Rated PPR: Fantasy Football Statistics

by Tim Heaney on September 1, 2011 @ 11:20:56 PDT

 


Statistics | Strategy

In the last few years, wide receivers have become the new running backs of fantasy football as NFL offenses continue swinging toward an aerially favored game ... and more and more squads move away from workhorse running backs.

Drafters assume the extra point that comes with every catch in point-per-reception leagues increases the value of the top receivers and warrants building their wideout corps early. But since every catch counts, does that mean the distribution of wideouts isn't as drastic in PPR value as it is in standard scoring?

Do essentially full-time running backs, now seemingly a rare commodity, become more valuable, especially if they catch passes? Or should you disregard RBs and grab wideouts sooner in leagues with these setups?

Holy shift

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
Workhorse backs becoming extinct

The receiver-friendly fantasy draft trend has endured for the last few years in small doses. In the past three seasons, receivers' values jumped out of the shadows and mugged many of us.

Though this could only explain a part of the reason, offensive coordinators have learned to better manipulate the tightened illegal contact penalty on defensive backs (the "Ty Law Rule") after the 2003 playoffs. Surely, freer-flowing passing attacks - and as a result, more receptions - stem from looser coverage.

NFL franchises seem securer in frequently involving more than one running back to preserve the health of their pieces and expand the types of plays they can run. Still, few receivers surpass 100 catches in a season, and even those that come close are becoming rarer.

Table 1: Wide receivers that reached 80 receptions, 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, 2007-2010

Year
80 rec
1,000 yds
8 TD
2 of these
All 3
2007
17
20
15
9
9
2008
14
21
9
11
4
2009
12
20
13
8
8
2010
10
16
16
11
3

Only Andre Johnson, Roddy White and Stevie Johnson accomplished all three of the noted feats in 2010. The continued decrease of 80-catchers means consistent wideouts are turning into premium commodities, in both standard and our topical scoring system.

Spotlight on those wideouts that can consistently net 15 or so PPR points a week. You figure those that go with two receivers in the first four PPR rounds have a solid shot at using up this group, in theory. Notice how few receivers actually accomplish all three feats.

What if you're just grasping for receptions? Can you still find catch sources after the big names leave the board?

Table 2: Number of wide receivers that reached various reception levels, 2007-2010

Year
100-plus
90-99
80-89
70-79
60-69
2007
6
8
7
9
10
2008
3
4
10
10
13
2009
6
3
6
14
12
2010
2
2
6
9
13

It appears this bell curve is getting fatter in the middle tier. With the rise of DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace, we're seeing more essentially all-or-nothing haulers as teams' No. 1 or 1A targets, diminishing the lot of elite receptionists.

QBs

But despite last season's decline of top-end reception loggers, consider how the slingers had their say. There were five 4,000-yard passers in 2010, half of the 2009 group:

  • Ben Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension.
  • Tony Romo's season ended in Week 6 thanks to a broken collarbone.
  • Joe Flacco continued to struggle in the pocket, and the already run-first Baltimore Ravens employed three possession receivers as their main weapons, restricting the upside of the passing game.
  • Brett Favre was finally tagged by Father Time.
  • Michael Vick's ascension essentially removes one team from sniffing that magic number, thanks to his frantic legs.
  • Kyle Orton was stopped in his throwing tracks by, among other things, the departure of Josh McDaniels from the Denver Broncos in the middle of the season.

Guys like Dennis Dixon and Jon Kitna were forced into duty, and you saw some significant offensive changes.

But Aaron Rodgers fell just short of the mark. Matt Ryan is on the verge, too, with rookie Julio Jones on the fast track to making an impact. Though a Cincy QB might not even crack 3,000 yards, Roethlisberger, Romo and Flacco should move back toward four grand in 2011, meaning names like Mike Wallace, Miles Austin and Anquan Boldin should jump back into producing elite or near-elite numbers. As shaky as he has been, Donovan McNabb can help Percy Harvin do the same with No. 4 finally done ... we think.

