2024 Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Running Backs


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2024 Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Running Backs

Stay ahead in your fantasy football league by understanding the crucial strength of schedule changes that could alter player performance at the running back position!

Which running backs have the toughest or easiest fantasy schedules this year? Which running backs had the toughest or easiest schedules last year? Or what about the toughest or easiest schedules in the fantasy postseason? Or to start the season? Which running backs saw their schedules improve the most or least? How big of an impact was that change in schedule? Can we quantify that change in real terms using fantasy points?

Luckily for our subscribers, we can answer all of these questions and more. But in order to do so, we first had to quantify strength of schedule. This is typically done by calculating a defense’s FPG allowed average, and then looking at the average for all players over a full season. This will also be our approach; however, we’ll be taking things one step further — we’re going to use a control for the opposing offense by measuring FPG over an opponent’s average.

For instance, last season, opposing running backs averaged +5.7 fantasy points per game over their season-long average when facing the Broncos, which ranked worst in the league. (The Denver Broncos were the most favorable fantasy matchup for opposing running backs last year — worth, on average, an additional 5.7 fantasy points per game.)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, running backs fell short of their season-long average by 4.8 points when facing the Lions, which ranked best in the league. (The Lions were the toughest fantasy matchup for opposing running backs last year.) Calculating these numbers for all teams and then applying the full-season average for all players quantifies in real terms which players had the easiest and most difficult schedules for fantasy last year. We can also use these numbers to project out strength of schedule for each team and each position in 2024.

Ah, then, you might ask: “Do defenses get defined as ‘tough’ matchups because bad RB play against them is dragging the numbers down?” Not for this study. The strength of schedule average used in this study controls for the quality of the opponent by eliminating a team’s own RB performance against each specific defense. So, this SOS study filters out the notion that the RB being studied was responsible for his own schedule difficulty.

While this methodology isn’t perfect — of course, roster turnover and coaching changes will complicate things — strength of schedule doesn’t not matter. This data is still far more actionable than it is not. In fantasy football — like in poker — there may only be small edges to be gained, but those small edges can be compounded to yield a massive advantage. And they must be taken advantage of … and are, by the most dominant players. That’s the case with strength of schedule. It’s another small edge to be realized, and at the polar extremes, it might matter a lot more than you’d expect.

Here’s an example: last season, Zack Moss had the 2nd-toughest schedule among all fantasy running backs. His average matchup last year was worth -0.98 [team running back] FPG. Because he was responsible for roughly 55% of the fantasy points generated by Indianapolis’ running backs last year (in games played), we can say that — adjusted for strength of schedule, or if he had a perfectly neutral strength of schedule last year — he would have scored an additional +0.53 fantasy points per game. Looking forward, Moss’ schedule is much improved (4th-most improved at the position) and worth a boost of +0.52 FPG (adjusting for usage). Just this alone would have been the difference between him finishing 28th (12.1) and 24th (12.6) in FPG.

Clearly, strength of schedule – something totally outside of a player’s control and entirely due to luck – can have a big impact for fantasy.

Other Positions

Quarterbacks (click here)

Wide Receivers (click here)

Tight Ends (click here)

Best Overall Schedule (2023)

1. Kyren Williams (+1.13)

2. Kareem Hunt (+1.01)

3. Devin Singletary (+0.92)

4. Zamir White (+0.78)

5. Dameon Pierce (+0.77)

Worst Overall Schedule (2023)

1. D’Onta Foreman (-1.15)

2. Zack Moss (-0.98)

3. Alvin Kamara (-0.77)

4. Jonathan Taylor (-0.62)

5. David Montgomery (-0.56)

6. Miles Sanders (-0.46)

2024 Schedule

PDF and CSV downloads available here.

