Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule: Running Backs

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
May 9, 2017

Jay Ajayi had a breakout season in 2016, but he did a lot of his damage against bad teams. His schedule doesn’t have many bad teams on it in 2017.

Yesterday we started a series based on strength of schedule where we let you know some of the quarterbacks that you may want to slightly move down your draft board because of their sub-par schedule. In that article, I mentioned that strength of schedule isn’t the end-all-be-all, but that it’s a piece of the fantasy football puzzle. If you missed that article, you can find it right here.

Today we’ll continue to add to that puzzle with running backs, talking about those who have an easier path to fantasy success, as well as those who’ll have a tough time moving up the leaderboards. As we did with quarterbacks, we’ll only be using Weeks 1-16, because most fantasy leagues end in Week 16. Instead of solely relying on this to choose a player, use it if you’re having a hard time deciding between two players in the same tier.

Best Schedules

Mike Gillislee (RB – NE)
Not that he isn’t going to get plenty of scoring opportunities to begin with, but the rich get richer, as Gillislee has the best schedule among fantasy running backs. The best run defense that he’ll play from last season is the Panthers, who weren’t even in the top-10 against running backs. We also know that he’s in the same division, which means he’ll play his former team twice, including once in Week 16 for fantasy championship week. If Gillislee indeed walks into the old LeGarrette Blount role, he could be one of the biggest steals in fantasy drafts.

Bilal Powell (RB – NYJ)
You can argue that Matt Forte should be here instead of Powell, but I’m of the mindset that this timeshare is in Powell’s favor. Despite touching the ball 59 fewer times than Forte, Powell totaled 34 more yards than the 31-year old Forte. Whatever the case, they have the second-best schedule among running backs in 2017. It also helps that one of their meetings against the Patriots comes in Week 17, which just happens to be the best run-stopping team in their division.

Christian McCaffrey (RB – CAR)
Oddly enough, the Panthers have one of the best schedules for quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs. The rookie will have an opportunity to shine at the start of the season, as they’ll play against the 49ers, Bills, and Saints to open the season. In Week 4, he’ll get to show more of his receiving chops when they play against the Patriots, likely in comeback mode. The lone downside is that his toughest matchup comes in the first week of fantasy playoffs when they play the Vikings in Week 14, and one of his games against the Falcons (allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to running backs in 2016) comes in Week 17.

Worst Schedules

Carlos Hyde (RB – SF)
This one stings for me, the Hyde supporter. His talent overcame a lot on a bad team last year, but adding a tough schedule on top of that doesn’t look very good. He does have Kyle Shanahan to try and help matters, but they also added Joe Williams in the draft. Going through and looking at his schedule, he really only has two great matchups, while the rest of them are either below average or very bad. His playoff schedule is brutal as well, as he’ll play the Texans, Titans, and Jaguars. Keep in mind that the Texans will have J.J. Watt back, the Titans ranked No. 4 against running backs last year, and the Jaguars added Calais Campbell to their already young, stacked defense.

Marshawn Lynch (RB – OAK)
The opposite of the Panthers offense, the Raiders skill position players got the short end of the stick by the schedule makers. Derek Carr has the worst schedule among quarterbacks, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have the fourth-worst among wide receivers, and Lynch has the second-worst among running backs. Not only will he be getting older as the season wears on, but here’s Lynch’s schedule after his Week 10 bye: Patriots, Broncos, Giants, at Chiefs, Cowboys, at Eagles. That’s not what you want to see when you’re relying on him as your RB2 in standard formats. If you draft him, look to trade him before that brutal stretch of games.

Jay Ajayi (RB – MIA)
This was technically Le’Veon Bell’s spot, but he is actually matchup-proof. Instead we skipped ahead to Ajayi, who has the fourth-worst schedule among running backs. Last year was somewhat of a breakout year for Ajayi, but it was also a very mixed bag. Sure, he had two 200-plus yard games against the Steelers and the Bills, but what about the tougher matchups? Below, you’ll see real cause for concern if his 2017 opponents are anything close to what they were in 2016. Keep in mind that the defenses he’ll play in the fantasy playoffs are the Eagles (13th), Seahawks (2nd), and Titans (4th).

G Att Yds Yds/Att TD Fum PPG
Bottom-7 Defenses 5 110 697 6.34 6 0 21.52
All Other Defenses 10 150 575 3.83 2 4 8.07


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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