This season, many commissioners and their owners will be faced with a heated dilemma: PPR (Point Per Reception) versus standard scoring. Unless you routinely call ladies "dames," believe zoot suits are still fashionable and list Red Grange No. 1 on your draft board, the former is the sensible system to score. Typical leagues are so 20th century.
Challenging conventional draft methods and axioms, the growing popularity of PPR is revolutionizing virtual pigskin. Last season, nearly 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues instituted some form of PPR. That was an increase of nearly three percent from the year before. Its expansion has led to the democratization of fantasy. Instead of running backs dominating the landscape, wide receivers, long considered avoidable until the mid-second round, are being selected earlier and earlier. In many cases, receivers have replaced backs as the cornerstones of fantasy franchises.
Understandably, ardent supporters of the running theory (RB-RB) are clearly an endangered species. In PPR-based leagues last season, 13 of the top 25 players among backs and receivers were pass catchers. DeAngelo Williams(notes) was the highest-ranked back in such a system, but was outpaced by Larry Fitzgerald(notes) and Andre Johnson(notes) in points per game.
The increased acceptance of PPR has unquestionably been influential in vaulting perceived receiver value, but standard formats are also experiencing similar changes. Poring over last year's numbers, only 11 wideouts averaged at least 10 points per game in traditional systems, the lowest output since 2002. Essentially, elite pass catchers have become more coveted. The widespread implementation of timeshares has created instability at the game's most revered position (RB), which has made consistency kings like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Randy Moss(notes) more trustworthy.
Industry colleague Peter Schoenke of Rotowire.com has uncovered research which supports the dependability of top-flight receivers (subscription required). Per his findings, "… of the 18 wide receivers taken with an ADP in the top 15 since 1998, none has been a bust." Conversely, over that same span, top-tiered running backs and quarterbacks demoralized owners at far greater rate. According to Schoenke, due to the incredible scarcity of quality talent in three-receiver leagues, owners who diligently follow a WR-RB-WR-RB strategy increase their chances of drop-kicking opponents. And that's based on data in standard scoring leagues.
If your league abandons vanilla conventionality for the excitement of PPR, it's important to understand what aerial weapons are undervalued and overvalued. Below are two charts. The top chart ranks players last year who posted the highest point differential between PPR versus standard leagues. The bottom chart depicts the lowest:
* Undeterminable ADP due to suspect retirement
SPT = Standard point total (1 pt/10 yds, 6 pts/TD)
PPR = Points per reception total (1 pt/rec, 1pt/10 yds, 6 pts/TD)
09ADP = Based on data provided by Mock Draft Central
With the exception of a couple names, most of the players above unsurprisingly played in pass-happy systems. Some, including Welker, Housh, Breaston and both Denver receivers, have or will run routes in spread-styled offenses this season, potentially stabilizing or increasing their overall worth due to high target totals. Also note each player's average draft position. Though these numbers would decrease somewhat in PPR-heavy leagues, most would be considered steals after Round 2. Even with Kyle Orton(notes) behind center, Royal, in particular, is grossly overlooked.
It's also important to grasp the importance of slot machines in PPR. Outside of the marquee names (i.e. Welker), several underappreciated sources are highly useful when the matchup warrants. Last season, Steve Breaston, Anthony Gonzalez(notes), Davone Bess(notes) and Brandon Stokley(notes) yielded numerous triple-sevens. Along with the aforementioned, unheralded No. 3s Jordy Nelson(notes), Joey Galloway(notes), Bobby Engram(notes) and Nate Burleson(notes) could provide serviceable production in leagues with limited resources.
Excluding Edwards and Jackson, the wideout "wimps" share one common characteristic: they're glorified James Jetts. In other words, their primary usage involves deep routes, which normally leads to many inconsistent performances. If Edwards dons gloves comprised of fly tape, he has a chance to rebound (138 targets in '08). Not listed, Twitter spitter Chad Ochochinco, who averaged 92.4 catches per season from '03-'07, could also vie for Comeback POY. If his average daily tweets parallel per game catch totals, he's sure to obliterate Marvin Harrison's(notes) single-season receptions record. The others listed are avoidable in PPR formats based on their ADPs.
