Fantasy Football and Pre-Season Strength of Schedule Effect

The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers kicked off the NFL season last night along with thousands and thousands of fantasy football leagues. A lot of people going into their drafts know to look for the big names or draft catering to their scoring systems. Maybe they opt to wait on specific players and positions, using strategies such as the Upside Down RB.

With that said, I’ve always been a proponent of strength of schedule and playing the team defense stats as the season goes on. With a new NFL season comes nearly dynamic changes up and down in relation to yards allowed and TDs allowed. Sometimes you’ll be deciding between two players (or two team defenses) in your starting lineup or you could be trying to decide which defensive player to pick up off free agency/the waiver wire. I think savvy fantasy owners can get great value in their draft picks while also playing the schedule of weaker teams.

In order to study this, I decided to utilize Footballguys.com and their fantastic website. I cannot recommend them enough as I’ve been a subscriber of theirs since 2004. With that out of the way, I decided to look at the range of 2011 – 2013 at various skill positions and where possible look at how they fared over the NFL season. Note that all SOS rankings will be based on pre-season as that’s when many fantasy owners would be drafting their lineups and making decisions on whom to pick.

2011 NFL Season
Quarterbacks Top 5: Curtis Painter/Dan Orlovsky (Threw for 2742 with 12 vs 13, ran for 112), Alex Smith (Threw for 3144 with 17 vs 5, ran for 179 and 2), Eli Manning (Threw for 4933 and 29 vs 16, ran for 15 and 1), Ben Roethlisberger (Threw for 4077 and 21 vs 14, ran for 70), and Michael Vick (Threw for 3303 and 18 vs 14, ran for 589 and 1).

Not many surprises here as all of these QBs were productive through the air, especially Eli Manning. Michael Vick’s “comeback season” appears as well and even the abysmal Colts QBs fared decently when combined together. Of course the caveat of supreme talent can’t be overstated as both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers had some of the toughest SOS and both blistered the NFL and Fantasy landscapes.

Running Backs Top 5: Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart (Ran for 1501 and 13), Michael Turner (Ran for 1340 and 11), Ryan Grant/James Starks (Ran for 1137 and 3), Frank Gore (Ran for 1211 and 8), and Chris Johnson (Ran for 1047 and 4).

Once again, solid performances overall. Even with injuries, handcuffing would have provided great overall totals for Minnesota and Green Bay drafters.

Wide Receivers Top 5: Mike Wallace (1193 and 8)/Antonio Brown (1108 and 2), Reggie Wayne (960 and 4)/Pierre Garcon (947 and 6), Michael Crabtree (874 and 4), Doug Baldwin (788 and 4), and DeSean Jackson (961 and 4)/Jeremy Maclin (859 and 5).

Not nearly as many highs here as far as top tier WR1s but a lot of the “2nd” WRs on those teams produced and probably could have been had much cheaper.

2012 NFL Season
Quarterbacks Top 5: Matt Ryan (Threw for 4719 and 32 vs 14, ran for 141 and 1), Drew Brees (Threw for 5177 and 43 vs 19, ran for 5 and 1), Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn (Threw for 2937 and 8 vs 20, ran for 211 and 1), Josh Freeman (Threw for 4065 and 27 vs 17, ran for 139), and Mark Sanchez (Threw for 2883 and 13 vs 18, ran for 28).

Interestingly we have Ryan and Brees who went insane respectively along with a great year from Josh Freeman. Here we also see two awful years from the Kansas City QB duo and Mark Sanchez in New York. Worth noting is that the Jaguars QB Duo of Chad Henne/Blaine Gabbert tied with the Jets in SOS and they combined for 3746 yards and 20 TD vs 17 INT representing a great value.

Running Backs Top 5: Michael Turner (Ran for 800 and 10), Jamaal Charles (Ran for 1509 and 5), Ryan Mathews/Jackie Battle (Ran for 1018 and 4), Alfred Morris (Ran for 1613 and 13), and DeMarco Murray/Felix Jones (Ran for 1065 and 7).

