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Fantasy Football: Draft Strategy for PPR Leagues

Point per reception (PPR) leagues have become the most popular format of play, particularly over the past decade or so. PPR leagues lead to more scoring, which is generally a good thing. More points means more excitement, but also some added nuance. When it comes to draft strategy in fantasy football, there are a few universal truths. Some pointers are specific to PPR formats. I will offer my thoughts on both in the space below. If you have not played in a PPR league yet, there is still time to jump into one here. And our Draft Kit has all sorts of useful tips and tricks for any format out there.  

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Draft Strategy for PPR Leagues


Know Your League Settings

This should be the number one rule in all formats in fantasy football. Simply knowing that a league incorporates PPR scoring is not enough because not all PPR leagues are alike. This is an area where you can gain an edge by understanding your surroundings. League size, scoring, and roster configuration are just a few of the factors that affect a player’s value. For example, I tend to use terms like “RB1” when talking about a player. When I do so, I am speaking in terms of 12-team leagues, which are also quickly becoming the industry standard. But if you are playing in an eight-team league, the 10th-best running back is not an RB1. Conversely, if you are in a 16-team league, the 15th-best running back would be an RB1 in that situation. Of course, this is not black and white because…

Have Tiered Rankings and/or Projections

Let’s pretend that before a draft last year, you had advanced knowledge of a player’s scoring. Last season, Austin Ekeler scored 372.7 fantasy points in PPR leagues. Leonard Fournette scored 227.1, while Jamaal Williams scored 225.9. Ekeler topped all backs in scoring. Fournette finished 12th, and Williams finished 13th. Technically, Fournette was an RB1 and Williams was an RB2. However, as you can see, the two finished within 1.2 points of each other. Meanwhile, Ekeler outscored both by nearly 150 total points. Sure, if you had a simple ranking system, you may have grouped Fournette and Williams closely together. But be careful when using broad terminally such as “RB1”, “WR3”, etc.

Another example is the total scoring for the overall RB6 through RB9 last year. Nick Chubb finished with 281.4 total points. Rhamondre Stevenson, Tony Pollard, and Aaron Jones all finished with between 249.1 and 248.6 points. If you used a general ranking system, simply stating that you had Chubb sixth, Stevenson seventh, Pollard eighth, and Jones ninth wouldn’t be enough. That is because the gap between Chubb and Stevenson was nearly two points per game, while the difference between Stevenson and either Pollard or Jones was nonexistent. It would have been wiser to reach for Chubb than it would have been to settle for Stevenson. Of course, in a real draft, we do not know future outcomes. However, having projections or tiered rankings at the ready can help illustrate where you may have to jump at a certain position while you wait on another.

Do Not Draft By ADP Alone

Average Draft Position (ADP) can be a very helpful tool when used correctly. ADP is essentially a composite of where a player has been drafted throughout the draft season. Our ADP encompasses thousands of leagues that go back as far as January. This can be beneficial for fantasy managers who do not live and breathe fantasy football 365 days a year. However, the perception of a player can change quickly. Our ADP has Joe Burrow 46th overall, and seventh at the quarterback position. But he likely would have been fourth or fifth had he not injured his calf at practice. If we had a crystal ball and knew Burrow would play 17 games this year, you are likely getting him at a solid value if you grab him as the seventh quarterback in your league.

On the flip side, the hype machine of the digital age has made the sleepers of the past a dying breed. One example is running back Jaylen Warren of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We all saw him take his only carry 62 yards to the house on Saturday. As a result, Warren has been flying up draft boards. If you only looked at ADP to determine where you can grab Warren, you may end up disappointed. He has jumped multiple rounds over the past week and may continue to climb in the coming days. Players like these often go overlooked by those who rely too heavily on antiquated ADP data. Again, this is where updated projections can come in handy. If you cannot create them yourself, find a trusted source who is locked into the latest goings on from around the NFL.

Get Your Guys

This point is correlated with my discussion of ADP above. Before the draft, you should make a list of targets you want at each position. You certainly will not get all of them, but having an idea of who you want (and often more importantly who you do not want) will help you make decisions when you are on the clock. Making a list of players you want to target and avoid can save you a lot of last-second guesswork. And if you have a strong feeling about a potential breakout, by all means, draft him ahead of ADP. If your 12th-round sleeper ends up providing fourth-round value, nobody is going to remember that his ADP had him going in the 14th round.

