Fantasy Football 2011: Running Back Strength of Schedule

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Fantasy Football 2011: Running Back Strength of Schedule
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The fantasy football season is quickly approaching and it is time to get your fantasy football cheat sheets together. Although there is still a lot of time before the NFL season kicks off (IF it kicks off), it is never too early to do your homework.

These are just the first round of fantasy football Strength of Schedule, and there will undoubtedly be some developments during the offseason that will shake up the rankings.

How the SOS is calculated: Every year when we get together to make our fantasy football positional rankings, projections and cheat sheet, we have to take a few variables in to mind. We calculate fantasy football strength of schedules for certain players and teams, for example.

In years past we have looked at the average points allowed per position per team to determine whose schedule puts them in position for the most success. This year we will be going one step further, calculating points against averages based on home and away games.

How does this affect the SOS compared to years past?

Take, for example, the Dallas Cowboys—who allowed nearly ten more points per game to opposing quarterbacks playing in Dallas. Their secondary must be getting caught checking out the big screen.

On the other hand, a team like the Jets was stellar at home—but allowed almost three times as many points to opposing quarterbacks when they were on the road.

As the season progresses you will be able to see the change in SOS as we continue to tweak the projections. Players will move in free agency and affect the strength of their respective defenses, and that effect will be reflected in the SOS.

Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule: Running Backs 1.0

 Every year we debate over which running back to draft first. Should you go with the electric upside of a guy like Jamaal Charles? Or should you take last year’s breakout star Peyton Hillis?

Of course we always measure the variables. Which running back is injury prone? Which running back is sharing carries? Which running back can add some receptions each week?

What about their schedule? You may not have considered it before, but trust me when I say the fantasy football strength of schedule matters.

In 2010 Jamaal Charles’ average draft position was about 27th, or just in the beginning of the third round.

Let’s go back a year. If you knew then that Jamaal Charles had the easiest schedule for all fantasy running backs, would you still have drafted Marques Colston or DeAngelo Williams ahead of him? That’s right—both of those players had a higher ADP than Charles.

Sometimes it is just as important to know who has the toughest schedule as a fantasy back. You may not want to invest a high choice in Jahvid Best this year.

He certainly has all the ability in the world, and some have compared his shiftiness and speed to that of Chris Johnson. It isn’t because he plays for the Lions, although that doesn’t help.

No, you may want to reconsider what round you draft Best because he and the Lions have the toughest schedule of all fantasy running backs.

The Toughest

1.  Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions:

Best was a fantasy football gem, or so it seemed in the first two weeks. Best’s average draft position was around the fourth round. Not a terrible spot for someone who turned out to be the feature back in an injury riddled backfield.

Best quickly fell back to earth after scorching fantasy in the first two weeks, after suffering some injuries of his own. Best has a great upside, but an added back in the rotation (Mikel Leshoure) and the toughest schedule in football cast a pretty big shadow.

 2.  Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks:

Lynch became more fantasy relevant after being traded to the Seahawks, but should have a tougher run at things in 2011.

The Seahawks didn’t pursue any running backs in the draft, so Lynch is safe for at least one more year. Lynch could struggle this year against such a tough schedule though, so don’t be surprised to see him spelled for Justin Forsett more often.

3.  Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills:

 All indications to this point are that Jackson will be the feature back in Buffalo, not C.J. Spiller. Of course anything can happen during the offseason—nothing is set in stone.

Jackson has had some productive moments in the NFL, giving Buffalo some hope during the Trent Edwards years. This year Jackson will have the deck stacked against him though, so Spiller could become a late season gem if the Bills decide to make a change.

4.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots:

Green-Ellis became the first 1,000 yard back for the Patriots since Corey Dillon in Foxboro. It doesn’t look like Green-Ellis will be able to repeat those numbers, however.

The Law Firm was already losing carries to Danny Woodhead last year, and now he has two new rookie running backs to compete with on the roster. Having this tough of a schedule is nothing in comparison to the other obstacles for Green-Ellis.

5.  Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals:

First of all, how mad do you think Larry Fitzgerald was, when instead of drafting a quarterback, the Cardinals selected another running back early on in the draft.

Coach Ken Whisenhut is dedicated to establishing a running game, so tough schedule be damned there will be a running game in Arizona. How productive is that approach is the question.

Beanie Wells was given the keys when he was a rookie and hasn’t panned out. Is it that crazy to assume Williams is the starter?

6.  Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens:

Rice had a down year by his own standards last season, as the Ravens struggled to find an identity on offense. Probably more detrimental to Rice’s success was the inconsistency on the Ravens’ offensive line.

Michael Oher should bounce back from a poor year, and the Ravens are hoping Marshall Yanda can move back to guard. Rookie Jah Reid can be a viable right tackle. There is no shortage of question marks for Rice in 2011.

