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Roto Arcade

WR Primer: To the point, PPR leagues changing fantasy draft mentality

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade
Kendall Wright
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Kendall Wright was a pass-catching machine in an otherwise bland Tennessee offense last year. 

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By nature, fantasy owners are superstitious creatures of habit. Every league has that one guy/gal who believes some celestial force, if appeased properly, will grant their every fantasy wish. Each year at the draft, these are the people who must sit in a particular spot, sip on the same beverage and arrive draped in a well-worn, partially faded Jimmy Clausen Panthers jersey they, for some bizarre reason, are convinced cultivates good fortune.

Apparently, when the phrase “Luck of the Irish” was coined in the latter half of the 19th century it also applied to crappy ex-Notre Dame quarterbacks.

Who knew?

This group of gypsy-like mystics is also overwhelmingly stubborn. Old dogs and Greg Schiano are more apt to learn new tricks. When rule changes are discussed or scoring tweaks are proposed they remain married to tradition, emphatically voting ‘NO!’ on even the slightest enhancement.  In their minds things are fine just the way they are. Why mess with it?  

However, these bullheads of the virtual gridiron are slowly beginning to shed their close-minded ways, dabbling in scoring systems that improve their overall fantasy football experience. IDP leagues have gradually gained traction over the past few years, but they pale in comparison to the acceptance of PPR formats.

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Some traditionalists, like Roto Arcade’s own Andy Behrens, vehemently oppose scoring for receptions. They contend it’s not a reflection of reality, a skewed inclusion that artificially inflates sure-handed running backs and wide receivers. After all, Pierre Thomas could catch five passes for -5 yards, which in most PPR settings would garner a positive return. But really it’s no different than a goal-line vulture having an otherwise miserable fantasy performance saved by tripping into the end-zone from one yard out (see most of Rashard Mendenhall’s game log in 2013). Would we only count TDs if a player met a certain yardage threshold? Of course not. Scoring inequalities exist everywhere in fantasy.

Am I right, Behrens?

[Ed. note from AB: I'm not really a "traditionalist" with regard to fantasy scoring. Let's please clear that up. I play leagues with some fairly odd settings and structures. But my longtime point with PPR has been that it rewards an action that has no intrinsic value. A catch for no-gain should never result in points. Where PPR scoring really breaks down, in my view, is with running backs who specialize in short, meaningless, non-chain-moving receptions on third-and-long. Basically, I think PPR gets us further away from valuing the on-field events and player traits that contribute to real-world winning.]

To a certain degree, the anti-PPR crowd has a point, but tracking receptions creates position-wide balance by adding value to wide receivers and tight ends while rewarding RB versatility. In this air-it-out age, it’s only appropriate to award points, or better yet fractional premiums (.5 or .75 per reception), for one of the most fundamental parts of the game. Kendall Wright may not catch touchdowns but it doesn’t mean he’s less valuable to the Titans than red-zone fixture Eric Decker is to the Jets. PPR creates evenness while intensifying the action.

The PPR revolution is well underway. Conventional yards and TD-only formats are quickly going the way of laser discs, Zack Morris tight-rolled jeans and Hakeem Nick’s fantasy worth. Demand for the format has steadily grown. Between 35-40 percent of Yahoo private leagues scored for receptions last year. And compared to just three years ago the raw numbers are up nearly 55,000 leagues. Gamers who continue to cling to outdated scoring methods are completing passes to Eric Moulds on a 16-bit screen. If you haven't already, you're long overdue to catch on …

As a result of the format’s growing popularity, PPR perceptions are built into many player ADPs.  Using data mined from Fantasy Football Calculator here are the 10 widest ADP variances among PPR vs. standard WRs.

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PPR and standard drafters don't see eye-to-eye. 

PPR and standard drafters don't see eye-to-eye. 

Whether you subscribe to PPR or not, here are the 10 biggest storylines you need to follow/know entering training camp:

Andre Johnson’s possible holdout and general bitterness toward the Houston organization – Will his play be affected? Can he bury the hatchet? Will he finally see more red-zone targets, commonly nonexistent during the Gary Kubiak era?

Julio Jones surgically repaired foot – He’s undergone a pair of major procedures on the same foot in three years. His goal is to be ready by Week 1, but, even if operating at full strength from the start, is he worth the pricey investment? Can he be counted on for 16 games?

Cordarrelle Patterson’s potential quantum leapNorv Turner shifted him all over the field in training camp in order to test the youngster’s versatility and grasp of the new offense. He’s typically going inside the position's top-20 in early drafts. Can he deliver on that promise in Year 2 and presumably with a green QB, Teddy Bridgewater, under center a significant chunk of the season?

DeSean Jackson’s Philly revenge – Highly motivated to perform after the Eagles, in an idiotic effort to cut ties with the receiver that perpetuated insensitive stereotypes, released him, he may terrorize the NFC East as a member of arch-rival Washington.

Percy Harvin's ceiling over a full season – We were given a sneak peek of his WR2 potential in Super Bowl XLVIII. Will that momentum carry over? Can he stay healthy?

