Fantasy Football Scoring Formats: An Argument For PPR
They say there are two things you should never talk about with your friends and family: politics and religion. Why? Because everyone has their own passionate beliefs about those two topics, and your discussion will most likely just end up as an argument, so why bother? I think there’s a third category that should be added to that list, and it’s one that’s polarizing one of the nation’s newest and fastest growing hobbies: fantasy football league formats.
Ah yes, the argument over which is better – point per reception or standard leagues – is one that happens every year between thousands of fantasy football apologists, and rarely do people budge from their format of choice. It’s no surprise that such a thing brings out passionate feelings. Fantasy football is all about competition with friends and family, and who exactly do you want to beat the most when playing fantasy football? Exactly. Playing with strangers for money doesn’t have the same appeal, and public leagues are just boring.
When you’re playing fantasy football with your buddies, as much as you love them like brothers, you want to beat their butts at all costs. You spend hours upon hours researching breakout candidates, scouring over Twitter on Sunday morning for advice, and buying subscriptions to premium fantasy sites to get a leg up. You do all of this so you can maybe break even, and get to display a $3.99 piece of plastic that shows you’re better – or luckier – than seven, nine, or 11 other guys you know. That competitive spirit leads you to be just as passionate about the rules used. A guy finishing in seventh place suggests you add/take away certain stats? You scoff at his ridiculous suggestion. What does he know, he finished six places below me – a fantasy football God. How dare he.
There are arguments to both sides, but in reality standard leagues became the standard when football was a different beast than it is today, and there is a strong case for PPR leagues becoming the go-to scoring format of the future. I’m going to take a look at a few reasons why PPR is superior, and I’ll let you decide. If you’re a standard league apologist, there probably isn’t much that will change your mind, but if you’re on the fence, take a look – you may find that standard league handcuffs just aren’t worth it in the end.
Football Has Changed
Fantasy football started to take off when running backs were still thought of as the foundation – a somewhat close second to the quarterback, anyway – of a team’s offense. They were the high-priced guys that teams traded future first round picks for. They were almost on a quarterback’s level in the media and public’s mind, and were considered absolutely critical to a team’s success. Think of the Cowboys of the 90’s, are they the same team without Emmit Smith? How about the Bills without Thurman Thomas? Or the Broncos without Terrell Davis? Now ask yourself the same question about the running backs on the recent Patriots, Steelers, and Giants Superbowl teams. Willie Parker, Brandon Jacobs, and Laurence Maroney don’t exactly bring up the same feelings, do they?
The standard scoring format came when football was a different game, when running the ball with one guy was the centerpiece of an offense that set up the passing game. “If you can’t run the ball, you can’t throw the ball” was tossed around a lot by the pundits back then. It was just a part of the game that was known, celebrated, and accepted. Can you imagine someone trying to argue that point today? I somehow doubt Drew Brees and Peyton Manning need Pierre Thomas and Knowshon Moreno to get their passing games going.
In 1998, fantasy football was still in its infancy, but surging in popularity. That year, teams ran the ball at around 47% of the time, compared with today where that number is only 43%. It might not seem like a big difference, until you consider that pass attempts increased by over 2,600, while rushing attempts increased by just 303 during the same time frame.
|Plays||Pass Att||Rush Att||Pass %||Rush %||Pass Inc||Rush Inc|
Today, for the most part, running backs are considered a dime a dozen, and paid as such. Even top free agent running backs are on record saying they’d play another position if they could do it all over again because they are so devalued in today’s game. It seems silly to stand by the old standard scoring format that rewards certain positions when NFL players even acknowledge their position’s diminishing importance.
In 1998, there were exactly zero wide receivers with 100 catches, in 2013 there were five, along with fourteen more who caught 80 or more passes. OJ McDuffie lead the NFL in receptions in 1998 with 90.
The increase in the passing game hasn’t just affected wide receivers. In 2013, running backs caught a total of 2,137 passes. In 1999, that figure was just 1,767. Tight ends followed a similar path.
|Year||RB Rec||TE Rec|
The NFL has changed, and catching a pass takes skill. It’s not like being handed the ball out of the backfield, which anyone can do. Receptions should be rewarded as such.
Even Playing Field
In the past, keeping up with your league’s leader(s) in a standard league was hard, but doing that today is even harder. With PPR leagues, you can make up the difference in points from the top-tier backs with running backs who catch the ball, or receivers and tight ends who are targeted frequently. PPR leagues also help to diminished the luck and randomness involved with touchdowns. There’s no way a guy like Pierre Thomas, who caught 77 passes in 2013, should be ranked behind guys like Rashad Jennings, DeAngelo Williams, and Alfred Morris in total points. Catching a football isn’t an easy thing to do in the NFL, and touchdowns can be very fluky, so why not reward the consistency and volume involved with catching the ball?
A lot of folks will argue that will the PPR settings, you don’t actually gain anything because everyone who catches a ball will be rewarded as such, which is true, but the biggest difference between the two formats is the more even playing field. You no longer have to land that top three or four back to keep pace. Just because you don’t get LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, or Jamaal Charles doesn’t mean you can’t make up those points somewhere else.
In 2013, there was only an 81 point difference from the No. 1 to the No. 10 non-quarterback, while in standard leagues there was a 103 point difference. Also, in standard leagues, six of the top 10 players were running backs, and no wide receivers were in the top five. PPR leagues looked much different. Only three of the top 10 players in PPR leagues were running backs, while two of the top five were receivers. The gap from the top players down is much smaller, and the parity was obvious.
The playing field is much more even in PPR leagues:
The difference in the two formats becomes even more obvious when you look at two through ten in the charts above. Jamaal Charles was an absolute monster in any and every league format there was. He was the No. 1 guy, hands down. From two through 10, though, it’s a much different story. In standard leagues the point differential was 71, with PPR leagues that differential was nearly half that at 39.
Like religion and politics, you’re probably not going to change your mind about what scoring format you like the most. In the end, each takes a different path to prepare for, and each has its own positives and negatives. It seems as time goes on PPR leagues are becoming more and more popular, and even the standard with some sites. With a new crop of young fantasy players who don’t remember running back dominated football of the 90’s, not rewarding for receptions seems silly to them. The high scores in PPR leagues feels natural to where the game is today. Six point passing touchdown leagues do the same for that new crop, but that’s an article for another day.
In the end, no matter which format you prefer, it’s hard to deny that PPR leagues leave less to luck and even the playing field in ways that standard leagues can’t. And as all seasoned fantasy football players know, it doesn’t take much bad luck or handcuffing to ruin a football season.
Gary Althiser is a diehard 49ers and San Francisco Giants fan. He feels weird talking about himself in third-person, but if you want to find him, he usually spends his free time on Twitter irrationally arguing about Alex Smith, or sobbing after NFC championship games. @NFLGary