7.  Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns:

You don’t have to believe in the “Madden Curse” to see Hillis is a real bust prospect.

Last year Hillis would have started as a backup had Montario Hardesty not been injured. This year Hillis should lose a good amount of carries to Hardesty, and teams won’t be surprised by him anymore.

Unless Colt McCoy can keep the heat off of Hillis, there will be some very good run defenses stacking the line.

8.  Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams:

S-Jax used to be the only weapon for the St. Louis Rams, but the team is moving in a new direction.

Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford should have more chances to prove what he can do in Josh McDaniel's pass-happy system. Jackson still thinks he can get it done, but age and injury may be catching up to him—and the schedule certainly doesn’t help.

9.  Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos:

 The Broncos had basically zero production from the running game in 2010. Part of that was the game plan, part of it was simply bad luck.

Moreno had a shortened season thanks to injury, but will return healthy to a new run friendly coaching staff. Moreno has shown some flashes in his short career, but will have an uphill battle coming off injury in this schedule.

10.  Arian Foster, Houston Texans:

 Foster was fantasy’s best last year, but finds himself in an eerily similar situation as Peyton Hillis.

Ben Tate should push for carries in Houston, but Foster isn’t exactly a push over for the position. Foster will be running against one of the league’s best offensive lines, so tough defense or not he should put up good numbers.

 

The Easiest

1.  Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons:

Turner is somewhat of an injury risk. In his first season as a starter in Atlanta, Turner ran the ball 376 times. Not all that surprisingly he spent most of the next season hurt.

Then in 2010, Turner ran the ball over 330 times. Does that mean Turner will definitely be injured in 2011? No, but it doesn’t bode well.

Turner doesn’t shy from contact so he will undoubtedly take his bumps and bruises. Hopefully the lack of stout defending will work in his favor.  

2.  Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans:

Is it even fair to give a guy that is this good a schedule this easy?

Johnson will be the entirety of the Titans offense this season, and it will certainly pay dividends in fantasy. Whether it is Jake Locker or a wily veteran as the quarterback in Nashville, their main duty will be handing the ball off to Johnson.  

3.  Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings:

It appears it will be a race to #1 between Johnson and AP, as they both will have similar situations.

The race to #1 should leave us with a good understanding of who is the best back in the NFL. AP’s value only rises if Christian Ponder is the starter from day one.  

4.  Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers:

Gore could use an easier run for once in his career. Unfortunately for Gore, there are some real similarities between him and Fred Taylor.

Both backs should have ended up finishing their careers high on the all-time rusher list, but instead have spent too much time on the trainer’s table.

Jim Harbaugh saw a lot of production out of bruiser Toby Gerhart. Perhaps he will get the same with Gore this year.  

5.  Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers:

2011 could be a real breakout year for Jonathan Stewart for a few different reasons.

DeAngelo Williams will likely part ways via free agency, making Stewart the feature back. There is still the chance he could lose carries to Mike Goodson, but that shouldn’t be all too often. Stewart started to pick up steam at the end of the season and that production could carry over in 2011.

6.  Ryan Grant/James Starks, Green Bay Packers:

No matter if Ryan Grant is healthy or not, the Packers probably won’t run the ball all that often this season.

Aaron Rodgers has emerged as one of the best in the business, and the Packers have arguably the best receiving corps in football. Grant got better in each of his first three years, so there is definitely an upside if he can stay healthy.  

7.  Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers:

Mendenhall is one of our top breakout candidates this season. Many teams will play back to keep from being beat by the young, speedy receivers on the Steelers’ roster.

The Steelers offensive line is only going to get better with Max Starks returning from injury, and possibly Willie Colon or Marcus Gilbert adding some strength to the guard position.

Throw in an easy schedule and Mendenhall has the makings of a fantasy stud. 

8.  Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers:

You may have sworn off Mathews after he wasted that first round pick you invested, but fear not in 2011.

Mathews had an unlucky run, getting injured in his rookie year. Mathews started and ended his rookie campaign hot, however. The Chargers are going to feel much more comfortable with the ball in Mathews' hands this year. 

9.  Shonn Greene, New York Jets:

Eventually he will have to be the feature guy in New York, so why not this year?

Greene cut down his mistakes in 2010, although they still occurred often enough to draw frustration from his head coach. Greene is only getting better, however, and should take advantage of his easier schedule.  

10.  Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs:

Charles lived up to his breakout billing last season, but was only able to score five touchdowns, as Thomas Jones vultured the goal line carries.

That trend shouldn’t continue, especially considering Charles should have an increased load with the schedule on his side.

 

|              QB          |              RB           |              WR         |              TE           |              K             |              DEF        |

 

Nick Sero is a fantasy sports expert with a regular column found at www.TheSportsCannon.com. Follow TSC  on Facebook and Twitter.

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