The New 2018 Strength of Schedule: Running Backs (Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
May 14, 2018

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook will be returning from a torn ACL in 2018, but does have a lighter schedule than most

How many times have you heard someone on a podcast or in an article dismiss strength of schedule? The same ones who say that will often publish something on strength of schedule, because there are so many people who are looking to get every edge possible. But it becomes a problem when everyone looks at strength of schedule the same way.

While it’s impossible to justify why certain teams have gotten better and apply any measurement as to how it will improve their team’s defense in the following year. Sure, they may have drafted a defensive player, but maybe they have him play out of position, maybe he doesn’t quite fit the scheme, or maybe he’s just a bust. Because of that, we have to throw the idea that we can adjust teams out the window.

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Instead, let’s make the traditional strength of schedule better. Remember when Frank Gore finished the 2016 season as the No. 12 running back? Does that mean he should’ve been drafted as the 12th running back off the board? Absolutely not, anyone who played fantasy football can tell you that. That method is exactly what most do for strength of schedule. How many total points did a team allow, rank them among others, apply those ranks to next year’s schedule, and voila, traditional strength of schedule.

Instead of accepting this as a method, I did exactly what I do for fantasy players with “Boom, Bust, and Everything in Between,” (read the process on that here) where I went through every team and added up how many top-12 performances they allowed (based on the BBEIB method), how many top-24, etc. as to how it relates to each position. What this does is remove an outlier performance where a team may have allowed a massive game to a superstar that influenced the overall numbers more than they should’ve. Who knows, maybe they were missing a superstar like Luke Kuechly on defense that week. Whatever the case, this method allows us to see each team’s consistency as it relates to fantasy football and should better project the strength of schedule for 2018. Here’s my list of running backs with their score in my strength of schedule earned.

Running Backs with a Great Schedule

Dalvin Cook (RB – MIN) Score: 13
Coming off a torn ACL isn’t as bad as it used to be, but Cook’s schedule should help him bounce back early in the season. His first three matchups are against bottom-10 teams (SF, GB, BUF) from last season. On top of that, he’ll get both the Dolphins and Lions in Weeks 15 and 16, both bottom-six teams from last year. While most running backs have at least two matchups with top-six teams, Cook has just one and it’s against the Eagles in Week 5.

Jordan Howard (RB – CHI) Score: 12
This should be no surprise, as both Dalvin Cook and Howard play in the same division, but Howard gets a break because one of his matchups against the Vikings is in Week 17, outside of the fantasy playoffs. In fact, the Vikings are the only top-six team he’ll play throughout the fantasy season. Meanwhile, he’ll get two games against the Packers and Lions, and then match-up with the Bills and Dolphins mid-season.

Sony Michel (RB – NE) Score: 9
This is significant because the Patriots are a team who pays attention to their opponent’s deficiencies more than most. Michel was drafted to walk into the Dion Lewis role where he should be seeing 18-plus touches in great matchups. While the start to his schedule is tough against the Texans and Jaguars, he’ll get the Lions, Dolphins, and Colts immediately after that. There are a few tough matchups in between, but then his fantasy playoff schedule includes the Dolphins in Week 14 and then the Bills in Week 16.

Bilal Powell (RB – NYJ) Score: 7
The Jets backfield is just as puzzling as the Ravens backfield was last offseason. After signing Isaiah Crowell, they also went out and snagged Thomas Rawls, but Powell should still be the one seeing the most touches. He’s actually got four matchups against top-six teams, but his plus-matchups more than make up for that, as he’s got a league-high seven matchups with bottom-six opponents, including two of them in the fantasy playoffs against the Bills and Packers.

Running Backs with a Bad Schedule

Saquon Barkley (RB – NYG) Score: -10
Welcome to the NFL, rookie. Not only does Barkley have just one matchup that’s should be considered a prime one (which comes against the Colts in Week 16), but he leads the league with five matchups against top-six teams from last year, including three of his first six games that include the Texans, Panthers, and Eagles. Things aren’t going to come easy on the ground for Barkley, though his pass-catching skills will be utilized.

Jay Ajayi (RB – PHI) Score: -9
This is problematic for someone who is going to be part of a timeshare, especially when he’s not a big part of the passing-game with Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey back in the fold. His stretch from Week 4-7 is going to be brutal, as he’ll play against the Titans, Vikings, and Panthers, the top three teams according to my method. I was fading Ajayi at his current price before this and this only furthers my hesitation to draft him.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB – DAL) Score: -8
Well, this isn’t good for a running back who has had the talent around him depleted. There’s nothing on the roster that’ll force opposing defenses to be honest, so you should expect Elliott to see a lot of loaded defensive fronts. On top of having to play the Eagles twice, he’ll have matchups with the Panthers, Texans, and Titans throughout the year. I’m expecting a lot of work for Elliott in the passing-game this year, but even with the best offensive line in the league, it’s going to be hard for him this year.

Derrius Guice (RB – WAS) Score: -5
It’s pretty crazy that the four running backs in the NFC East have the toughest schedules, because there’s only one team among them who’s considered a top-six run-defense (Eagles). Their schedule is just brutal this year, as they don’t get many plus matchups. There is a very important piece of information, though, as Guice will play the Colts in Week 2 and Packers in Week 3 before having a bye in Week 4. This is important because Chris Thompson may be eased back into action early in the season. If you draft Guice, maybe go in with a plan to sell him after Week 3 and maximize your return before he hits the tougher part of his schedule. It’s also important to note that he gets the extremely tough Titans in Week 16.


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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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