The New 2021 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 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 Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, 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 2020!” Correct, but if you can say that those guys are 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 top-tier cornerbacks are, just like we know who the top-tier 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 I’ve identified for 2021 include the Rams, Ravens, Patriots, and Broncos. All other teams are factored into their overall score, but those are the ones you should want no part of on your wide receiver’s schedule.
Wide Receivers with a Great Schedule
Brandon Aiyuk (SF) SOS Score: 24
The return of Deebo Samuel and George Kittle presents questions about Aiyuk’s target ceiling, but the competition on his schedule won’t hold him back. Of the 13 matchups that were deemed to be brutal or below average, Aiyuk has just four of them on his schedule, with just one coming against a top-tier team. The Rams in Week 10 present the only major obstacle in his schedule, though we can’t be certain that Jalen Ramsey would shadow him. On top of that, you’d love to have him on your roster for the fantasy playoffs when the 49ers play the Bengals, Falcons, Titans, and Texans in Weeks 14-17. None of those teams have a shutdown cornerback on the roster.
D.J. Chark (JAX) SOS Score: 16
There are many trying to figure out the target share for Laviska Shenault, Marvin Jones, and Travis Etienne, but the one who’s the clear-cut No. 1 option on this team is Chark. There are three brutal matchups on his schedule, including one in Week 17 against Stephon Gilmore, so it’s not perfect, but he does have the second-best strength of schedule when it comes to cornerback matchups. He’ll play the Texans twice, Cardinals, Bengals, Seahawks, Colts, Falcons, and Jets throughout the year, which are all tilted in his favor. If Trevor Lawrence is the real deal, Chark could be a top-20 receiver with this schedule.
Robert Woods (LAR) SOS Score: 14
He’s already getting an upgrade at quarterback, but he’s also getting an upgrade in schedule, particularly early in the season. He has just one below average matchup throughout the first 11 weeks of the season, but it stiffens up a bit after his bye week where four of his final six games are considered below average matchups. If you draft Woods, enjoy what should be a solid start to his season, but then dial back expectations just a bit after his bye week.
Nelson Agholor (NE) SOS Score: 12
There were four matchups that were deemed brutal on the schedule for wide receivers, and Agholor was the only receiver who didn’t have a single matchup with one of those teams. It’s not all roses, though, as he has six matchups with teams who have above-average talent at cornerback, including the Bills and Jaguars in Weeks 16 and 17.
Wide Receivers with a Bad Schedule
Keenan Allen (LAC) SOS Score: -16
This one is tough because I try not to include slot-heavy receivers, but Allen teeters that line as someone who plays both. Of the 16 games Allen and the Chargers will play this year, just three of them (Cowboys, Bengals, Texans) are plus matchups, and two of those games don’t take place until Weeks 13 and 16. There’s a brutal part of his schedule from Week 6 through Week 12 where he’ll play against the Ravens, Patriots, Eagles, Vikings, Steelers, and Broncos. Allen can overcome tough matchups, but he’ll have to do it more often than you’d hope in 2021.
Amari Cooper (DAL) SOS Score: -14
With CeeDee Lamb playing in the slot, it’ll be Cooper who draws the top-tier cornerbacks most of the time. That’s not good considering the Cowboys have eight below average matchups in 2021 which is tied for the most in the league. On top of that, they have just two plus matchups, which is tied for the fewest in the league. The worst of it all is his schedule right as we enter the fantasy playoffs, as he’ll have matchups with Marshon Lattimore, William Jackson (twice), and James Bradberry in Weeks 13-16.
Ja’Marr Chase/Tee Higgins (CIN) SOS Score: -12
This one is tough because you really don’t know who the No. 1 option is, but regardless of that, it seems likely that teams would just play sides and not “shadow” one or the other. Whatever the case, the Bengals schedule isn’t kind for their wide receivers. They’ll open the year with matchups against the Vikings, Bears, Steelers, Jaguars, and Packers. None of those are pushover or above average matchups (the Jaguars now have talent at cornerback). And then, when you’ll need them the most, they play the Broncos and Ravens in Weeks 15 and 16. That’s Kyle Fuller/Ronald Darby and Marlon Humphrey/Marcus Peters, so both receivers will have it tough.