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Points Per Deception: A Look at PPR Scoring

Looking at a compromise scoring system between PPR and no PPR.

Fantasy football has had many scoring tweaks along the way, but none are quite as controversial as the point per reception, or PPR. The motivation of adding PPR to many leagues, including many higher stakes leagues, is rather simple - it boosts the scores of both wide receivers and tight ends to be more in line with running backs. What's the point? Well, running backs score the most in fantasy football with the possible exclusion of quarterback. However, since quarterbacks have their own scoring categories (passing touchdowns, interceptions, passing yardage), many leagues can adjust quarterback totals lower to be closer to that of a good running back.

So why bother? What is the importance of getting all the various positions about equal? Well, this scoring normalization allows for a few things. First, your team is no longer dependent solely upon one player. If Aaron Rodgers will likely score 400 points in your league but Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley are both projected for 200, the league is dependent upon quarterbacks. You have to get an elite quarterback just to compete, as having two of the top three running backs barely gets you the same point total as Rodgers. Now, if they are closer together, there becomes a point where there is a competitive balance amongst positions. It is okay for a quarterback to be the highest scoring position in your league, but the relative value cannot be out of whack. Otherwise there is too much pressure on having a key quarterback and minimization of the remaining positions.

How about wide receivers and tight ends? Well, this is where PPR really comes in. Wide receivers and tight ends are elevated to closer valuations of running backs in fantasy leagues with PPR scoring. It is also becoming more standard, as is adding a third wide receiver. Both maneuvers increase the relative value of both wide receivers and tight ends in one fell swoop.

POINT PER DECEPTION

The fantasy purists, if there is such a thing, argue against PPR. Footballguys originally did not use PPR in their baseline standard scoring, nor do many older and established leagues - but all of that is changing. In 2008 Footballguys added PPR scoring and rankings, so that tells you how much impact PPR has made on fantasy football. The argument against PPR is that awarding a point for something as innocuous as a catch is WAY too generous. How many of us have seen a receiver catch a one yard screen? How can this be equal to a hard-earned 11 yard run? Also, many running backs wind up with 30 or more receptions each season, often on screens or short dump-off passes from a quarterback under duress. These one point plays may gain little or no yardage, yet they count the same as 10 yards in many leagues. In fact, this flies in the face of the reason for having PPR - it was supposed to help wide receiver and tight end scoring, not over-inflate running back scores. How can this be a good thing?

FINDING THE HAPPY MEDIUM

On the surface, it's easy to like the concept of PPR. It makes for more strategy and brings more players into the mix as possibilities for a starting lineup. It's also easy, however, understand the arguments against PPR and the inequalities of awarding the equivalent of 10 yards for what can sometimes be a meaningless reception. So what can be done?

Well, let's go back to the basics. Fantasy football is supposed to be a microcosm of the game itself. Points are awarded to offensive players for scoring, the main objective of the game, and advancing the ball, which gets the team in a position to score. There has to be something else to consider rewarding, but what?

FIRST DOWNS

It seems so simple. The goal of the offense is to move the chains and get points. If they succeed, they should be rewarded accordingly. Giving a player a point for a first down, rather than just a reception, seems to be more aligned with the game itself. So how does that look?

Unfortunately, running backs get lots of first downs, so generally awarding a point for ANY first down blows the scoring out of the water. Most of the top running backs get five or six first downs a game, if not more, which skews the numbers even further to their favor. So this was the first thing we had to abandon - but we're not done yet.

Continuing with the idea, it's time to look at awarding one point per first down reception, or PPFDR. Let us take a look at how this works on a high level.

Year RB WR TE
2003 0.36 0.68 0.61
2004 0.35 0.71 0.6
2005 0.34 0.68 0.58
2006 0.36 0.69 0.61
2007 0.35 0.67 0.64
2008 0.34 0.66 0.63
2009 0.35 0.68 0.58
2010 0.37 0.68 0.59
2011 0.35 0.7 0.64
2012 0.36 0.68 0.61
2013 0.35 0.67 0.63
2014 0.33 0.63 0.62
2015 0.36 0.66 0.60

Table 1: Percentage of Receptions for First Downs (Fantasy Starters)

Table 1 displays the percentage of catches for a first down by the Top 24 running backs, Top 12 tight ends, and Top 36 wide receivers for the last 13 seasons. We can see that wide receivers and tight ends get more first down catches than running backs, so that's a good sign. Also notice that the numbers are very consistent year over year, so that's also a good indication of a trend.

