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The Truth about Reception Points
David Dorey
July 25, 2005

One of the newer facets of fantasy scoring the past few years has been the introduction of reception points – simply enough, awarding one point per catch to all players. The reasoning is sound enough. With running backs typically so valuable in both points and consistency, something was needed to make both wide receivers and tight ends gain in value so that most drafts don’t end with up to 20 rushers taken in the first two rounds. It also gives us more of those fantasy points that we so love and adds another characteristic to obsess about during our summer preparations.

But do they really matter and if so – exactly how?

There are two aspects about any scoring rule. First, how does it cause the player values to be arrayed within the position? Does it make some player values jump dramatically or are we all really just pretending that it makes a significant difference? Secondly, how does this alter the value of positions compared to each other? Does it really make for a deeper draft and more enjoyable fantasy experience?

Running Backs

Comparing the standard scoring system (1/10 yardage and six point touchdowns) to how it changes when one point receptions are added in doesn’t really change much for the running backs. Simply enough, those players in the top ten each year did not have their year end ranking change much with the absence or addition of reception points.   

Top 24 Running Backs – standard scoring and with reception points added

Without With 2004 Without With 2003 Without With 2002
1 4 Shaun Alexander 1 1 Priest Holmes 1 1 Priest Holmes
2 1 Tiki Barber 2 3 Ahman Green 2 3 Ricky Williams
3 2 Ladainian Tomlinson 3 2 Ladainian Tomlinson 3 2 Ladainian Tomlinson
4 5 Curtis Martin 4 4 Jamal Lewis 4 7 Clinton Portis
5 3 Domanick Davis 5 6 Clinton Portis 5 6 Shaun Alexander
6 6 Edgerrin James 6 7 Shaun Alexander 6 8 Deuce McAllister
7 8 Corey Dillon 7 5 Deuce McAllister 7 5 Tiki Barber
8 9 Rudi Johnson 8 8 Fred Taylor 8 9 Travis Henry
9 14 Willis McGahee 9 9 Ricky Williams 9 4 Charlie Garner
10 7 Brian Westbrook 10 10 Edgerrin James 10 14 Eddie George
11 18 Priest Holmes 11 13 Travis Henry 11 12 Fred Taylor
12 10 Clinton Portis 12 15 Stephen Davis 12 13 Jamal Lewis
13 15 Reuben Droughns 13 12 Moe Williams 13 11 Ahman Green
14 16 Warrick Dunn 14 14 Domanick Davis 14 10 Marshall Faulk
15 13 Ahman Green 15 11 Tiki Barber 15 15 Duce Staley
16 12 Michael Pittman 16 16 Marshall Faulk 16 16 Corey Dillon
17 17 Deuce McAllister 17 19 Kevan Barlow 17 17 Michael Bennett
18 11 Thomas Jones 18 18 Curtis Martin 18 18 Curtis Martin
19 22 Jerome Bettis 19 21 Rudi Johnson 19 19 Warrick Dunn
20 19 Fred Taylor 20 20 Brian Westbrook 20 20 Garrison Hearst
21 21 Kevin Jones 21 27 T.J. Duckett 21 21 Marcel Shipp
22 20 Nick Goings 22 23 Eddie George 22 22 James Stewart
23 27 Emmitt Smith 23 17 Michael Pittman 23 24 Antowain Smith
24 25 Chris Brown 24 31 Thomas Anthony 24 23 Edgerrin James
(Fell 4 or more spots in annual scoring) (Rose 4 or more spots in annual scoring) (Change was 3 spots up or down or less)

The changes were minimal and in no case more than 7 spots. The Top 10 changes little if at all each season with the most notable player being Willis McGahee who ran the ball extremely well but was leap-frogged by five players when reception points were considered. This is because McGahee did not play a full season and turned in a number of high-yardage games which elevated him into the top ten. The same phenomenon happened to Priest Holmes. Michael Pittman has caught 116 passes in the last two years which made him rise in the final results.  What this says is that even if somehow it was possible to project the exact numbers for best 36 running backs each year, the addition of reception points had minimal effect. Considering how different conventional wisdom in fantasy drafts versus actual results is – there was no effect of adding the points.

