Draft Engine Expert Analysis

Fantasy football, Fantasy, Strength of schedule, running backs,
Strength of Schedule: Running Backs
No matter how good your fantasy running backs are, they're going to have a tough time performing against elite rushing defenses.
Zachary Cohen
28 July, 2020

At DraftEngine, we use unique and proprietary algorithms to assess how a player’s fantasy output will be affected by the quality of their opponent. On a very basic level, we do not use popular “fantasy points against” stats, but rather we factor in the caliber of previous opponents when assessing a defense. Over the course of a season, teams will face differing degrees of opponent quality at every position, making fantasy points against easy to misuse. Oversimplifying for clarity: Allowing 180 rushing yards to the 49ers or Cowboys is calculated far differently than allowing 180 rushing yards to the Dolphins or Jets.

While we realize a lot can change once the 2020 season gets started—and rest assured our calculations are adjusted after every game—here’s a look at some fantasy strength-of-schedule considerations going into the season. We’ll tell you which opponents to target or avoid if you’re streaming or have a deep bench at each position, and highlight some players whose schedules project to affect their fantasy value.

Defenses to target

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers were by far the NFL’s worst run defense last season, allowing opposing RBs the most rushing yards (2,011) and TD (27… nine more than any other team).

Washington Football Team: Washington allowed the most yards from scrimmage to opposing RBs last year (2,781). In their last four games alone, they allowed a whopping 921.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Only the Panthers allowed more total TD to RBs than Jacksonville’s 22 last season.

Houston Texans: No team allowed more passing-game fantasy points to RBs than the Texans did in 2019. Opposing running backs racked up 104 catches for 891 yards and 8 TD.

Cleveland Browns: Last December, the Browns surrendered 362 total yards and 3 TD to Joe Mixon in two games, plus Kenyan Drake torched them for 4 TD.

Defenses to avoid

San Francisco 49ers: Late in their dominant 2019 defensive season, the Niners held Aaron Jones to 38 total yards in Week 12, Alvin Kamara to 43 total yards in Week 14, and Dalvin Cook to 26 total yards in the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens’ impressive defensive numbers were aided by a preponderance of games against poor offenses (including their three divisional foes), but they allowed the seventh fewest RB fantasy points last season and made huge upgrades in their front seven this offseason.

New York Jets: In their last nine games, the Jets allowed only one RB (Mark Ingram) to surpass 50 rushing yards.

Philadelphia Eagles: Only three RBs topped 70 rushing yards in a game versus the Eagles last season (Ezekiel Elliott, Rashaad Penny and Saquon Barkley).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs allowed a league-low 907 rushing yards to RBs in 2019.

New England Patriots: Though they faced very few high-caliber RBs last year, it’s worth noting that the Pats allowed just one RB rushing TD last season.

RBs with favorable schedules

Derrick Henry (TEN): In six divisional games last year, Henry tallied 731 rushing yards and 10 TD. Obviously he gets those six matchups again this year. He has a particularly enticing three-game stretch of bad defenses in the Browns, Jaguars and Lions in Weeks 13 through 15, fantasy crunch time.

Mark Ingram/J.K. Dobbins (BAL): The Ravens have one of the easiest schedules for running offenses, including early matchups against Washington and Houston. The fantasy season ends with juicy matchups against the Browns, Jaguars and Giants in Weeks 14 to 16. If one Baltimore RB holds a clear lead role by then, he could be a fantasy playoff MVP.

Jonathan Taylor/Marlon Mack (IND): By our metrics, the Colts have the easiest schedule for fantasy RBs. This is largely due to playing the Jaguars and Texans twice while also facing the Lions, Browns and Raiders in 2020.

D’Andre Swift/Kerryon Johnson (DET): While the Lions running backs don't get to play any intra-squad games, they will face the Cardinals, Jaguars, Washington, Panthers and Texans this year: Those are five of the six easiest fantasy RB defenses according to our models.

RBs with tough schedules

Alvin Kamara (NO): The Saints’ schedule does Kamara no favors this season, with the 49ers, Eagles, Bucs (twice) and Falcons (twice) on the docket: Those are our four toughest-rated NFC defenses for fantasy RBs.

Devin Singletary (BUF): Playing in a division with two great run defenses (the Patriots and Jets) limits Singletary’s upside in his sophomore season. The end of his season is brutal and he may need to be benched down the stretch in matchups against the 49ers, Steelers, Broncos and Patriots in Weeks 13 to 16.

Josh Jacobs (LVR): Jacobs faces five non-divisional opponents who rank among our top eight most stingy defenses for fantasy RBs: the Saints, the Patriots, the Bucs, the Falcons and the Jets.

Chris Carson/Rashaad Penny/Carlos Hyde (SEA): The Seahawks have a tough overall schedule for fantasy RB defenses, including trips to Atlanta, Buffalo and Philadelphia and a Week 14 visit from the Jets.