7 Wide Receivers With an Easy Fantasy Strength of Schedule

7 Wide Receivers With an Easy Fantasy Strength of Schedule

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last update Jul 17, 2017

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

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A long, long time ago on a blog far, far away, I studied the  dependability of preseason strength of schedule and found that rush defense was by far the most consistent on a year-to-year basis. Conversely, preseason passing/receiving strength of schedule wasn’t so dependable.

More recently, Mr. TJ “Tickles” Hernandez studied year-to-year correlations of fantasy points allowed to each position and found that the top/bottom five defenses had a very sticky correlation of .66 for the WR position. In other words, defenses in the extremes in Year 1 are pretty likely to remain there in Year 2.

Armed with 2016 aFPA (for WR PPR), which I would assume is a bit better than raw FPA, I assigned a point for every good matchup against a bottom-five defense (GB, TEN, MIA, LAR and ARI) and a negative point for every bad matchup against a top-five defense (DEN, MIN, HOU, CIN and NYG). I found that five teams had an aggregate total of +2 or more, so listed below are a few receivers that should benefit from a good strength of schedule in 2017.

Doug Baldwin - Seahawks (+3)

Baldwin has five matchups with teams that finished in the bottom five and two matchups against top-five teams, for a net of +3. He has finished in the top nine in two consecutive seasons, and hasn’t missed a game since 2012. Over the past two years, he has averaged 5.4 catches for 69 yards and 0.66 touchdowns (on 7.1 targets/game). Baldwin’s workload appears to be safe, so he’s a solid pick in the second round and a great pick in the third.

DeAndre Hopkins - Texans (+3)

Hopkins has four matchups with teams that finished in the bottom-five, and three come in the four-week span from Week 10 to Week 13, so if these teams (TEN, ARI and LAR) continue to struggle to stop the pass, he may be a good midseason trade target this year. He finished as the WR25 in PPR formats after struggling through a season with Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Hopkins is currently the 12th receiver off the board, so fantasy owners are expecting a bounce back season with Tom Savage and/or Deshaun Watson under center, and as an added positive bullet point, Hopkins should enjoy a favorable schedule.

Stefon Diggs & Adam Thielen - Vikings (+2)

Diggs could have a terrific year if he can just stay healthy. In the seven games where he was listed on the injury report at some point during the week, he averaged 4.0 catches for 37 yards and 0.14 touchdowns. In those games, he never cracked the 60-yard mark and found the end zone once. In the six games where Diggs was not on the injury report, he averaged 9.3 catches for 107 yards and 0.33 touchdowns (on 11.5 targets/game). He cracked the 60-yard mark in five of six such games, gaining 100-plus yards three times. Interestingly, Thielen’s production was not closely tied with either Diggs’ health or involvement in the offense. The duo has three good matchups (GB twice, LAR) against just one bad one (CIN), so the schedule doesn’t look too daunting.

Michael Thomas & Willie Snead - Saints (+2)

After a tough Week 1 matchup against the Vikings, this talented duo has three plus matchups over the remainder of the season. Both players excelled as route-runners last season and the departure of Brandin Cooks opens up a boatload of targets from one of the best quarterbacks in the league. As a rookie, Thomas turned 121 targets into 92 receptions for 1137 yards and nine scores. For his part, Snead saw 104 targets, which yielded 72 catches for 895 yards and four scores. Thomas looks every bit the part of a fantasy WR1, while Snead could creep into WR2 territory, especially in PPR and point-per-first down (PP1D) formats, where his lack of touchdowns doesn’t hurt him as much.

Pierre Garcon - 49ers (+2)

As if fantasy owners needed another reason to target Garcon, he has four plus matchups (ARI twice, LAR and TEN) against two bad ones (HOU and CIN) for a net score of +2 (although Patrick Peterson could make the ARI matchup tougher for Garcon than it appears on paper). Garcon is a great route-runner, doesn’t drop the ball and should see a ton of targets as the 49ers’ best option in the passing game. He turns 31 in August, but is coming off a season where he caught 79 passes for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, he has at least 68 catches in four straight seasons. In San Francisco, he’ll be reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. In Shanahan’s last year in Washington, Garcon caught 113 passes for 1,346 yards and five scores. He’s four years older now, but should see heavy volume playing for Shanahan. He won’t catch a ton of touchdowns, but should see a boost in value in PPR/PP1D formats, where finding the end zone is less important.

Difficult Strength of Schedules

On the flip side, the Packers (-3), Steelers (-2), Chargers (-2), Chiefs (-2), Lions (-2) and Browns (-2) fall on the other end of the spectrum. The good news is that no team in the league has more than one bad matchup during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16).

The Bottom Line

Since so much changes year to year, it’s important to not place too much of an emphasis on preseason strength of schedule, but it’s nice to see that some of 4for4’s favorite targets also seem to have favorable schedules in 2017.

Editor's Note: Sign up with 4for4 for complete rankings of which teams have the easiest/hardest schedules at each position, color-coded hot spots for each position/player, as well as defensive aFPA rankings.

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