7 Running Back Strength of Schedule Beneficiaries
This time of year, fantasy owners are trying to consume as much relevant fantasy information as possible before drafts. It is hard to know what matters most and how heavily to weight certain variables, especially at the running back position.
We know that nothing correlates stronger to fantasy points at running back than volume, but efficiency and matchups also deserve a spot in our considerations when deciding whom to take in drafts. Matchups can be crucial in finding value, and looking solely at cumulative stats from the year before is not a winning strategy. These numbers can be skewed by a few big weeks or touchdown totals that are bound to either positively or negatively regress year-to-year.
Below is a list of affordable running backs that, according to 4for4’s Strength of Schedule (SOS) Rankings and Schedule-Adjusted Fantasy Points Allowed (aFPA), will have the easiest route to fantasy points from week-to-week throughout the NFL season.
Doug Martin/Charles Sims, Buccaneers
Martin and Sims head into the 2016 season with the easiest schedule for running backs in both standard and PPR formats. This committee will also enjoy the most favorable fantasy playoff schedule (Week 15 and 16). The Buccaneers’ opposing defenses are expected to give up an average of 18.9 and 24.8 points to the running back position in standard and PPR scoring, respectively.
Sims displays rare ability in the passing game and he can also line up as a wide receiver. According to my Rushing Expectation methodology, Sims performed 3.9% above expectation per attempt and 16.7% per target in regards to efficiency.
Throughout the course of the season, Tampa Bay will face seven good or great running back matchups, according to SOS rankings, which bodes well for both Martin and Sims. Favorable matchups are also most prevalent towards the end of the season in the most crucial weeks of fantasy football. I much prefer Sims to Martin in PPR leagues relative to current cost.
Thomas Rawls, Seahawks
With Marshawn Lynch's retirement, whoever emerges in Seattle's backfield could find himself with a huge opportunity this season. My money is on Rawls. If he can stay healthy, he will enjoy the second-weakest schedule in standard leagues in terms of running back aFPA. Unfortunately, Rawls's playoff schedule is not as kind -- Seattle has the 18th-best matchups in Week 15 and 16.
This is a tricky situation in drafts with all the uncertainty and competition surrounding Rawls’, since his current ADP is quite costly at the end of the third round. The path of least resistance in most cases in situations like this is to target the cheaper options like C.J. Prosise or Christine Michael. That said, if you do decide to target a back this early in drafts, Rawls is one of my favorite options. Rawls performed 11.5% above expectation per attempt according to his Rushing Expectation profile in 2015.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
Stewart is one of those running backs we tend to forget about or dismiss due to injury history and short sample size of elite production. The Panthers' schedule appears to be the third-softest in standard formats this season. In thirteen games last year, Stewart was 16th in regards to standard PPG and finished the season as the overall RB19.
Opportunity is there in an offense that likes to run the football. If you can get over his capped touchdown upside and potential loss of carries in the red zone to Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert (although Stewart was near the top of the league in red zone usage last season thanks to favorable game scripts stemming from Carolina's 15-1 season), you could do worse than Stewart if he falls into the seventh or eight round. Although I'd prefer a guy like Ryan Mathews slightly over Stewart at current cost, Stewart also has the ninth-best playoff schedule in regards to aFPA.
Melvin Gordon/Danny Woodhead, Chargers
A lot of very smart people were high on Gordon last year as a rookie, but he largely underwhelmed in 2015. That said, his counterpart Woodhead finished as the RB3 last year in PPR leagues even behind an offensive line decimated by injuries all season.
A lot of people will have a hard time going back to that well with Gordon in 2016, but that may be a mistake. The offensive line play affected Gordon much more than Woodhead and Rivers, who saw the majority of their production in the short-to-intermediate passing game. The good news Gordon and Woodhead is the line will be healthier and has some added depth. Gordon could find himself in a positive game flow situation more often in 2016, as Vegas has San Diego favored to win three more games than last year. Regardless of game script, Woodhead has a trust factor with Rivers in the passing game.
The Chargers have the sixth-softest schedule of all running backs this year in standard leagues and seventh-softest in PPR. They have three great matchups in the first four weeks in the season, which could provide you with a great sell-high opportunity as well. The Chargers run game is a situation I am targeting in multiple different formats and will have a lot of exposure to in 2016.
If San Diego's offensive line improves even slightly from last season, both Woodhead and Gordon could emerge as great values at their current price in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively. History has shown there is room for both to excel in a Ken Whisenhunt offense.
Carlos Hyde, 49ers
Injury concerns will seemingly always loom over Hyde (he’s already missed 11 games in his two year NFL career), but the upside and excitement surrounding him as a potential elite fantasy option when healthy makes him an intriguing option in fourth round this year.
The 49ers will face the 14th-weakest defenses against running backs in 2016 in standard leagues, but the sixth-weakest in PPR. Hyde should see more work in the passing game this year, and according to SOS rankings, he also has the fifth-best playoff schedule of any team.
It is noteworthy that Hyde’s rushing efficiency put him fourth overall in my entire 20-player Rushing Expectation sample in regards to percent above expectation on rush attempts. Behind what was statistically the league's worst run blocking offensive line, Hyde performed above expectation in 2015 by 11.2% in the run game, but was one of the worst in pass game efficiency at (-16.6%) below expectation.
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