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 sheets, 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 passed? Take for example, the Dallas Cowboys, who allowed nearly 10 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 are 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 affect will be reflected in the SOS.
Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule: Wide Receiver 1.0
Wide receivers are becoming more and more important in fantasy football. Point per reception leagues are becoming more popular, and as the NFL becomes more of a passing league, the fantasy value of receivers has also increased. Today you are better off selecting a wide receiver with your first two picks, despite previous beliefs that the first two picks have to be spent on running backs.
Wide receiver is a hard position to figure out, however. Over the past three years, the receivers with the highest draft positions have routinely been let downs, while there is no shortage of surprise candidates. The best receivers in the league are always represented in the leaderboards in fantasy. For instance Reggie Wayne is consistently one of the top five drafted fantasy receivers because he is pretty darn good, and he usually finishes within the top 15 receivers.
But every year, there is that one guy. You may know him better as Brandon Lloyd, Miles Austin or Nate Burleson. They are the guys that in the past three years have risen to the top of the leaderboards but were drafted way late in most fantasy leagues. Or they are like Brandon Lloyd and weren’t drafted at all.
1. Calvin Johnson/Nate Burleson, Detroit Lions: The Lions have made great strides to building their franchise back from one of the league’s laughing stocks. It appears that despite all that hard work and preparation, it might end up being all for nothing. The Lions have the third toughest schedule for any NFL team, and when it comes to fantasy, they aren’t much better. The Lions have the toughest rushing, passing and receiving schedules in fantasy. Calvin Johnson has letdown written all over him.
2. Johnny Knox/Devin Hester, Chicago Bears: The real question is whether Jay Cutler will be throwing to one of his receivers or an opposing defender. There may not be many opportunities for Cutler to throw to his receivers this year, though.
3. Dwayne Bowe/Jon Baldwin, Kansas City Chiefs: Last year, Bowe had a pretty good year despite being on a run first team. Bowe will face a much tougher schedule in 2011, but will have Jonathan Baldwin lined up on the opposite side of the field taking some of the focus away. The Chiefs have an easier run schedule and a good offensive line, so they can rely on the run first. That could inevitably cause defenses to play up and make for some big gains for the receivers.
4. Roddy White/Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: The dirty birds may have the best offense in football in 2011. Roddy White has proven he is one of the best in the league, Tony Gonzalez is a guaranteed Hall of Famer, and Michael Turner is a very good feature back. Now add Julio Jones to the mix, and it all may be too easy for Matt Ryan. The Falcons have a tougher schedule this year but should be just fine.
5. Sidney Rice/Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings likely will be going back to the run-first mentality they had pre-Favre, so neither Viking receiver is all that attractive this year. The Vikings have a tough schedule for receivers this season, and that will likely be even more noticeable if they have a rookie quarterback under center.
6. Andre Johnson/Kevin Walter, Houston Texans: Andre Johnson is one of the best in the league, and he is as close to a guaranteed eight TDs and 1,200 yards as any receiver can be. As far as finding a sleeper in Kevin Walter or Jacoby Jones is concerned, better luck next year.
7. Brandon Lloyd/Jabar Gaffney, Denver Broncos: If you were wondering at all about the chances of Brandon Lloyd repeating his crazy fantasy performance, this may be the answer to your question. The Broncos won’t be throwing as much by choice, and because of this, opposing defenses won’t make it very easy on them.
8. Wes Welker/Deion Branch, New England Patriots: Tom Brady won’t have a hard time figuring out which receiver is open and which isn’t, but will the receivers actually be able to get open? I’m not one to question the Patriots’ game plans or Brady’s decision making, but there are some concerns about the receiving corps. Wes Welker is a very good receiver, but he is getting older, and those injuries have to be a concern. Deion Branch is even older but still very consistent.
The Patriots are rumored to be looking for a receiver in free agency this year (some big names like Steve Smith, CAR or Chad Ochocinco), but until then, you have to think the Patriot receivers could struggle this season. Ben Tate and Taylor Price didn’t impress last year, either.