Regardless of whether or not your leaguemates still claim leather helmets are suitable injury deterrents and/or traditional scoring is the best way to play fantasy, its clear owner perceptions of wide receiver value are evolving.
Here are the risers, fallers and baby crawlers at wide receiver this season:
Top 5 Wide Receivers – Overall
1.) Larry Fitzgerald – This requires an explanation? Really? Fitz has delivered 1,400 yards, 90 catches and double-digit TDs in three of the last four seasons.
1.) Larry Fitzgerald – Otherworldly skill set and three 200-point fantasy efforts in past four seasons say he's sure-fired No. 1.
1.) Larry Fitzgerald – That ridiculous playoff run (30-546-7) shows that he's on another planet.
2.) Randy Moss – At worst, he's the second greatest receiver in NFL history. Brady's return sets up Moss for another massive year.
2.) Andre Johnson – Super athletic rocket will strongly contest Fitzgerald if he and Schaub can avoid the injury imp.
2.) Andre Johnson – Can't argue with the volume, and last year's modest TD count was a fluke.
3.) Andre Johnson – He led the league in both receptions and receiving yardage, and found the end zone five times over the final five weeks.
3.) Randy Moss – Much anticipated return of the Golden Boy raises the bar, but 15, not 23, scores seems more realistic.
3.) Calvin Johnson – When you're this talented, the quarterbacking doesn't even matter. Scott Linehan will make sure he gets the ball, especially around the goal line.
4.) Calvin Johnson – He proved recession-proof last year, putting up 1,331 yards and 12 TDs despite the ineptitude that surrounded him.
4.) Steve Smith – Diminutive dynamo a pest to opposing defenses and fantasy opponents; averaged 12.1 ppg/year since â05.
4.) Randy Moss – Kept his head while Brady was out; another Patriots reprogramming.
5.) Steve Smith – Honestly, I still can't believe the Bears couldn't cover him at all, not for an instant. That was a dark day.
5.) Anquan Boldin – Neck-n'-neck with Calvin Johnson, but best PPG average among WRs last year vaults him into upper tier.
Top 5 Wide Receivers – Overvalued
1.) Reggie Wayne – Stellar PPR selection, but 14th-best standard ranking in '08 proves 20.1 ADP is inflated.
2.) Antonio Bryant – Dynamite breakout campaign last season will be tough to repeat with three-headed ferret at QB.
2.) DeSean Jackson – Won't be a volume guy, and unlikely to command the ball in the red area.
3.) Braylon Edwards – He's grossly over-drafted (ADP 46.0) considering his situation and his unimaginably bad '08 performance.
3.) Terrell Owens – Reality TV narcissist may be the Spencer Pratt of fantasy options in historically conservative Buffalo.
3.) Brandon Marshall – High-contact player brings injury risk, and there are countless red flags off the field.
4.) Antonio Bryant – Without question, Bryant had a huge season in '08 and he provided the catch of the year (Week 14, the one-hander), but the Bucs' QB situation scares me a little more each day.
4.) Santonio Holmes – Late-game Super Bowl wizardry will be thought of highly by some, but ranked No. 31 among WRs last year.
4.) Lee Evans – He's been a loss player for a few years and now he has to share with Terrell Owens, a true No. 1.
5.) Jerricho Cotchery – No thanks, not with Sanchez at QB and no other credible receiver on the roster.
5.) Michael Crabtree – Natural gifts are heart-throbbing, but Niners new run-heavy scheme and uncertainty at QB means he's not top 100 material.
5.) Michael Crabtree – Headed to a run-first offense, and there's extra to learn given what he ran in college. Rookie receivers are seldom good values anyway.
Top 5 Wide Receivers – Undervalued
1.) Eddie Royal – There's just no reasonable explanation for his ADP (58.1 at MDC). Royal will fill the Welker role in Josh McDaniel's offense, and he's a strong candidate for a 100-1100 season.
1.) T.J. Houshmandzadeh– Hasselbeck's positive health reports combined with pass-heavy West Coast scheme will launch Housh-ya-daddy back into top 12.
1.) Wes Welker – Catches and yards are money in the bank, and he'll score 5-7 times (at least) now that Brady is back.
2.) Vincent Jackson – Jackson finally broke out in '08, reaching 1,000 yards for the first time. He had 18 catches for 348 yards and two TDs when you needed him most, in Weeks 14-16.
2.) Eddie Royal – Last year's rookie diamond will sparkle in new Wes Welker role; absolute bargain WR2 around pick 55.
2.) Anthony Gonzalez – Third-year spike likely, catches everything they throw his way, and Marvin Harrison is finally out of the way for good.
3.) Bernard Berrian – He's buried in the pre-ranks (No. 31), but coming off career highs in receiving yards and TDs. Berrian also gained an obscene 20.1 yards per catch in '08.
3.) Mark Clayton – Presumed retirement of Derrick Mason could morph slick receiver into 80-1100-5 roster jewel .
3.) Ted Ginn Jr. – Another third-year OSU product I'm happy to bet on; some of those long grabs will eventually get to the end zone.
4.) Kevin Walter – He finished as the No. 19 fantasy wide receiver in '08, yet he's the 30th receiver taken in an average '09 draft.
4.) Chad Ochocinco – Owners who select him in the 50s will express their devotion in 140 characters or less come midseason.
4.) Santonio Holmes – Grew up in the playoffs, ready to become the No. 1 target here.
5.) Davone Bess – Former Hawaii star caught nearly everything thrown his way last year (72 percent) and had at least five receptions in five of the Dolphins' final six games.
5.) Devin Hester – Sneaky improvement over the course of 2008, and now he's with a quarterback who can chuck it deep.
Top 5 Wide Receivers – Rookies
1.) Michael Crabtree – He was the most talented receiver in his draft class in everyone's eyes (except Al Davis'), and he has a clear path to a starting role.
1.) Percy Harvin – If he can avoid the wacky tobacky and other social pitfalls, he has the talent and versatility to excel, Favre or no Favre.
1.) Michael Crabtree – Playing time is waiting for him, but I'm not thrilled about the immediate upside. College stats were inflated by a gimmicky offense.
2.) Brian Robiskie – The offense doesn't figure to produce big numbers, but Robiskie is a polished receiver who's likely to start as a rookie.
2.) Michael Crabtree – Tremendously gifted, but unfortunate surroundings suggest he's a year or two away from trustworthy production.
2.) Percy Harvin – A ridiculous collection of skills, but Brad Childress is no Urban Meyer.
3.) Percy Harvin – He's one of the more exciting playmakers in the league, even if he's only the second most-exciting on his team.
3.) Brian Robiskie – Son of NFL coach is a highly intelligent, acrobatic pass catcher with ideal skill set; true Shocker Special upside.
3.) Jeremy Maclin – Andy Reid will get his speed into the game plan right away.
4.) Jeremy Maclin – The 20-year-old is a serious talent and he's in a relatively pass-happy offense, but he's got a depth chart battle ahead of him.
4.) Hakeem Nicks – G-Men's bevy of questionable options could thrust Nicks into primary role immediately; has the best hands in this year's class.
4.) Brian Robiskie – If he shows anything this summer, he'll be starting opening day.
5.) Hakeem Nicks – He gets easy separation and his hands are outstanding (check the highlights), and the Giants are searching for a difference-maker.
5.) Jeremy Maclin – Electric open-field speed will prove occasionally lethal in Eagles system, but touches will likely be limited
5.) Hakeem Nicks – Comes from a pro-style offense and PT is up for grabs in Jersey.