7 Running Backs With an Easy Fantasy Strength of Schedule

7 Running Backs With an Easy Fantasy Strength of Schedule

By Joe Holka (4for4 Contributor), last update Jul 17, 2017

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Joe is from Phoenix, Arizona and avid Cardinals fan. Played Division I Hockey at St. Cloud State University and professional hockey for both the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers minor league affiliates in the ECHL. NFL and fantasy football enthusiast. Lost a league championship by 1 point due to a stat correction and was never the same.

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After adjusting for strength of schedule, our aFPA metric has revealed the teams that will have the easiest fantasy matchups in 2017. Below are the running backs with the easiest route to weekly fantasy points.

Note: Standard aFPA is displayed on top, PPR underneath.

Ameer Abdullah/Theo Riddick - Lions

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The Lions will enjoy the sixth-most favorable schedule in PPR leagues in terms of running back aFPA. The committee of Abdullah and Riddick will also face the 10th-most favorable fantasy playoff schedule, as the Bears and Bengals are hardly units we should fear.

While Abdullah could see a featured role, Riddick should still see a healthy dose of targets in the passing game. The Detroit backfield contains a strong mix of talent and upside that can be an ideal situation to target for a drafter that is not risk-averse, or a Zero RB drafter. Abdullah posted 87th and 89th-percentile Expectation Scores on the ground and through the air, respectively, in my Rushing Expectation charting, and also finished in the 99th percentile in yards before contact in 2015 behind a poor offensive line. It’s no secret that Abdullah is one of my favorite running back options in fantasy drafts this season, but there could be room for Riddick to shine as well.

Christian McCaffrey - Panthers

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Carolina will face six good or great running back matchups throughout the course of the 2017 season, which bodes well for rookie Christian McCaffrey, who heads into the year with the easiest schedule for running backs in both standard and PPR formats. The Panthers have a neutral fantasy playoff schedule (Weeks 15-16) against the Packers and Bucs, but over the entire season they will face opponents expected to give up an average of 19.4 and 24.6 points per game to the running back position in standard and PPR scoring, respectively.

McCaffrey displays rare ability in the passing game and he can even line up as a wide receiver. The Panthers offensive line actually cracked the top-10 in Adjusted Reception Yards in 2016, a metric I created for my Rushing Expectation methodology which measures how effectively they blocked when a running back was targeted.

Even after some recent buzz in favor of veteran Jonathan Stewart and Steve Andress's warning that McCaffrey could be a bust, I much prefer the upside of McCaffrey, especially in PPR leagues.

Mike Gillislee/James White/Rex Burkhead - Patriots  

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The New England backfield is one of those situations we tend to be scared of, as Bill Belichick has a history of being unpredictable in regards to his game-by-game running back usage. That said, it’s hard ignore the team with arguably the most impressive depth at the position in the NFL. Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead both posted Expectation Scores in the 96th percentile or higher on the ground for their respective former clubs last year, while James White is probably one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.

The Patriots’ schedule is the eighth-softest in PPR formats this season, as well as the third-most favorable in the fantasy playoffs, where they will go against the Steelers and Bills. Opportunity knocks in an offense that will score a ton of points this year, especially with LeGarrette Blount’s 18 rushing touchdowns out the door. Although I'd prefer Gillislee if I had to choose one Patriots back, you could make an argument that Burkhead or White are better Zero RB targets based on ADP.

Related: The Fantasy Value of Patriots Running Backs Mike Gillislee, James White, Dion Lewis & Rex Burkhead

Bilal Powell - Jets

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The Jets are not a good football team, so even with six good or great matchups according to the SOS rankings, on the surface they seemingly may not be able to take full advantage due to poor game script. However, poor game script could actually help Bilal Powell volume-wise in the passing game.

Running backs who are targeted in the passing game carry more upside on bad teams than you might realize, and after getting 4.7 targets per game last season (sixth among running backs), I believe Powell will be the primary beneficiary of the likely negative game flow situations.

The Jets have the most favorable schedule in the league in Weeks 15-16 when it matters most, so it’s tough to keep one of my guys off this list.

The Bottom Line

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 in particular can be crucial in finding value week-to-week, and before the season can be used at tiebreakers in close scenarios.

Be sure to visit our Fantasy Tools hub to see complete rankings for which teams have the easiest/hardest schedules at each position, color-coded hot spots for each position/player, as well as defensive aFPA rankings.

Subscribe now to 4for4 Classic, Pro, or DFS for '17!

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