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Why Point Per First Down Is the Ideal Fantasy Football Scoring System

The format is more exciting than standard scoring and less arbitrary than the newly popularized PPR

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Forget the “stats are for losers” talk. Football’s analytics revolution is upon us. We’re spending today exploring how a deeper understanding of data is changing the sport—and the way fans consume it.


Last offseason, ESPN made a major change to its fantasy platform, making point per reception scoring the default format for all leagues. In its press release, ESPN called PPR “a higher-scoring, more action-packed way to play fantasy football.”

Nothing could better encapsulate why the PPR format has risen in popularity so much in recent years. PPR creates more points, and for many fantasy players, more scoring is more fun. PPR, though, was primarily popularized due to strategic concerns; it balances out the scoring between positions and lessens the fantasy dependency on touchdowns.

And yet, standard-scoring leagues remain because PPR creates as many problems as it solves. It drastically changes how certain running backs and receivers are valued, places emphasis on small, dink-and-dunk plays over more exciting boom-or-bust ones, and awards points when a player simply touches the ball. Luckily, there’s an alternative that patches up the issues in both PPR and traditional scoring. It’s time to introduce the true solution to the PPR-vs.-standard debate: point per first down.

Fantasy value will never be a true reflection of actual football value, but this fake sport is at its best when it attempts to be both fun and tied to reality. PPR may be more fun than traditional scoring, but by handing out points for simple receptions, it strays further from real football.

PPR creates a “double dip” effect. When a player catches a football, he already generates fantasy value with the yards he picks up. But a PPR system creates odd scenarios. For example, a 4-yard reception is no more valuable to a real football team than a 4-yard run, yet under PPR scoring, the catch would be worth 1.4 points while the carry would be worth 0.4—less than a third of the value. A zero-yard reception is given as many points as a 10-yard rush. Hell, a player could catch a pass, run 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, get tackled, and still be awarded with 0.5 points. It’s just bizarre.

This is where PPFD comes in. Sometimes, a 4-yard reception really is worth more than a 4-yard rush: when that pass picks up a first down. Rewarding a player a point for a receiving or rushing first down (excluding passing first downs) is a promising way to increase scoring, balance out position groups, and decrease touchdown dependency—without a double dip.

To get a better idea at how standard scoring, PPR, and PPFD differ, here’s a look at how the top 120 FLEX players (RB/WR/TE) would have fared under each of those systems last season:

Point Per First Down Scoring in 2017

Player Position Team Standard Rank PPR Rank PPFD Rank PPR Change PPFD Change Rush Yds Rush TDs Receptions Rec. Yds Rec. TDs Rush First Downs Rec. First Downs Total First Downs Standard Points PPR Points PPFD Points
Player Position Team Standard Rank PPR Rank PPFD Rank PPR Change PPFD Change Rush Yds Rush TDs Receptions Rec. Yds Rec. TDs Rush First Downs Rec. First Downs Total First Downs Standard Points PPR Points PPFD Points
Le'Veon Bell RB PIT 2 2 2 0 0 1,291 9 85 655 2 75 32 107 256.6 341.6 363.6
Todd Gurley RB LAR 1 1 1 0 0 1,305 13 64 788 6 69 32 101 319.3 351.3 420.3
Melvin Gordon RB LAC 5 7 5 -2 0 1,105 8 58 476 4 61 22 83 230.1 288.1 313.1
Alvin Kamara RB NOR 4 3 4 1 0 728 8 81 826 5 42 38 80 233.4 314.4 313.4
LeSean McCoy RB BUF 9 10 7 -1 2 1,138 6 59 448 2 57 23 80 204.6 263.6 284.6
Kareem Hunt RB KAN 3 6 3 -3 0 1,327 8 53 455 3 63 17 80 242.2 295.2 322.2
Keenan Allen WR LAC 13 8 11 5 2 9 0 102 1,393 6 0 74 74 176.2 278.2 250.2
Devonta Freeman RB ATL 16 33 15 -17 1 865 7 36 317 1 55 18 73 164.2 200.2 237.2
Michael Thomas WR NOR 23 13 17 10 6 0 0 104 1,245 5 0 71 71 154.5 258.5 225.5
Antonio Brown WR PIT 8 4 9 4 -1 0 0 101 1,533 9 0 71 71 209.3 310.3 280.3
Mark Ingram RB NOR 6 9 6 -3 0 1,124 12 58 416 0 52 19 71 220 278 291
DeAndre Hopkins WR HOU 7 5 8 2 -1 0 0 96 1,378 13 0 69 69 213.8 309.8 282.8
Leonard Fournette RB JAX 10 19 10 -9 0 1,040 9 36 302 1 51 18 69 194.2 230.2 263.2
Jordan Howard RB CHI 12 35 12 -23 0 1,122 9 23 125 0 65 4 69 176.7 199.7 245.7
Julio Jones WR ATL 19 14 16 5 3 15 0 88 1,444 3 1 67 68 163.9 251.9 231.9
Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI 24 11 20 13 4 0 0 109 1,156 6 0 66 66 152.4 261.4 218.4
Carlos Hyde RB SFO 14 17 13 -3 1 938 8 59 350 0 48 18 66 174.8 233.8 240.8
Jarvis Landry WR MIA 31 12 22 19 9 -7 0 112 987 9 0 63 63 148 260 211
Lamar Miller RB HOU 21 40 19 -19 2 888 3 36 327 3 45 18 63 157.5 193.5 220.5
Ezekiel Elliott RB DAL 11 30 14 -19 -3 983 7 26 269 2 57 6 63 177.2 203.2 240.2
Alex Collins RB BAL 31 56 23 -25 8 973 6 23 187 0 53 8 61 148 171 209
Adam Thielen WR MIN 27 15 24 12 3 11 0 91 1,276 4 1 59 60 148.7 239.7 208.7
Dion Lewis RB NWE 15 37 18 -22 -3 896 6 32 214 3 49 11 60 165 197 225
Christian McCaffrey RB CAR 28 20 26 8 2 435 2 80 651 5 22 37 59 148.6 228.6 207.6
Duke Johnson RB CLE 37 28 31 9 6 348 4 74 693 3 27 32 59 142.1 216.1 201.1
Frank Gore RB IND 34 52 30 -18 4 961 3 29 245 1 49 9 58 144.6 173.6 202.6
Rob Gronkowski TE NWE 20 21 21 -1 -1 0 0 69 1,084 8 0 57 57 158.4 227.4 215.4
Mike Evans WR TAM 45 31 38 14 7 0 0 71 1,001 5 0 55 55 132.1 203.1 187.1
A.J. Green WR CIN 25 22 28 3 -3 0 0 75 1,078 8 0 55 55 151.8 226.8 206.8
Travis Kelce TE KAN 26 18 29 8 -3 7 0 83 1,038 8 2 53 55 150.5 233.5 205.5
Javorius Allen RB BAL 53 61 46 -8 7 591 4 46 250 2 39 16 55 120.1 166.1 175.1
C.J. Anderson RB DEN 33 48 31 -15 2 1007 3 28 224 1 47 7 54 147.1 175.1 201.1
Demaryius Thomas WR DEN 51 29 45 22 6 0 0 83 949 5 0 53 53 122.9 205.9 175.9
Jay Ajayi RB 2TM 66 94 52 -28 14 873 1 24 158 1 45 8 53 111.1 135.1 164.1
Marshawn Lynch RB OAK 35 62 35 -27 0 891 7 20 151 0 45 6 51 144.2 164.2 195.2
