SOS winners who to take based on strength of schedule 2018

By Adam Hall
Adam Hall

Diamonds in the Rough

One trend lies at the heart of every successful fantasy team, value taken at the expense of consensus. This article utilizes the optimized strength of schedule described in my previous article to find underdrafted and overlooked players that represent immense value obscured by opportunity or community narrative. Over the last half-decade, I’ve found that the best players are interspersed throughout the top twelve teams. Though, all the information that conventionally goes into a pick must still be taken into account. Last year the Saints had the ninth easiest rushing schedule, while the Chiefs had the eighth according to the 2017 SoS model, but they outperformed many of the teams ahead of them (although only two teams in the top ten failed to produce a late season RB1, NYJ and TEN). The stars aligned for Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt, but it was the overall opportunity from offensive line, to quarterback, to coaching staff that allowed these two to break out.
A holistic view of a player’s opportunity combined with a healthy appreciation for the model can help narrow down a manager’s choices, and with it increase their chance of hitting on value.

A quick description of the model before continuing. The model is based on previous defensive production of opponents for the coming year. After determining defensive production from the year prior, free agent, retirement, and draft changes to rosters are quantified using Profootballfocus data, along with a unique weighting system. This outcome is used as a value to determine how difficult a specific team will be this year. A similar system is used to project offensive line production.

A control schedule was made without utilizing the ending weights that serves as a verification measure to add more certainty to the projections. The number before the word “control” or “weighted” depicts their ranking. All, ADP data in this article assumes a 12 team PPR league and comes from

Value Abounds

Chicago Bears

Strength of Schedule Pass: 2 Control, 2 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 3 Control, 3 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 18 Control Pass, 18 Weighted Pass, 7 Control Run, 7 Weighted Run

Current Values: Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, Mitchell Trubisky, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Trey Burton

According to the model, the Bears have the best opportunity adjusted schedule in the NFL this year. With Trubisky coming into his second year, he has the best opportunity to immediately become a QB1 in fantasy. The Bears were heavily active in free agency in the off-season, acquiring Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton to spearhead their passing attack. Trubisky has the arm talent necessary to make any throw asked of him, and with the diverse set of weapons at his disposal, along with offensive guru, Matt Nagy as the head coach, everything is in line for the Bears’ offense to be the surprise of the year.

There has been talk of using Tarik Cohen in a similar fashion to Tyreek Hill in recent months. Nothing during pre-season or training camp has been evident to disabuse us of that notion. If reports turn out to be true and Cohen is able to utilize his 4.35 speed, Cohen could be a mid-range RB2 in PPR formats. This production would be a steal at his current ADP of 81 overall.

Allen Robinson was a significant portion of Blake Bortles’ success in 2015, he is dominant at the catch point, and if healthy he can be a legitimate WR1 who can match up well against the likes of Xavier Rhodes, and Darius Slay. Even with those tough characters in the division, Robinson has a great slate of games that will allow him to get consistent beneficial matchups. There are nearly no receiving options left over in Chicago from the 2017 season, thus Trubisky is going to be forced to develop chemistry with his new options rapidly, and a prototypical lead wide receiver will help expedite that process. If Robinson comes back to his pre-injury self a WR1 season is in store for him.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Strength of Schedule Pass: 1 Control, 1 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 10 control, 16 weighted.

Offensive line Ranking: 11 Control Pass, 10 Weighted Pass, 18 Control Rush, 17 Weighted Rush

Current Values: Blake Bortles, Keelan Cole, D.J. Chark, Marqise Lee, Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

The Jacksonville Jaguars not only have the best defense in the NFL, but they have a beefed-up offensive line with the addition of all-pro guard Josh Sitton. Furthermore, it is likely that 2017 second round pick, Cam Robinson will be better in 2018. Each of these variables point to the Jaguars being an offensive unit to reckon with this year.

Since 2015 Blake Bortles has been a QB1 two times, with a fourth-place finish in 2015, and an eighth-place finish in 2016. Last year was an off-year, and Bortles still finished 13th at the quarterback position. Bortles has three years of above average production to make any fantasy owner feel comfortable investing in the value in Florida.

Keelan Cole is currently set as the starter, which means he’ll be on the field during two-wide sets. This means that during obvious passing snaps, along with play action snaps, Cole will have an occasion to cash in on his great opportunity. Furthermore, Cole has supplanted the likes of two second round picks in De-de Westbrook, and DJ Chark. After averaging 17.8 yards per reception in 2017 it seems that Cole has the best chance of filling into the role that made Allen Robinson a household name. Chark was likely drafted to fill in as a deep threat, but by the time that Chark ingratiates himself with Bortles and takes over the position, Cole will likely have enough chemistry that he will still be productive.

All members of the passing offense will benefit from the easiest passing schedule in the NFL, along with the inordinate number of stacked boxes that Leonard Fournette will engender.

Finally, the Jaguars have the fourth easiest playoff game in week fourteen, and the fifth easiest playoff game during the fantasy championships. According to the numbers, the Jaguars are a sleeping giant in 2018.

