It’s time to end PPR

The time has come to end the points-per-reception (PPR) fantasy football scoring format. Fantasy football has evolved to where it’s no longer needed.

I know, it’s popular. It may be the most common fantasy football scoring system. Most of the high-stakes formats (including the National Fantasy Football Championship) and almost all daily fantasy football contests use PPR.

But it’s outlived its usefulness. Here’s why:

First, a reception is not particularly notable. The goal in football is to advance the football toward first downs and/or touchdowns. A reception is a means, but ensures nothing. You can get a reception for no yards or even negative yards.

Yet most scoring systems make a reception the equivalent of ten yards of rushing or receiving, which has a meaningful impact in the real NFL game.

Why is that? Well, it’s tied to the history of fantasy football.

When fantasy football first emerged in the 1960s (with the GOPPL), the scoring systems were very basic: touchdowns only. When you lacked basic box score information and spreadsheets, tallying up only touchdowns made life easy. Leagues also didn’t have many starters. The primary format that emerged in the early 1980s was eight starters: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 D.

Later in the 1980s when fantasy sports took off, scoring systems added points for yardage. The result was that quarterbacks dominated. With six points per passing touchdown and few points for anything else, quarterbacks were too valuable.

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To combat the dominance of quarterbacks, fantasy leagues lowered the points for passing touchdowns to four points.

However, then running backs dominated. Emmitt Smith scored 20 touchdowns for two straight years (22 in 1994 and 25 in 1995) . Marshall Faulk had 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving in 1999. Priest Holmes had 27 touchdowns in 2003. In the mid-1990s and early 2000s, you needed a top running back or else.

To combat the power of the top running backs, leagues moved to starting more receivers. The three-receiver format was born. The flex position was added. But not even that was enough to combat the top running backs.

So leagues implemented PPR. It was a way to raise the value of receivers, even if a few pass-catching backs got an extra boost.

Meanwhile, the running back problem took care of itself. The NFL became more of a passing league. The average rushing yardage per team declined seven percent from 116.1 yards in 2002 to 108.9 yards in 2016. The percentage of yards gained on the ground also fell from 35.4 percent in 2002 to 31.1 percent last year. The NFL moved to time-share running backs and grew wary of giving backs large workloads realizing the wear and tear (thus the 370-carry benchmark). The number of running backs with 300 or more carries in a season fell from 10 in 2002 to one each of the past two seasons.

But fantasy leagues kept PPR scoring.

As a result, leagues are starting to move too much in the direction of wide receivers. Last year of the top 40 picks of an average 12-team, PPR scoring league, 21 were wide receivers. Just 13 were running backs. Six were from another position. And four of the top five overall spots were wide receivers. This year it’s the same: 20 of the first 40 picks in an average 12-team PPR scoring are wide receivers.

Meanwhile, non-PPR leagues had more balance. Just 18 of the first 40 picks in an average 12-team standard (non-PPR) scoring were wide receivers last season. Just 14 of the first 40 picks are wide receivers this year.

It’s time to end the meaningless stat that was only implemented for positional balance.

I get that PPR scoring adds more excitement. It’s an event in a game that you can clearly see whether in person or on tv. It’s also fun to obsess over more points and more data in real time in your fantasy contest. But shouldn’t the added stats for more excitement be more meaningful like first downs (used in the Fishbowl expert league)?

I think the best setup for a fantasy league is to use non-PPR scoring and use a “superflex” position (which allows for a RB, WR, TE or QB). Two-QB leagues make quarterbacks too valuable, but superflex leagues widen the player pool and make each position more equal in value. The superflex adds more options in free agency since the 32nd best starting quarterback may have as much value as a third receiver on a decent offense. It solves the problem of positional balance without adding meaningless stat categories.

The superflex is the next evolution of fantasy football. Let’s hope PPR doesn’t survive into the new epoch.