Fri May 8 2:41pm ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
Cook can improve on last year
The NFL released the schedules, so it is time to see how this impacts the fantasy world. Next up, the running back spot.
Using our rules for our money leagues, we came up with a schedule strength ranking for the running back position. We are using our fantasy defenses report to calculate the rankings. This report can be found in all of our leagues under the "reports" heading. We took the schedule of each team and entered the average number of fantasy points allowed to running backs last season from all of their opponents to get our fantasy points allowed number. This is a good indication of the running backs with the most favorable schedules for fantasy scoring for the coming season.
Dalvin Cook had a breakout season last year and could take his game to another level this season, having the second easiest fantasy schedule for running backs. Cook could be a top-five fantasy back. David Montgomery didn’t have quite the season as Cook, but could get closer to that level this season. Montgomery has the fourth most favorable fantasy schedule for running backs.
Some rookie backs could be setup for good things because of a favorable schedule. Jonathan Taylor, De’Shawn Vaughn and De’Andre Swift have schedules that rank in the bottom six for running backs. These backs could emerge a little sooner than expected for fantasy teams.
A few backs with daunting schedules include Chris Carson, Devin Singletary, whoever starts for the Rams (likely Cam Akers) and LeVeon Bell. You might want to bump these players down a few spots in their rankings. Their tough schedule could hinder their chances for big seasons.
Take a close at all these rankings and tweak your overall rankings accordingly. These schedules could impact running backs - good or bad.
|FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED|
Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at email@example.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
June 5th: Best Ball Strategy
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has stuck by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo through all the criticism and believes the signal-caller has the ability to become an all-time great at the position. Garoppolo does have an advantage this offseason because he's not rehabbing an injury like he was before 2019. He ranked in the top five in touchdown passes (27), completion percentage (69.1) and yards per attempt (8.4) during his first full regular season last year, helping the team to a Super Bowl appearance. However, the 49ers are a team that leans more on the run and defense, making Garoppolo a glorified game manager. The 28-year-old has a low ceiling as a QB2 in Shanahan's current offense.
New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham and a group of six teammates recently gathered at a private football field to work out together. Stidham has been the catalyst for the throwing sessions, according to sources. Veteran QB Brian Hoyer has been at the throwing sessions, as have been wide receivers Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd and Gunner Olszewski. Stidham, a fourth-round pick last year, looks to be the team's starting solution in the post-Tom Brady era entering the 2020 season. Head coach Bill Belichick seems totally comfortable rolling with the unknown 23-year-old, and we wouldn't bet against Belichick. So if Stidham is indeed the starter under center in Week 1, he'll be a midrange QB2 for fantasy owners.
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward faced a high target rate of 22.4 percent in 2019, and on top of that he posted a coverage success rate of 61 percent and had a ballhawk rate of 14.3 percent, all while operating in a tight-window rate of 28.6 percent. His 77 targets accounted for nearly a quarter of his coverage snaps, so not only are opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, but Ward is shutting most of those targets down. If the 23-year-old former fourth overall pick can stay healthy -- he's played in just 25 games in his first two seasons -- he could break out in 2020 for a Browns Defense that could become streamable at some point during the year.
Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith was targeted just 40 times in pass coverage in 2019, but he comes in at No. 6 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in the league. He forced tight windows 20 percent of the time and allowed a passer rating of just 50.3 when targeted. Fellow safety Anthony Harris was a standout in his own right in Minnesota, but Smith is the more fear safety for the Vikings. The 31-year-old has made the Pro Bowl each of the last five seasons and was an All-Pro in 2017. Smith had 85 tackles (65 solo), one sack, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries last year. Because he's also a threat against the run, Smith is a top-10 fantasy defensive back in IDP leagues.
The Carolina Panthers hired former seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly as a pro scout on Thursday. His new role will require plenty of film watching and advance scouting. Kuechly, who was also a five-time first-team All-Pro, retired after the 2019 season mainly because of multiple head injuries suffered throughout his career. He posted 100-plus combined tackles in every single one of his eight seasons in the NFL and also had 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 66 passes defensed. In his prime, Kuechly was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers. He turned 29 years old this past April. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Captain America on the football field, but he should be a tremendous asset to Carolina's scouting team.
