The New 2020 Strength of Schedule: Tight Ends (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 tight ends with their score in my strength of schedule earned.
Tight Ends with a Great Schedule
Kyle Rudolph/Irv Smith Jr. (MIN) SOS Score: +24
If there’s one position I don’t overvalue strength of schedule with, it’s the tight end position, as it’s very touchdown dependent. However, it is noteworthy that the Vikings have a +24, as it highlights just how good their schedule is. There were 15 teams who were considered to be an above average matchup for tight ends, and the Vikings will play 10 of their 15 games against those opponents. Meanwhile, they’ll play just one of the top-12 defenses. It’s unlikely you’re drafting a Vikings tight end, but they’re likely to have plenty of streaming appeal.
T.J. Hockenson (DET) SOS Score: +19
After a highly inefficient rookie season, Hockenson will look to get back on track in what is the second-easiest schedule among tight ends. He has four matchups with bottom-five teams from last year, while having just one matchup against a top-10 team from last year. The only matchup that’s brutal is the Vikings, as they allowed just three tight ends to hit top-12 type numbers last year, the second-lowest mark in the league. The good news is that his second game against the Vikings comes in Week 17, which doesn’t affect fantasy football.
George Kittle (SF) SOS Score: +15
If you were having a tough time deciding between Kittle or Travis Kelce, this could give you a nudge in Kittle’s direction. If you were wondering, Kelce’s score was -4, so nothing too crazy. There are a few tough matchups along the way for Kittle, as he’ll play the Bills, Eagles, and Patriots, but outside of those, there’s not much to worry about. In fact, 9-of-15 games will come against teams who ranked in the bottom-13 at defending tight ends, including two matchups with the Cardinals, who allowed a ridiculous 10 tight ends score 15-plus PPR points (just one other team allowed more than five such performances).
Notable: Ian Thomas (CAR) SOS Score: +13
Tight Ends with a Bad Schedule
Eric Ebron (PIT) SOS Score: -16
We don’t know how the Steelers will use Ebron, as they have Vance McDonald in the traditional tight end role, and they just drafted someone who’s considered a wide receiver/tight end hybrid in Chase Claypool. If Ebron plays more of a traditional role, the schedule doesn’t do him any favors. He’ll play four games against top-five opponents, including a matchup with the Bills in Week 14, the first week of the fantasy playoffs. The average top-12 performance in 2019 was 10.6 PPR points, and the Bills allowed just four tight ends to hit that mark. The only matchup he has against a bottom-five team is the Jaguars in Week 11.
Blake Jarwin (DAL) SOS Score: -13
There are a lot of targets that went to Jason Witten and Jarwin last year (124 to be exact), but those will likely be cut back with the schedule the Cowboys have in 2020. There were 12 teams who were considered better than average when it came to stopping tight ends in 2019. Jarwin and the Cowboys will play 9-of-15 games against those teams. Sadly, one of the toughest ones against the Eagles comes in Week 16, the week of fantasy championships. If there’s one team who hasn’t been a fluke against the position year over year, it’s the Eagles, as they’ve been dominant against tight ends since Jim Schwartz took over as the defensive coordinator.
Jonnu Smith (TEN) SOS Score: -13
Here’s a fun fact: There have been three teams who’ve finished top-12 in tight end team scoring in each of the last five years. The Eagles, Chiefs, and Titans. With Delanie Walker out of the picture, will Smith help them get there? The schedule won’t be friendly to him. He has three matchups against the Vikings, Ravens, and Bills, though fortunately, none of them come during the fantasy playoffs. He has four other matchups that should be considered below average, making Smith someone who’s likely best-suited as a streamer in his first year as a starter.
Notable: Tyler Eifert (JAX) SOS Score: -11