The New 2019 Strength of Schedule: Running Backs (Fantasy Football)
How many times have you heard someone on a podcast or in an article dismiss strength of schedule? The same ones who say that 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.
It’s legitimately 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 and doesn’t get on the field. Because of that, we must throw the idea that we can adjust teams out the window.
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 (MIN) SOS Score: +13
Looking back, I was a tough grader when it came to running backs on the strength of schedule, limiting the teams who offered what should be considered “plus” matchups. Looking at the schedule, there were more running backs who’ll have more of those plus matchups than Cook, but he doesn’t have nearly as many bad matchups as they do. It helps that one of his games against the Bears comes in Week 17, which doesn’t harm his SOS score. He should get off to a fast start, too, as he’ll play the Falcons, Packers, and Raiders in the first three games of the year.
James Conner (PIT) SOS Score: +9
Yeah, the Steelers drafted another running back, but if Conner wants to hang onto that workhorse role, the schedule should allow him to succeed. His first brutal matchup doesn’t come until Week 5 against the Ravens, who did lose a lot of players this offseason. There are a few matchups that are not great in his schedule, but overall, he’s got 11-of-15 games against middling to below-average run defenses.
Mark Ingram (BAL) SOS Score: +7
I’m not going to pretend that his schedule is great, because it’s not. However, it’s definitely not bad, as he’ll play against just two of the top-eight defenses all year. He should also get off to a fast start, as he’ll play the Dolphins, Cardinals, Chiefs, and Browns, four teams who ranked in the bottom-10 of my strength of schedule chart. As long as the Ravens are in the game and not falling too far behind, Ingram’s schedule should be considered a plus.
Christian McCaffrey (CAR) SOS Score: +3
He’s more of an honorable mention, as his schedule is one of the most evenly-spread among running backs. He has some great matchups (TB twice, ARI, ATL twice) and some brutal matchups (HOU, JAX, TEN), but his playoff schedule is rock-solid. He’ll play the Falcons in Week 14, who he tagged for 139 and 178 total yards against in 2018, and then play the Seahawks in Week 15, who allowed seven 20-plus point PPR running backs in 2018, the third-most in the league. His matchup against the Colts in Week 16 is relatively average, so his playoff schedule is what’s most appealing.
Running Backs with a Bad Schedule
Damien Williams (KC) SOS Score: -33
In what was a cinderella story at the end of 2018 for Williams, he’s going to have to earn it in 2019 with the toughest schedule among running backs. What makes it the worst is that his playoff schedule during Weeks 15 and 16 are tough of the toughest matchups he’ll encounter all season, as the Broncos and Bears await. During the strength of schedule process for running backs, there were eight teams who were considered +3 or more to the SOS score, yet Williams and the Chiefs won’t play any of those teams. Every other team in the NFL has at least two matchups with those teams.
Devonta Freeman (ATL) SOS Score: -25
Not only does Freeman get the negative impact of Dirk Koetter returning as the offensive coordinator, but he also has the second-worst schedule among running backs. He opens the season in Minnesota, then has to play against the Titans and Texans in Weeks 4 and 5, so three of the first five weeks are brutal for his immediate returns on draft slot (Eagles and Colts in-between aren’t cake matchups, either). He’ll go against the division-rival Panthers in Week 14, the first week of the fantasy playoffs, and then have to go against the Jaguars in Week 16, the week of fantasy championships.
Melvin Gordon (LAC) SOS Score: -23
You should know when drafting Gordon that his schedule isn’t bad to start the year, but he has a brutal stretch starting in Week 5 where he’ll play the Broncos, Steelers, Titans, and Bears in four consecutive weeks. It lightens up for three games after that, then he gets his bye week, then the trouble starts again. He’ll play the Broncos, Jaguars, and Vikings in Weeks 13-15, which, as you know, bleed into fantasy playoffs. If you can make it through that gauntlet to the championship, he plays the Raiders in Week 16, but it’s going to be a bumpy road along the way.
Marlon Mack (IND) SOS Score: -23
There were eight teams who deliver a -5 score on the strength of schedule. Think about that for a second… 8-of-32 teams, or 25 percent. Somehow, the NFL schedulers put Mack against those teams in 7-of-15 games this fantasy season. No other player has more than six matchups like that on their schedule. It’s not all bad for Mack, as he’s got some good games mixed in, but his schedule should not be considered a positive.