PPR Elite Players
By Jeff Tefertiller
July 6th, 2010

This is the second installment of the series examining trends in PPR leagues, as well as looking at facts versus myths. The study covers the last eight years of data and how the different skill positions fared against each other on a points per game basis. Only players who appeared in at least nine contests in a given year were included. This article will specifically address the elite players, those finishing in the Top 10 players overall. Many fantasy owners would assume that the wide receiver position would be well represented in the Top 10 overall players since several receivers catch 100 balls each season. This is one myth that will be addressed later in this article. In this eight-year study, all players finishing in the Top 10 averaged over 20 points per game. No fantasy team can ever have enough players scoring at this level. There have been a couple of players that even averaged over 30 points per game during this span, but most averaged between 20 and 25 points per week. Each of the players averaging in excess of 30 points a contest gave their fantasy owners a ten point per game advantage compared to other “elite” players at the same position. That is a huge edge over the competition.

Many times, fantasy owners underestimate how big of an advantage it is to have elite players in the starting lineup. As stated above, there are instances where the best player at a position will score six or seven points per game, on average, over others still finishing in the Top 10. Only with the elite players (finishing in the Top 10 overall) can a fantasy owner gain such a large edge at the Quarterback, Running Back or Wide Receiver position. The marginal differences in points per game averages decline as we move down the list toward the lesser players.

The table below shows how many of each position finished in the Top 10 overall in PPR leagues over the past eight seasons:

Top 10
2009
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
Avg
QB
8
7
5
5
1
5
1
4
4.5
RB
2
0
2
5
6
4
7
4
3.8
WR
0
3
3
0
3
1
2
2
1.8

Initial Observations

It may come as a surprise to many that quarterbacks dominated the Top 10 in all but two seasons, even with only four points awarded for a passing touchdown. In addition, no more than three wide receivers have cracked the Top 10 in a given year. The 2009 season was one of two in the study that saw no pass catchers in the Top 10. As stated in the introductory article to the series, it is worth noting that the average number of running backs in the elite tier has declined the last few seasons.

Trends

  • In five of the last six seasons, the Top 10 has been at least half-filled with quarterbacks. The 2009 season saw huge production from the fantasy quarterbacks. With more and more NFL teams adopting wide-open passing offenses, this trend is expected to continue. We will get more in depth on this topic in the next article that addresses the very good fantasy starters, the Top 30 overall.
  • The decline in running backs that finish in the Top 10 is intriguing, especially after the 2008 season when no running back finished in the Top 10 overall. The next article will discuss how, on average, the number of running backs eclipses the receivers in the Top 30 overall. With more and more teams using a committee at the running back position, and more role specialization, the spreading out of fantasy points for ball carriers should not come as a big surprise. Also, the last few years have seen a drop-off in monster seasons by running backs. This is a trend that should continue for the near future.
  • In four of the last five seasons, there is little difference in the points per game averages of RB2 and RB5. Last year, the difference was a mere 0.6 points per game. This means that even though there may be a back with a great season, there are other very good rushers that produce similar numbers. This is another point that will be expanded upon in the next article as we look at the Top 30 overall players.
  • Myths

  • Wide receivers dominate PPR leagues. With several wideouts exceeding 100 catches in a season, while eclipsing the 1,300-yard mark, receivers should have an advantage over running backs in PPR leagues.
  • Leagues giving a point per reception and only 4 points per passing touchdown de-value the quarterbacks compared to the other skill positions. Only in leagues giving 6 points per passing should the fantasy passers outperform the running backs and wide receivers. In addition, the same quarterbacks finish at the top of the rankings each year, making it relatively easy to draft a passer early in the draft.
  • Players at the Tight End position can put up PPR numbers worthy of a pick in the first two rounds of fantasy draft.
  • Truths