Best Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-17)

1. Rhamondre Stevenson (+0.68)

2. Aaron Jones (+0.65)

3. Kenneth Walker (+0.54)

t4. Tony Pollard / Tyjae Spears (+0.50)

t4. Gus Edwards / J.K. Dobbins (+0.50)

Worst Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-17)

1. Ezekiel Elliott / Rico Dowdle (-0.82)

2. Josh Jacobs / Marshawn Lloyd (-0.53)

3. Travis Etienne (-0.50)

4. Christian McCaffrey (-0.48)

5. Saquon Barkley (-0.41)

Off to a Hot Start (First Five Games)

1. Najee Harris / Jaylen Warren (+1.75)

2. Joe Mixon (+1.52)

3. Tony Pollard / Tyjae Spears (+1.19)

4. Zamir White (+1.09)

5. Jonathan Brooks (+0.97)

Slow Starters (First Five Games)

1. James Conner / Trey Benson (-1.10)

2. Bijan Robinson (-1.03)

3. Saquon Barkley (-0.98)

4. Alvin Kamara (-0.93)

5. Josh Jacobs / Marshawn Lloyd (-0.79)

Best Playoff Schedule (Weeks 15-17)

1. Kyren Williams (+2.46)

2. Rhamondre Stevenson (+2.42)

3. Aaron Jones (+1.91)

4. Javonte Williams (+1.70)

5. Jonathan Taylor (+1.47)

Worst Playoff Schedule (Weeks 15-17)

1. Christian McCaffrey (-3.38)

2. James Cook (-1.63)

3. James Conner / Trey Benson (-1.62)

4. D’Andre Swift (-1.61)

5. Raheem Mostert / De’Von Achane (-1.31)

Schedule Change (In Real Points)

Most Improved Schedule

1. Chuba Hubbard (+0.57)

2. Zack Moss (+0.52)

3. Gus Edwards (+0.40)

4. Javonte Williams (+0.40)

5. Antonio Gibson (+0.38)

Least Improved Schedule

1. Ezekiel Elliott (-0.69)

2. Rico Dowdle (-0.57)

3. Devin Singletary (-0.55)

4. Zamir White (-0.38)

5. Jerome Ford (-0.33)

Thoughts/Notes/Dank Stats

1) Without a fully healthy Jonathan Taylor in Weeks 2-5 and Weeks 13-14, Zack Moss averaged 20.2 carries per game and 3.2 targets per game on a 85% snap share. For clarity, that’s easy top-5 bell cow usage. Joining the Bengals, Moss finds a perfect schematic fit (see below), and an opportunity to smash his RB29 ADP. Fantasy drafters are predicting a roughly 60/40 backfield split between Moss and Chase Brown (RB37), but HC Zac Taylor has always deployed a bell cow back, even when Joe Mixon has missed time. So, in addition to his much softer strength of schedule, I’m also drawn toward Moss as a best-ball value, given the potential for a Joe Mixon-like workload. (Despite injuries to Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon has finished 8th, 3rd, 10th, and 3rd in weighted opportunity points per game over the last four seasons.) If fantasy drafters are right and this is a 60/40 split backfield, he’s perfectly priced, so then all of his upside is free.

2) Like with Moss, Rhamondre Stevenson offers significantly more upside than his RB20 ADP suggests. If he’s a committee back, he’s either priced appropriately, or he’s a slight value. If he’s a bell cow, he’s a likely league-winner at that cost.

We know Bill Belichick loved a committee backfield, but new OC Alex Van Pelt is a little more of a mystery – although his track record in Cleveland isn’t super encouraging. Still, I love Stevenson’s odds up against Antonio Gibson, who ranks bottom-10 in YPC over the last three seasons (3.9) and averaged only 4.1 carries per game last year (only 1 carry inside the 10-yard-line all year).

Remember, Stevenson was a Christian McCaffrey-like bell cow for a nine-week stretch in 2022. And although he split time with Ezekiel Elliott last year, he still averaged 13.4 carries and 4.5 targets per game (7th-most) prior to injury, and appeared on the verge of taking over the backfield, hitting 20-plus carries and 5 targets in each of his last two games prior to injury.

This, combined with Stevenson’s league-best strength of schedule (+0.68) and second-best playoff schedule (+2.42), makes him a phenomenal pick in current Underdog drafts.

3) Aaron Jones' move from Green Bay to Minnesota could pay dividends. He has the second-best overall schedule (+0.65) and the third-best playoff schedule (+1.91). In addition, like our last two names, he has significantly underrated bell-cow potential.

For years, we’ve been begging Green Bay to fully unleash Jones, who is easily one of the most efficient RBs in the game – he’s out-scored his weighted opportunity per game at a top-12 rate in 5 of his last 6 seasons. Instead, Green Bay was again content to let A.J. Dillon plod his way to 3.4 YPC, and vulture all of the team’s red zone carries despite converting a shockingly few of those carries into touchdowns.

