Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule Beneficiaries: RBs
This much is true: Four of fantasy’s top-8 running backs in 2013 had some of the softest strengths of schedule, according to schedule-adjusted fantasy points.
Probably Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, and DeMarco Murray would’ve fared just fine with slightly tougher schedules, but that almost-handful of elite runners were all beneficiaries of exceedingly easy schedules for running backs.
The Titans’ schedule – the second easiest for running backs – was certainly a contributing factor to Chris Johnson somehow, someway, finishing 2013 as a top-9 back. CJ?K simply roasted many of Tennessee’s worst run-defending opponents.
His schedule also produced a predictable buy-low opportunity at the mid-point of the season, as Johnson did most of his damage in the second half, against weaker opponents. CJ?K was RB21 over the first half of last season, and RB5 over the final eight weeks of 2013.
The point: schedules matter, as we’ve discussed with wide receivers and tight ends, and adjusting for strength of schedule is a crucial step in evaluating when a runner truly has a mouth-watering matchup.
Why do we we focus on a guy’s schedule adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA) using 4for4’s nifty new Strength of Schedule Rankings tool? Simple: because holding Adrian Peterson to seven fantasy points is not the same as limiting Darren McFadden to seven points. This is where adjusting for schedule bias comes into play.
Below are the running backs who could benefit most from squishy 2014 schedules.
New York Jets
Oh hey, CJ?K gets another easy running back schedule. This time it’s the league’s softest schedule, as he faces an astounding seven good or great matchups and just a single bad matchup.
Johnson won’t be the creature of volume that he was for much of his time in Tennessee – even New York coaches admit that their shiny new free agent signing has lots of tread on his speedy tires – but much of his upside isn’t priced into his current average draft position (ADP) of RB24.
Johnson, unless he falls into a true timeshare with Chris Ivory, could be a fantasy championship winner in 2014, as his Week 15-16 opponents are projected to allow 21.5 points per game to opposing runners.
Only LeSean McCoy will see an easier playoff slate.
The hate for Trent Richardson is real and justified. To call him ordinary in 2013 would be a grave insult to every ordinary running back in the NFL.
There’s a bit of a Richardson revival movement taking hold this summer as Colts’ coaches talk about his ability to be a three-down back. TRich’s ADP has risen from the bottom of the fifth round to the middle of the fifth round in one short month. Expect more of that.
Richardson is reportedly relying on his instincts more than he did during his abysmal 2013 – and his low-key terrible 2012. I ran that fact through my running back projection algorithm and, after some processing, the algorithm gave me the middle finger. Not sure what to make of that.
Whether Richardson seizes the gig or Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard make their presence known, Colts’ runners will face six good or great matchups. Indy’s runners will have the third most favorable schedule for Weeks 15-16. It’s something to monitor.
New York Giants
Big Blue runners will face the fourth easiest schedule this season, with almost half of their games classified as good or great matchups. Jennings and Giants’ runners will start with a nightmarish schedule that quickly eases up in the middle of the season.
Jennings’ .86 career fantasy points per touch is borderline ridiculous, and the Giants brought him in to be their workhorse back. I think his fantasy floor is a lot higher than people realize at the moment.
The soft schedule won’t be the difference between an RB15 finish and an RB5 season for Jennings, but it could very well be enough to boost him into RB12 territory. It’s firmly within Jennings’ range of outcomes.
John Paulsen has already told you why Toby Gerhart is a provably safe bet to meet or exceed his draft day cost, though I suppose that might change if the Fantasy Hype Machine ingests Adrian Peterson’s longtime backup and balloons his ADP.
Gerhart is a real candidate for 300 touches in a Jacksonville offense that is expected to be as conservative as any scheme in the league. That’s what happens when Chad Henne is running the joint.
Gerhart won’t face a bad matchup until the Jags go to Cincinnati in Week 9. I think he has a real possibility to be a top-10 fantasy running back during that first half of 2014. Gerhart has touched the ball more than 15 times in seven career games and has averaged low-end RB1 numbers (12.6 fantasy points) with that kind of workload.
Buffalo runners will get the eighth easiest schedule in 2014, though it’s tough – as always – to decide which back this will benefit most.
C.J. Spiller, that killer of fantasy dreams, had precisely two late-season 2013 games in which his bothersome high ankle sprain wasn’t hobbling him. Spiller, in those games against Kansas City and Atlanta, touched the ball a combined 31 times and gained 312 yards. That’s what we in the industry like to call “not terrible.”
That’s reflective of Spiller’s otherworldly potential, if nothing else. Buffalo runners face just two unfavorable matchups during the season’s first eight weeks, and enter the fantasy playoffs facing the fifth-softest slate for running backs.
A healthy Spiller, fantasy’s RB15 in early drafts, could very well pull a Jamaal Charles and go ballistic down he stretch for fantasy owners willing to make the risky investment.