If you’re digging Packers RB Aaron Jones this season, then you might want to skip the end of this article. His schedule has the potential to open tough and close the same way.
On the other hand, if the Patriots and/or Bills can deliver us some backfield clarity in time for August fantasy football drafts, we might be able to reap some early-season rewards.
We looked last week into QB strength of schedule, including how difficult it can be to project the positive and negative matchups for the coming season. Fortunately, the task hasn’t proved quite so challenging on the RB front.
Let’s start by looking back on what we covered in this space a year ago. I looked back at RB points (PPR) allowed going back to 2002, when the league expanded to 32 teams. And I’ve now added the 2018 numbers to that data. The chart compiles the annual numbers from that full span to show the average impact of each spot in the points allowed rankings on RB scoring vs. the league median.
The 1st column took the RB points allowed by the defense in that ranking spot each year and compared it with the median points allowed for that season. Then I averaged the entire span. The 2nd column simply represents the percentage-point difference between each spot in the rankings.
As you can see, the biggest gaps emerge at the top and bottom of the rankings. We also see the top 9 and bottom 9 RB defenses affecting scoring by about 10+ percentage points vs. the league median. We’ll use those ranges to project for 2019 schedules in a few minutes.
What Makes a Tough RB Defense?
Last year we found that rushing yards and rushing TDs drive the RB points allowed -- even in full-PPR scoring formats. I updated the graph below with 2018 numbers …
You can see rushing yards and rushing scores annually topping the chart, indicating a stronger correlation to fantasy points allowed (FP). Rushing attempts most often come next but didn’t prove as consistent in their correlation. And the receiving categories have bounced all over the place in terms of how much they matter.
As I mentioned last time around, TDs can be tough to predict. And even though they’re perennially tied closely with fantasy points allowed, they’re less reliably tied to rushing yards or rushing attempts. Put simply: It’s tough to predict rushing-TD totals.
Rushing yards and rushing attempts have proved more closely tied, however. And we’ve seen more carryover year to year among bad and good RB defenses than we have in the QB scoring category.
(Check out last year’s article for any further explanation of the research here.)
Projecting the Matchups
Before we get to predicting the top and bottom 9 for 2019, let’s look back at how last year’s picks turned out …
Among the 9 defenses I projected to allow the most PPR points to RBs, 7 finished within that range: Buffalo, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Atlanta, Kansas City, L.A. Chargers and N.Y. Giants. The other 2 were Washington, which ranked middle of the league, and Indianapolis, which ranked 14th worst against PPR RBs.
Things didn’t go quite so well on the other end. Just 4 of my predicted 9 toughest RB defenses actually finished in that range. Two others, though -- New England and Minnesota -- checked in among the top 12. The other 3 might deliver some lessons.
Green Bay ranked just slightly in negative matchup territory (15th toughest on RB scoring) while enduring a much worse season than generally predicted (6-10). Philly also endured a more challenging year coming of its Super Bowl victory and ranked middle of the pack as a RB defense.
Arizona, meanwhile, was a huge miss. The Cardinals finished 2018 as fantasy’s 2nd most friendly RB scoring defense. They played much more poorly in that area, and the team on whole was simply terrible, presenting many a run-friendly scenario for opponents.