Green Bay Packers

Rushing Schedule Ranking: 5 Control, 1 Weighted

Passing Schedule Ranking: 18 Weighted, 19 Control

Offensive Line Rankings: 19 Control Rush, 19 Weighted Pass, 8 Control Pass, 6 Weighted Pass

Current Values: Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery

Jamaal Williams is a one-dimensional bruiser with a poor overall SPARQ score, (ninth percentile) poor vision, decisiveness, and burst to boot. He doesn’t have Jones’ explosion, and he lacks Montgomery’s pass catching or route running abilities. Furthermore, when Williams was given his opportunity, he underwhelmed with a basic 3.6 yards per carry average. It seems plain that Williams is the odd man out in this committee.

Jones averaged 5.5 yards a carry and had the second highest rate of explosive plays (15 yards or more) in the NFL. This was all on a small sample size but given the fact that the Packers have the easiest running schedule, this trend has a high possibility of repeating. If one is willing to handle the two-game suspension, Jones is a huge value near the end of the ninth round.

Montgomery averaged eight targets a week until he broke his ribs, during that time he also averaged more than ten touches a game during that time. It’s unlikely that Ty can maintain this bellcow work load, but with Rodgers under center his third-down back may be the most useful in the league. Any rushing attempts he gets will benefit from five or six-man boxes and an overall easy schedule. This screams RB2 potential for someone who can be currently drafted in the tenth round.

Tennessee Titans

Strength of Schedule Pass: 11 Control, 9 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 1 Control, 4 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 5 Pass Control 5 Pass Weighted, 17 Rush Control, 15 Rush Weighted

Current Values: Dion Lewis, Corey Davis, Delanie Walker

After spending the 2017 season with the Los Angeles Rams, Matt Lafleur has arrived in Tennessee, and has brought an explosive new look with him. The Rams boasted the top scoring offense in the NFL last year, in large part due to Lafleur. Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Todd Gurley, and Jared Goff all had career years in 2017. With that in mind it’s likely that given the opportunity in front of the Titans a similar outcome could be looming. Every player in this offensive looks to improve in 2018, and in PPR formats, no one is better off than Dion Lewis. Lewis averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2017 and caught 91.4% of the passes thrown his way. As the season wears on Lewis is likely to become a dependable option for Mariota and company. This dependability will turn into fantasy points sooner rather than later.

With a top-five ranked pass blocking offensive line, Mariota should have enough time to do his best work yet. Corey Davis finished the year with a 63-yard, 2 touchdown performance against the patriots, which included an impressive one-handed end-zone catch against Malcolm Butler. Davis was the fifth overall pick from the 2017 draft and at 6’3”, 210 LBS, he fits the mold of a prototypical top receiver. If he can stay healthy, Davis has an opportunity to cash in on an easy schedule, a top-line offensive line and an offensive coordinator that has the creativity to unleash his potential.

Indianapolis Colts

Strength of Schedule Pass: 6 Control, 6 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 4 Control, 11 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 13 Control Rush, 13 Weighted Pass, 20 Control Pass, 23 Weighted pass

Current Values: Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle, Andrew Luck

After more than a year away from football, Andrew Luck has returned. Luck is getting used to being under center again, and there will be growing pains, but according to my model that projects quarterback performance, Andrew Luck has more potential than any other quarterback to be drafted since 2001. Andrew Luck was the top quarterback in the league in 2015 and has never failed to finish outside the top-15 as long as he’s played a full season. When Luck gets a bit more playing time under his belt, the entire Colts offense will take a step forward.

With the addition of an all-pro caliber guard in Quentin Nelson, the Colts’ offensive line immediately took an enormous step forward. This not only stands to better protect Andrew Luck, but also will provide better running lanes for the likes of Marlon Mack, and possible rookie breakout player, Jordan Wilkins. T.Y. Hilton has been an elite wide receiver every year Andrew Luck has played with him, and this trend looks to be heating up with Luck’s return. Jack Doyle also benefits immensely from Luck’s return, he looks to be the team’s safety blanket as Luck targeted him four times in under a half of football in the team’s second pre-season game. Luck often utilized Doyle as a red-zone target before the injury and if this trend continues Doyle can easily be a mid-range TE1 by the end of the year.

San Francisco 49ers

Strength of Schedule Pass: 14 Control, 13 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 7 Control, 5 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 8 Control Rush, 8 Weighted Rush, 17 Weighted Pass, 17 control pass

Current Values: Jerick McKinnon, Marquise Goodwin, Matt Breida, George Kittle, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis.

Every year that Kyle Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator or a head coach, his team has yielded a top-12 running back. This trend is likely to continue with the addition of pricey free-agent halfback, Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon is in the top 1% of athletes according to his SPARQ score, and this manifests in his explosive play when he gets into space. Carlos Hyde is a below average receiving back, and he touted a career high in targets in 2017 with 59. One of the reasons McKinnon was brought in to be the lead back is his upside as a receiver, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think that McKinnon could be in for 85 or more targets in 2018. If McKinnon can stay healthy, his elite physical upside, along with Shanahan’s offensive genius, all combined with an easy rushing schedule point clearly to a RB1 finish for the year.