  • While each year, many wide receivers are very productive, it is the running backs who catch a lot of passes that are the coveted players in PPR leagues. The last couple of years have seen fewer and fewer stud running backs. This effect is strong and will be shown in the next installment of the series. Many receivers score about the same, yielding less impact for the truly elite wideouts. In 2008, the difference between WR2 (player nine overall) and WR10 (player 43 overall) was only 4.5 points per game. In 2009, the difference between WR1 and WR 11 was less than four points per week. The difference in RB1 and RB11 was a whopping nine points per game. What a stark contrast between positions. These top receivers offered little advantage in production over those drafted later, not even including the difficulty in predicting which receivers will finish in the Top 10. In addition, few would have been able to guess half of the Top 12 receivers before the season. Players like DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin, Steve Smith (NYG), Sidney Rice, and Vincent Jackson all finished as fantasy WR1s without high expectations while Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings disappointed terribly.
  • The top fantasy passers each year give their owners a distinct advantage. In addition, the quarterbacks drafted early are not the ones that finish as QB1 in fantasy leagues. In 2009, few would have guessed that Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Brett Favre, and Tony Romo would be near the top of the Quarterback rankings. Rodgers had an incredible year. In 2008, Drew Brees finished comfortably ahead of Aaron Rodgers as the top fantasy passer. The next three fantasy quarterbacks were Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, and Kurt Warner. None of these were taken early in drafts. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the ones selected in the top two rounds of most drafts. In 2007, Tom Brady came out of nowhere to pace the quarterback rankings. Drafting a fantasy passer high offers little certainty for a top fantasy season at the quarterback position.
  • Only twice in the last eight years has a tight end cracked the Top 30 overall. There are times that a fantasy tight end can give an owner a big advantage. But, the position is similar to the quarterbacks in that the tight end who is drafted the highest usually gives the owner no advantage. Many times, the top producing tight end is drafted as TE2, TE3, or TE4 off of the board. Last year, Dallas Clark had a monster year. Many fantasy owners drafted Jason Witten or Antonio Gates over Peyton Manning's security blanket. In 2008, Tony Gonzalez gave owners a huge advantage each game. He scored, on average, more than 3 points points per game more than the second best player at the position, Dallas Clark. In fact, Gonzalez finished as player 38 overall. Jason Witten and Antonio Gates were the first tight ends drafted that year as well. In 2007, Jason Witten finished as TE1. He was not highly drafted that season. Antonio Gates was presumed to finish as the TE1 in the 2007 offseason. The top tier tight ends usually produce good numbers, but the question is one of value. Can I find similar production later on in the draft? The answer is "yes" with the Tight End position.
  • Conclusions

    Even though this article only covers the Top 10 players overall, there are several things to be gleaned. Elite players give their owners a distinct advantage over other fantasy starters at the position. At quarterback, the player with the highest ADP usually does not finish as the top passer at season's end. No one could have predicted Tom Brady's injury, but it was one more instance where a highly drafted passer disappointed. As the first article indicated, owners would be wise to draft a quarterback after the first few are taken. Just like at the quarterback position, the first tight end position drafted usually does not finish as TE1. But, as we will examine in the next two articles, the top few tight ends give their owners an edge over some at the position. The tight end position is top heavy, with a big drop-off after the first five or six players most seasons.

    Below is the full data from the last eight seasons with the points per game average listed next to each position for each year.

    Top 10
    2009
    2008
    2007
    2006
    2005
    2004
    2003
    2002
    Avg
    QB
    8
    7
    5
    5
    1
    5
    1
    4
    4.5
    25.1-20.7
    23.5-20.3
    28.4-20.6
    23.0-19.2
    21.3
    27.0-20.6
    23.5
    25.9-22.5
    RB
    2
    0
    2
    5
    6
    4
    7
    4
    3.8
    24.9-20.8
    n/a
    24.8-23.0
    30.2-20.8
    23.7-20.8
    22.8-21.4
    27.9-20.8
    31.6-21.7
    WR
    0
    3
    3
    0
    3
    1
    2
    2
    1.8
    n/a
    22.1-19.5
    24.1-20.5
    n/a
    21.3-20.6
    20.7
    23.7-22.4
    23.9-23.0

    The next three articles will focus on the Top 30, Top 50, and Top 100 players overall. Each will examine and discuss how each skill position fares against the others on a points per game basis. The next installment of the series will look at good starters for fantasy teams, the Top 30 players overall.

    Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there.