2019 Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Does it Matter All That Much?
With the 2019 Preseason underway, some old statistics are being pulled out as rankings and projections for the coming fantasy season set themselves in stone. Looking through some updated strength of schedule rankings for the upcoming season, I take a closer look at some with quite the opportunity and some that are up against it, and a few that are too good and in too good of a position for it to matter. This information is largely based on consensus points scored from the 2018 season, which has been updated slightly due to some roster turnover in the offseason, the job of most teams as they gear up for a Lombardi run. I take a harder look at 11 players themselves and what can reasonably be expected in the coming year as we highlight projected roles on their teams.
Favorable Strength of Schedule
The Penn State man (thanks, Madden) comes into 2019 with one of the easiest strength of schedule for the WR position with Mike Evans and super freak OJ Howard drawing lock coverage from defenses. The Buccaneers will not have an effective run game behind a terrible O-line and, while the short-intermediate passing game will be potent, figure to be trailing early and often. Bruce Arians has been very high on Godwin throughout the offseason and he will stay active all over the formation throughout each game. Shots will be taken and, as long Winston improves under BA, Godwin figures to reap the benefits from the new system, where WR1 and WR2 eat regularly. Don’t expect RB eligibility, but the 4.42 potential burner can beat break single coverage on screens, slants and end-around type sweeps. Put the ball in his hands and blush, he is locked as an upside WR2 this year.
This is not a new take by any means, crowning Johnson a potentially productive player, but a big opportunity for this new offense is coming in hot for Arizona. Kliff Kingsbury’s incoming spread-heavy scheme should draw safeties out of the box on early downs and the potential need to ‘spy’ Kyler Murray is there, with Johnson’s sure hands and butter-churnin’ legs entirely capable of beating the nickel and dime coverages coming his way. Despite potentially trailing often, quick dump-offs can be expected with pass-protection being a weakness again this year for the Cardinals. When the converted WR is on the field, it will be near impossible to predict his involvement until he is 5 yards past you. Johnson should be the number one most versatile and consistent playmaker for Arizona and there is not a Round 1 fantasy option with a more favorable outlook this coming season. He will finish Top 5 in all of fantasy in PPR and top 10 at worst in all formats and barring an injury, should not produce a ‘bust’ game this year.
The second-year Ridley will enter this season as the Falcons’ WR2 and figures to face the a very opportunistic schedule for WR, as he faces to teams with multiple lock-down corners in the Rams and Jaguars. A lot of points are going to be scored in the NFC South and Julio Jones is going to draw double coverage when the Falcons do not face a standout corner, which is often after week 3. Matty Ice will air the ball out early and often in what should be a resurgence season, especially if Freeman cannot stay healthy. Ridley is going to get a fair amount of red zone work and faces and easier slate after early matchups with the Vikings, Eagles and Colts. I am hopeful for some more creativity involving Ridley and, with Mohammad Sanu working out of the slot often, sweeps and screens can be money for the big-bodied and fluid WR while Atlanta paces games. Since his time at Alabama, Ridley has always found space on the field and while he may not match his rookie season with 10 touchdowns, I project more receptions and much more yardage. No sophomore slump here.
Less-than Favorable Strength of Schedule
The speedster in Gotham has been a VERY attractive fantasy option for owners this offseason, especially in a contract year. Unfortunately, he faces the some very good lockdown corners shadowing him all year, including games at Philadelphia and New England without Chris Herndon and potentially Quincy Enunwa. Herndon is back just in time for Dallas to smack around Adam Gase’s snail-paced offense. Anderson projects to work underneath often, as all WR’s tend to under Gase, but will almost always be the number one shadowed WR while Crowder works from the slot. 190 pounds is not the ideal build for a 6’3” prospective X receiver and against Howard, Gillmore and White twice a year, he is going to get bodied in the press and physical game. We can hold out hope of the Darnold Deep Dig, but I just don’t see Anderson overcoming this schedule. Adding Matt Khalil recently and a very capable RB tandem (Only one of which Gase wants) catching the ball out of the backfield aims to emphasize the short game much more often. Expect fringe WR2 production unless your league provides long-yardage bonuses, as the Jets will need to keep pace each week and will bomb it out to Anderson often.
Now, how can this be having two of the same team on opposite ends of this spectrum? For starters, the hardest projected schedule for an RB against the likes of the big-fast fronts in New Orleans (x2), LA, Seattle, Jacksonville AFTER meeting Minnesota, Philadelphia, Indianapolis to start the year. This is where the hijinks come in, as I fully expect Atlanta to score points. Only, with a defense not expected to dominate the high-flying division, much less the rest of the schedule, this is not the ideal recipe for an oft injured 5’8” bruiser to dominate games. This isn’t to say Freeman cannot contribute in the passing game, however the prospect of having to keep pace in games against big fronts doesn’t bode well for the success of Freeman, now that the lightning out of the backfield (Tevin Coleman) has moved to California. IF he is healthy, he isn’t more than a fringe RB1 or upside RB2, despite the backfield largely being his domain for the first time in his career.
Speaking of Freeman’s lightning showing up in California, enter San Francisco’s 2018 leading receiver and the record holder for most receiving yards in a season for a TE (#questforsix). This is where the optimism for a repeat year fades, as much as it pains me to say. He actually ranks in the middle of the pack in my schedule ranking for a TE, but his standing this year gets bit murkier with so many weapons incoming. Now, we heard this last year to a certain extent, but this time they are younger. In comes Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel, two physical over-the-middle receivers who figure to take A LOT of Kittle’s in-line and slot to slant reps, as well as Tevin Coleman to lead the backfield of a very prolific rushing attack. Ross Dwelley and Kaden Smith have not shown the most proficiency in the blocking game and it is crucial to have an effective TE to combo block the zone heavy scheme. If Shanahan has his way, San Francisco will rush the ball every chance possible, especially if holding a lead. Kittle has shown toughness and will rarely sit, but with a year of tape out, he will not inexplicably open 15 yards down field anymore. None of this helps the outlook for another prolific fantasy season unless in a TE premium PPR league. The yardage just will not be there with so many more mouths upfield (don’t forget Pettis and Taylor) and the return of a top 5-10 rushing attack. Keep your early Kittle urges at bay, as despite the skill, the bust risk is there if you expect Kittle over the Middle to replicate 2018.
Tough Schedule Strength, but Able to Beat the Metric
The league’s most dangerous quarterback does not enter the season with the most favorable strength of schedule metrics cooking in Freddie Kitchens’ offense as no offensive skill position group has a top half ranking, but Baker has made his name as a metric beater. Road matchups in Foxborough and Mile-High spike the average and Cleveland’s dynamic defense figures to get the shotgun-expert the ball often. It doesn’t need to be stated again, but I am going to anyway. Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Nick Chubb all provide star power to alleviate pressure on Baker. Week 5 and 10 see the returns of Antonio Callaway and Kareem Hunt to an embarrassingly good offense. Baker figures to find his stars and dominate the fantasy playoffs this year when the schedule eases up and he is free to air it out. In addition, reports from camp are hinting that the ability to escape the pocket and manifest with his legs has improved greatly and seems to be his destiny this fantasy season. Somewhat like the Rams, even though no group projects to be even top 10, the cumulative effect of having so much offensive talent makes the only player to touch the ball on every play and attractive option when you read between. Baker will finish top 5 on the board (living up to his 06.05 ADP) and is a potential stretch and playoff world-beater.
The reigning MVP will come into this year as close to a do-no-wrong player as you can be. Kansas City sits last in every strength of schedule measure I use, aside from RB and TE, which are bottom half finishers. The addition of Mecole Hardman and availability of Tyreek Hill gives the Chiefs the best offense in the league. Mahomes continues to get better and figures to be a Top 3 quarterback again this year, touch-passing his way to a great year. 50 and 5,000 may be a bit of a stretch, but with Kelce, Hill, Watkins, Hardman and the RB room (committee?) able to catch the ball effectively, I am rolling with Mahom-ies despite the unfavorable metric. Even though the great defenses they face this year (AFC West beasts, specifically) can clue in a bit more this year, there is not a world (pending injury) in fantasy or reality where Mahomes does not give you an at-worst a QB5-10 season.
Losing Odell Beckham Jr is enough to give any offense an up-hill battle to begin a year, and facing some of the best TE locking defenses, Engram doesn’t look like an attractive option, right? Yeah, no. Week 1 against the Cowboys may be a rough one, but Saquon and Shepard figure to help keep the offense moving behind an improving line. Bills, Bucs and Redskins could be advantageous matchups for all three before Golden Tate returns from suspension just in time to help against Minnesota and New England. The Bears later in the year and matchups with the Eagles will be a test, but not one I believe is too big for Engram’s role in the offense. The athleticism and catch-and-retain ability of Engram is a wonder as he develops is body control. He figures to take over some downfield 50/50 balls vacated by Odell’s departure. Engram holds the greatest athletic profile of the receiving potentials and he is a lock, star TE1 this year, despite potential quarterback woes. If Danger Zone Jones does take over some games this year, the dump and scat plays we are used to in New York lately may not be the norm, furthering the optimism.
In any case, this fantasy season should be an exciting one. Always an exciting way to learn and follow along with the game, we shall all see sooner or later how these projections stack up across an entire fantasy season. Injuries, breakouts and slumps happen often, and schemes will change variably during the year making this that much more unpredictable. Hold on to your butts and good luck this year, players.
Interested in having your company advertised by Whole Nine Sports? Send an email to [email protected]