How Strength of Schedule Can Affect Your Fantasy Football Draft

Chet Gresham@Chet_GFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2012

Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans SaintsWesley Hitt/Getty Images

I am not one to base my fantasy season on a player's strength of schedule, but I can tell you right now that some strength of schedules are better than others.

If you take a look at your run-of-the-mill strength-of-schedule (SOS), you'll often see numbers based on records or points scored. For fantasy, that is absolutely worthless. For the most part, we don't care who wins or loses; we just want our players to score lots of pretend points.

So what I've done is broken down how each defense performed against each position last season. The narrower and more precise the numbers are, the better they will move over to this season. Of course, the numbers won't be perfect, because there are too many offseason moves to account for statistically, but that is why I try to analyze using just the top three and bottom three numbers.

In the charts below, the numbers correspond to how well the opponent's defense played against that particular position. If they ranked first, that's good. If they ranked 32nd, that's not so good.


The Top Three SOS Quarterbacks

1. Matt Ryan: Ryan gets the easiest schedule against quarterbacks this season with an average defensive ranking of 21.5. You'll notice that the NFC South leads these quarterback strength-of-schedule rankings due to the fact they get to face each other twice. Atlanta happens to come out on top because it had the best pass defense out of the four (which isn't saying too much).

So this is good news for Matt Ryan, who is poised to throw the ball more anyway. All the talk out of Atlanta is of possibly more no-huddle, more passing, more speed at the skill positions and just overall more aerial fantasy points.

2. Drew Brees: It looks like it's just a matter of time before Brees gets his contract and with Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston still roaming the field, I don't see the absence of Sean Payton hurting the fantasy attack of Brees, inside the dome, against an easy schedule.

3. Josh Freeman: Freeman is coming into his fourth season after a strong sophomore year and then a not-so-strong third year. This season, he has a new coach, offensive coordinator, running back, wide receiver and tight end! That's a lot of new. How will he react?

Well, all the pieces are there for him to react quite well. He has a lot of upside with a nice schedule and talented receiving pieces added to the mix.

The Bottom Three SOS Quarterbacks

32. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Facing the Jets twice a year hurts the numbers a bit, but looking deeper into the AFC East's schedule, they face what once was an easy pass defensive schedule in the NFC West. The Seahawks, 49ers and even the Rams and Cardinals were all on the good side of the statistical fence. Add to that a bout with the Wade Phillips-led Texans, and you have some tough games for quarterbacks.

So Mr. Fitzpatrick has been a first-half quarterback more than a second half one, and Buffalo's weather may have something to do with that, but the schedule this season isn't going to help much either. He has potential to be a good spot starter in fantasy with the right matchup, but overall, I'm staying away from him this season.

31. Andy Dalton: Being in the AFC North isn't always the best for offensive players. The Steelers and Ravens do like to hurt people with the ball. But Dalton did put up respectable numbers last season; just not acceptable fantasy numbers.

With a tough schedule and A.J. Green as the only true playmaker, it will be hard for him to compete against the higher octane offenses in the league.

30. Tom Brady: It's not often you see Brady at the bottom of a list, but of course, this isn't based on his ability. And thankfully, he has plenty of that to go along with an offense that will be even better this year with Brandon Lloyd there to stretch the field. 

This is a good example of why you only use strength-of-schedule as a piece of your evaluation. If Brady had lost a key offensive weapon and the Patriots defense had gained a playmaker or two, the SOS info might make you move him down your ranks a smidge, but Brady is elite and so is his situation.

The Top Three SOS Running Backs

1. Michael Turner: The NFC South is a hot bed for offense and no defense. All signs are pointing to the Falcons using Turner less this season, but once they get to the goal line, who do you think they call on?

He'll get his touchdowns and, with an easy schedule, could still go over 1,000 yards. And in non-points-per-reception, you really can't ask for much more.

2. Jamaal Charles: Of course, you can add Peyton Hillis in this general area, but Charles is the player that can take a good matchup and make it 200 yards and two touchdowns.

The Chiefs will be one of the few run-first teams in the league this season, and this schedule makes that fact seem profitable. I like both backs this season to be worthwhile in fantasy.

3. Ryan Mathews: Right now, the only thing holding Mathews back from top-three fantasy back status is his injury history.

The Chargers dumped Mike Tolbert and his 54 receptions and eight touchdowns, and all Ryan Mathews needs to do is pick them up. With a nice schedule and every-down running back status, if he stays healthy, he'll be vying for the No. 1 fantasy running back spot.

The Bottom Three SOS Running Backs

32. Chris Johnson: When you look at the Titans' toughest rushing defense schedule, it really isn't insanely tough. Johnson's two toughest games statistically will come against the fourth-ranked Texans. Overall, his opponents average out as a 12.69 ranking.

Should we be worried about Johnson after a bad season? Yes, of course, but I don't believe his schedule is as detrimental to him as it may look.