Josh Gordon’s vicious cycle of stupidity – After his latest DWI arrest, he’s a virtual slam dunk to receive the stiffest penalty possible, a year-long suspension, from Warden Gooddell. Sadly, he may be the brightest, yet shortest-lasting, star to ever grace the virtual gridiron.

Deep rookie impactsSammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin have generated measurable buzz, but dark horses Jordan Matthews and Odell Beckham Jr. are other first-year targets that could make a splash.  

Victor Cruz, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Marques Colston, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne hoofing it on the comeback trail – Not long ago, each was the apple of the fantasy community's eye, but off horrific campaigns, injury-related or not, they will attempt to regain our trust. 

Peyton Manning’s WR2 – Ex-Steeler Emmanuel Sanders is the prohibitive favorite to play sidekick to Demaryius Thomas, but rookie Cody Latimer, a physical, fearless product who thrived in a spread offense at Indiana, will push him as the season wears on.  

Cleveland’s mish-mash of mediocrityMiles Austin, Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins, Anthony Armstrong, Travis Benjamin … whether passes tossed by Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer someone has to catch the ball. I wonder if Webster Slaughter has any gas left in the tank at 49. 

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Below are our risers, fallers and baby crawlers at the WR position this year.

Star of the "Transformers" films, Calvin Johnson, is again in a tier all to himself. At what point in Round 1 of 12-team PPR drafts should he fall off the board: TOP (1-5), MIDDLE (6-9), BOTTOM (10-12) or NEITHER?

Brandon – TOP. I'd take Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte ahead of him in a PPR draft. After that, I'd have a hard time passing up MegaTron.

Andy – TOP, no question. Calvin should not slip beyond the fifth pick in a PPR. He's averaged 11.3 targets per game over the past three seasons, the yardage totals are ridiculous, and he's a near-lock for double-digit TDs.

Scott – TOP, though I wouldn't consider him until No. 4 overall. But Johnson is the rare combination of upside and floor, and still deserves the No. 1 spot at receiver. 

Of the crowned champions in the Yahoo universe last year 55.6 percent owned Josh Gordon. It's highly doubtful another wide receiver will catapult similarly, but, from the group of WRs going after pick No. 75 overall, who do you expect to have the biggest breakout season?

Andy – It's a goldmine outside the top 7-8 rounds. I've landed Emmanuel Sanders and Kendall Wright in many, many mocks, so I should probably go with one of those dudes. But instead, I'm gonna say that SAMMY WATKINS — with an average draft position of 110.7 — is just a ridiculous value. Even though the team context isn't ideal, that kid's skills are of the highest quality. Gordon didn't have the best setup, either, but his talent trumped the environment.

Scott – KENDALL WRIGHT is a proven chain-mover and volume-monster; last year's paltry touchchdown count is at least partially bad luck. 

Dalton – TERRANCE WILLIAMS. Miles Austin is gone, Jason Witten is aging and the Cowboys should throw a ton with such a poor defense. Dallas also sports a strong offensive line and plays in a division that should feature plenty of shootouts. Williams (ADP 96.0) is a prime candidate to break out in a big way during his sophomore campaign.

Cordarrelle Patterson might be the most controversial commodity at the position. Under the direction of Norv Turner, an offensive mind notorious for chucking it down the field, OVER/UNDER 1,199.5 combined yards for the sophomore target.

Scott – UNDER on the yardage; he's too raw, and there's too much competition for the ball here. That said, go look at his December stats again. I know it's dangerous to chase big touchdown numbers on moderate chances, but like most of the fantasy world, I have a sweet tooth for Patterson. 

Dalton – OVER. It may come so unconventionally with some help by rushing stats, but Patterson is a freakish talent who should see a major uptick in targets during his second year in the league. This takes a leap of faith, since Patterson totaled a modest 627 yards from scrimmage last season, but I'm a believer and fully buying the hype. 

Brad – UNDER. Expectations for Patterson have escalated to a nonprofitable level (41.9 ADP, WR16 per Fantasy Football Calculator). He'll certainly see an uptick in targets and his physical attributes are otherworldly, but he's still a fairly raw route runner who is probably a year away from exploding. Matt Cassel and an inexperienced rookie QB, Teddy Bridgewater, also don't instill a ton of confidence. Sharpie me in for 1,000 combined yards with a handful of TDs. 

Call it a comeback. What former standout will make the most fantasy noise in 2014: Victor Cruz, Roddy White, Marques Colston, Mike Wallace, Hakeem Nicks or Reggie Wayne?

Dalton – CRUZ. This was close between White and Cruz for me, but I went with the latter mainly because he's five years younger. I expect the Giants' passing attack to bounce back under new OC Ben McAdoo's system. Cruz averaged 84.0 catches with 1,314 receiving yards and 9.5 touchdowns during his first two seasons in the league before last year's hiccup. 

Brad – V is for VICTOR-Y. McAdoo's quick-twitch offense should greatly assist Eli Manning whether the offensive line protects consistently or not. Working out of the slot, I fully expect Cruz to be the Randall Cobb of New York, returning to the 85-90 catch class with 1,200 yards and 7-10 touchdowns. He's a rock solid value in Round 4 of most 12-team drafts (39.4 ADP). 

Brandon – HOT RODDY. We saw him return to top 10 WR levels over the final five weeks of '13, a point when he had finally put nagging injury issues behind him. The return of Julio Jones willo help take pressure off White, and Tony Gonzalez's retirement means a lot of extra targets to go around.

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BELIEVE OR MAKE BELIEVE. Keenan Allen, off only the 11th 1,000-yard rookie WR campaign since 1980, betters his numbers in 2014.

Brad – BELIEVE. What he accomplished in his rookie year without a full offseason to prepare was rather remarkable. He's worked on building speed this summer in the hopes of becoming a greater downfield threat. Already an exceptional route runner blessed with sticky hands -- he caught 71 of 76 catchable balls in '13 -- he's slated to be a targets hog in an offense that chucked it 545 times last fall. Top-10 numbers are in his immediate future. Sophomore slump be damned. 

Brandon – BELIEVE. I don't think he'll take a leaps and bounds type of jump forward, but San Diego did little to immediately improve its receiving weaponry, so Allen remains the clear go-to guy for Philip Rivers, and there's not much else to capture Rivers' aerial attention save a likely big step up from TE Ladarius Green.

Andy – Allen was barely a rumor last September, you'll recall. He did most of his work over the final 12 games. He's legit. I BELIEVE. Allen finished 39th in the league in total targets last year, yet still delivered 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight scores. Imagine how productive he can be with 25-30 additional looks.

What wideout in early drafts will break the bank, and your heart?

Andy – This is tricky, because I don't see many flaws with the top-of-draft receivers. We can make a case for Andre Johnson here, due to offensive context and injury history. But instead I'm gonna say PIERRE GARCON, a guy with a changing role in a new offense. Garcon isn't going to approach last year's target or reception totals, and he's not an elite talent.

Dalton – Based on his ADP (WR12) versus my ranks (WR24), I have to say LARRY FITZGERALD. I love watching him play, but he'll turn 31 before the season starts, and it appears he's lost some explosion, having averaged just 876.0 receiving yards over the past two seasons despite playing in every game (getting just 11.5 YPC over that span). I'd even prefer his own teammate Michael Floyd at this point, regardless of cost.  

Scott – Garcon and Fitzgerald are both excellent answers, but you don't want to hear us ramble on about the same guys. Put me down for ANDRE JOHNSON: allergic to the end zone (not completely his fault); upset with his organization; stuck with mediocre quarterbacks. 

Fill in the blank. Green wideout ________ leads the rookie pack and tallies a final line of _______receptions for ________ yards and _______ touchdowns. He finishes No. ________ among all WRs in per game average.

Brandon – MIKE EVANS. 60, 900, 8, 30. There's a negligible difference in my rankings between Evans, Brandin Cooks and Sammy Watkins, and I like Jordan Matthews an awful lot, too. But I see Evans' red zone abilities as the deciding factor here.

Andy – First of all, this would be much better if we'd done it as a Mad Lib. Let's try that next time. I'll fill in the blanks this way: SAMMY WATKINS, 69, 980, 8, 24.

Scott – BRANDIN COOKS, 68, 855, 6, 27. He's smart enough to pick up the pro game quickly, and he's going to the best setup. 

Dalton – MIKE EVANS, 70, 970, 8, 25.

Brad – BRANDIN COOKS, 77 receptions, 915 yards, 5 touchdowns, No. 28. 

Chuck a Hail Mary. What deep sleeper (ADP 120+) will emerge from the woodwork and become an indispensable WR2/WR3 in 12-team leagues this fall?

Andy – If RUEBEN RANDLE is just a bit more aware this season, he has a chance to post big numbers. He's a big talent coming off a quality offseason, plus he's expected to take on a larger role.

Dalton – RUEBEN RANDLE. I have him in the same tier as Kendall Wright and Mike Wallace, yet he's going far later in drafts. Hakeem Nicks is gone, the new offensive system should suit Randle's talents better, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he's a top-25 fantasy WR this season.

Brad – JARRETT BOYKIN. He's locked into the WR3 spot in a prolific passing offense with one of the game's elite QBs, Aaron Rodgers, chucking him the rock. Recall last year in an expanded role from Week 7-Week 16, he registered a top-30 output. Cobb and Jordy will be the primary assets, but he could be a very useful James Jones-type in deeper formats. There's sneaky WR2/3 potentiel here.  

Scott – I'm a Randle guy, too, but his case was made above. Let's give MIKE WALLACE a partial pass for his 2013 flop; he showed improvement late in his first Miami season, and he's with an improving young quarterback and an intriguing new offensive architect. 

 Brandon – MARKUS WHEATON. He's the odds-on-favorite to start opposite Antonio Brown in what has been a pretty good Pittsburgh passing offense the past few years. If you think about the production being vacated by Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, it's easy to see how Wheaton can be a solid fantasy factor in '14.

SEE ALSO: QB PRIMER

Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoiseAlso, check out 'The Noise' along with colleagues Andy Behrens and Brandon Funston for another season of 'Fantasy Football Live' Tuesday-Thursday at 6:30 PM ET starting July 29 on NBC Sports Network.  

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