Does Pass-to-Run Ratio Matter in Fantasy Football?
Chris Matthews had himself quite a Super Bowl.
He looked like the receiver that Russell Wilson needed all year, a guy who could sort of make things happen.
I wanted to draft him for next season -- half-joking, half-serious.
But this all started to sound vaguely familiar, and then somebody reminded me of Jermaine Kearse. He kind of did the same thing to us last year. And he posted only 6.86 PPR points per game this year.
So I began to wonder whether this was just a necessary evil in Seattle, who has had one of the lowest pass-to-run ratios in the league for the past few years, or whether that was lazy, circumstantial analysis.
I decided to check it out -- to examine the correlation between pass-to-run ratio and fantasy points. I had anticipated that pass-heavy teams correlated highly with quarterback production and receivers. I figured run-heavy teams benefited running backs. And I thought tight ends -- based on how volatile they are -- might have the correlation closest to zero (which would indicate the weakest relationship between pass-to-run ratio and fantasy points).
I was mostly wrong.
Well, I guess, the process comes first, but it's brief. I compiled PPR scoring from SportingCharts for 2012 through 2014. The list includes 1,000 names, and players with as few as two fantasy points all season made the list. I included them all. I could have created an arbitrary cutoff, but when we're looking at that doesn't give insight on the whole picture.
So, here are the results, the correlations between team pass-to-run-ratio and fantasy points scored by particular units on that team. A correlation of 1 indicates an absolute, positive correlation (i.e. the highest fantasy points come from the highest pass-to-run ratios). -1 would mean, for example, that the highest point totals comes from the lowest pass-to-run ratios. And 0 would indicate no real correlation at all.
|3 Years Combined||0.01||-0.12||0.36||0.26|
I'll break these down more in sections, but basically, the correlation has been pretty small -- all things considered -- which means putting too much stock into the ratio can be misleading.
I thought quarterbacks would benefit from higher pass-to-run ratios, but there's basically no correlation over the past three seasons combined. Knowing this now, it makes sense. In 2012, the Saints had a pass-to-run ratio of 1.88, tied for second highest in the NFL. Saints quarterbacks totaled 346 points. The Cardinals had a pass-to-run of 1.88 in 2012, too. They totaled just 144 points.
Also -- and I might be reading too much into things -- this suggests a pretty basic flaw in standard fantasy scoring: running quarterbacks. The Seahawks in 2014 and Washington in 2012 (Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin) posted top-10 fantasy point totals out of the 96 unique seasons in the past three years despite pass-to-run ratios under 1.00. Teams have been under 1.00 just seven times out of those 96. (Oh, and Cam Newton's 2012 Panthers had the 11th-highest fantasy point total over the past three years at quarterback despite a ratio of just 1.14.
So, pass-heavy teams don't necessarily create fantasy points -- like the Cardinals showed in 2012, for example -- and volume doesn't always need to be there for fantasy quarterbacks to be successful.
Things are a little stronger with running backs. As pass-to-run ratio decreases, fantasy points go up. 2013 was a bit wonky compared to 2012 and 2014, as there was almost no correlation between the two. But the correlation was roughly the same in the bookending years.
Skewing things a bit is the New Orleans Saints, who own two of the top three running back outputs in the past three years as a team. Despite ratios of 1.88 and 1.77, respectively, the 2012 and 2013 version of the Saints racked up the PPR points, which isn't really a surprise. In fact, if we take them out completely, the three-year correlation jumps up from -0.12 to -0.19.
We can actually hop back to the 2012 Cardinals and their 1.88 pass-to-run ratio. Their 220 points from backs ranked 95th out of the 96 teams. Passing, right? Well, the 2013 Buccaneers were worse (191 fantasy points) despite a 1.34 ratio. Basically, you can cherry pick seasons that fit and don't fit the mold, but overall, there is a slight relationship between being run-heavy and earning fantasy points. Logically, in non-PPR formats, the correlation will be stronger, but I chose PPR scoring because it helps compare cross-positionally most fairly, based on some of my earlier findings.
Wide receivers and pass-to-run ratio have the strongest correlation, which makes sense -- especially in PPR formats. However, the correlation is on the decline, having fallen each year from 2012. The average pass-to-run ratio in 2012 was 1.39 and rose to 1.43 in 2014. But it was actually 1.44 in 2013.
There's more balance overall in the ratio, as the highest this season was 1.95 (the Raiders). In both 2012 and 2013, at least two teams were at or higher than 1.95. The most run-heavy team this year (Houston, 0.93) was more likely to pass than the team with the lowest ratio in 2012 or '13 (0.82 and 0.90, respectively).
Since 2012, only six wideout corps posted at least 700 fantasy points. Four of the six were this year (Atlanta, Denver, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh). However, only two of those squads were top-12 in pass-heaviness, and Denver and Green Bay were the 19th- and 22nd-most run-heavy teams in the league. Top-tier production doesn't always come from the most volume.
Also, the lowest total also came this year (Kansas City, 304), and Seattle's 400 points kept them just out of the sub-400 club, which only seven teams have "accomplished" in the past three seasons.
Highlighting a pretty crazy (read: disappointing) season for tight ends, there was significantly less of a correlation between pass-heavy teams and tight end production this year than each of the past two. Sure, we could say Houston, the most run-heavy team had the lowest production at tight end because of their style, but that's not really true. After all, Atlanta, who had the third-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league, recorded the second-fewest fantasy points among tight ends this season.
Plus, six teams didn't rack up 100 PPR points from tight ends this year. Three of those (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Detroit) were in the top eight in pass-to-run ratio.
But in seriousness, based on this three-year sample, pass-to-run ratio doesn't act as a keen indicator of fantasy potential if you apply it broadly. Sure, you can look back and say, selectively, that Julio Jones was especially good because the Falcons threw it 1.78 times per every rush.
But the Jaguars threw it 1.74 times per every rush.
Overall, there are still some indications of merit, and you'll probably want to use pass-to-run ratio as a tie-breaker for wideouts and running backs, but you probably won't want to overlook or overvalue any player based on team tendencies alone.