The common belief that third down backs have extra merit when using reception points does carry some weight, but the reality is that their total points still almost always fall out of the top 36 runners – the number of starting running backs in most leagues. What is fascinating is that over the course of the last three seasons, the top ten for average receptions per season include LaDainian Tomlinson (77), Tiki Barber (63), Domanick Davis (58), Brian Westbrook (56), Priest Holmes (54) and Edgerrin James (54). But they also include Charlie Garner (70), Marshall Faulk (58), Michael Pittman (58) and Jamel White (55).  Those players are bound to change.

The bottom line is that reception points for running backs really do not have a major impact on how they will score unless you fall into players like Pittman or Richie Anderson who end up with good years that were unforeseen the previous summer. The rankings change minimally and as a reliable fact – those players with high reception points that deserve to be fantasy starters are already coveted starters anyway.

Another very important fact also needs to be considered. The passes to running backs are declining every season. This is two-fold in cause. First, offenses are more likely each season to use fullbacks and a mixture of third down backs which drain away catches from the primary runner. Secondly, the new rules on the secondary have allowed the receivers and tight ends to become more attractive options. Each season, the number of catches for running backs has been declining and for the top 12 receiving halfbacks in the last three years, the results have been 2002 (789 catches), 2003 (774 catches) and 2004 (611 catches). For the top 24 pass catching halfbacks the same decline is seen with 2002 (1336), 2003 (1281) and 2004 (1000).

You can move a runner up a notch or two in your ranking if you use reception points, but anything more than that is just playing with numbers. And those numbers are in decline anyway. Another notable - any player that did have any significant move (4 spots or more) in one season never repeated the same movement. The lone exception is Michael Pittman who now moves down the bench with Cadillac Williams on the team.

Tight Ends

The reality with tight ends is that outside of the top ten or so, there is very little difference between any of them. In standard scoring last year, the difference between the 11th best (Dallas Clark – 72 points) and the 20th best (Kris Mangum – 50 points) is little more than one point per game. Of the top ten tight ends last year, using reception points or not resulted in almost no movement in their year-end ranking other than Alge Crumpler who fell from 4th to 8th best since he only had 48 catches (just did more with the ones he did catch).

Top 12 Tight Ends – standard scoring and with reception points added

Without With 2004 Without With 2003 Without With 2002
1 2 Antonio Gates 1 1 Tony Gonzalez 1 1 Todd Heap
2 1 Tony Gonzalez 2 2 Shannon Sharpe 2 2 Tony Gonzalez
3 3 Jason Witten 3 3 Todd Heap 3 3 Jeremy Shockey
4 8 Alge Crumpler 4 7 Alge Crumpler 4 4 Shannon Sharpe
5 5 Randy McMichael 5 6 Itula Mili 5 5 Bubba Franks
6 7 Jeremy Shockey 6 9 Marcus Pollard 6 7 Marcus Pollard
7 4 Eric Johnson 7 5 Randy McMichael 7 6 Billy Miller
8 6 Jermaine Wiggins 8 4 Freddie Jones 8 9 Alge Crumpler
9 10 Daniel Graham 9 8 Jeremy Shockey 9 10 Randy McMichael
10 9 Bubba Franks 10 11 Daniel Graham 10 8 Kyle Brady
11 15 Dallas Clark 11 10 Jim Kleinsasser 11 14 Christian Fauria
12 11 Jeb Putzier 12 12 Anthony Becht 12 11 Itula Mili
(Fell 4 or more spots in annual scoring) (Rose 4 or more spots in annual scoring) (Change was 3 spots up or down or less)

We all know that there are really only a handful of reliable right ends every season anyway – Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey and Alge Crumpler. There were more passes thrown to tight ends last year which resulted in newcomers to the top ten of Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Eric Johnson and Jermaine Wiggins. But reception points really did not factor into the value of a tight end that he did not already possess. There were only ten tight ends that had over 40 catches all season.