Again, we had a breakout player appear with Alfred Morris as well as a stud in Charles. Turner disappointed some but still scored 10 TD on the ground while San Diego and Dallas represented solid duos if fantasy owners had been able to handcuff them.

Wide Receivers Top 5: Cecil Shorts (979 and 7)/Justin Blackmon (865 and 5), Brandon Marshall (1508 and 11), Randall Cobb (954 and 8)/James Jones (784 and 14)/Jordy Nelson (745 and 7), Michael Crabtree (1105 and 9), and Andre Johnson (1598 and 4).

Interesting to see a couple studs along with a great value in Crabtree. Again, the Jaguars duo represented some good WR2 value there if you could hold off while the Packers proved any of their 3 WRs could have been very solid picks.

2013 NFL Season
Quarterbacks Top 5: Peyton Manning (Threw for 5477 and 55 vs 10, ran for -31 and 1), Alex Smith (Threw for 3313 and 23 vs 7, ran for 431 and 1), Geno Smith (Threw for 3046 and 12 vs 21, ran for 366 and 6), Tony Romo (Threw for 3828 and 31 vs 10, ran for 38), and Philip Rivers (Threw for 4478 and 32 vs 11, ran for 72).

AFC West dominated the list and those 3 QBs paid off in a big way with Peyton obviously being the biggest monster in fantasy leagues. Tony Romo had a spectacular season in his own right and while Geno Smith struggled with turnovers, he still combined for 18 TDs including 6 on the ground to mitigate it some.

Running Backs Top 5: Chris Ivory/Bilal Powell (Ran for 1530 and 4), Doug Martin/Bobby Rainey (Ran for 988 and 6), Lamar Miller/Daniel Thomas (Ran for 1115 and 6), Knowshon Moreno (Ran for 1038 and 10), and Arian Foster/Ben Tate (Ran for 1313 and 5).

Partly due to injuries but again a lot of great combos that could have paid off if fantasy owners smartly handcuffed in their NFL Drafts. The Jets being an obvious boon for owners in particular giving them Adrian Peterson quality yardage at a fraction of the cost.

Wide Receivers Top 5: Demaryius Thomas (1430 and 14)/Eric Decker (1288 and 11)/Wes Welker (778 and 10), Dez Bryant (1233 and 13), Dwayne Bowe (673 and 5)/Donnie Avery (596 and 2), Keenan Allen (1046 and 8), and DeSean Jackson (1332 and 9)/Riley Cooper (835 and 8).

The only bad miss were the Chiefs but it’s not too surprising that the top QBs resulted in great WRs as well including Denver and San Diego with the breakout of Keenan Allen. The Eagles also were impressive offering up an obvious WR1 but also yet another great WR2 that could have been had for cheaper.

Final Thoughts/Observations
Obviously the actual NFL Season will result in fluctuations in terms of which players rise or fall as team defenses change and fantasy points allowed start to vary. While pre-season SOS clearly isn’t an ultimate determining factor when it comes to drafting players, it does allow fantasy owners an idea of lower value WR2s on a team to target as well as possible committee RBs to handcuff near the ends of their drafts.

For the 2016 Season here are some names to keep an eye out on…
Quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford (Detroit), Eli Manning (NY Giants), Joe Flacco (Baltimore), and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay)
Running Backs: Doug Martin (Tampa Bay), Thomas Rawls/Christine Michael (Seattle), Jonathan Stewart (Carolina), and Rashad Jennings/Shane Vereen (NY Giants)
Wide Receivers: Antonio Brown/Markus Wheaton (Pittsburgh), Dez Bryant (Dallas), Corey Coleman/Josh Gordon (Cleveland), and AJ Green (Cincinnati)

Written by David Hunter

David Hunter enjoys writing about wrestling, sports, music, and horror!

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