Marquise Goodwin WR SFO 63 59 56 4 7 44 0 56 962 2 3 46 49 112.6 168.6 161.6
Joe Mixon RB CIN 65 86 60 -21 5 626 4 30 287 0 39 10 49 111.3 141.3 160.3
Isaiah Crowell RB CLE 59 82 53 -23 6 853 2 28 182 0 39 9 48 115.5 143.5 163.5
Davante Adams WR GNB 29 26 34 3 -5 0 0 74 885 10 0 47 47 148.5 222.5 195.5
Golden Tate WR DET 43 24 41 19 2 22 0 92 1,003 5 2 45 47 132.5 224.5 179.5
Latavius Murray RB MIN 36 69 37 -33 -1 842 8 15 103 0 43 4 47 142.5 157.5 189.5
Zach Ertz TE PHI 47 32 47 15 0 0 0 74 824 8 0 46 46 128.4 202.4 174.4
Alshon Jeffery WR PHI 39 38 39 1 0 0 0 57 789 9 0 45 45 138.9 195.9 183.9
Delanie Walker TE TEN 81 50 71 31 10 -2 1 74 807 3 1 44 45 100.5 174.5 145.5
Dez Bryant WR DAL 57 43 58 14 -1 -4 0 69 838 6 0 44 44 117.4 186.4 161.4
Doug Baldwin WR SEA 30 25 36 5 -6 -8 0 75 991 8 0 44 44 148.3 223.3 192.3
Marvin Jones WR DET 18 23 25 -5 -7 0 0 61 1,101 9 0 44 44 164.1 225.1 208.1
Brandin Cooks WR NWE 22 27 33 -5 -11 40 0 65 1,082 7 2 42 44 156.2 221.2 200.2
Mohamed Sanu WR ATL 73 51 65 22 8 10 0 67 703 5 3 41 44 107.3 174.3 151.3
Jerick McKinnon RB MIN 48 44 50 4 -2 570 3 51 421 2 24 20 44 127.1 178.1 171.1
Jamaal Williams RB GNB 56 84 55 -28 1 556 4 25 262 2 32 12 44 117.8 142.8 161.8
DeMarco Murray RB TEN 43 55 43 -12 0 659 6 39 266 1 33 11 44 132.5 171.5 176.5
Derrick Henry RB TEN 50 95 51 -45 -1 744 5 11 136 1 40 4 44 124 135 168
Stefon Diggs WR MIN 41 36 42 5 -1 13 0 64 849 8 1 42 43 134.2 198.2 177.2
Tyreek Hill WR KAN 16 16 27 0 -11 59 0 75 1,183 7 3 40 43 164.2 239.2 207.2
Jonathan Stewart RB CAR 71 116 64 -45 7 680 6 8 52 1 41 2 43 109.2 117.2 152.2
Cooper Kupp WR LAR 60 45 61 15 -1 0 0 62 869 5 0 42 42 114.9 176.9 156.9
Orleans Darkwa RB NYG 54 90 59 -36 -5 751 5 19 116 0 35 7 42 118.7 137.7 160.7
Marqise Lee WR JAX 90 76 86 14 4 17 0 56 702 3 1 40 41 91.9 147.9 132.9
Bilal Powell RB NYJ 52 79 54 -27 -2 772 5 23 170 0 32 9 41 122.2 145.2 163.2
Danny Amendola WR NWE 116 87 99 29 17 0 0 61 659 2 0 40 40 77.9 138.9 117.9
Devin Funchess WR CAR 46 39 48 7 -2 0 0 63 840 8 0 40 40 132 195 172
Tevin Coleman RB ATL 38 60 40 -22 -2 628 5 27 299 3 27 13 40 140.7 167.7 180.7
Robby Anderson WR NYJ 40 34 44 6 -4 9 0 63 941 7 0 39 39 137 200 176
Jamison Crowder WR WAS 88 64 82 24 6 34 0 66 789 3 1 38 39 94.3 160.3 133.3
Ameer Abdullah RB DET 84 108 80 -24 4 552 4 25 162 1 26 13 39 99.4 124.4 138.4
Jordy Nelson WR GNB 101 91 95 10 6 0 0 53 482 6 0 38 38 84.2 137.2 122.2
T.Y. Hilton WR IND 55 47 62 8 -7 0 0 57 966 4 0 38 38 118.6 175.6 156.6
JuJu Smith-Schuster WR PIT 42 41 49 1 -7 0 0 58 917 7 0 38 38 133.7 191.7 171.7
Evan Engram TE NYG 70 52 69 18 1 14 0 64 722 6 1 37 38 109.6 173.6 147.6
DeSean Jackson WR TAM 95 88 89 7 6 38 0 50 668 3 1 37 38 88.6 138.6 126.6
Giovani Bernard RB CIN 72 72 70 0 2 458 2 43 389 2 21 17 38 108.7 151.7 146.7
Jermaine Kearse WR NYJ 67 46 67 21 0 0 0 65 810 5 0 37 37 111 176 148
Sterling Shepard WR NYG 98 80 94 18 4 4 0 59 731 2 1 36 37 85.5 144.5 122.5
Jack Doyle TE IND 94 58 90 36 4 0 0 80 690 4 0 36 36 89 169 125
Robert Woods WR LAR 73 63 73 10 0 12 0 56 781 5 0 36 36 107.3 163.3 143.3
Kenny Stills WR MIA 58 49 63 9 -5 0 0 58 847 6 0 36 36 116.7 174.7 152.7
Rishard Matthews WR TEN 78 70 79 8 -1 -3 0 53 795 4 0 36 36 103.2 156.2 139.2
Nelson Agholor WR PHI 49 42 57 7 -8 7 0 62 768 8 1 35 36 125.5 187.5 161.5
LeGarrette Blount RB PHI 83 125 81 -42 2 766 2 8 50 1 33 3 36 99.6 107.6 135.6
Jared Cook TE OAK 113 97 102 16 11 0 0 54 688 2 0 35 35 78.8 132.8 113.8
Michael Crabtree WR OAK 62 54 66 8 -4 0 0 58 618 8 0 35 35 113.8 171.8 148.8
Ted Ginn WR NOR 76 65 75 11 1 39 0 53 787 4 3 32 35 106.6 159.6 141.6
Mike Wallace WR BAL 85 74 83 11 2 4 0 52 748 4 0 34 34 99.2 151.2 133.2
Jimmy Graham TE SEA 61 56 67 5 -6 0 0 57 520 10 0 34 34 114 171 148
Cameron Brate TE TAM 86 83 87 3 -1 0 0 48 591 6 0 34 34 95.1 143.1 129.1
Paul Richardson WR SEA 77 75 76 2 1 0 0 44 703 6 0 34 34 106.3 150.3 140.3
Sammy Watkins WR LAR 73 78 76 -5 -3 0 0 39 593 8 0 33 33 107.3 146.3 140.3
Albert Wilson WR KAN 120 119 114 1 6 6 0 42 554 3 1 32 33 74 116 107
Chris Thompson RB WAS 64 73 72 -9 -8 294 2 39 510 4 11 22 33 112.4 151.4 145.4
Kenyan Drake RB MIA 69 85 73 -16 -4 644 3 32 239 1 26 7 33 110.3 142.3 143.3
Kyle Rudolph TE MIN 79 68 83 11 -4 0 0 57 532 8 0 32 32 101.2 158.2 133.2
Keelan Cole WR JAX 92 97 93 -5 -1 0 0 42 748 3 0 32 32 90.8 132.8 122.8
Theo Riddick RB DET 80 71 85 9 -5 286 3 53 444 2 12 20 32 101 154 133
Matt Breida RB SFO 104 130 101 -26 3 465 2 21 180 1 23 9 32 82.5 103.5 114.5
Samaje Perine RB WAS 97 124 97 -27 0 603 1 22 182 1 23 9 32 86.5 108.5 118.5
Ben Watson TE BAL 117 91 113 26 4 0 0 61 522 4 0 31 31 76.2 137.2 107.2
Eric Ebron TE DET 112 100 106 12 6 0 0 53 574 4 0 31 31 79.4 132.4 110.4
Hunter Henry TE LAC 109 104 103 5 6 0 0 45 579 4 0 31 31 81.9 126.9 112.9
Randall Cobb WR GNB 89 66 91 23 -2 17 0 66 653 4 1 30 31 93.4 159.4 124.4
James White RB NWE 115 96 111 19 4 171 0 56 429 3 6 25 31 78 134 109
Kelvin Benjamin WR 2TM 96 93 100 3 -4 0 0 48 692 3 0 30 30 87.2 135.2 117.2
Marlon Mack RB IND 108 131 104 -23 4 358 3 21 225 1 20 10 30 82.3 103.3 112.3
Ryan Grant WR WAS 110 106 108 4 2 0 0 45 573 4 0 29 29 81.3 126.3 110.3
Tyrell Williams WR LAC 87 89 92 -2 -5 0 0 43 728 4 0 29 29 94.8 137.8 123.8
Amari Cooper WR OAK 68 67 78 1 -10 4 0 48 680 7 1 28 29 110.4 158.4 139.4
Martavis Bryant WR PIT 104 99 105 5 -1 22 0 50 603 3 0 28 28 82.5 132.5 110.5
Travis Benjamin WR LAC 93 110 98 -17 -5 96 0 34 567 4 7 21 28 90.3 124.3 118.3
Tarik Cohen RB CHI 91 81 96 10 -5 370 2 53 353 1 19 9 28 91.1 144.1 119.1
Matt Forte RB NYJ 103 112 106 -9 -3 381 2 37 293 1 13 14 27 83.4 120.4 110.4
Rex Burkhead RB NWE 82 102 88 -20 -6 264 5 30 254 3 14 13 27 99.8 129.8 126.8
Jason Witten TE DAL 102 77 109 25 -7 0 0 63 560 5 0 26 26 84 147 110
Josh Doctson WR WAS 100 113 110 -13 -10 -14 0 35 502 6 0 25 25 84.8 119.8 109.8
Corey Clement RB PHI 106 145 112 -39 -6 321 4 10 123 2 19 6 25 82.4 92.4 107.4
Vernon Davis TE WAS 113 111 121 2 -8 0 0 43 648 3 0 24 24 78.8 121.8 102.8
Austin Ekeler RB LAC 111 126 119 -15 -8 260 2 27 279 3 12 12 24 79.9 106.9 103.9
Chris Hogan WR NWE 118 123 125 -5 -7 17 0 34 439 5 1 22 23 75.6 109.6 98.6
Tyler Kroft TE CIN 106 108 118 -2 -12 0 0 42 404 7 0 22 22 82.4 124.4 104.4
Will Fuller WR HOU 99 121 116 -22 -17 9 0 28 423 7 0 21 21 85.2 113.2 106.2
O.J. Howard TE TAM 119 135 131 -16 -12 0 0 26 432 6 0 20 20 75.2 101.2 95.2

