement-caliber quarterback (or the first option off your waiver wire) would provide 190 fantasy points will almost assuredly be a 300-point quarterback in a PPR league with a 190-point replacement option.

What changes, however, is the enhanced value of an upper-tier running back or wide receiver. As a result of those positions enjoying more competitive fantasy point totals from top to bottom than they do in non-PPR leagues, it's more important to secure a premium player at either (or both) positions.

We'll dig a little deeper into that in a bit, but be aware that the leading seasonal scorer at quarterback, running back and wide receiver in a PPR league in a typical year will probably enjoy a score within a range of 375 fantasy points. The difference between the three positions is that it's going to be substantially easier to find the 190-point-scoring quarterback on a one-week-pickup basis than it is to find the running back or wide receiver with that level of production.

In other words, if "wait on quarterbacks" is your recommended mantra in non-PPR leagues -- a case I've made plenty of times in the past -- it's all the more apt a strategy in PPR scoring.

Movers and shakers in PPR: QBs -- None

Fifty! It's the magic number

You'll notice I have yet to address wide receivers, despite the fact that they're the most logical benefactors, since they are, well, receivers. Running backs, however, are arguably the most important players impacted by PPR scoring.

The reason is that the very best running backs in PPR leagues are almost always those with strong receiving skills. In the past 16 seasons, the top overall PPR scorer was a running back nine times, a quarterback five times and a wide receiver twice. In three of those five seasons during which a quarterback led, the top-scoring running back outscored the top-scoring wide receiver.

Expanding that to the top-five running backs in PPR scoring, 66 of the 80 since (and including) the 2001 season managed at least 40 catches, and all 80 top-five-finishing running backs averaged 56 catches in the season in question. That's as compelling evidence as any that your goal with a first-round running back pick in a PPR league is at least 50 receptions. In 2016, 11 running backs reached that threshold, eight of whom managed a top-25 positional finish in PPR fantasy points. In addition, five of the top six PPR scorers at the position managed at least 50 catches.

Including the lower tiers of the running back position in the discussion, the impact of PPR scoring on weekly player consistency is another critical factor. Consider: Of the nine running backs to total at least 120 receptions in the past three seasons combined -- Le'Veon Bell (182), Matt Forte (176), Theo Riddick (167), Devonta Freeman (157), DeMarco Murray (154), Darren Sproles (147), Giovani Bernard (131), Mark Ingram (125) and Shane Vereen (122) -- all nine posted a consistency rating during that three-year span in PPR that was at least as good as their non-PPR scoring.

The reason for this is the greater projectability of weekly receptions compared to touchdowns. Receptions have much stronger week-over-week correlation, mainly because they're much more a product of a player's role, whereas touchdowns are more influenced by team and game situation.

Movers and shakers in PPR: RBs -- Bell, Freeman and Murray are significantly more attractive picks in PPR than non-PPR leagues, even if their specific rankings might not indicate it (they're all highly ranked in both). Forte, Ingram and Riddick have greater value in PPR scoring -- and arguably in flex-play or low-end RB2 (depending upon league depth) -- alleviating somewhat the questions surrounding them in non-PPR leagues.

Christian McCaffrey, Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell are potential breakthrough picks in PPR in 2017. C.J. Prosise and James White could graduate into the flex-play class at much cheaper draft-day prices if their teams feature them in the passing game as much as expected.

LeGarrette Blount is likely the least valuable RB in PPR versus non-PPR scoring, though Jeremy Hill, Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart also belong in that conversation. RBs Todd Gurley, Eddie Lacy and Doug Martin also don't really benefit in PPR formats.

Viva zero-RB strategy?

It's a misconception that PPR scoring mandates a wide receiver-heavy draft approach. After all the hubbub about the "zero-RB strategy" in 2016 -- this stipulated that you wouldn't select a single running back with your first three picks, instead opting for a fill-on-the-cheap and/or weekly matchups strategy at the position -- it's important not to get hooked into that thinking if you're in your first year of a PPR league.

Yes, of course Antonio Brown is an excellent early-first-round PPR pick, thanks to four consecutive seasons of at least 100 catches. In fact, he is already tied for fourth all-time in the number of such campaigns, and he is two such seasons away from tying Brandon Marshall's record (Brown turns 29 in July). He is not, however, an automatic choice for the No. 1 spot -- even though I rank him that way. The reason for that ranking is my belief that Brown's 2015 was the truer representation of his natural skill, and that he's plenty capable of a return to the 350-point plateau (he scored a whopping 388.2 fantasy points in 2015).