Much of Shanahan’s passing potency comes from the play-action game. To make this work, the 49ers will rely on a surfeit of pass attempts, but this turns into phenomenal opportunities for distracted defenses to be taken advantage of. Jimmy Garoppolo was PFF’s third ranked QB by the end of the 2017 season, and if he is able to stay away from a complete collapse, the strengthened offensive line and defense will provide a bevy of opportunities for the 49ers to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

Risky Upside

Minnesota Vikings

Strength of Schedule Pass: 4 Control, 5 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 2 Control, 2 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 31 Control Rush, 31 Weighted Rush, 32 Control Pass, 32 Weighted Pass.

After analyzing all six available graphs in the previous article, the Minnesota Vikings have the second-best overall schedule. Not only do they have a great opportunity, they have a top-three defense, a newly minted franchise quarterback, and a possible all-pro duo in Stefon Diggs, and Dalvin Cook. All signs point to value in Minnesota, but upon further analysis, the picks seem a bit riskier than initially expected.

Football is won and lost in the trenches, without a sufficiently strong offensive line even a team with a horde of elite talent can underperform. Recent events have left the Minnesota Vikings reeling. After the sudden death of veteran offensive line coach Tony Sparano, along with season ending injuries for Mike Remmers, and Nick Easton it looks like the Vikings’ offensive line woes are just beginning. With a new quarterback under center, chemistry must be rebuilt which will be difficult with a patchwork line protecting Kirk Cousins. Although ACL injuries have become more of an afterthought in recent years, Dalvin Cook still must overcome a substantial insult to his body which comes with no guarantees of future production.

On paper, the Vikings look like the team to beat in the NFC, and looking back in 2019 Diggs, Cook, and company may be fantasy MVPs; but the injuries are more than a little concerning. Those comfortable committing to a riskier situation can find refuge in Minnesota, but those who feel better playing conservative ball can find more reliable upside elsewhere.

Houston Texans

Strength of Schedule Pass: 5 Control, 3 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 26 Control, 24 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 32 general, 29 Pass, 32 Rush

Current Values: Keke Coutee, Ryan Griffin, Will Fuller V

Deshaun Watson burst onto the scene in his shootout against the New England Patriots, after that narrow loss Watson was the QB1 in the NFL averaging nearly 300 yards, 4 passing touchdowns, and 36 rushing yards a game. Watson eventually went down with an ACL tear, but the league has been excited to see what a player like Watson can bring to the table in year two. Thankfully, Watson’s opportunity in 2018 is even easier, as the Texans boast the third easiest overall passing schedule. This benefits everyone on the roster, as Watson becomes more of an aerial threat, teams won’t be able to stack the box against them, which will allow for players like Lamar Miller, and Watson himself more clearance to work as rushers.

Will Fulller V, and rookie Keke Coutee are largely being overlooked as fantasy options currently and this allows for value to be seized. If Deandre Hopkins is constantly demanding double, or triple teams Watson can take advantage of single coverage for his other receivers. When Watson was on the field, Fuller average far more than a touchdown a game and was one of the most impressive deep threats in the NFL. With Fuller manning the deep routes, and Hopkins stealing coverage responsibilities, Coutee could be a breakout rookie in 2018.

All of this depends on Watson returning from his ACL tear as strong as he has before, which is no guarantee. Furthermore, not everyone is Russell Wilson and can make up for a bottom tier offensive line. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Texans will have to contend with this year. Thankfully, Watson is mobile enough to compensate a bit for this likely piss-poor play, but the question is constantly looming; with this level of protection, how long does Watson have until he is on IR once again.

There is enormous upside on the Texans this year, but once again, it may come at a cost that many are not willing to pay.

On the Outside Looking In

Each of the following teams have great schedules, but it didn’t come together to the same extent as the top teams. Each team has an above average possibility of fielding top-end fantasy talent and should not be neglected just because they’re not at the top of the model.

New England Patriots

Strength of Schedule Pass: 13 Control, 17 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 6 Control, 9 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 7 Weighted Pass, 7 Control Pass, 4 Weighted Rush, 5 Control Rush

Current Values: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James White, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron.

Philadelphia Eagles

Strength of Schedule Pass: 8, Control, 7 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 13 Control, 10 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 8 Control Pass, 6 Control Pass, 1 Control Rush, 1 Weighted Rush

Current Values: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jay Ajayi

Buffalo Bills

Strength of Schedule Pass: Control 7, Weighted 14

Strength of Schedule Rush: Control 9, Weighted 7

Offensive Line Rankings: 28 Control Rush, 28 Weighted Rush, 12 Weighted Pass, 12 Control Pass,

Current Values: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Marcus Murphy, Lesean McCoy, Charles Clay

Carolina Panthers

Strength of Schedule Pass: 12 Control, 11 Weighted

Strength of Schedule Rush: 12 Control, 8 Weighted

Offensive Line Rankings: 30 Control Pass, 29 Weighted Pass, 25 Control Rush, 24 Weighted Rush,

Current Values: