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What’s the Fantasy Point? : How to Look at the Numbers

Matthew Walters (@fantasyferret) dives into how we look at previous season scoring and approaches it from a different perspective.

By Matthew Walters

There is a cultural shift right now in the fantasy football community. Many analysts use the simple total end of year fantasy points broken into top 12, top 24, and top 36 by position. Many analysts are screaming that you must use fantasy points per game broken into top 12, 24, and 36 to find your true fantasy players because this is a weekly game after all, and it seems that you would want the fantasy player scoring the most points per week. This is logical. However, it misses a pretty important factor in the whole equation. Health.

For me, the best ability is availability. While it was great that Christian McCaffrey scored 30 PPR points per game last year, he was not particularly useful as he only played 3 games. Although you probably won the weeks he played, you also were struggling to replace your top RB the weeks he did not play. While I am aware this is an extreme example, I feel like it helps get the point across. However, simply looking at end of year totals is not great either. A top 12 RB one year is not the same as a top 12 RB another year. For example, the 12th RB last year was Mike Davis with a total of 206.5 PPR points. The RB 12 in 2019 was Chris Carson, with a score of 232.6 points. That same year you have to go all the way to RB 18 to find a running back that scored fewer points than Mike Davis did in 2020. So why are we comparing them this way? Why does Mike Davis get to be an RB1 when there were 5 RBs the year before that scored more than him but were only an RB2. This is where we get to my preferred solution. The answer falls somewhere in the middle of total points and points per game for me.

I believe we should stop ranking players simply based on whether they had a top 12 finish or top 24 finish and instead look at their points scored to see if they were a playable, good, or elite player at their position. The threshold I decided to use for running backs, receivers and tight ends was 150 PPR points for a playable season, 200 PPR points for a good season, and 250 PPR points for an elite season. For quarterbacks, I used 225 points, 275 points, and 325 points for each category respectively. “But what about the points per game?”, you might ask. Using these numbers allows a player to have played a full season to score 9.4 PPR points per game to have a playable season, but it also allows a player to have scored 20 PPR points per game in 8 games to count as a playable season. Obviously, one was more helpful in the games they played but not having them for half the season has to count against them. This is my line of thinking for every category. Basically, the more points per game you scored, the more I’m willing to let it slide that you missed some games. 

So why these point markers? The first two categories line up pretty well with the old-school way of thinking of WR 1 and 2s. I then continued to like the 50 point threshold differences, which is why I used 150 points for the third category. I was also sure to check if these were players that indeed would be considered to have playable seasons by the masses. While this can be quite subjective, the criteria did seem to line up. Since RBs and TEs are used in the flex spot as well it made sense to compare the positions the same way. For the QBs, I had to play around with the numbers more, and I’d be lying if I said they were not a bit more arbitrary. Since the main way of thinking is for 12 QBs to be played by all the teams in a 12 team league, I wanted thresholds that contributed to having the elite QBs being on about ⅓ the teams. So yes, the 325 point threshold is completely arbitrary to make around 4 QBs hit that mark on average. However, I still think it provides a decent way of looking at the position rather than comparing it in a 1 to 1 with the other positions. If I did that, Baker Mayfield would almost be considered elite last year as the QB 17, and that just did not seem fair. So how many of each position did end up in each category? The following chart will answer that question.

Elite Per Year (250 points)Good Per Year (200 points)Playable Per Year (150 points)
Receivers10.923.145.1
Running Backs6.514.727.8
Tight Ends1.14.210
Quarterbacks3.89.617.4

I feel like this system is a better way to look at the disparity between positions. We have often heard that running backs are more scarce than receivers, and it sure seems correct. Approximately 11 receivers every year will score more than 250 PPR points while only 6-7 running backs will. Usually, only one tight end does; even if we count a tight end having a “good” year as elite, only about four finish there every year. This looks to me as if the tight end is the true disparity in fantasy football right now. On average, there are only 10 that are even playable per year. In a 12 team league, this means at least two teams do not even have a playable tight end! Sure, you can stream a tight end and try to mitigate this in redraft, but having a good or elite tight end can be a huge advantage, especially if you play in a dynasty league. 

While in redraft, there are often players on waivers that you can start week-to-week. In a dynasty league, for the most part, startable players are rarely available on waivers. This is where looking at these numbers can truly be helpful. You need these “elite” and “good” seasons to win a championship in dynasty, and they will most likely not be found on the waivers. There are only about 100 playable fantasy football players every year, with only 22 being considered elite. You may get lucky with a James Robinson, but he was an exception to the rule. You can use this info to help decide if you are truly a contender or in need of a rebuild. Just think to yourself how many of your players are truly “elite.” Because in the end, being middle of the pack every year gets you nowhere in dynasty. 

While hundreds of factors go into a football player having a good fantasy season or not, it is impossible to go into detail about every possible factor fully. Injury can arguably be the most important factor for these players. I believe the way I have started to look at it helps mitigate both the problems with simply looking at the end of year finish and just looking at points per game. In future articles, I will dive into what it means to have an elite player and approximately how long they will stay elite according to the data. For now, I hope this opened some eyes that saying someone will finish as an RB 3 or a low-end TE 1 really may not mean that much in the end.

Matthew Walters
Twitter: @fantasyferret
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