The 9 Most Important Players in Your PPR League

Point-per-reception leagues give value to plenty of players, so which guys should you target this season?

Some people take fantasy football more seriously than others, and some of the people who take it really seriously are starting to divide into two distinct camps: those who enjoy point-per-reception leagues, and those who hate them with a burning passion.

If you're in the former group, or if you just don't mind a PPR league to mix things up every now and again, you have to know that PPR leagues give a distinct edge to certain players and devalue big-play receivers and backs unable to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Relying on a mixture of rankings and projections from our cheat sheet, our Net Expected Points (NEP) statistic, player history, and average draft position (from, I'm going to give you some names that could be big-time performers in PPR leagues.

I won't be discussing many long-shots and guys you have to cross your fingers while deciding to plug them into your starting lineups, but rather players who are being under-drafted in PPR leagues: difference-makers.

Wide Receivers

Antonio Brown | nF Projection: 110.60 receptions, 1,413.95 yards, 8.82 touchdowns

Brown is pretty much a consensus top-10 fantasy receiver in standard leagues, but we have him pegged as our number two PPR receiver this season due to his projected catch tally, the highest projection we have for any player this year. That'll start you off with about seven points per week, and his touchdown total shouldn't be half bad, either.

He's the clear top-option for Pittsburgh, who finished eighth in Adjusted Passing NEP in 2013, and Brown's personal Reception NEP of 120.20 ranked seventh among all receivers. For a late-second-round ADP, he's worth the price if he can live up to our projection. Even if he can't, he's a really safe fantasy option.

Roddy White | nF Projection: 99.11 receptions, 1,256.69 yards, 6.23 touchdowns

Roddy is being drafted as the 17th receiver in PPR leagues (Round 4), and we're projecting him to finish as the 13th receiver in PPR formats. It's not a huge gap between ADP and projected finish, but White averaged 102.3 receptions and 8.3 touchdowns from 2010-2012. The Falcons ship caught fire early last year, and the whole season was a lost cause. This year, White will have a chance to post another elite Reception NEP season like he did in 2009 (9th among receivers with a Reception NEP of 107.28), 2010 (2nd, 122.82), 2011 (5th, 120.23), and 2012 (5th, 119.88).

White's a high-volume pass-catcher who may be overlooked on draft day because of 2013, and because he's no longer the best receiver on his team. But Tony Gonzalez's departure will help open up opportunities for everyone, meaning White could get back to 102 catches and 8 touchdowns.

Michael Crabtree | nF Projection: 89.07 receptions, 1,294.72 yards, 7.29 touchdowns

From what I can ascertain, the numberFire algorithms like Crabtree more than most experts do. While we have him rated as the 12th-best PPR receiver, he's being drafted as the 21st PPR receiver, late in Round 4. Injuries held him to five games last year, but in 2012, he caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and 9 touchdowns - not far off from what we have projected for him in 2014.

San Francisco ranked 10th in the league in Adjusted Passing NEP even while playing without Crabtree for 11 games. A repeat year of that production would help Crabtree rank as a WR1 in PPR formats, and he's got a WR2 price tag.

Julian Edelman | nF Projection: 109.25 receptions, 1,199.60 yards, 5.81 touchdowns

The player we have just shy of Brown in receptions is Edelman. Last year, the Patriots' wideout finished with 105 receptions, 1,056 yards, and 6 touchdowns on a depleted roster. This year, Rob Gronkowski is back, but our algorithms still love Edelman for triple-digit receptions. That would bump him up from the 20th receiver in standard leagues to the 10th receiver in PPR leagues, where we have him projected.

Tom Brady had his worst Passing NEP season since 2006, and Edelman still produced a big year. If Brady ramps it up again, Edelman should be a lock for 100 catches. Edelman is being drafted as the 24th PPR receiver right now, which is pretty low for a guy with top-10 potential.