Those top eight tight ends had a record amount of catches last season with 605 in total. Compare this to the two previous seasons – 2003 (434) and 2002 (460) and you can see that for an elite group of eight tight ends, they were considered more wide receivers than a traditional tight end. That phenomenon stops there as well.  Last season witnessed the next best 20 tight ends combine for only 618 catches, well off the mark of around 650 for each of the two previous years. It’s not the position; it is all about a handful of players at the top.

Wide Receivers

Here is where you would naturally expect to see the greatest changes with the addition of reception points.  While there is more movement than in the other two positions, the effect is not really that dramatic. For the top ten receivers over the last three seasons, typically none have their year-end ranking change more than one or two spots when reception points are figured in. None of the top 10 actually fell out of the top ten with the scoring change. Of the top 20 best wideouts last year, the only ones that had a notable change in their ranking were Brandon Stokley, Eddie Kennison and Randy Moss dropping about four spots from a lack of passes (but longer yards per catch) and Derrick Mason raised four spots since he had 96 catches but only seven scores.

Top 24 Wide Receivers – standard scoring and with reception points added

Without With 2004 Without With 2003 Without With 2002
1 1 Muhsin Muhammad 1 1 Randy Moss 1 1 Marvin Harrison
2 3 Javon Walker 2 2 Torry Holt 2 4 Terrell Owens
3 2 Joe Horn 3 4 Chad Johnson 3 2 Hines Ward
4 6 Terrell Owens 4 5 Marvin Harrison 4 5 Eric Moulds
5 5 Marvin Harrison 5 3 Anquan Boldin 5 9 Amani Toomer
6 4 Torry Holt 6 6 Hines Ward 6 6 Peerless Price
7 9 Reggie Wayne 7 9 Santana Moss 7 3 Randy Moss
8 8 Drew Bennett 8 13 Darrell Jackson 8 8 Plaxico Burress
9 7 Chad Johnson 9 7 Derrick Mason 9 13 Joe Horn
10 10 Donald Driver 10 8 Keenan McCardell 10 7 Jerry Rice
11 15 Brandon Stokley 11 10 Terrell Owens 11 11 Donald Driver
12 12 Isaac Bruce 12 15 Chris Chambers 12 15 Laveranues Coles
13 13 Darrell Jackson 13 14 Joe Horn 13 10 Marty Booker
14 14 Michael Clayton 14 12 Laveranues Coles 14 14 Torry Holt
15 11 Derrick Mason 15 11 Steve Smith 15 12 Koren Robinson
16 21 Eddie Kennison 16 18 Amani Toomer 16 18 Isaac Bruce
17 16 Rod Smith 17 17 David Boston 17 20 Rod Gardner
18 26 Randy Moss 18 19 Isaac Bruce 18 27 Chad Johnson
19 19 Nate Burleson 19 20 Reggie Wayne 19 17 Jimmy Smith
20 22 Jerry Porter 20 27 Javon Walker 20 16 Keyshawn Johnson
21 18 Jimmy Smith 21 16 Peter Warrick 21 24 Quincy Morgan
22 25 Ashley Lelie 22 26 Justin McCareins 22 19 Rod Smith
23 17 Andre Johnson 23 21 Andre Johnson 23 26 Derrick Mason
24 30 Lee Evans 24 24 Eddie Kennison 24 22 Joey Galloway
(Fell 4 or more spots in annual scoring) (Rose 4 or more spots in annual scoring) (Change was 3 spots up or down or less)

But 2004 was a very odd year and in the top 12 receivers for the season, only Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt and Chad Johnson were repeats from 2003 and each of the four actually fell from their previous finish.