But in Minnesota, the dream may finally be realized. HC Kevin O’Connell tried out Alexander Mattison as his bell cow last year – from Weeks 1-6, Mattison ranked 4th among all RBs in XFP, averaging 13.7 carries and 4.7 targets per game – he just wasn’t any good, so that usage didn’t stick.

As far as I can tell, Jones is priced at his absolute floor on Underdog (ADP: RB18), while offering legitimate top-6 upside should he stave off Ty Chandler for a full-on bell cow workload.

4) Christian McCaffrey's league-worst postseason schedule (-3.38) would be an argument to diversify your 1.01 shares if Christian McCaffrey wasn't Christian McCaffrey. But, alas, he is.

5) Joe Mixon could be an ideal sell-high candidate. He has the 2nd-best strength of schedule through the first five weeks of the season (+1.52), but that drops to 4th-worst from Week 6 on (-0.64)… Conversely, Bijan Robinson might be an ideal mid-season buy-low target. His strength of schedule shifts from 2nd-worst (-1.03) to 4th-best (+0.56) after Week 5.

6) Jonathan Taylor earned his first start of the season in Week 7. From that point on, he ranked 3rd among all RBs in Underdog’s half-point PPR format by FPG (16.8). He did this on only 66% snap share, while splitting time with Zack Moss (now in Cincinnati). He’s priced as just the RB6 on Underdog, although he’s my RB4 in that format. And his 5th-best playoff schedule (+1.47) is a nice cherry on top in that tournament-style format.

7) Gus Edwards represents a terrific high-floor play in Underdog best ball drafts. In addition to having the 3rd-most improved strength of schedule (+0.40) his environment also seems much improved. He rejoins Greg Roman – with whom he reached at least 5.0 YPC in 4 of 4 seasons – in Los Angeles. And his only competition for touches comes from the oft-injured J.K. Dobbins and a rookie drafted in Round 6.

10) Breece Hall’s 2024 schedule is worth a boost of about +0.22 FPG. But the difference between Zach Wilson and a healthy Aaron Rodgers feels like it’s worth a boost of about 6.9 FPG.

Hall finished as fantasy football’s RB2 last year, in spite of the fact that A) He was just 9 months removed from ACL surgery in Week 1. B) He ranked just 27th in XFP/G through the first 11 weeks of the season. C) The Jets were an abject dumpster fire last year, trailing on 66% of their offensive plays (2nd-worst) and averaging just 2.4 red zone carries per game (worst).

From Week 1 on, Hall averaged an obscene 15.1 carries and 7.9 targets per game. Since targets became a stat in 1992, there have only been 7 RBs to eclipse 15 carries and 7.5 targets per game in a single season — Christian McCaffrey, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, Le’Veon Bell, Saquon Barkley, and Matt Forte, who all accomplished this feat only once in their career.

This is extremely rare and insanely valuable (league-winning) usage. For me, there’s only one RB you’re allowed to draft ahead of Hall this year, and that’s McCaffrey. And the gap between them is probably a lot closer than you would think.

11) Javonte Williams has the 4th most improved schedule this year (+0.40), and Broncos RBs offer the 4th-best playoff schedule (+1.70). I’d call Williams a value if I weren’t so worried he was fully cooked and that Sean Payton hated him. (Among all 200-plus carry RBs, Williams ranked 2nd-worst in both YPC and missed tackles forced per attempt. Denver added two of my favorite rookie RBs in late April.)

Although I’m not often drafting Williams, I do want to be firing late-round darts on some of Denver’s other RBs – Jaleel McLaughlin (RB55), Audric Estime (RB63), Samaje Perine (RB76), Blake Watson (RB89) – in dynasty and deep leagues.

12) If Dallas’ backfield situation wasn’t already such a gross headache-inducing mess, keep in mind they also have the league’s toughest (-0.82) and worst-improved (-0.69 for Ezekiel Elliott) schedule this year.

Scott Barrett combines a unique background in philosophy and investing alongside a lifelong love of football and spreadsheets to serve as Fantasy Points’ Chief Executive Officer.