Using year-over-year returns, it takes at least 320 PPR fantasy points before a wide receiver's value relative to replacement justifies his selection as a top-three overall pick. Four wide receivers -- Brown, Julio Jones (375.1), Marshall (339.2) and DeAndre Hopkins (331.1) -- reached that threshold in 2015; another, Odell Beckham Jr. (319.3), narrowly missed, which is why so many fantasy owners chased the wide receivers in 2016 drafts. Not one, however, got there in 2016, and every one missed the 320 mark by double-digit points.

The true impact of PPR scoring upon the wide receiver position is rewarding volume. Of the 22 receivers who have scored at least 320 fantasy points in a season since (and including) 2001, all but five caught at least 100 passes, none caught fewer than 93, and the group averaged 113. In addition, only five of the 61 wide receivers who caught at least 100 passes during that same time span finished with fewer than 250 PPR fantasy points.

This means shifting your focus somewhat toward role over skill, as big-play receivers who garner so-so yearly targets -- hello, DeSean Jackson -- often fail to find themselves ranked so generously in PPR scoring. Receivers who spend a healthy chunk of their time in the slot often tend to produce healthy PPR seasonal scores: Six of the 12 wide receivers who managed a 300-point season from 2014-16 did so while accruing at least 20 percent of their catches out of the slot.

Movers and shakers in PPR: WRs -- Perhaps no wide receiver in football benefits more from PPR scoring than Jarvis Landry, who has just 13 receiving touchdowns in his three NFL seasons yet ranks 11th among wide receivers in PPR during that time span. Michael Crabtree, Julian Edelman, Larry Fitzgerald and Golden Tate, however, could give Landry a run for that crown, as all are significantly more attractive picks when credited for each of their catches. On the lower tiers, Cole Beasley, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Matthews are much closer to weekly lineup plays in PPR than in non-PPR scoring formats.

Big-play wide receivers encompass practically all of the players at this position who suffer in PPR formats. Besides Jackson, Tyreek Hill, Marvin Jones, Kenny Stills and Sammy Watkins are among those for whom you'd pay a greater premium in non-PPR formats.

Don't ignore the tight ends

Tight end can be a tricky position to address in PPR leagues. Just as in non-PPR leagues, tight ends tend to blend together after the first five or six are off the draft board. A strategy of waiting is therefore equally wise, but don't overlook the fact that since the position overall catches more passes than running backs, the upper tiers at tight end still warrant a look in Rounds 3-7.

What changes in PPR scoring is Rob Gronkowski's significant advantage over his brethren -- though his injury history has drawn him back closer to the pack. Thanks to a host of pass-catching tight ends, such as Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Delanie Walker, there's more competition for the top spot in PPR leagues despite Gronkowski's touchdown advantage.

Movers and shakers in PPR: TEs -- Besides the big three PPR-angled tight ends mentioned above (Olsen, Reed and Walker), Zach Ertz is one of the players with the widest value differential between PPR and non-PPR leagues. Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett are the "old reliables" at the position, with Bennett's value likely to rebound with an increase in snaps played in Green Bay.

Touchdown-dependent tight ends such as Tyler Eifert, Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas tend to suffer most in PPR leagues. Depending upon the San Diego Chargers' target breakdown between Gates and Hunter Henry in 2017, both players could be weaker picks in this format (though Henry might take the reins and wind up a strong value, if you're a believer in his raw talent as I am).

In-season strategy

Though many of the same lessons apply to in-season management in PPR leagues, statistical floors take on more meaning in this format as you fill out your weekly lineup. Whereas in non-PPR leagues, final lineup decisions might come down to the likelihood of a touchdown or how favorable a little-involved-player's matchup is, in a PPR league a player's floor is more important.

Remember that weekly scores in a PPR league are guaranteed to be higher -- perhaps by as many as 30 fantasy points in an ESPN league with a standard lineup (two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex). Making up that difference requires as much attention to weekly upside as it does to avoiding devastating doughnuts or low scores. When the league's projected points per lineup position are higher, risk-taking becomes more dangerous.

For that reason, it's often wise to keep a PPR-angled player, like a Riddick or Beasley, on hand to serve as your flex-play fallback when your leading men face challenging matchups that cap their points upside.

Keep that same lesson in mind on the trade market. Scooping up a cheap, pass-catching option is often a good idea as a complementary piece to balance out a deal.

If you're looking to change your league to PPR this season, it's easy: In your League Settings page, click on the Scoring tab, and then look for the Load Scoring Settings under the ESPN Scoring Settings section. You'll want to change that menu drop-down to PPR Standard or PPR Fractional, depending on whether you want to award fractional points for player yardage.