RBs

While wideout production is bound to step up, can we say the same about the general condition of the running back position?

Duos or committees

Threatening

That's 23 out of 32 teams - 71.9 percent of the NFL - with at least a hint of shared backfield work. Committee approaches are spreading the wealth more like a passing game does, so textbook feature backs are dwindling.

Oh, and let's not forget that there are some names on this list that are considered the automatic top-six or -seven draftees. Plus, we have Chris Johnson's holdout and Maurice Jones-Drew's lingering knee issues.

Most of the featured backs will be selected within the first six or seven picks of drafts, so from there, a lot of it is picking poisons. Plucking elite wideouts after the top five or six are gone becomes a frequent strategy, especially since running backs with elite reception totals fly off the board quickly, and the risk evens out with the remaining backs.

Though running backs have both rushing and receiving means for production, their bonus in receptions isn't as well-versed:

Table 3: Running back reception levels, 2007-2010

Year
70-plus
60-69
50-59
40-49
30-39
2007
2
1
3
7
13
2008
0
2
6
10
9
2009
1
1
6
10
8
2010
1
3
4
11
9

Not much changed from last year. Not too many elite receiving options come from this position; LeSean McCoy, the lone 70-catch dynamo, can thank the Eagles for installing Vick as QB.

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald
Top WR production more stable?

You won't find much stability in the middle tiers of pass-catching RBs. The growing frequency of plays involving passing-down specialists and change-up backs is dragging more catches toward the middle of the RB pack.

Still, this means that there are several commodities that can fill PPR flex gaps among carriers. The ability to catch passes makes these commodities more valuable, especially if any other uncertainty about their stock allows them to fall in PPR drafts.

Targets

In PPR leagues, the importance of receiver and tight end targets sees a boost. This is where we see augmented value for slot receivers and other not-so-explosive players that stand out in these formats:

Table 4: WR target leaders, Wks 1-17, 2010

Rk
Player
Team
Targets
1
Roddy White
ATL
184
2
Reggie Wayne
IND
179
3
Larry Fitzgerald
ARI
174
4
Brandon Lloyd
DEN
163
5
Santana Moss
WAS
151
6
Brandon Marshall
MIA
150
7
Calvin Johnson
DET
144
8
Andre Johnson
HOU
143
9
Terrell Owens
CIN
142
10
Dwayne Bowe
KC
135
T-11
Hakeem Nicks
NYG
133
T-11
Marques Colston
NO
133
T-13
Mike Williams
TBB
132
T-13
Danny Amendola
STL
132
15
Greg Jennings
GB
130
T-16
Percy Harvin
MIN
129
T-16
Chad Ochocinco
CIN
129
T-18
Davone Bess
MIA
127
T-18
Miles Austin
DAL
127
20
Pierre Garcon
IND
124

Pegging how frequently a receiving option will be sought out - based on past tendencies and informed estimations of future involvement - is a solid tiebreaker in deciding between two different PPR commodities, during a draft or during a free-agent pickup period.

As we've seen, the more explosive wideouts don't necessarily have to be the most targeted to finish among fantasy football's best - especially in standard scoring - but it usually helps more often to be a more frequent earner of QB attention.

Positional rankings

For complete statistical and target rankings, check out our Statistics Analyzer after a free registration.

