Running Back Draft Strategy 2017: 1st half Strength of Schedule

Jay Ajayi Miami Dolphins rushing with the ball

As we gear up for the 2017 fantasy football season I was asked to research the strength of schedule for running backs, and how that could potentially impact your draft day strategy.  When I first sat down to run the numbers I have to admit I was intrigued, which star running backs will face tough running defenses the first half of the season? Who has the easiest projected strength of schedule? These are the answers this article will attempt to answer for you.

Methodology: I went back and looked at the 2016 rushing defense numbers, and ranked the teams rushing defense accordingly, assigning a value of 1-32. 1 being the BEST rushing defense, the Dallas Cowboys, and 32 being the WORST rushing defense, the San Francisco 49ers.  I then assigned those values to the upcoming 2017 schedule to find the average scores for teams, and the rushing defenses they will be facing.

Margin for error: As with most data fantasy sports related, there is a large margin for error, as players and coaches switch teams.  Obviously some defenses will improve while others will get worse, however, this is the data we have to work with, and it has produced interesting results, so lets see what we get!

Running Backs S.O.S | 1st half 2017

When viewing the chart, a low rating is BAD for the running back as they face solid rushing defenses.  A high rating is obviously GOOD, as they face poor rushing defenses the first half.

TEAM 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Rating
MIA TB LAC NYJ NO TEN ATL NYJ BAL 11.50
DET ARI NYG ATL MIN CAR NO BYE PIT 11.86
JAX HOU TEN BAL NYJ PIT LAR IND BYE 12.00
SF CAR SEA LAR ARI IND WSH DAL PHI 12.88
CHI ATL TB PIT GB MIN BAL CAR NO 13.13
CLE PIT BAL IND CIN NYJ HOU TEN MIN 13.63
SEA GB SF TEN IND LAR BYE NYG HOU 14.14
NYG DAL DET PHI TB LAC DEN SEA BYE 14.43
DEN LAC DAL BUF OAK BYE NYG LAC KC 14.71
NE KC NO HOU CAR TB NYJ ATL LAC 14.75
GB SEA ATL CIN CHI DAL MIN NO BYE 15.29
HOU JAX CIN NE TEN KC CLE BYE SEA 15.57
KC NE PHI LAC WSH HOU PIT OAK DEN 16.00
NO MIN NE CAR MIA BYE DET GB CHI 16.00
TB MIA CHI MIN NYG NE ARI BUF CAR 16.00
LAR IND WSH SF DAL SEA JAX ARI BYE 16.71
OAK TEN NYJ WSH DEN BAL LAC KC BUF 16.88
PHI WSH KC NYG LAC ARI CAR WSH SF 16.88
IND LAR ARI CLE SEA SF TEN JAX CIN 17.13
MIN NO PIT TB DET CHI GB BAL CLE 17.25
DAL NYG DEN ARI LAR GB BYE SF WSH 17.29
CIN BAL HOU GB CLE BUF BYE PIT IND 17.57
ATL CHI GB DET BUF BYE MIA NE NYJ 18.00
BUF NYJ CAR DEN ATL CIN BYE TB OAK 18.29
WSH PHI LAR OAK KC BYE SF PHI DAL 18.29
ARI DET IND DAL SF PHI TB LAR BYE 18.43
LAC DEN MIA KC PHI NYG OAK DEN NE 19.63
CAR SF BUF NO NE DET PHI CHI TB 20.00
PIT CLE MIN CHI BAL JAX KC CIN DET 20.88
TEN OAK JAX SEA HOU MIA IND CLE BYE 21.00
NYJ BUF OAK MIA JAX CLE NE MIA ATL 22.75
BAL CIN CLE JAX PIT OAK CHI MIN MIA 23.00

Takeaways

The Miami Dolphins facesthe toughest overall strength of schedule vs the run, which doesn’t bode very well for Jay Ajayi who currently has an ADP of 12th overall!  While these numbers aren’t the end all, be all, it’s certainly worth considering when planning which running backs to draft, while also keeping in mind the Dolphins schedule gets easier in the 2nd half of the season which could make Ajayi a prime buy low trade target if he doesn’t perform well out the gate.

Don’t be surprised if Terrance West comes out HOT to start 2017 for the Baltimore Ravens, as BAL faces the easiest overall running back schedule.  With an ADP of 131st overall, and RB #44 off the board, West could make a terrific mid-round pickup on draft day.  Don’t forget Kenneth Dixon is out for the first 4 games this season, and Baltimore faces significantly tougher rushing defenses in the 2nd half, making Terrance one of the better sell high candidates if he comes out with a terrific first month.

Robert Kelley is a popular fade candidate this season, however he has a reasonable ADP currently sitting at 95th overall and is expected to see the bulk of the carries for the Redskins to open the season.  While his YPC last year were underwhelming over his final 6 games (just 3.23), facing the 8th easiest strength of schedule could help him cement a workhorse role, leading to terrific value for his fantasy owners.

Studs to continue to target

  • David Johnson – Arizona Cardinals: Will face the 7th easiest running back schedule to open the season. Continue to target him first overall in your fantasy football drafts.
  • Le’Veon Bell – 4th easiest running back schedule in the first half.  Gives him the narrow edge over Ezekiel Elliott facing the 10th easiest schedule.
  • Demarco Murray – 3rd easiest schedule.  There are concerns about Henry cutting into his workload, but Murray should be able to make his snaps count given the cushy matchups.

If you enjoyed this article, let me know. I do plan on running this data for every position leading up fantasy football 2017!

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