31. Steven Jackson: Mr. Jackson if you're nasty, on the other hand, does face the No. 1 ranked defense against the run in the San Francisco 49ers, twice. If they can live up to last year's numbers, Jackson might as well take the day off.

Add to that he's been used, and used often, against teams that know he's getting the ball. He should also lose some receptions to Isiah Pead. The signs aren't pointing up.

30. Mikel LeShoure/Jahvid Best: If we knew Detroit would do everything in its power to run the ball and make it work, I'd say this bit of SOS data could be discarded, but we know the Lions can and will throw the ball effectively, which makes this information a little more interesting.

Add to the SOS data the concussion risk of Jahvid Best and the inexperience/unknowns of Mikel Leshoure, and you have a situation that is built on sand.

The Top Three SOS Wide Receivers

1. Vincent Jackson/Mike Williams: This duo is one of the hardest to predict this season, but I'm liking their schedule and upside enough to put them in my draft queue and hope they drop into my lap.

2. Michael Crabtree/Randy Moss: Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh will need to open up the offense more to be able to get Crabtree, Moss and Vernon Davis flush with fantasy points. But with the 49ers defense, they might not need to do so.

This schedule does look good for one of the two to be fantasy relevant this season, but that will mostly depend on how much Moss has left in the tank. If I had to bet on one of them, it would be Crabtree.

3. Roddy White/Julio Jones: This one is a no-brainer. White and Jones may have boring last names, but they shouldn't have any trouble being extremely (what's the opposite of boring?) EXCITING! in fantasy this season.

I'm not as down on Roddy White as some others. Yes, Julio Jones is poised to set the NFL on fire, but White is too reliable a receiver for Matt Ryan to abandon. I'll be happier to get White in points-per-reception leagues, but if he falls due to Jones getting hype, I'll grab him in all types of leagues.

The Bottom Three SOS Wide Receivers

32: A.J. Green/Mohamed Sanu: The Bengals are going to need to throw to stay in games. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott as their running options, there's no way around that.

Their schedule is tough, but the total weight of targets that A.J. Green will see, will most likely weigh the fantasy number in his favor.

31. Mike Wallace/Antonio Brown: The Steelers have a better all-around offense than the Bengals, but like the Bengals, they don't have a strong running game. Their strength is soundly held in Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

I like the Steelers' passing game this season, but I do wish they had an easier schedule. Like the Bengals, they'll need to throw to win, so I feel that the fantasy numbers will come.

30: Brandon Lloyd/Wes Welker: OK, so just read what I said for the Bengals and Steelers, but more so. The Patriots have too many weapons for even the best defenses in the league. They'll have to pick their poison.

The Top Three SOS Tight Ends

1. Jimmy Graham: The Reverend Jimmy Graham will captivate his congregation by turning passes into receptions and receptions into fantasy points.

His schedule is set up for another huge season. I'm picking him in the first round of points-per-receptions leagues if I get a chance.

2. Kellen Davis: Davis had five touchdowns on only 18 receptions last season, and that was with the tight end hater, Mike Martz, punching him in the spleen before every play.

At 6'7", he is a huge red-zone target and should see many more targets than he has in the past. He's a great target in touchdown-heavy or two tight end leagues and could work his way into standard leagues as well.

3a. Coby Fleener: Andrew Luck's college pal should see plenty of targets right out of the box this season. Besides having a nice schedule, the Colts will be playing from behind often, and consequently, will be throwing the ball a lot.

And who do you throw the ball to when you are a rookie and the defense is collapsing on you? Your old pal, that's who.

3b. Owen Daniels: The potential for Daniels each year is sky-high, but something always seems to get in his way. Last year, it was the injury to Matt Schaub. What will it be this season?

If all goes well (which it often doesn't), Daniels should be a top-10 tight end. Andre Johnson and Daniels are the only playmaking receivers on the team and Schaub will find them.

The Bottom Three SOS Tight Ends:

32. Scott Chandler: Last season, Scott Chandler started off catching a touchdown every time a pass was thrown in his vicinity. Of course, that touchdown rate fell off, but we saw the potential.

I like Chandler, but I also worry about the number of targets he'll get and his schedule. For now, he's just a backup at best.

31. Jacob Tamme: Peyton Manning likes his tight ends, and so far, the word is that he hasn't quite got his deep-ball arm-strength back. It seems like he'll be relying on shorter passes, and he's already worked with Tamme while in Indianapolis.

Manning is a good enough quarterback, even at his age and health, to throw the SOS to the side here. I'm still high on Tamme, especially since you can get him later in drafts.

30. Antonio Gates: Mr. Gates is an elite tight end that can go against any linebacker, defensive-back or safety and beat them like they punched his puppy. The only thing holding him back now are his feet and his age.

Is he healthy? It seems so. Will he stay healthy? Good question Mr. or Mrs. question person. I wish I knew, but the risk is there, and unless he falls in drafts, I'm going to pass this season.


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