Stay Relatively Sober

When done correctly, fantasy football drafts can be a blast. Those who partake in person often enjoy great company and good food and drinks. But you do not want to go overboard. Even without alcohol involved, live drafts can be overwhelming. You have people yelling over each other and can often deal with sensory overload depending on your surroundings. The last thing you want is to be scouring the draft room with bloodshot eyes with 15 seconds left on the clock and you are just hoping to find a name you recognize. It all goes back to preparation. If you have your players tiered properly and your targets defined, you can breathe easier and enjoy the overall experience of the draft.

During the Draft

Running Backs: Volume, Volume, Volume

This may sound simple, and that is because it mostly is. The problem is that, though fantasy football has grown and evolved by leaps and bounds over the years, the draft process is such that most managers will not have a chance to draft any of the top-tier running backs. I can go on about this topic forever, but I will save that for another day. For now, I will simply suggest not to avoid running backs who are perceived as liabilities as pass catchers early in drafts. Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb are probably the best examples of this. The funny thing is that both are more than capable of creating in the passing game. Derrick Henry had more receiving yards last season than Saquon Barkley did. And both he and Chubb averaged at least three more yards per reception than Barkley.

PPR leagues make a lot more players fantasy viable, and that is great. Jerick McKinnon ran the ball just 72 times last year yet finished 24th overall among running backs in PPR scoring. Meanwhile, Rachaad White had 129 carries and finished 42nd. Austin Ekeler led all running backs in scoring while barely finishing inside the top 20 in total carries. For the record, I am not at all suggesting not to draft Ekeler and/or McKinnon if the opportunities present themselves. What I am saying is that those examples are not indicative of the running back position as a whole. Among the top 20 running backs in total carries last year, 17 of them finished as top-20 PPR backs. When in doubt, look for running backs who are going to get touches and the rest will take care of itself.

Wide Receivers: Volume of a Different Variety

If you can secure an elite wide receiver early like Justin Jefferson or Ja’Marr Chase, go for it. However, the running back position thins out much more quickly than the wideout spot. That is especially true in PPR leagues. For reference, look no further than 2022. 39 running backs and 39 wide receivers totaled at least 100 points in leagues that use standard scoring. If you use PPR scoring, six running backs get added to that pot, making a total of 45. But a total of 74 wide receivers scored at least 100 PPR fantasy points a season ago. And 49 wide receivers scored at least 145 points, compared to only 33 running backs. There is a similar split if you incorporate weekly averages you will see a similar split. 36 running backs averaged 10 PPR points per game, while 50 wide receivers turned the trick.

This discrepancy may be mitigated by your league settings. Many leagues start two running backs and three receivers. Under these conditions, an RB2 will generally have a similar score to a WR3, thus balancing things out. Regardless, you will want to ensure that you have a plethora of wide receivers to choose from in a given week. We often think of backup running backs as handcuffs and consider them commodities in the event of an injury. but the same logic can be applied to wide receivers as well. When Keenan Allen missed five games early in the year, Joshua Palmer scored at least 13 PPR points three times. And when Mike Williams missed the better part of five games following the Chargers’ bye, Palmer averaged 16.04 PPR points.  

In most cases, your Flex spot will be filled with a wide receiver. So in a league where you need to start three, you often end up starting four wide receivers. When you consider matchups, injuries, and bye weeks, you need to draft a good number of wide receivers. I never try to pigeonhole myself into a specific number, but for PPR strategy purposes, I would aim to use close to half my bench spots on wide receivers. That may vary to a degree depending on the size of your bench and how you attack other positions. For example, in the SiriusXM Independence Day Invitational, we start two RBs, three WRs, and two Flexes. We have six bench spots. I drafted seven wide receivers. This way, I can start five if I have to each week while still being able to factor in matchups.

Tight Ends: Go Big or Go Home

Last season, Travis Kelce more than doubled the number of PPR points of the overall TE6, Tyler Higbee. And in 2020, he more than doubled the number of PPR points of the overall TE8, Noah Fant. In 2021, the overall TE1 “only” outscored the TE3 by 92.3 points. The overall TE1 that year was also not Travis Kelce… it was Mark Andrews. Andrews and Kelce are the only two players who have scored over 300 PPR points in recent years. Finding a reliable tight end week in and week out can be a fool’s errand. Last year, only eight tight ends averaged 10 PPR points per game. I would not begrudge anyone who wanted to take either Kelce or Andrews early and save themselves the headache of streaming for tight ends each week.

I do not think Andrews will outscore Kelce in 2023. But there is an argument to be made that the difference between the two is not as far as most may think. And, as Meng Song outlines in the linked article, it makes sense to target Andrews in part based on the caliber of running back/wide receiver you can get in Round 1 versus Round 3. For example, I would rather have a combination of Austin Ekeler and Andrews than Kelce and Najee Harris. If everything played out exactly as it did a season ago, the Ekeler/Andrews combo would net 2.9 points per game over Kelce/Harris. These are scenarios that fantasy managers must always be thinking about both before and during the draft.

Andrews is not the only tight end who has a high ceiling. T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle, and Evan Engram were top-five scorers at the position in 2022. And Dallas Goedert, Kyle Pitts, and Darren Waller are among those who could reach those heights this year. But outside of those players, there aren’t many who have elite upside. David Njoku and Chigoziem Okonkwo are interesting, but volume may be an issue. I think if you have a surefire stud like Kelce or Andrews, drafting a backup tight end is an unnecessary exercise. However, if you draft a player in the lower TE1 tier, it is best to secure that spot with a backup option with some upside. Some names to consider here include Dalton Kincaid, Juwan Johnson, and Sam LaPorta.

Quarterbacks: Beware the Positional Run

I am old enough to remember when everyone said to wait on drafting a quarterback in fantasy football. But that mantra has mostly gone by the wayside in recent seasons. The influx of talent at the position demands that fantasy managers pay attention. Even in PPR leagues, one cannot simply let a quarterback fall to them. This can be a tricky task for fantasy managers to navigate. Over the past three seasons, Josh Allen has averaged over 400 points per season, with Patrick Mahomes just below that threshold. The gap between them and the field is not quite as pronounced as it is at other positions. Kirk Cousins has eclipsed 300 points in each of the past three years, for example. Still, this is a position where it is best to be ahead of the curve.

More so than at any other position, fantasy managers often play a quasi-game of chicken when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. Most of us have been raised to wait on quarterbacks, so we do… until someone else does. Once a run happens, it can be hard to figure out how to proceed. The consensus is that Mahomes, Allen, and Jalen Hurts should be the top three quarterbacks in some order. Those three players are often gone after Round 2, which is a stark contrast to years gone by. After that, it is often a matter of preference, and managers do not want to be left holding the bag. I have seen drafts where Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Justin Fields, and even Trevor Lawrence all go within 10-15 picks of one another.

There is usually a lull in drafting a quarterback once those eight signal-callers are off the board. In a 12-team league, there are usually four teams without a quarterback and a solid tier of options. This includes players like Tua Tagovailoa, Cousins, Deshaun Watson, and Dak Prescott. Beyond those players, there are some intriguing choices such as those who impressed last year (Geno Smith and Daniel Jones), those who are getting their first chances this year (Anthony Richardson, Jordan Love), and those who are looking to bounce back from subpar 2022 seasons (Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson). Even in PPR leagues, having a high-end quarterback is a necessity with the level of talent higher than ever. I would also advocate drafting a backup in most instances if you have the flexibility to do so.

Kickers and D/ST: Wait, Then Wait Some More

Let me state for the record that I am in favor of keeping kickers and defenses in fantasy football. I know a lot of people disagree with that sentiment, but they are allowed to be wrong. If you want to reduce the level of variance that kickers and defense might provide, there are easy ways to do this. You can make yours a SuperFlex league, which makes a lot of sense given the number of quality quarterbacks. Or you can add Flex spots or increase the required number of running backs and/or wide receivers each team must start. These suggestions would both increase scoring and decrease the impact that kickers and D/ST have on the outcome of fantasy football matchups. That was easy enough. Now all I need is to be named Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Sports and we can make these changes official.

The main argument against the kicker and defense positions usually centers around the theory that scoring at these positions is too random. I can see that concerning D/ST. A team who allows 35 points in an NFL game should not be rewarded with eight fantasy points just because of a random scoop and score, or six points because of a kickoff return. Conversely, a team who holds an opponent to 10 points should not be punished by a lack of turnovers. And this does not even consider when a team is up big late in the game and plays prevent defense, essentially allowing their opponent to score. On second thought, maybe we should get rid of D/ST. But kickers? They can stay. Whatever you do, just do not draft a kicker or a defense before the last three rounds.

For more great rankings and analysis, make sure to check out our 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit!

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