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson III (shoulder) played with a torn labrum in his shoulder the entire season in 2019. "I don't know how I did it, but I did it. It was painful every game. I'm fully healthy and ready to go," Jackson said. The 27-year-old gutted it out through 14 games to record 37 tackles (26 solo), one interception and three passes defensed. It sounds like Jackson has recovered well and should be ready for the start of the regular season this fall. He could have a bounce-back year in 2020 if he's fully healthy, but Jackson hasn't ever been fantasy relevant in IDP leagues with just two career interceptions in 45 games for Cincy.
Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson wasn't targeted all that much in 2019 (43 times) and his ballhawk rate (9.3 percent) won't turn many heads, but he allowed a passer rating of just 49.9 and a catch rate allowed below expectation of minus-20.9 percent. He had only two interceptions last season, but he's demonstrated a nose for the football in the past, as evidenced by his career-high six picks in 2018. A fourth-round selection by Chicago in 2017, Jackson has been a Pro Bowler each of the last two years and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2018. He might be useful as a bye-week filler in deeper IDP leagues, but he's not an every-week starter. The Bears Defense, on the other hand, is a top-five fantasy unit that should rebound after a down season in 2019.
Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White has become one of the league's best cover corners after being taken in the first round in 2017. He faced 84 targets last season and had six interceptions, 17 passes defensed, allowed a passer rating of (38.9) and a catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-8.4 percent). White had a tight-window percentage of 28.6 despite playing press coverage on opposing wideouts at a low rate. His ballhawk rate of 20.2 percent is close to that of Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who came in at No. 1 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in 2019. Like Gilmore, White isn't much of an IDP star because QBs often avoid him, but Buffalo's defense overall should be seen as a top-five fantasy unit.
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has been impressed by quarterback Baker Mayfield's leadership during the offseason virtual program. Hes done everything Id expect from him as a starting quarterback," Van Pelt said. Mayfield also hosted a throwing session for around nine teammates in Austin, Texas. Van Pelt said that Mayfield has quickly grasped the new offense and is making strides with new West Coast footwork. Van Pelt has Mayfield leading with his left foot in the shotgun and is streamlining his footwork under center. He's also removing a big stagger step from his dropbacks. Mayfield was talked up prior to the 2019 season, too, and he disappointed in his second season. But the third-year signal-caller does have everything in place for a rebound and is in an offense that should cater more to his strengths, making him a value QB2 with upside for QB1 status by season's end.
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons was only targeted 44 times in 2019, but he was very effective when he was the nearest defender on a target. His 34.1 percent ballhawk rate -- the percentage of targets where the nearest defender made a play on the football -- was the best among those meeting NFL.com's Nick Shook's criteria by more than six percentage points. Simmons' catch rate allowed below expectation wasn't all that impressive at minus-6.7 percent, but his tight-window percentage of 34.1 helped him allow a low 34.7 passer rating. The Broncos slapped the franchise tag on the 26-year-old and hope to iron out a long-term extension before July 15. Simmons is the strength of Denver's secondary now and is a fringe defensive back starter in IDP leagues.
