In the world of PPR fantasy football leagues, it’s obvious how valuable receptions are. After all, they’re the ‘R’ in the format name! Every catch matters, and it has to be factored into rankings and cheat sheets. Whole tiers of sleepers and your draft strategy can shift simply by making each catch worth a point.
Some of the players who receive the biggest boost in PPR formats are obvious. It didn’t take a genius to tell you that Christian McCaffrey catches a ton of passes and is even more valuable in PPR leagues. But pass catching can also come down to opportunity and the man delivering the football. That’s what makes identifying the players who are value selections in PPR league so important. (And knowing who loses value.)
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2019 Fantasy Cheat Sheet
The list below attempts to do that, with some of the obvious names that pick up importance in PPR leagues and some less obvious. Whether this is your first year with PPR or you’ve been playing it for a decade, it’s never a bad idea to circle the players who are PPR stalwarts. They might just help you win your league.
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2019 Fantasy Football: Risers in PPR rankings
RB: Saquon Barkley, Giants; Christian McCaffrey, Panthers; Tarik Cohen, Bears; James White, Patriots
Christian McCaffrey kept messing up my analysis in the WR rankings because I couldn’t just say someone ranked ‘x’ in targets last year. I had to specify “among wide receivers” because McCaffrey’s receiving numbers had pushed themselves right into the midst of the top wideouts. After 124 targets and 107 catches in 2018, McCaffrey could even benefit from a bum Cam Newton shoulder that can’t throw down the field as much. Just like Saquon Barkley, who could easily jump over the 100-reception mark with no Odell Beckham Jr., McCaffrey is a beast in standard leagues who kicks up another notch or two in PPR leagues.
Tarik Cohen was more sporadic, often bracketing single-target games with eight or nine. But his 12-catch, 156-yard game in Week 13 makes his upside obvious. With the Bears backfield in flux, Cohen could see more touches, thus raising his overall value.
James White has been a known commodity in PPR leagues for a long time, but that doesn’t mitigate his value. Healthy for all of 2018, White blasted away his career high in targets with 123. A return to his career-average catch percentage from a below-average mark last year would gain him even five more catches on top of his 87.
2019 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Top 200
WR: Michael Thomas, Saints; Julian Edelman, Patriots; Stefon Diggs, Vikings; Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Michael Thomas led the NFL with 125 receptions in 2018. His 85.1-catch percentage led all of the first-tier of WR options. Drew Brees continues to set completion percentage records, and Thomas is still his top dog. Thomas should be the odds-on favorite to lead the league in catches, again. Then you’ve got Julian Edelman, who will be a strong PPR option as long as he’s Tom Brady’s favorite target out of the slot. In Edelman’s last five healthy seasons, he’s averaged 6.4 catches per game, an extremely high PPR floor. With no Rob Gronkowski, at least to start the year, Edelman should rack up targets.
Stefon Diggs had 102 catches in 15 games last season. That included four double-digit-catch games and four more with at least eight grabs. Diggs will play most of the season at 25, still in his physical prime, and he’ll still benefit from attention given to Adam Thielen on the other side. Lock Diggs in for another 100 receptions. And while Larry Fitzgerald might not catch 100, he’ll be the sure hands that rookie QB Kyler Murray leans on in 2019. Really, 100 isn’t so crazy. The brutal Cardinals offense hurt everyone last year, but in Fitzgerald’s three season’s prior, he surpassed 100 catches in each. He’s being drafted in FLEX territory. That’s great potential value.
DRAFT STRATEGY AND RANKINGS TIERS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST
TE: Zach Ertz, Eagles; Delanie Walker, Titans
Zach Ertz’s presence here is about how he separates himself from George Kittle in PPR formats. Kittle has an argument for the No. 2 tight end slot in standard leagues, but that’s because of all the production he gains from yards after the catch. But Ertz had 28 more catches than Kittle in 2018, and that gap will probably remain this year, making Ertz the clear-cut No. 2 PPR TE.
Walker missed nearly all of last season with an ankle injury, but he’s the only TE in football who received 100 targets in each season from 2014-2017. Walker’s obviously trusted by Marcus Mariota, and if he can get that sheer volume of targets again, he should offer PPR utility. Let’s just hope Walker is healthy and Adam Humphries doesn’t become Mariota’s go-to short-yardage option.
8 QBs | 14 RBs | 11 WRs | 11 TEs | 6 D/STs | One from each team
Fantasy Football 2019: Sleeper PPR draft targets
RB: Kenyan Drake, Dolphins; Chris Thompson, Redskins; Dion Lewis, Titans; Jerick McKinnon, 49ers; Nyheim Hines, Colts; Jalen Richard, Raiders, Duke Johnson Jr., Texans
Kenyan Drake has the potential to be a true lead back, like many thought he would be last year, so you could argue he belongs in the RB group above. But as it stands, one thing we do know is he’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and last season’s disappointment shouldn’t cause you to sour on him too much in PPR leagues this year.
Chris Thompson finds his way onto the sleeper portion because his injuries push him out of people’s minds. An ankle injury and rib issues the past two seasons have limited him to partial campaigns. If he can stay healthy and turn his four catches-catches-per-game average across 2017-’18 into 16 games and 64 catches, he would shatter his career-best mark.
Dion Lewis finds his way onto this list again and again. He will be undervalued if Derrick Henry fails to live up to expectations (again). Not only would Lewis be an effective PPR back, but he’s also been a solid rusher throughout his career when given the chance. Jerick McKinnon is somewhat similar. He was a rising star in the PPR world but then missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL. Don’t forget about his 51 catches in 2017. With a wide-open backfield in San Francisco, if McKinnon could win the full job outright he’d be a stud, but either way he’ll have PPR value.
