The New 2019 Strength of Schedule: Wide Receivers (Fantasy Football)
Raise your hand if you’ve heard that strength of schedule means little-to-nothing over the years? I know I’d raise my hand, because it seems like it’s the cool thing that people say. Would those same people tell you that their fantasy football rankings don’t matter, especially at the top of the draft? No, because then they wouldn’t have jobs.
While other positions can be highly debated, every little piece of information that we can get matters. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but we’re playing a game where if you get the correct information more than 60 percent of the time, you’re going to have a shot at a fantasy championship. But as for wide receiver…
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE FOR WIDE RECEIVERS ABSOLUTELY MATTERS.
I never write in all caps, but I felt the need to do it here to drive my point home. Why do we continually have Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Thomas, and DeAndre Hopkins atop our rankings? Because they are very good football players. “But Mike, this is about strength of schedule and you can’t predict how good a team will be in 2019!” Correct, but if you can say that those guys are very good football players, why can’t we talk about the players they’ll be lining up against? Wide receiver and cornerback matchups are not always one-on-one, but we know who the very good cornerbacks are, just like we know who the very good wide receivers are. So, instead of attacking this article like the other strength of schedule articles, I’ll let you know who is going to face the toughest competition.
I’ll be focusing on top-tier wide receivers in this article, the alpha-dogs, the clear-cut No. 1 receivers on their team, because they are the one’s who’ll be affected the most. They are the ones who will see the shutdown cornerbacks. As a heads up, slot wide receivers cannot be factored in because they would require a completely different chart. In this study, we’re going to focus on teams that have a shutdown cornerback, or at the very least, a defense that severely limits opposing wide receivers. Some of those teams in 2019 include the Jaguars, Cardinals (not the first six games), Ravens, and Chargers. All other teams are factored into their overall score, but these are the ones you should want no part of on your wide receiver’s schedule.
Wide Receivers with a Great Schedule
T.Y. Hilton (IND) SOS Score: 29
If you’ve been contemplating Hilton as a low-end WR1 to draft late in the second-round or early in the third-round, this should help persuade you. I’ll note that Week 1 is a tough matchup for him against the Chargers, but after that, he has just one tough matchup the remainder of the season, and that’s the Jaguars in Week 11. During the fantasy playoffs he’ll get the Bucs, Saints, and Panthers. The only wide receiver who has a better schedule than him is Marqise Lee (or whoever the Jaguars No. 1 receiver is), but Hilton is the one worth drooling over.
D.J. Moore (CAR) SOS Score: 23
Now that Devin Funchess is out of town, it should be fair to say that Moore is the Panthers No. 1 receiver, even if they spread the targets out a bit. I’ll note that Moore has a somewhat tough start to the season with a couple of tough matchups against the Rams and Jaguars over the first five weeks, but absolutely nothing to worry about after that. It also helps that Patrick Peterson was suspended for their Week 3 matchup. He’ll play against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Colts in the fantasy playoffs, three teams without anything close to a shutdown cornerback.
Michael Thomas (NO) SOS Score: 15
It’s not like Thomas needs a great schedule, but he’s got it. There’s a three-week stretch from Week 6 through Week 8 where he’ll play the Jaguars, Bears, and Cardinals, but outside of that, he’s looking mighty good. His final four matchups of the fantasy season will come against the Falcons, 49ers, Colts, and Titans. If you aren’t able to draft Thomas, maybe look to trade for him after Week 8, as he’ll not only be coming off his toughest stretch of games, but he’ll also be headed into his bye week, making his owner more likely to pull the trigger.
N’Keal Harry (NE) SOS Score: 15
It’s odd to say Harry is the Patriots No. 1 receiver, but with Julian Edelman playing in the slot 67 percent of the time, it makes Harry the one who’s most likely to see top-tier cornerbacks, as most don’t go into the slot. The Patriots only have one matchup with one of the elite teams and that’s against the Ravens in Week 9, so it’s smack-dab in the middle of the schedule with a bye following that game. In the fantasy playoffs, Harry will face the Chiefs and Bengals (both plus-matchups) prior to having a tough matchup against the Bills in Week 16.
Wide Receivers with a Bad Schedule
JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT) SOS Score: -19
We don’t know how the Steelers plan to deploy Smith-Schuster, but my guess would be that they’ll do the something similar to the way they have in years past. Still, it’s unlikely he plays 62 percent of his snaps in the slot with Antonio Brown gone, as both James Washington and Donte Moncrief aren’t what you’d describe as good in the slot. Because of that, he’s likely to get No. 1 treatment from opponents as much as possible. The matchups against the Patriots, Ravens, Chargers, Cardinals, and Bills aren’t going to be easy on him, as all those teams have done a great job with opposing No. 1 receviers. Smith-Schuster will get his in plus-matchups, but there are going to be some hiccups along the way.
Tyreek Hill/Sammy Watkins (KC) SOS Score: -13
Hill was actually one of the guys who had a brutal schedule last year, and though he overcame it most of the time, though there were quite a few ups and downs throughout the year. It’s a tough schedule once again, and while he’s able to overcome it, if he’s suspended or not with the team, that makes Watkins the clear-cut guy to see the opposing top-tier cornerback. To start the year, the Chiefs will play the Jaguars and Ravens in the first three weeks (with the Raiders in-between), which is horrible for Watkins if Hill is suspended, as he’s almost definitely getting off to a slow start. There’s just one game they play against a bottom-five unit and that’s against the Texans in Week 6. You’ll deal with the ups and downs with Hill, but if we find out he’s out for the first four weeks (or something like that), Watkins is going to shoot up draft boards, though his schedule to start the year should make it easy for you to allow someone else to reach for him.
Courtland Sutton (DEN) SOS Score: -11
Not only did he wind-up with Joe Flacco this offseason (doesn’t help wide receivers), but Sutton has a tough schedule ahead of him. After opening the season against the Raiders, which his owners should like, he’ll then go on to play against the Bears, Packers, Jaguars, and Chargers, four teams who should be considered a below-average matchup for No. 1 receivers. He’ll likely see Kyle Fuller, Jaire Alexander, Jalen Ramsey, and Casey Hayward in those matchups, meaning production will be hard to come by. He does have a great playoff schedule in Weeks 14 and 15 where he’ll play the Texans and Chiefs, but it’s unlikely he carries your team to the playoffs. If you want to draft him, it shouldn’t be as a starter on your fantasy team.
A.J. Green (CIN) SOS Score: -9
We know who the No. 1 receiver is in Cincinnati, which makes Green a little less appealing when you see he has the second-worst schedule in the league. But here’s the part you’ll want to know – you don’t necessarily want Green on your roster during Weeks 6-10, as he’ll play the Ravens, Jaguars, Rams, and then Ravens again, with his bye week mixed in-between those games. It’s not too bad after that, though he doesn’t have any five-star matchups on his schedule (TB, KC, HOU). He did catch a massive break when it was announced that Patrick Peterson would miss their Week 5 matchup, as it went from a negative matchup to one with massive potential.