2020 WR Strength of Schedule
Are you already excited to see what the Joe Brady offense can do in Carolina? If so, then you’re going to like how this article ends.
AFC East wideouts, meanwhile, could face a tougher draw. The Bills, in particular, appear to get an uneasy finish to what their fans hope will be a charmed season.
But before we get to that, let’s back it up a little.
Like I mentioned in last week’s RB strength of schedule article, projecting strength of schedule ahead of the season can be dangerous. We still have a lot of questions to be answered through training camp and even into the regular season. For WRs, especially, the points-allowed rankings can vary wildly year to year -- with little correlation as to which stats predict the following year’s performance.
So we’ll stop short of ranking the whole set of WR defenses, or even saying which teams will definitely help or hinder the PPR scoring for your wideouts. But we can read the trends and changes to pick out some defenses that look like the best bets to either add or subtract fantasy points from WRs.
Before we get to the teams, let’s look at the potential impact each way.
I found the league median for PPR points allowed to WRs each season, and then compared each ranking spot to that median for the scoring impact above or below that level. So, the further below 100% a defense, the worse the matchup for WRs. And vice versa.
Here are the average WR scoring impacts for each spot over the past 3 seasons …
The 7 weakest defenses all add more than 9 percentage points in scoring vs. the median. That group averaged an addition of about 15 percentage points to WR scoring. On the other end, the 7 toughest defenses all sapped more than 12 percentage points from WR scoring vs. the league median. That group, on average, limited wideouts to 82.2% of league-median fantasy scoring.
We’ll use those numbers later to gauge potential scoring impact.
These 5 teams look like good bets to be positive scoring matchups for fantasy WRs ...
Atlanta went from allowing the 5th-most PPR points to WRs in 2018 down to 16th in 2019. But the only real difference was fewer targets faced -- 55 to be exact. The Falcons actually went from allowing the 8th-most points per target to the position in 2018 to the 4th most last season. They’re 1 of just 4 defenses to allow more than 1.9 points per target to WRs each of the past 2 years. Atlanta then replaced CB Desmond Trufant (released) with 1st-rounder A.J. Terrell. Incumbent CB Isaiah Oliver graded out 142nd among 200 CBs, according to Pro Football Focus. S Keanu Neal returns … from an Achilles’ tendon tear the year after he tore an ACL.
This defense allowed just the 13th most PPR points to WRs last season and the 10th most in 2018. But not because the coverage was good. It was just a matter of low target totals. Washington allowed the most points per target to wideouts of any defense in the league last year, and 4th most in 2018. It’s the only team that allowed more than 2.0 points per target to the position each of those years. Washington signed CB Kendall Fuller, CB Ronald Darby and S Sean Davis this offseason, so there’s room for things to change significantly. But Fuller’s coverage grades from Pro Football Focus dipped in his 2 seasons with the Chiefs. Davis and Darby, meanwhile, are coming off terrible coverage grades. This defense needs to show it can cover well before we treat it as a non-positive WR matchup.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints seem to be trending upward on defense overall. But 2013 marked the last time this defense didn’t add WR scoring vs. the league median. Last year found them 6th most generous in that category, allowing 112.76% vs. the median. And the 2018 defense proved 2nd most generous (124.34%). Perhaps this year’s version will turn that around, but no offseason changes make the unit scary to throw against. Even veteran S Malcolm Jenkins -- who returned from Philly in free agency -- played on some generous Eagles WR defenses.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders allowed the 3rd most combined WR points per target over the past 2 seasons, behind only Washington and Atlanta. Expensive slot CB import Lamarcus Joyner posted the worst PFF coverage grade of his career by a wide margin in 2019, ranking 188th among 200 graded CBs. Vegas basically sports new starters at 3 of the other 4 secondary spots: FS Damarious Randall arrives after Cleveland released him. Prince Amukamara will battle 1st-rounder Damon Arnette for a CB job. And SS Johnathan Abram gets a do-over rookie season after going down in Week 1 with a shoulder injury. That group presents talent. But Randall and Amukamara each allowed passer ratings over 102 in coverage last season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs allowed the league’s most points per target to WRs in 2018. They improved significantly on that number last season, checking in 15th. But Tampa still allowed the most total PPR points to the position, thanks in part to facing 32 more WR targets than any other defense. That makes 3 straight years of being a strongly positive WR scoring matchup overall. We’ll see whether a young corps of CBs and an unsettled depth chart at safety can turn things around. But this year’s Bucs look like a team headed for plenty more shootouts.