Kendall Wright | nF Projection: 92.92 receptions, 1,185.73 yards, 6.00 touchdowns

So, Wright is going off the board as the 27th receiver in PPR leagues, and that's a bit baffling. He only had two touchdowns last season, sure, but he accounted for 94 receptions, seventh-most in the NFL. Wright might struggle scoring touchdowns, but with a healthy-yet-not-unrealistic increase in his touchdown tally, we project Wright to finish as the 20th receiver in PPR formats. Touchdown issues aside, if you have a chance at a 90-catch receiver in the sixth round, you should take it.

Wright's Reception NEP of 80.09 was only 27th best among receiver last season, but PPR leagues inflate production even if it doesn't translate into actual production. So take advantage of that scoring system with a guy like Wright six rounds into your draft.

Tight Ends

Greg Olsen | nF Projection: 70.68 receptions, 802.50 yards, 6.09 touchdowns

Tight end is a position that drops off pretty quickly from the high-volume players to the rest of the field, so it's a pretty significant that we have Olsen pegged to be the fourth-most voluminous tight end in the league. It's also why I'm highlighting only two tight ends - everyone who isn't elite is pretty similar with reception totals.

Olsen is averaging 71 receptions over the past two years while posting his two best Reception NEP seasons ever, so we're right on target with our projection. Speaking of targets, the Panthers lost 277 of 278 targets to receivers from last year, giving Olsen a chance to thrive as Cam Newton's top option.

Being drafted at the end of the seventh round as the eighth tight end off the board, Olsen could ride a high reception count to an elite PPR season at tight end, and just like Antonio Brown, Olsen is a super-safe option.

Antonio Gates | nF Projection: 68.72 receptions, 748.58 yards, 5.01 touchdowns

A lot of people are assuming that Ladarius Green is the man in San Diego now, but Gates hasn't retired just yet. I took a close look at why I think Green isn't quite ready or, more aptly, why Gates is still a factor. We're projecting that Gates ends up with the seventh-most receptions by a tight end this year and finish as the 10th PPR tight end overall.

Gates can be had in the 13th round in PPR leagues, not a surprise since he's coming off his eighth-worst Reception NEP season in his 11-year career. This is mainly because he scored only four touchdowns, his lowest total since 2004. He did, though, haul in 77 catches, his fourth-best mark ever. For a late pick, Gates provides surprising upside even at his age.

Running Backs

Arian Foster | nF Projection: 66.64 receptions, 461.85 yards, 1.21 touchdowns

If you're skeptical on Foster, I understand, but he had only 143 touches last season (121 carries and 22 receptions) in eight games. A healthy Foster in the three seasons prior had two receiving touchdowns each season to go along with 66, 53, and 40 receptions. This year, we're projecting him to meet the high-end of that mark. He'll be able to benefit from the departure of Ben Tate and a year off from taking too many hits, too.

But Foster isn't a PPR-only player, which is why I'm recommending him in a way. I think he's already an underrated fantasy back and that the receptions could put him into elite company again. He averaged 13.67 rushing touchdowns from 2010-2012, and was fantasy's top back in 2010, when he posted a monster Rushing NEP season. Foster gets an extra boost because of his receiving prowess, making him our RB5 in PPR formats.

Trent Richardson | nF Projection: 56.26 receptions, 500.28 yards, 1.57 touchdowns

Trusting Richardson this year is going to be hard - especially if you owned him last season. But that just means that people are willing to let him fall in the draft. He's being drafted in the middle of the fifth round (as the 24th back off the board), but we have him ranked as the 17th PPR running back. He had 35 receptions last year, but 51 in his rookie season when he ranked eighth among running backs in receptions and Reception NEP (24.61). He also has, as all-around good-guy Joe Redemann points out, a career Reception NEP Per Target of 0.37, a great sign of his pass-catching ability.

We aren't even projecting too much of a boost to his touchdowns (just 5.67 total), but his reception ability alone could put him into pretty good company with PPR backs. If he can finish closer to 12 touchdowns (his rookie total) than 4 (his sophomore total), Richardson could swing a league coming in Round 5.