2010

Table 5: Top 10 running backs' output in combinational PPR leagues, 2010

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
Arian Foster
HOU
16
383
23.9
4.13
37.8
1.13
2
Peyton Hillis
CLE
16
289
18.1
3.81
29.8
0.81
3
LeSean McCoy
PHI
15
286
19.1
5.20
39.5
0.60
4
Jamaal Charles
KC
16
272
17.0
2.81
29.3
0.50
5
Adrian Peterson
MIN
15
270
18.0
2.40
22.7
0.87
6
Chris Johnson
TEN
16
264
16.5
2.75
15.3
0.75
7
Ray Rice
BAL
16
263
16.4
3.94
34.8
0.38
8
Darren McFadden
OAK
13
261
20.1
3.62
39.0
0.77
9
Matt Forte
CHI
16
254
15.9
3.19
34.2
0.56
10
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
16
238
14.9
2.94
19.6
0.50

AD, CJ2K and Rice are the only ones that were consistent first-round picks in PPRs. Charles was a second-rounder. McCoy and Forte? Grabbed somewhere between Rounds 3 and 4, usually. Foster, DMC and Bradshaw were chiefly middle-rounds steals, with Hillis coming off many waiver wires.

Table 6: Top 10 wide receivers' output in combinational PPR leagues, 2010

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
Roddy White
ATL
15
290
19.3
7.20
87.4
0.60
2
Brandon Lloyd
DEN
16
280
17.5
4.81
90.5
0.69
3
Reggie Wayne
IND
16
275
17.2
6.94
84.7
0.38
4
Dwayne Bowe
KC
16
272
17.0
4.50
72.6
0.94
5
Greg Jennings
GB
16
269
16.8
4.75
79.1
0.75
6
Calvin Johnson
DET
16
259
16.2
4.81
70.0
0.75
7
Andre Johnson
HOU
13
250
19.2
6.62
93.5
0.62
8
Hakeem Nicks
NYG
13
244
18.8
6.08
80.9
0.85
9
Mike Wallace
PIT
16
242
15.1
3.75
78.6
0.63
10
Stevie Johnson
BUF
16
241
15.1
5.13
67.1
0.63

Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald (who ranks 11th on this list) and Randy Moss - oof - were the most commonly selected wideouts in the PPR top 12. Wayne, Calvin Johnson, Miles Austin (14th) and Brandon Marshall (not in top 25) were also frequent selections near first-round turns. White and Jennings snuck into the second round.

Despite the giant Moss whiff, the 2010 "bankable" wideouts still performed around what was expected of them last year, even with the waiver wire and middle- and late-round stabs at Lloyd, Bowe, Wallace and Johnson. Wide receiver importance in PPRs held firm.

Positional comparison

A running back scored the most PPR fantasy points among these two positions for the second straight season, but otherwise, the divergence between the two positions actually decreased.

Buffalo Bills WR Stevie Johnson
PPR WR breakouts rarer than RBs

Five of the 12 wideouts in the top 10 averaged fewer than five catches per game, but this isn't something you should bank on again. Lloyd has a huge downfall factor in a new offense. Bowe likely won't hit 15 touchdowns again. Wallace is dangerous, but 21.0 yards per catch? That's hard to repeat, meaning he might not be a top-10 PPR option, or even top 20. But Megatron and Jennings are more proven performers that are better counted on to stick in the top 10 or 15. Oh, and Fitzgerald has a competent QB, so he's likely to enter the top 10, if not the top five.

2009

Table 7: Top 10 running backs' output in combinational PPR leagues, 2009

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
Chris Johnson
TEN
16
385
24.1
3.13
31.44
1.00
2
Adrian Peterson
MIN
16
320
20.0
2.69
27.25
1.13
3
Ray Rice
BAL
16
312
19.5
4.88
43.88
0.50
4
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAX
16
310
19.4
3.31
23.38
1.00
5
Frank Gore
SF
16
270
16.9
3.25
25.38
0.81
6
Ricky Williams
MIA
16
236
14.8
2.19
16.50
0.81
7
Joseph Addai
IND
15
236
15.7
3.40
22.40
0.93
8
Steven Jackson
STL
15
234
15.6
3.33
20.93
0.27
9
Thomas Jones
NYJ
16
231
14.4
0.63
3.63
0.88
10
Ryan Grant
GB
16
224
14.0
1.56
12.31
0.69

Every Coach's Dream? A 2,000-yard rusher, so rare that it threw off the distribution. His elite performance in general wasn't a complete surprise, though, since he was a first-rounder.