New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson posted excellent coverage numbers in 2019 despite starting only six games. His overall numbers were slightly better than teammate Stephon Gilmore, but Gilmore had almost twice as many targets (96 versus Jackson's 58). Jackson allowed the lowest passer rating (21.8) as the nearest defender in coverage among all defenders who qualified and the second-lowest completion percentage allowed. He allowed a passer rating of just 8.1 in press coverage and recorded all five of his interceptions while in press. And finally, Jackson had a perfect passer rating of 0.0 as the nearest defender on deep targets. He should see a much bigger role in 2020 for a Patriots Defense/special teams that is a top-10 fantasy unit.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore earned the top spot as the best defensive back in coverage in 2019, according to NFL.com's Nick Shook. He was the only player who faced 85 or more targets and didn't allow a single touchdown, and he also picked off six passes. Gilmore allowed the lowest passer rating (38) as the nearest defender in coverage among cornerbacks. His catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-11.8) was also the lowest among cornerbacks with a minimum of 300 coverage snaps. But like most elite corners, Gilmore lacks fantasy appeal because opposing quarterbacks often shy away from his side of the field. New England's strength will be on D again in 2020, though, and their defense/special teams unit is a top-10 fantasy option.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Josh Sweat could receive a bigger role in the defense this upcoming season after he had a solid 2019 season.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Genard Avery may only be used on special teams and as a pass rush specialist this upcoming season, in the opinion of The Philadelphia Inquirer's Les Bowen.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson used his explosiveness to shed defenders and turn upfield in 2019. He had 50 15-plus mph runs and averaged 4.3 yards gained after a defender closed within one yard of him last season. It helped him gain 1,230 yards on the ground despite not playing a full season because of injuries. Carson is coming off a season-ending hip injury, but although he's expected to be ready for Week 1, his explosiveness as a runner is tempered by the fact that he continues to struggle with injuries. If the 25-year-old can remain on the field for a full season, he should easily be an RB1, but you're much better off taking him as an RB2 and keeping your fingers crossed.
Free-agent RB Devonta Freeman (Falcons) would receive interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if he lowered his asking price, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: Freeman rejected an offer that would have paid him $4 million, so he may have to wait longer if he is looking for more than that salary. He would be part of a committee if he signed with Tampa but could lead the team in carries in that situation. Fantasy players should continue to monitor his status.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey comes in ranked ninth on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of 2019, but he'll still be the No. 1 player selected in the vast majority of 2020 fantasy drafts. He reached 15-plus mph on 96 touches last season, which was the most in the NFL, with 52 of those touches coming on rushing attempts. McCaffrey had a 15-plus mph rate of 18.1 percent and was able to gain 10-plus yards on 31 of his rushes in 2019. The fact that he touched the ball so much brings his 15-plus mph percentage down on this list. But McCaffrey's superior abilities as both a runner and receiver make him stand out above the rest of the competition by a landslide.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II had a down year by his standards in 2019 with the Rams, but he still placed No. 8 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of last season. Only one of his 10 fastest touches over the last two years came in 2019, but he still reached or exceeded 15 mph on almost 20 percent of his 223 carries. Gurley's knee issues in recent seasons have sapped some of his explosiveness, but he still had 21 runs of 10-plus yards last year. Don't ignore Gurley simply because he's no longer in play for the overall RB1 in fantasy. He'll have a better offensive line to work behind in a strong Falcons offense and should see plenty of carries. Draft him as a high-end RB2 with the ability to finish as a top-10 back.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack was the team's running game in 2019, which is why his broken hand in the second half of the season coincided with their late-season descent. He broke 15 mph on 51 runs (fourth-most among running backs) and had 28 runs of 10-plus yards. While Mack was an underrated explosive runner last year, his fantasy stock took a major hit when the Colts drafted rookie Jonathan Taylor in April. Mack could see the starting nod early in the season because of his veteran status, but Taylor is fully expected to take over this backfield at some point in 2020. The 24-year-old Mack can still make his mark with fewer touches because of his explosiveness, but he's expected to mainly be a flex option this year.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay wasn't as good in his second season as he was in his rookie campaign, but the former undrafted free agent still had 1,011 rushing yards in 2019 despite playing with three different quarterbacks. He had 48 runs of 15-plus mph last year despite defenses keying on him in the box most of the time. The offseason addition of Melvin Gordon III makes it basically impossible for Lindsay to see the 224 carries he saw last season, but he remains an explosive change-of-pace for this improved backfield. His fantasy stock is down across the board because of Gordon's presence as the lead back, but Lindsay still has some standalone fantasy appeal as a low-end RB3/flex in PPR leagues.