It’s never easy to look at strength of schedule for a whole season based on past performance, as teams change personnel and are always looking to strengthen a weakness. But, we’re in the fantasy football business and when drafting a player for a full season, we want to consider as many factors as possible.
Instead of looking directly at 2019 statistics, I’m going to assess defenses based on 2019 and my perception of how they did in the offseason. It won’t be close to an exact science, but nobody believes science nowadays anyway.
Best rushing schedule
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers didn’t go out and get a running back on the same level as Conner this offseason, despite talk of them wanting to limit his reps due to his precarious injury status so far in his career. The Steelers have a good offensive line, which will play better with Ben Roethlisberger back, as well as their offense as a whole. Conner, if he can stay healthy, is in line for a comeback season, and his schedule is one that can help facilitate that outcome. The Bengals and Browns were both poor against the run last season in the division and they only face four teams that ranked 15th or higher in defensive efficiency against the run last season.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
We know the Titans are going to give Henry the ball and the only thing stopping him is his team getting beaten badly enough that they go to the pass. The Titans project as favorites in ten games this season and they get the bulk of their tough defenses at home. Playing the Jaguars twice, Colts twice, Bengals and Browns once and they only face three teams that ranked better than 13th in defensive efficiency against the run. Henry can put up numbers against any team if given the opportunity, so his upside will likely pivot more on game script than strength of schedule, but overall, his SOS should be conducive for better game script.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars get the second-best schedule based on fantasy points allowed to running backs last season and the seventh-best based on run defense efficiency from last season. Facing the Colts, Dolphins, Bengals, Texans x2, Chargers, Packers, and Browns through their first 11 games is a nice start to the season. Things do get tougher in the fantasy playoffs though, as they face the Vikings, Titans, Ravens, and Bears. The key for Fournette is to continue to get usage as a receiver, as these matchups are even juicier for receiving backs.
Poor rushing schedule
Seattle can run the ball with the best of them and if Carson is healthy, he’ll get the job done, but he will face a gauntlet of strong run defenses this season to do so. The Seahawks will face the worst schedule based on fantasy points allowed to running backs last season and the worst schedule based on run defense efficiency. Only three of their opponents, the Dolphins, Bills and Washington ranked lower than 15th in defensive efficiency against the run, while 13 rank in the Top-15.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Singletary is already facing a tough battle for fantasy relevancy, as he loses touchdowns to Josh Allen and now might lose touches and touchdowns to rookie Zack Moss. Plus, his strength of schedule isn’t a cake walk by any means. There are some nice matchups strewn about the Bills schedule, as they face the Dolphins, Raiders, Chiefs, Seahawks and Chargers, but they also have eight games against teams that ranked 12th or better in defensive efficiency against the run: Jets x2, Giants, Patriots x2, Titans, Eagles, and Steelers. And to add insult to a tough schedule, they face the Steelers and Patriots in the fantasy playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers running backs
Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jerrick McKinnon all have a good shot at touches this season, so it is difficult to crown one as the lead back, but however you look at it, the group has a tough schedule. The NFC West plays well against the run, with the Cardinals and Rams coming in at 12th and eighth in defensive efficiency against the run, so there are four games against good run defenses while they also face the Jets, Giants, Eagles, Patriots, and Saints, who all rank seventh or better in efficiency before their bye in Week 11. Of course, Kyle Shanahan’s schemes give his running backs a lot of open space to run toward, but he’ll need to be extra crafty this year.