Some running backs you’ll start no matter who they play. They’re the ones who score a lot of touchdowns and catch a lot of passes. They’re matchup-proof dominators.
Too bad there aren’t many of them. You might be able to count them all on both hands.
For everyone else brave enough to play running back in the NFL, the matchups matter. Last year, teams with stout D-lines like the Titans and Saints were top-2 in Fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs. They combined for 11 outings of 15-plus PPR points allowed over 34 games. Even defenses like the Cardinals, Colts and Cowboys might not have made you totally scared, but at minimum, they made you lower expectations.
Tough matchups stink. I know I’d like to avoid them as much as possible.
Lame strength-of-schedule listings that lazily take last year’s win-loss records and apply them to the new year’s slate do nothing for me. Not with all the turnover on offense and defense every offseason — especially this past offseason.
That’s why I created the Projected Strength of Schedule (PSoS) for every team’s run game. I’ve given a full explanation of the methodology of grading defenses, and you can find that here, but I basically came up with my own tailored strength of schedule for running backs based on who they’ll face on this year’s rosters, not last year’s rosters, and with a lot more than win-loss record taken into consideration.
What should you do with this information? Well for starters, the schedules should matter to you — no two NFL defenses are the same and it’s much more likely that a weaker unit won’t contain your Fantasy runner than a stronger one. And I obviously know that defenses change when injuries and bad performances happen, but this is still a good starting point for understanding good/bad matchups for players you’re considering … especially early in the season.
Ultimately, I use these ratings as an additional piece of research to help me round out my analysis of a running back. I also believe this to be the best possible tie-breaker when I’m debating between two players. When viewing the ratings below, 1 stands for the easiest projected season and 32 the hardest, i.e the Lions running backs have the easiest schedule and the Raiders the hardest.
Season-long PSoS for RBs
Weeks 1-4 PSoS for RBs
Weeks 15-17 PSoS for RBs
D’Andre Swift: With a last-place schedule and matchups against the AFC East, NFC East and the NFC North (including a downgraded Bears run defense), the Lions’ top runner figures to have the fewest matchup problems this season, especially after Week 3. It also helps that he’s got the easiest projected schedule for the Fantasy playoffs.
Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon: Look, if Swift’s going to be on here, then you better believe the Packers runners will also be here, especially since they’ll play the Bears AND the Lions twice each. If you’re of the belief that the Packers are going to run more and throw less following their offseason, then you’ll love their overall projected schedule along with their top-10 early-season PSoS.
Antonio Gibson: It feels like Gibson needs some good news after this offseason. Here’s a glimmer: the Commanders running game is one of two in the league that has a top-5 PSoS overall and a top-8 early-season outlook. Things get a little dicey around Week 16 and 17, though. Guess it can’t all be good for Gibson.
Dameon Pierce: Pierce first has to prove that he’s the Texans’ best running back. When he does, he’ll have a pretty nice schedule to start the year and a top-12 PSoS for the full year. In fact, the Texans are the only team with a top-12 rank in every PSoS category.
Leonard Fournette: Being Tom Brady’s top running back is a good gig. Having to do so against the AFC North, the NFC West, the Packers, the Chiefs and the Saints twice is not good. This was enough to knock Fournette down one spot in my rankings (Aaron Jones moved up).
James Conner: The Cardinals will lean on Conner just as they did last year when he had a pretty decent slate. This year he’ll see the second-worst full-year PSoS and a bottom-half projected sked through the first four weeks. When (if?) he makes it to Week 15 he’ll be great for your Fantasy team, but can you wait that long for him to shine?
Josh Jacobs: I’ve had schedule issues with Jacobs before and he’s overcome them. Sort of. He’s never been a top-12 running back on a per-game basis in PPR. Now he’ll be tasked with a refreshed role in a new offense and facing the worst-graded full-year PSoS filled with the NFC West, Colts, Titans, Saints, Steelers, Patriots and the Broncos and Chiefs twice each.
Anyone in Atlanta: Whether it’s Cordarrelle Patterson or rookie Tyler Allgeier or someone else, the Falcons have it tough all season long. Their third-worst PSoS for all of 2022 is hampered by the simple fact they play the Saints and Buccaneers twice each — one of only two teams to do it.
Don’t draft them, but consider buying low
(These running backs have a tough early-season PSoS but their schedules improve dramatically starting in October. That’s when you’ll want to trade for them — just before that.)
- David Montgomery
- Breece Hall
- Damien Harris
- James Robinson
Draft them, then consider selling high
(These running backs have an easy early-season PSoS but their schedules get tougher starting in October. That’s when you might look to trade them and get back as much capital as you can — just before that.)
- Najee Harris
- Alvin Kamara
- Nick Chubb
- Cam Akers
- Saquon Barkley
- Kenneth Walker