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.

TEAM12345678Rating
MIATBLACNYJNOTENATLNYJBAL11.50
DETARINYGATLMINCARNOBYEPIT11.86
JAXHOUTENBALNYJPITLARINDBYE12.00
SFCARSEALARARIINDWSHDALPHI12.88
CHIATLTBPITGBMINBALCARNO13.13
CLEPITBALINDCINNYJHOUTENMIN13.63
SEAGBSFTENINDLARBYENYGHOU14.14
NYGDALDETPHITBLACDENSEABYE14.43
DENLACDALBUFOAKBYENYGLACKC14.71
NEKCNOHOUCARTBNYJATLLAC14.75
GBSEAATLCINCHIDALMINNOBYE15.29
HOUJAXCINNETENKCCLEBYESEA15.57
KCNEPHILACWSHHOUPITOAKDEN16.00
NOMINNECARMIABYEDETGBCHI16.00
TBMIACHIMINNYGNEARIBUFCAR16.00
LARINDWSHSFDALSEAJAXARIBYE16.71
OAKTENNYJWSHDENBALLACKCBUF16.88
PHIWSHKCNYGLACARICARWSHSF16.88
INDLARARICLESEASFTENJAXCIN17.13
MINNOPITTBDETCHIGBBALCLE17.25
DALNYGDENARILARGBBYESFWSH17.29
CINBALHOUGBCLEBUFBYEPITIND17.57
ATLCHIGBDETBUFBYEMIANENYJ18.00
BUFNYJCARDENATLCINBYETBOAK18.29
WSHPHILAROAKKCBYESFPHIDAL18.29
ARIDETINDDALSFPHITBLARBYE18.43
LACDENMIAKCPHINYGOAKDENNE19.63
CARSFBUFNONEDETPHICHITB20.00
PITCLEMINCHIBALJAXKCCINDET20.88
TENOAKJAXSEAHOUMIAINDCLEBYE21.00
NYJBUFOAKMIAJAXCLENEMIAATL22.75
BALCINCLEJAXPITOAKCHIMINMIA23.00

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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