Fantasy football 2013 draft preview: PPR primer
What was once a gimmick in fantasy circles is now becoming more of the norm: We are talking about leagues that reward a point per reception, PPR formats. After years of skepticism, even this writer is now on board.
In fact, PPR leagues should be the scoring format of choice in fantasy football.
Despite the rebound of the 1,500-yard feature back last season, this is still a pass-happy NFL. It also promises to be an up-tempo one, thanks to the influence of new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and his fast-break schemes. This means more plays, more passes -- particularly of the methodical, short variety -- more offensive excitement and more fantasy points.
So, jump on board with the rest of us and make your league a PPR scoring system. We break down 10 unique strategies for this special format and reveal gems by position.
This should hit you as fairly obvious, but specifically, you are going to want to get a receiver with one of your first two picks -- and likely two of your first three. PPR is the only format in which you should do that. Here is where the 100-catch candidates will go off the board and those NFL-leading reception totals mean easy points. Also, these high-target receivers prove fairly consistent week to week, since they are always a large part of the game plan.
100-catch candidates (2012 receptions)
1. Calvin Johnson, DET (122)
2t. Brandon Marshall, CHI (118)
2t. Wes Welker, DEN (118)
4. Andre Johnson, HOU (112)
5. Jason Witten, DAL (110)
6. Reggie Wayne, IND (106)
7. A.J. Green, CIN (97)
8. Demaryius Thomas, DEN (94)
9. Tony Gonzalez, ATL (93)
10t. Dez Bryant, DAL (92)
10t. Roddy White, ATL (92)
12. Victor Cruz, NYG (86)
13t. Michael Crabtree, SF (85) -- Out until at least November (Achilles)
13t. Eric Decker, DEN (85)
13t. Jimmy Graham, NO (85)
While all those guys above are high-volume targets, none of them played in a true West Coast offensive scheme last season. That is because rhythm offenses tend to spread the ball around a lot. That means you will get big reception totals some weeks and smaller ones some others. That doesn't mean you should ignore them in PPR formats. They will be the sleepers in your drafts. Here are the rhythm offenses you should look to for high-volume passing numbers, even if they won't render a 100-catch receiver (starting quarterback and top targets in parenthesis):
West Coast/rhythm-passing offenses
1. Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rodgers -- Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (Alex Smith -- Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles)
3. Philadelphia Eagles (Michael Vick/Nick Foles -- DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy)
4. Miami Dolphins (Ryan Tannehill -- Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline)
5. Chicago Bears (Jay Cutler -- Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery)
You don't have to be a West Coast offense to be pass happy in this modern NFL either. You can either be throwing from behind a lot (see: the Detroit Lions) or using the pass to set up the run (New England Patriots). Here are the most pass-happy quarterbacked teams to pick receivers from in PPR formats, ranked according to their passing attempts a year ago.
1. Matthew Stafford, DET (727 attempts)
2. Drew Brees, NO (670)
3. Tony Romo, DAL (648)
4. Tom Brady, NE (637)
5. Andrew Luck, IND (627)
6. Matt Ryan, ATL (615)
7. Peyton Manning, DEN (583)
8. Carson Palmer, OAK (565)
9. Josh Freeman, TB (558)
10. Aaron Rodgers, GB (552)
HM: 13. Eli Manning, NYG (536) -- operating in a modernized run-and-shoot
Everyone knows full well Darren Sproles has value as a starting fantasy running back because of his involvement in the passing game, but sometimes a high-target running back who doubles as a feature back can get overlooked.
Ray Rice is the prime example this year. He is slipping to the late first round because of the postseason Bernard Pierce had, but it shouldn't be forgotten how much Rice is used in the passing game and on passing downs. Remember the famous 2012 quote from the eventual World Champions?
"Hey diddle, diddle, Ray Rice up the middle."
The feature back wasn't talking about running a dive. He was talking about his season-saving pass reception for a fourth-and-long conversion.
Here are the most frequently targeted running backs from a year ago (with their targets and receptions in parenthesis):
1. Darren Sproles, NO (104 targets-75 receptions)
2. Ray Rice, BAL (83-61)
3. Joique Bell, DET (69-52)
4. LeSean McCoy, PHI (67-54)
5. Darren McFadden, OAK (63-42)
6. Matt Forte, CHI (60-44)
7. Jacquizz Rodgers, ATL (59-53)
8. Ronnie Brown, SD (59-49)
9. Arian Foster, HOU (58-40)
10. C.J. Spiller, BUF (57-43)
11. Ryan Mathews, SD (56-39)
12. Danny Woodhead, SD (55-40)
13. Pierre Thomas, NO (53-39)
14. Steven Jackson, ATL (53-38)
15. Reggie Bush, DET (52-35)
HM 16. Adrian Peterson, MIN (51-40)
Most of the above has been regurgitating numbers a year ago. While a lot of things will stay consistent, some have changed. You are going to find more targets and receptions for some backs now playing in a different scheme. Screen-heavy teams like the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans are great places to find some PPR gems among backs. We break down the top gainers in PPR value from this offseason:
1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs. Charles is in the same spot, but the addition of Andy Reid's system makes him a potential breakthrough fantasy MVP. Charles has always flashed game-breaking speed, but now he is going to be used in a screen-heavy West Coast scheme. He can be a modern-day Roger Craig or Thurman Thomas, threatening for 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. He hasn't been durable enough for 20-plus touches a game to date, but if he holds up physical with the increase workload, look out!
2. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions. Bell was a 50-plus catch back for the pass-heavy Lions, but Bush might be a threat for 80-plus receptions. In fact, Bush might be just as much a pass receiver as a runner this season. His 15-plus touches could be split right down the middle.