AD and MJD? Normal. Frank Gore? Whew, he stayed healthy. Ray Rice, Ricky Williams and Thomas Jones? Great return on draft slot.

Table 8: Top 10 wide receivers' point output in combinational PPR leagues, 2009

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
Andre Johnson
HOU
16
306
19.1
6.31
98.06
0.56
2
Randy Moss
NE
16
281
17.6
5.19
79.00
0.81
3
Wes Welker
NE
16
278
17.4
7.69
84.25
0.25
4
Reggie Wayne
IND
16
277
17.3
6.25
79.00
0.63
5
Larry Fitzgerald
ARI
16
277
17.3
6.06
68.25
0.81
6
Miles Austin
DAL
16
275
17.2
5.06
82.50
0.69
7
Brandon Marshall
DEN
15
267
17.8
6.73
74.67
0.67
8
Steve E. Smith
NYG
16
265
16.6
6.69
76.25
0.44
9
Roddy White
ATL
16
259
16.2
5.31
72.06
0.69
10
Sidney Rice
MIN
16
255
15.9
5.19
82.00
0.50

Austin, Smith and Rice were the leapers here. Marshall fell in many drafts due to a possible suspension. The others? Typical Round 1 and 2 PPR fare.

Positional comparison

Notice the top four running backs were the top four scorers in PPR combined among these two positions. The wide receivers make up the middle portion of the combined rankings.

2008

In 2008, many of the cream of the running back crop, in terms of total points scored, didn't come from first-round selections:

Table 9: Top 10 running backs' point output in combinational PPR leagues, 2008

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
DeAngelo Williams
CAR
16
294
18.4
1.38
7.56
1.25
2
Matt Forte
CHI
16
292
18.2
4.00
30.25
0.75
3
Michael Turner
ATL
16
275
17.2
0.38
2.56
1.06
4
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAX
16
269
16.8
3.88
35.31
0.88
5
Brian Westbrook
PHI
14
265
18.9
3.86
28.71
1.00
6
LaDainian Tomlinson
SD
16
264
16.5
3.25
26.31
0.75
7
Steve Slaton
HOU
16
264
16.5
3.13
23.56
0.63
8
Thomas Jones
NYJ
16
263
16.4
2.25
12.94
0.94
9
Adrian Peterson
MIN
16
262
16.4
1.31
7.81
0.63
10
Clinton Portis
WAS
16
239
14.9
1.75
13.63
0.56

It's hard to think Williams, Forte, Turner, Jones-Drew, Slaton and Jones fell in the first round or early second round last draft season. Peterson, Tomlinson and Westbrook were likely top-five picks, on average, with Portis often being taken at the end of the first.

Table 10: Top 10 wide receivers' point output in combinational PPR leagues, 2008

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
Andre Johnson
HOU
16
312
19.5
7.19
98.44
0.50
2
Larry Fitzgerald
ARI
16
306
19.1
6.00
89.44
0.75
3
Calvin Johnson
DET
16
278
17.4
4.88
83.19
0.75
4
Roddy White
ATL
16
262
16.4
5.50
86.38
0.44
5
Anquan Boldin
ARI
12
258
21.5
7.42
86.50
0.92
6
Brandon Marshall
DEN
15
257
17.1
6.93
84.33
0.40
7
Greg Jennings
GB
16
256
16
5.00
80.75
0.56
8
Steve Smith
CAR
14
251
17.9
5.57
101.21
0.43
9
Antonio Bryant
TB
16
243
15.2
5.25
78.06
0.44
10
Wes Welker
NE
16
240
15
7.00
72.81
0.19

Fitzgerald and the Texans' Johnson were the most likely first-round selections of this group, but they probably came at the end of the first stanza, on average. Antonio Bryant was the real out-of-nowhere performer here.

