Saturday, July 2, 2022

Fantasy Football Projected Strength of Schedule 2022: Running backs to move up and down your rankings

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

DET 1 NYJ 17
MIN 2 BAL 18
GB 3 JAX 19
WSH 4 BUF 20
CHI 5 NO 21
NE 6 SEA 22
HOU 7 LAR 23
LAC 8 CAR 24
PHI 9 CLE 25
SF 10 PIT 26
DAL 11 KC 27
TEN 12 TB 28
IND 13 CIN 29
MIA 14 ATL 30
NYG 15 ARI 31
DEN 16 LV 32

Weeks 1-4 PSoS for RBs

LAC 1 CHI 17
CLE 2 TEN 18
PHI 3 CIN 19
SEA 4 CAR 20
NYG 5 ARI 21
NO 6 LV 22
IND 7 DET 23
WSH 8 KC 24
LAR 9 MIN 25
GB 10 NYJ 26
DEN 11 MIA 27
HOU 12 JAX 28
PIT 13 TB 29
SF 14 NE 30
DAL 15 ATL 31
BAL 16 BUF 32

Weeks 15-17 PSoS for RBs

DET 1 CAR 17
NYJ 2 CHI 18
BUF 3 IND 19
JAX 4 WSH 20
ARI 5 DAL 21
NO 6 NYG 22
BAL 7 MIN 23
TB 8 DEN 24
SF 9 CIN 25
KC 10 LAR 26
NE 11 ATL 27
HOU 12 MIA 28
PHI 13 GB 29
SEA 14 CLE 30
TEN 15 LV 31
PIT 16 LAC 32

Biggest winners

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.

Biggest losers

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

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