3. Shane Vereen, New England Patriots. He gains big-time PPR value not because of his move but the loss of the top five receivers in the Pats offense. Wes Welker (free agency), Rob Gronkowski (back surgery), Aaron Hernandez (released), Brandon Lloyd (released) and Danny Woodhead (free agency) aren't at Brady's disposal right now. That puts a lot of Vereen to break through in Year 3. Bank on it. Brady is still going to throw 30 times a game and 15 of those throws might be to the backs. They have always had a screen-heavy attack in New England. With such inexperience and continuity among the tight ends and receivers, it will be leaned on now more than ever.
4. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons. While he is 30 and at risk of a fantasy breakdown, he is joining one of the most pass-happy teams in the NFL. Rodgers was among the running back receiving leaders a year ago just like Jackson. PPR leagues are the only ones you should justify picking Jackson as a late first-rounder.
5. Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns. Norv Turner has always been a running back-friendly coordinator and now he is with the Browns, who were a running back-heavy team. Richardson is a solid pass receiver and the Browns figure to mix in a lot of screens with their young workhorse back. It might lead you to move Richardson and his sub-4.0 yards per carry higher in the top 10 of fantasy running backs.
Honorable mentions: The Bears' Forte is now playing for a West Coast offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman, that made Craig and Tom Rathman high-target backs in the late 80s. And the Chargers' Mathews and Woodhead figure to be screen-friendly backs for as long as they stay healthy.
You may know the Cowboys' Witten, Saints' Graham and Falcons' Gonzalez were the highest-targeted tight end in the league last year. You also have to figure a few tight ends are going to emerge from the Patriots with Gronk still recovering from mid-June back surgery and Hernandez having been released. Be sure to watch how that develops in training camp, especially with regard to Jake Ballard's health.
But there are a number of offenses that feature the tight end. Here are some of the ones to look to for sleepers. These teams scored the most fantasy points among their tight ends combined last season:
1. New England Patriots (Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui)
2. Houston Texans (Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham)
3. New Orleans Saints (Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson)
4. Detroit Lions (Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler)
5. Atlanta Falcons (Tony Gonzalez and now rookie Levine Toilolo)
Outside of Vernon Davis -- who is actually lining up at receiver for the 49ers in practices after Crabtree's injury -- you will notice no mentions of the tight ends playing alongside read-option quarterbacks. That is because the read-option is an offense that focuses on the quarterback reading run and then trying to hit home runs in the passing game when the defenses load up to stop it. It is not a high-volume, high-target passing scheme like those above. That makes the tight ends for the following teams a bit less PPR-friendly:
1. Seattle Seahawks -- Zach Miller
2. San Francisco 49ers -- Vernon Davis (if he doesn't play receiver) and rookie Vance McDonald or Garret Celek if he does
3. Washington Redskins -- Fred Davis
4. Buffalo Bills (perhaps?) -- Scott Chandler (knee surgery) or subpar backups
5. Carolina Panthers -- Greg Olsen
That last one comes with a caveat. The Panthers started the season slowly last year running a read-option scheme with QB Cam Newton. Then, they scrapped the read-option for a more traditional offense and things took off for Newton and Olsen. They should be considered more of a traditional combo now -- the read-option will be more of a change of pace than a base for the Panthers.
This is an offshoot of the previous strategic note. Quarterbacks that will run just don't pass as much as those that stay in the pocket. Of course! But, you need to be reminded that limits the target opportunities for the outside receivers, including these presumed PPR faves:
1. Anquan Boldin, SF
2. Pierre Garcon, WAS
3. Stevie Johnson, BUF
4. Steve Smith, CAR
5. Sidney Rice, SEA
6. DeSean Jackson, PHI
Save for emerging receivers like the Broncos' Thomas and Decker, the Bengals' Green, the Giants' Cruz and the Packers' Cobb, most of the above discussion focuses on the veteran targets. NFL teams like calling go-to routes and plays for players that earned their trust over the years. They want be throwing to receivers and places they know the receivers will be there. It takes years to build trust of quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
You can be wary of young receivers in PPR leagues, but more appropriately you can hone in on the receivers that are just now entering "veteran" status. Here are some receivers that can see a large increase in targets now that they've earned their wings (age in parenthesis):
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (24)
2. Danny Amendola, New England Patriots (27)
3. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants (25)
4. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens (24)
5. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (25)
6. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (26)
7. Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars (25)
8. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (23)
9. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns (22)
The final strategy is more hypothesis than proven axiom. If a player has a particularly good connection rate with his quarterback, you should expect his target totals to rise over time. After all, teams like going to the well on successful plays and incompletions are three-and-out-makers.
Pay particular attention to Jason Avant, Brandon Myers, McCoy andCobb, below. They are the best sleepers in PPR formats from this data. Here are some high-rate target-reception leaders by position from 2012 with a minimum 50 targets (percentage in parenthesis):
1. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons (89.8 percent)
2. Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers (83.1)
3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (80.6)
4. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (78.4)
5. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (75.4)
1. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers (76.9)
2. Mario Manningham, San Francisco 49ers (73.7)
3. Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks (72.9) -- this is more for perspective at this point with Harvin expected to miss 3-4 months at least.
4. Jason Avant, Philadelphia Eagles (69.7)
5. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (69.1)
Note: Brandon Stokley (77.6) was ignored because he is unsigned.
1. Brandon Myers, Oakland Raiders (75.2)
2. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons (75.0)
3. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys (73.8)
4. Zach Miller, Seattle Seahawks (71.7)
5. Joel Dresseen, Denver Broncos (70.7)
Armed with these 10 PPR-specific strategies, you should be well-equipped to find some inefficiencies in the marketplace, giving you an edge on the competition.