Nyheim Hines, Jalen Richard, and Duke Johnson Jr. have slightly lower ceilings. They’re classic pass-catching complements to Marlon Mack, Josh Jacobs, and Lamar Miller, respectively. Beware, though, that Hines was an afterthought in the Colts’ biggest wins in 2018, having his worst games, and Richard will have to do deal with likely fewer targets with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams in town. Johnson is in a new offense, so it’s always tough to gauge how he’ll be used, but Texans’ RBs only had 65 total targets last season.
Other players who fit in this group are Theo Riddick, Giovanni Bernard and Ty Montgomery.
WR: Golden Tate, Giants; Willie Snead, Ravens; Marqise Lee, Jaguars; Jamison Crowder, Jets; Anthony Miller, Bears
Golden Tate feels like a known commodity, but he’s stepping into a New York Giants offense that’ll be lacking Odell Beckham, Jr. OBJ received 124 targets in just 12 games in 2018. Those passes will get spread around, to a point, but Tate operates in many of the same areas as Beckham, and he’s probably the favorite to soak up the majority when his four-game suspension is over. Willie Snead is barely draftable in standard leagues, but he might have to be Lamar Jackson’s top target while rookie teammates develop. Snead averaged 10.5 yards per catch in 2018, meaning his standard value isn’t as high, but he could see over 100 targets in 2019 after 95 last year.
Marqise Lee was a prime PPR commodity in 2016 and ’17 as Blake Bortles’s top target before a torn ACL knocked him out of ’18. Nick Foles isn’t blowing anyone away by throwing down the field. Lee’s 63-catch, 851-yard ’16 is within reach. And Jamison Crowder is no PPR secret, but he fits the bill of having to be a security blanket for Sam Darnold in his second season. Crowder’s first three years in the league featured at least 59 catches, operating mostly out of the slot. He can reach that bar this season for a price of basically zero.
Any improvement for Anthony Miller will simply come from him being better in his second season. His targets were a bit up and down last year, but he fits the mold of a solid PPR guy.
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TE: Vance McDonald, Steelers; Jason Witten, Cowboys
Yes, I’m telling you that two potential TE sleepers in PPR leagues are 29 and 37 years old, respectively. Vance McDonald simply has to soak up some of the missing Antonio Brown and Jesse James targets, of which there were more than 200 in 2018. That means last season’s 50 catches could rise substantially, giving him value no matter what he does with the receptions.
Jason Witten didn’t play in 2018, instead lending his questionable commentary to Monday Night Football. But every season from 2004-’17 featured at least 60 Witten catches. He’s exactly the type of over-the-middle chains-mover who gains value in PPR leagues.
Fantasy Football: PPR breakout candidates
RB: Matt Breida, 49ers; Austin Ekeler, Chargers; Jaylen Samuels, Steelers; Kenneth Dixon, Ravens
Matt Breida reeled in 87.1 percent of his targets last year, converting that to 8.4 yards per target. He won’t have value without injuries ahead of him on the 49ers, but when he’s been given the chance as a receiver (and a runner, for that matter), he’s produced. Health is a concern, but Breida has upside.
Jaylen Samuels is an easy name here after he played tight end for North Carolina State in college. His pass-catching proficiency was evident in 2018, as he reeled in 26 of the 29 balls thrown his way. The fact that James Conner is also a good receiver doesn’t hurt Samuels as much because his offensive background and versatility might help him remain on the field. And do you remember Kenneth Dixon? His career has hit bumps in the road courtesy of suspension and injury, but he had a solid PPR year as a rookie in 2016, catching 30 balls in 12 games. He’s a better pass-catcher than Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, so at some point Dixon might have to become Lamar Jackson’s best friend.
Austin Ekeler is in a weird spot given Melvin Gordon’s holdout, but even if Gordon returns, Ekeler could take a leap in PPR leagues. He saw his targets tick up to 53 last season, and he’s had three receiving TDs in each of his first two seasons. Given Gordon’s injury issues last year, Ekeler could become more of a de facto receiving back in addition to spelling Gordon on the ground.
WR: Cole Beasley, Bills; Curtis Samuel, Panthers; Taylor Gabriel, Bears; DaeSean Hamilton, Broncos; Adam Humphries, Titans
Cole Beasley, Taylor Gabriel, and Adam Humphries all fit the classic slot receiver mold that gets a boost in PPR value. Beasley’s a sleeper because Josh Allen should throw plenty; if he fires a lot Beasley’s way, that’ll be a lot of catches. The same is true for Humphries in Tennessee. And there are no new faces stopping Gabriel from replicating his 67 catches he had last season, yet he’s the 91st receiver off the board in PPR drafts, per FantasyPros.
Curtis Samuel fits the Tavon Austin-mold of a player that the Panthers will simply want to get the ball in his hands. He averaged eight targets per game in the season’s final five weeks, a sign he grew into his role and has full-season upside in 2019. DaeSean Hamilton gains value the longer Emmanuel Sanders’ Achilles’ injury lingers. A year ago, Hamilton averaged a poor 8.1 yards per catch, but he caught at least five balls in each of the season’s final four weeks. He’s the type of player who might be more valuable in PPR than in real life if he gets the same opportunity.
TE: Nick Vannett, Seahawks
Any bet on Nick Vannett is pretty much a bet that the Seahawks offense decides to value the tight end more. There’s not much competition in Seattle at the TE spot, especially with Will Dissly needing to recover from an injury. Vannett won’t turn his catches into much, but depending on how things shake out, he could have passes coming his way just by simply being on the field.