Digging deeper, I wanted to illustrate the trend for the past 13 seasons for both the RB, WR and TE positions regarding scoring on a per-game basis for the fantasy starters that have reception scoring implications (24 running backs, 12 tight ends and 36 wide receivers), assuming a standardized three-wide receiver starting lineup.  Thanks to a reader from a previous year, I have switched from providing numerous tables of data to a graphical representation to show how no-PPR, PPR, and PPFDR impact scoring (Figures 1-3) plus an average for the past 13 seasons for each scoring system on one graph (Figure 4):

 Figure 1: Top 24 RBs - No PPR - 2003-2015

 Figure 2: Top 24 RBs - PPR - 2003-2015

 Figure 3: Top 24 RBs - PPFDR - 2003-2015

 Figure 4: Top 24 RBs - 13-Year Comparison of Three Scoring Systems

PPFDR puts the running backs just above where they typically are in standardized scoring, but not as elevated as when PPR is used. The range increases from 7-20 points up to 9-22 in PPFDR, and slightly higher in full blown PPR (10-24) on a points per game basis.

Now for a look at wide receivers:

 Figure 5: Top 36 WRs - No PPR - 2003-2015

 Figure 6: Top 36 WRs - PPR - 2003-2015

 Figure 7: Top 36 WRs - PPFDR - 2003-2015

 

 Figure 8: Top 36 WRs - 13-Year Comparison of Three Scoring Systems 

PPFDR has a big impact on wide receivers, as expected. About two-thirds of all receiver catches are for first downs, so the result should approach the PPR scoring standard. The non-PPR scoring range grows from 7-14 points per game (dismissing Randy Moss's huge year in 2007, Calvin Johnson's performance in 2011 and Antonio Brown in 2014) up to 9-18, almost as high as the 10-22 points per game in PPR.

Tight ends are under the microscope next:

 Figure 9: Top 12 TEs - No PPR - 2003-2015

 Figure 10: Top 12 TEs - PPR - 2003-2015

 Figure 11: Top 12 TEs - PPFDR - 2003-2015

 Figure 12: Top 12 TEs - 13-Year Comparison of Three Scoring Systems

In this case, PPFDR increases the scoring for tight ends about as much as it does for the wide receivers. The standard range of 6-11 points increases to 8-15, closer to the PPR result of 9-17 points per game, and the discrepancy is even bigger for 2011. Jimmy Graham's numbers from 2013 skew the numbers a little as do Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Smith's big 2011 seasons, but you can definitely see the differences even at the top two spots in 2011 (12-15 PPG in standard scoring becomes 17-19 in PPFDR, as opposed to 18-21 in PPR).

CONCLUSIONS

Table 2 shows the results as a percentage of increase in fantasy scoring, on average, per position under both PPR and PPFDR for the complete history (13 years) of the PPFDR study (2003-2014):

Years Wide Receivers Tight Ends Running Backs
PPR PPFDR PPR PPFDR PPR PPFDR
2003-05 49% 34% 57% 35% 18% 7%
2006 49% 34% 60% 37% 20% 7%
2007 50% 34% 57% 36% 20% 7%
2008 60% 38% 51% 34% 17% 7%
2009 49% 34% 58% 33% 19% 6%
2010 48% 33% 54% 32% 20% 7%
2011 46% 32% 55% 35% 19% 7%
2012 51% 34% 60% 37% 19% 7%
2013 51% 34% 53% 33% 25% 9%
2014 51% 32% 54% 33% 23% 7%
2015 51% 34% 56% 33% 26% 9%

Table 2:  PPFDR and PPR Increases in Starter Production 2003-2015

Points per first down reception (PPFDR) presents a happy middle ground for fantasy football players who like PPR, but do not respect the results. In addition, data last year and also for the past five seasons proves that the results are predictable.

By correlating a productive event, gaining a first down, with the awarding of a point for fantasy purposes allows for many owners to agree that the point was earned. The scoring result improves the production of wide receivers slightly more than tight ends, and both are markedly higher than for running backs.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.