The New 2020 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 2020. Here’s my list of running backs with their score in my strength of schedule earned.
Running Backs with a Great Schedule
Ronald Jones/Ke’Shawn Vaughn (TB) SOS Score: +17
It appears this running back competition is one worth watching now that we know they have what appears to be the best running back schedule in the league. Based on my formula, there are 13 teams who are better than average at stopping fantasy running backs. Do you know how many times the Bucs will play those teams? Three. The Saints (twice) and the Broncos. Neither of which are top-three defenses (Bucs, Patriots, 49ers). On the flip side, they have three matchups with the Panthers and Lions, which are considered two of the worst teams in the league at stopping fantasy running backs.
Sony Michel (NE) SOS Score: +17
Are you willing to take another chance on Michel? It won’t cost you nearly as much as it did last year, and his schedule is tied for the best in the league. Based on my rankings of top-to-bottom, Michel and the Patriots will play 9-of-15 games against bottom-12 run defenses. The question is: Will the Patriots stick with him if they’re not winning as many games? There are many reasons to fade Michel but his schedule isn’t one of them.
David Montgomery (RB) SOS Score: +13
It wasn’t the rookie year Montgomery wanted to have in 2019, but the Bears have legitimately no other competition for carries on the roster, and his schedule comes in tied as the third-best among running backs. He will play 5-of-15 games against bottom-eight opponents, which is a huge plus, while playing just two games against top-six defenses. The best part is that he’ll play against the Lions, Texans, Vikings, and Jaguars to close out the season. The combination of those four teams allowed 33 different running backs to post top-12 numbers in 2019. And keep in mind, while the Vikings weren’t a horrendous matchup last year, they’ve seemingly taken a step back as a whole. The Bears offensive line looked to be in bad shape last year, but can they bounce back against easier competition?
Dalvin Cook (RB) SOS Score: +13
Last year, it was Cook who had the best strength of schedule on my list. He’s lucked out again and is tied for the third-best schedule this year. The only brutal matchups he has this season come against the Bucs and Saints, though they both unfortunately come in Weeks 14 and 16, the first week of the fantasy playoffs, and the fantasy championship week. Sandwiched in between there is a matchup with the Bears. If we were to talk about only the fantasy regular season, he’d have the best schedule among running backs, and it wouldn’t be close. If you draft Cook, you may want to consider selling him around the trade deadline in your league.
Running Backs with a Bad Schedule
Devin Singletary (RB) SOS Score: -10
Not only did Singletary get more competition on the roster when the Bills drafted Zack Moss, but he also has what appears to be the toughest schedule among running backs in 2020. The worst part is that four of his worst matchups come when you’ll need/want him most. Starting Week 13, he’ll play against the 49ers, then Steelers, then Broncos, and wrap things up against the Patriots. Fun fact about the Patriots in 2019: The average top-24 performance in PPR leagues was 11.5 points. They allowed just five running backs to hit that mark all year. That’s about as bad as it gets.
Saquon Barkley (RB) SOS Score: -8
The Giants offensive line certainly got better this offseason, and it’s a good thing for Barkley’s fantasy outlook. He has four matchups with top-five run defenses (Bucs, 49ers, Steelers, Ravens). Those teams combined to allow just 12 RB1 performances combined. That’s over a span of 64 games. On the other hand, Barkley will have just two matchups all year with bottom-eight run defenses. The start to his schedule is brutal, as he’ll be at home against the Steelers, who didn’t allow a single 20-plus PPR point performance against them in 2019, then head to Chicago to play the Bears, then return back home to play the 49ers. Barkley might be a decent buy-low target after that stretch, but don’t forget he’ll play the Ravens in Week 16, when you’re trying to win a championship.
Cam Akers/Darrell Henderson (RB) SOS Score: -7
There’s just one team in the league who has four matchups with top-three run defenses in 2020. It’s the Rams. Oddly enough, three of those matchups take place from Week 11 through Week 14, including a matchup with the Patriots in Week 14, the first week of the fantasy playoffs. The uncertainty surrounding their roles will surely be worked out by then, but knowing they have one of the toughest schedules in the league, use this as a tiebreaker to choose between them and someone else.