9. Anyone’s Guess, Oakland Raiders: I say anyone’s guess because the Raiders like to shuffle their receivers and quarterbacks just about every day. Last year, only Louis Murphy had more than 26 receptions yet still had nearly 20 fewer receptions than tight end Zach Miller. Knowing the Raiders they could end up starting fifth round pick Denarius Moore. Though no Raider receiver should have a very productive season.
10. Greg Jennings/Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers: They are the best group in the league, so no defense is at that much of an advantage. So if they are the best, why should you pay attention their tenth toughest schedule? Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are on different paths in their NFL careers. Jennings’ stats improve every year while Driver’s plummet. Teams will be taking notice of Jennings, and that added focus on him could cause his stats to drop and make Driver a very good late round pick up.
1. DeSean Jackson/Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles: The NFC East is very easy on receivers and quarterbacks. Last season, the Eagles were ranked 13th against receivers in fantasy and they were the best in the division. In this year’s draft, only the Giants addressed their secondary, so there is more than enough reason to assume the Eagles receivers will fly high.
2. Santana Moss/Anthony Armstrong, Washington Redskins: Last season, Santana Moss had the sixth most targets and the 10th most receiving yards in the NFL. So it is obvious the Skins are aware the NFC East isn’t very tough against the pass. The real issue is whether they will have a quarterback good enough to get them to the red zone. Despite his productive season, Moss only scored six touchdowns, which is a good representation of the concerns with Redskins receivers.
3. Mike Wallace/Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers: The AFC North wasn’t much better against the pass than the NFC East last season, and Mike Wallace took advantage of it. Wallace ended the season with the fifth most receiving yards mostly via the deep ball. Defenses will certainly make sure they don’t get beat deep when playing Pittsburgh, making their receivers even more dangerous in PPR leagues, as they will be open more often underneath.
4. Brandon Marshall/Davone Bess, Miami Dolphins: It isn’t always a guarantee that the team with the easiest schedule for their QB has an equally easy schedule for their receivers. The Dolphins, however, do have that luxury. Take advantage of Brandon Marshall’s less than stellar 2010 by drafting him later while knowing how easy his schedule is.
5. Mike Williams/Ben Obomanu, Seattle Seahawks: Mike Williams was a nice waiver wire pickup and had some OK starts. The problem is that you likely had someone better to play and did. Golden Tate always seemed to get a few catches when he got in to the game which is good if you are in a PPR league, but he couldn’t accumulate more than about 30 yards per game. Tate is still looking for that elusive first touchdown and it may happen sooner than later.
6. Hakeem Nicks/Mario Manningham, New York Giants: Last year, Hakeem Nicks was a fantasy star, and it wasn’t because of his receptions (12th) or his yardage (13th). Instead, it was the 11 touchdowns in 13 games. This year, the Giants schedule is perfect for Nicks, as he will play half of his games against teams that were on the wrong end of too many receiving touchdowns.
7. Steve Johnson/Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills: The Lord hasn’t forsaken Steve Johnson this year, not with the seventh ranked schedule that is. Last year, Johnson turned heads on the field and off with his touchdown dances and twitter posts. This year, hopefully it will only be the touchdowns.
8. Kenny Britt/Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans: Kenny Britt likely will be suspended for his latest run in with the law, so that gives opportunity for another receiver to achieve fantasy glory. Players like Nate Washington and Justin Gage could be quality depth at the beginning of the year.
9. Mark Clayton/Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams: In his first year in the NFL, Sam Bradford showed he has the potential to hoist a Lombardi Trophy someday. Mark Clayton showed potential in his first four games before suffering a season ending injury. Clayton has had only one solid year of note in his career, so whether he will be the starter to begin the season is still up in the air. New offensive coordinator josh McDaniels has a good track record in creating high flying passing attacks, and he already has said he likes what Danny Amendola brings to the table.
10. Larry Fitzgerald/Steve Breaston, Arizona Cardinals: Fitzgerald’s streak of three consecutive seasons with at least 10 touchdowns ended last season as quarterback uncertainty caused an early end to the Cardinals’ season. The Cardinals likely will add a veteran free agent to the roster this offseason and he will come in to a fairly easy schedule. The Cardinals are making a big transition on defense and have a tough run schedule, all indications are that they will have to throw the ball a lot this year.