Considering receptions when creating your rankings for receivers doesn’t make sense for any other than the handful of  “long ball” receivers in the league that still score enough to have fantasy relevance. The only receivers last season that were in the top 36 (and therefore fantasy “starters”) and that had longer yards per catch were Plaxico Burress (19.9), Santana Moss (18.6), David Patten (18.2), Lee Evans (17.6) and Eddie Kennison (17.5).  Each fell about five spots in importance when reception points were added and oddly enough, only Kennison and Evans are still with the same team this year. Throw in both Derrick Mason and Randy Moss changing teams and making rankings changes according to number of catches becomes even more hit or miss.

The important aspect to understand with wide receivers is that they are doing better as an overall position, but the “stud boys” are becoming less and less. In the last three seasons, there has been a decline in the total number of receptions for the top ten players of 2002 (941) to 2003 (872) down to only 828 last season. 2004 also saw no wideout crest the 100-catch mark for the first time since 1998. Derrick Mason was tops with 96 catches while the average for the last four seasons has been about four players with 100 receptions or more in a season. In 2004, only tight end Tony Gonzalez managed the feat and that was because he was thrown 20 passes in week 17 and managed to catch 14 of them.

Inside the position of wide receiver, there is not a tremendous difference made by including reception points outside of a handful of players that catch long passes and typically most are not consistent enough for fantasy relevance (Brandon Stokley as a prime exception). There are a few receivers who jumped up sharply with the addition of reception points but invariably those are receivers like Lavernues Coles who disappoint in the touchdown category. What the most recent trend shows is that fewer passes are going to the top studs and more to the middle and lower tier receivers. That bulks up the position overall but reduces the benefit of taking a wideout in the first or second round. In using receptions points to make for a deeper draft in the early rounds, the reduction of receptions for top receivers has reduced the effectiveness of the goal.

When Reception Points Actually Matter

While the addition of reception points does not really change the nature of how players rank out within a given position, they have had a significant effect on how they relate to each other. Consider the standard scoring system that awards 0.1 point per each yard received or rushed with six point touchdowns. The graph of the top 24 players appears as these:

Standard Scoring (no reception points)

What is evident is that running backs are always higher scoring than wideouts through the first two dozen before the lines merge and that tight ends, at best, are equivalent to little more than a #3 wideout or running back. Most drafts reflect this reality with heavy focus on cleaning out the running back shelves before heading to the wide receiver aisle or, heaven forbid, stopping at the bargain bin for tight ends.

When one point per reception is added, it has a definite effect on the relationship of these positions.

Reception Points

What we now see is that tight ends are still merely tight ends – what’dya expect really? The only difference there is that the top eight tight ends that catch more than 40 passes a season are more valuable than before. There is a bigger decline in value in that position than seen in the other two which does make grabbing an early tight end more attractive since otherwise the drop-off is sharper than seen in standard scoring.

The most important feature of this scoring nuance is that starting with around the 8th best wideout, they become more valuable than the comparable running backs in scoring points and the difference continues on out beyond that point. This fact has to be balanced with reality though.

Crossing the Goal Line

Most drafts are going to raid the running backs early and often because they are not only good scorers, but more consistent players than wideouts. Just because eight rushers are off the  board does not necessarily mean that taking a wideout make sense because as was shown last year, there has been not only a big shakeup of the top receivers, they don’t even score as well as the once did at the top level.

Where reception points make their biggest impact comes during the third through fifth rounds when most receivers taken will be outscoring their counterpart running backs. The reception point phenomena shows that loading up on running backs – to the detriment of taking quality starting wide outs – is much less advantageous than in standard scoring and likely comes as a detriment unless some sleeper type wideouts can be landed later. It also indicates that grabbing a top wideout is not necessarily a huge advantage, even if he is one who remains successful.

Reception points are good since they do make drafts more interesting where the best drafts should shine – evaluating all those players once the top 24 are gone and knowing the relative value of the positions. While summer is a fun time to debate moving a player up or down in the rankings with the addition of reception points, the reality is that the smart drafter considers only overall value and doesn’t pretend to be able to predict five point swings in total scoring for any player because of reception points. As with any rules, there are exceptions.  And if you delay on your wideouts, you better be ready to prove you can find those exceptions.