Positional comparison

These rankings were a little more even in terms of fantasy points - note how Tomlinson and Westbrook showed signs of slowing down.

2007

Table 11: Top 10 running backs' point output in combinational PPR leagues, 2007

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
Brian Westbrook
PHI
15
361
24.1
6.00
51.40
0.80
2
LaDainian Tomlinson
SD
16
353
22.1
3.75
29.69
1.19
3
Clinton Portis
WAS
16
267
16.7
2.94
24.31
0.75
4
Joseph Addai
IND
15
263
17.5
2.73
24.27
1.00
5
Adrian Peterson
MIN
14
247
17.6
1.36
19.14
0.93
6
Jamal Lewis
CLE
15
241
16.1
2.00
16.53
0.73
7
Marion Barber III
DAL
16
231
14.4
2.75
17.63
0.75
8
Frank Gore
SF
15
229
15.3
3.53
29.07
0.40
9
Willis McGahee
BAL
15
223
14.9
2.87
15.40
0.53
10
Earnest Graham
TB
15
218
14.5
3.27
21.60
0.67

Notice the top two names on this list. Their dynamic PPR presence kept them far above the rest.

Table 12: Top 10 wide receivers' point output in combinational PPR leagues, 2007

Rk
Player
Team
G
TOT Pts
Fan Pts/G
Rec/G
Rec Yd/G
TOT TD/G
1
Randy Moss
NE
16
378
23.6
6.13
93.31
1.44
2
Reggie Wayne
IND
16
308
19.2
6.50
94.38
0.63
3
Terrell Owens
DAL
15
299
19.9
5.40
90.33
1.00
4
Braylon Edwards
CLE
16
296
18.5
5.00
80.56
1.00
5
Larry Fitzgerald
ARI
15
295
19.7
6.73
94.13
0.67
6
T.J. Houshmandzadeh
CIN
16
293
18.3
7.00
71.44
0.75
7
Chad Ochocinco (nee Johnson)
CIN
16
280
17.5
5.81
90.00
0.50
8
Marques Colston
NO
16
276
17.2
6.13
75.13
0.69
9
Brandon Marshall
DEN
16
274
17.1
6.38
82.81
0.44
10
Wes Welker
NE
16
270
16.9
7.00
73.44
0.50

Edwards and Welker were the biggest surprises among a typical top grouping for '07. Randy Moss' freakishly, unrepeatable standout year skews the receiver picture, and the deviation in wideouts below him is less prominent than in 2008.

Positional comparison

The seemingly final years in the prime of both Tomlinson and Westbrook - along with Moss' historic season - didn't change the fact that the top wideouts dwarfed the top backs for the most part.

Observations

  • Notice the running back turnover has been more dynamic than that of the wideouts in the last three years' statistical leaderboards in PPR scoring. Saying these patterns are set in stone would decry logic - injuries, depth chart changes and philosophical shifts in offensive attacks skew players' outlooks. However, it's easy to infer the changing landscape is skewing toward gaining security early at the wideout position in PPRs.
  • The fact that many of the top-performing running backs in recent seasons were probably obtained after the first six picks - even following the first two rounds in many cases - gives the top wide receivers a better leg to stand on. Committee carriers with some boom-or-bust prospects remain plentiful in the middle rounds, when the minimum expectations between those options level out. You might have your favorite high-upside option among a big group, but you're less likely to be backed into a corner since you'd have similar replacement options with lowered standards.
  • Another argument for running backs' ability to outperform their draft value: Touchdowns are harder to predict, but per-game six-pointer averages for carriers generally dwarf those of wide receivers, as expected. Basic football knowledge, though, dictates running backs have more direct chances to accumulate points and cross the goal line in each game - it's a classic Captain Obvious dictum, but it's so easy to forget.
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Statistics | Strategy

About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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