Draft strategy: PPR leagues

As point-per-reception (PPR) leagues gain prevalence, it's important that people understand how the awarding of one point per reception affects fantasy scoring.

Let's set a baseline for standard scoring by looking at the top 10 quarterbacks, top 20 running backs, top 20 wide receivers, top 10 tight ends and top 10 flex options from the 2013 season, because the players who finished there were the most likely to fill the primary starting positions of a standard league. Upon doing so, we find those players amassed 12,655 combined fantasy points, which were distributed as follows:

Some might assume that the awarding of one point per reception would drive a significant change within the population of players that fills those 70 slots in PPR leagues. The statistics don't prove that assumption. For instance, of the top 20 running backs from 2013, only Alfred Morris, who finished as the 15th best in standard scoring, didn't finish within the top 20 in PPR scoring. Additionally, the only member of the top 10 running backs in standard scoring who didn't finish in the same range in PPR leagues was Ryan Mathews, who missed that threshold by just 12 fantasy points.

The wide receiver position isn't much different at all. The top 15 options in standard leagues finished in the top 15 in PPR leagues as well, with no player moving more than three slots in the rankings. The only change in the top 10 at the tight end position came when the 11th-ranked player in standard league swapped with the 11th-ranked tight end in PPR leagues. So bottom line, there's no real significant movement as to which players should be ranked highest. That doesn't mean that their respective values stay the same. By introducing one point per reception, we find the following change in point distribution:

The first thing to notice is the total number of points scored from the four major fantasy positions (QB/RB/WR/TE) increased by 32 percent to 16,768. While the PPR addition didn't change fantasy scoring at the quarterback position, the scoring changes at the other skill positions require that all four major positions be re-evaluated for the PPR impact.

Quarterback: The biggest adjustment to make in PPR is that you need to lower the overall value of your starting quarterback. On average, a quarterback in a PPR league will contribute only 17 percent of the fantasy points scored from the four major skills positions. That's down from 23 percent in standard leagues, so if you aren't grabbing one of the elite quarterbacks, make sure you don't reach for a secondary option, because that reach, even if you are right, isn't likely to pay a real gain.

Running Backs: The overall impact of the position on expected scoring decreases in PPR formats. However, that is driven by the population used to occupy the flex slots. Since the 30th wide receiver outscored the 21st running back last year in the PPR format, no running backs were used in the calculation of flex-spot scoring. Since the average starting running back and starting wide receiver last year scored within six points of each other in the PPR format, a deep running back corps can still provide value, especially since others in your league may not realize the similarities in average production between starters at those two positions. In fact, many will continue to place a starting running back's value significantly above that of a starting wide receiver's. This is an area to exploit in trade negotiations during the course of the season if you are able to secure running back depth. That being said, the safer draft-day option is to ensure depth at the wide receiver spot, because you will likely be using a receiver at your flex position.

Wide Receivers: If there's one area that can be overvalued in PPR leagues, it is elite wide receiver. It is very easy to look at the elite receivers, project 100 catches, add the corresponding 100 fantasy points and jump at the chance to take those difference-makers. But, are they really big difference-makers in this format? The short answer is no, because the receivers who follow them are getting similar bumps in value too. Consider this: Of the 27 wide receivers who were startable in standard scoring, only two fell out of the top 27 in PPR scoring (Marvin Jones from 23rd to 29th and Riley Cooper from 24th to 31st), and no other player moved more than four spots in his positional rank. In fact, of the top 20 receivers in standard leagues, 10 of them finished in the same slot or one spot different in PPR leagues; five others finished within two slots; four others within three slots; and Julian Edelman was the only receiver in the top 20 who moved four slots (improving from 18th to 14th). The biggest factor in the movement that did occur was driven by touchdowns scored, so realize that while you may think A.J. Green might get an additional catch per week, if his touchdown total drops by three, his season value remains the same.

Tight Ends: If there was ever a format to invest an early pick in Jimmy Graham, this is it. Graham scored 40 percent more fantasy points than the second-ranked PPR tight end, Tony Gonzalez. However, Graham is the exception to the rule. The remainder of the tight ends basically stayed the same; the only change among the top nine tight ends was a flip-flop between Vernon Davis (second in standard, fourth in PPR) and Gonzalez (fourth in standard; second in PPR). Because the difference in fantasy points per game in the PPR format between the second- and eighth-ranked tight ends in 2013 was two points per game, it doesn't make sense to draft any of the other tight ends early. Obviously, keep an eye on Rob Gronkowski's health as the offseason progresses, because when healthy, he's every bit the threat that Graham is.

Basic Strategy for 2014

While the end-of-year rankings within each position isn't likely to be significant between standard and PPR scoring, as highlighted above, that doesn't mean your draft-day approach should be the same. Because the dynamic of PPR drafts is significantly different than standard leagues, expect wide receivers to fly off the board earlier in PPR leagues compared to standard leagues, and expect running backs who aren't targeted much in the passing game to fall. Be sure you know who is who before going into your draft, because perceptions of how much a player is actually targeted might be extremely outdated. For example, for his first five NFL seasons, Frank Gore averaged 3.2 catches per game, which leads many to still view him as a pass-catching running back. Over the past three seasons, Gore has averaged just 1.3 receptions per game. That change was worth 32 fantasy points over the course of a season, which would have bumped him to up 12th-best running back in PPR last season, instead of finishing 18th. Ensure your perceptions reflect current reality. To help, below is a comprehensive list of all receivers who played at least four games and who saw at least three targets per game last season.