The way PPR affects positions is immediately apparent. A full 29 of the 31 biggest gainers under the system (compared to standard scoring) are wide receivers or tight ends, while 24 of the biggest 25 fallers are running backs. By comparison, PPFD has a healthy mix of positions among both risers and fallers.

What’s even more striking is how much larger a difference PPR makes as compared to PPFD. Under PFFD, no player jumped more than 17 spots, while a whopping 40 players moved up or down more than 17 spots under PPR. PPR advocates will often point out that the scoring system can make certain pass catchers (like Browns running back Duke Johnson, for example) more relevant in fantasy, but it makes just as many players irrelevant. Derrick Henry and Jonathan Stewart each fell an unbelievable 45 places under PPR—they went from decent players to virtually unplayable afterthoughts. Higher up the list, players like Latavius Murray (36th to 69th), Marshawn Lynch (35th to 62nd), Alex Collins (31st to 56th), and Jordan Howard (12th to 35th) all took dramatic tumbles. These are decent players. They don’t belong in the fantasy basement simply because they don’t catch many passes.

On the other end of the spectrum, PPR rewards players who are catching a high volume of passes, but aren’t necessarily generating yards or touchdowns for their team. The top gainer is Jack Doyle (94th to 58th), who had the fourth-lowest yards per reception in the NFL last year. Jarvis Landry is the 11th-highest gainer, jumping from 31st in standard to 12th in PPR. Landry is a solid player, but it seems exaggerated to value him 12th most among all receivers, backs, and tight ends. In PPFD he still rises, but only to 22nd, which feels like a more appropriate place considering his on-field value and production.

PPFD, by comparison, rewards a different type of player: those who didn’t get so lucky in the touchdown department. Danny Amendola (116th to 99th) jumped 17 spots under PPFD, and he had just two touchdowns on the season. Jay Ajayi (66th to 52nd) had a wild touchdown drought last year, not finding the end zone a single time until after he was traded to Philly in Week 9. He jumped 14 spots in PPFD—but falls an incredible 28 spots under PPR because he doesn’t haul in many passes. Ajayi is one of the best examples of where PPR fails: His value suffered because he both didn’t catch passes or pick up touchdowns, but he was still a solid value to his team. PPFD balances that out.

The losers under PPFD, meanwhile, are the guys who had incredible touchdown luck. Will Fuller (99th to 116th) fell 17 spots after recording seven touchdowns on just 28 catches on the season. Tyreek Hill (16th to 27th) dropped 11 spots because despite having the 18th-most receptions on the season, he tied for the 27th-most receiving first downs (and tied for the 54th-most combined receiving and rushing first downs). Other fallers (O.J. Howard, Tyler Kroft, Brandin Cooks, et al.) also had touchdown rates that were a little too good to be true. But none of these guys dropped the way that players like Henry, Stewart, Murray, and Lynch did in PPR.

The 2017 season offers a tantalizing look at how PPFD could work in fantasy. More points get awarded across the board, bringing the FLEX positions more in line with quarterbacks, but they’re awarded more evenly, without an inexplicable boost for pass catchers.

Even as PPR becomes more popular, the cracks in the system have begun to appear. Many leagues award only half a point per reception, attempting to split the difference between PPR and standard in an attempt to avoid overvaluing receivers and undervaluing ground-first running backs. But 0.5 PPR is a band-aid solution: It still creates wild swings in positional value and rewards opportunities instead of actual production. And it still double dips.

The way to truly get the best of both worlds is by using PPFD.

Of course, PPFD is not perfect—while a first down has real, on-field value, it is still arbitrary to award a single point to capturing one. But fantasy football is always going to be a bit arbitrary, and that’s a good thing—the noise and randomness help make fantasy great. PPFD keeps much of that noise without drowning it in thousands of points for receptions.

There is one final hiccup to PPFD: ESPN does not currently support the format. But Yahoo does, so running a PPFD league is more than doable.

Fantasy football boils down to one thing: fun. There, too, PPFD offers promise. Imagine on Sunday when a player stretches for a first down—only now that play has fantasy implications, too. Those “depends on the spot” plays now become like mini-touchdowns for fantasy purposes. And just imagine the trash talk when a fantasy game is decided by an index card.