These 5 defenses could be bad news for WRs in 2020 …
The Bills have spent 4 straight years sapping more than 6 percentage points of WR production vs. the league median. Each of the past 2 seasons has found them claiming more than 14 percentage points vs. the median. CB Tre’Davious White, of course, leads the way. He allowed 0 TDs in coverage last season and has yielded just 54.3% completions over his 3-year career, according to PFF. He travels with lead outside wideouts. Levi Wallace was much weaker on the other side. He’ll have to compete with Josh Norman to keep that job this summer.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have spent 6 straight years as a negative scoring matchup for fantasy WRs. The past 2 seasons have found them taking more than 16 percentage points worth of scoring vs. the league median. And then they signed CB Chris Harris. Oh, and they’ll get S Derwin James back to full health after an August foot fracture knocked him out for most of last season.
New England Patriots
The Pats finished 2018 as a neutral matchup for WR scoring after being a strongly positive matchup for 2017. They spent 2019 as the league’s toughest matchup for WR scoring. The 8-0 start vs. a weak schedule gave that a big boost (1.08 PPR points per target), but the 1.49 points per target of the 2nd half would have trailed only the Bills and Ravens. New England got strong performances across the secondary by multiple measures, led by veteran S Devin McCourty and defensive player of the year CB Stephon Gilmore. Even slot CB J.C. Jackson allowed just 47.7% completions and a 35.9 passer rating in just his 2nd NFL season.
The Ravens sat nearly neutral in WR points allowed last season, checking in 19th. But they did so despite facing the 3rd most WR targets in the league. Baltimore allowed the 3rd fewest PPR points per target after allowing the fewest in 2018. Last year’s Ravens also fared better in that category after Marcus Peters arrived: 1.58 points allowed per target before Peters; 1.42 after.
This one’s a little more speculative. The Broncos have been mostly good in coverage for a while. The last time they presented a positive scoring matchup for WRs was 2013. Denver went neutral as a WR scoring matchup for 2018, but then the defense improved in HC Vic Fangio’s 1st year. Those Broncos sapped 11.5 percentage points from WR scoring vs. the league median. They did so with free-agent import CB Bryce Callahan missing the whole season, Kareem Jackson playing his 1st full year at safety (and missing 3 games) and the pass rush losing Bradley Chubb in Week 4. Callahan’s back. A.J. Bouye arrives to help mitigate the loss of CB Chris Harris. Jackson earned his best PFF coverage grade since 2014 in his 1st full run at safety. S Justin Simmons comes off an elite coverage grade and drew the franchise tag in free agency. And Chubb should be back. One potential weak spot could be Isaac Yiadom at primarily left corner (if he keeps a job). Yiadom has allowed a 105.2 passer rating in coverage over his 2 seasons, according to PFF.
One to Watch: Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City finished 4 straight years as a positive scoring matchup for WRs overall before last season. The 2019 Chiefs, however, ranked 2nd-toughest in that category. CB Charvarius Ward, CB Bashaud Breeland and S/CB Tyrann Mathieu earned strong coverage grades. But the 2018 version was closer to last year’s than it might seem. The 2019 Chiefs allowed the 4th-most WR points per target. The season before, the defense ranked 5th in that category. The larger fantasy point total came by way of facing the league’s 2nd most WR targets in 2018. The health of 2019 second-round S Juan Thornhill -- coming off a Week 17 ACL tear -- figures to impact this unit.
Negative Individual Matchups
Cleveland and San Francisco don’t qualify as defenses to fear for WR matchups overall, but don’t overlook individual matchups with their top corners.
Richard Sherman, 49ers
Sherman has allowed just 2 TDs through 2 seasons since arriving in San Francisco. He led all corners in coverage snaps per reception in 2019, according to PFF, after ranking 2nd in that category in 2018 and 4th in 2017. Sherman also ranked top 10 in lowest passer rating allowed 2 of the past 3 years, including a #3 finish last season. Sherman does not travel from his left-outside CB post.
Denzel Ward, Browns
Ward’s 2 seasons have found him ranked 6th-best and 7th-best among qualifying CBs in passer rating allowed. Overall, he has yielded just 49.7% completions in coverage, a 64.9 passer rating and 11.7 yards per reception. After allowing 4 TDs as a 2018 rookie, Ward cut that number to 1 last season. Ward has spent both his seasons starting on the left side and lined up almost exclusively at that spot last season.
Now let’s plug the 5 positive and negative matchups from above into the full 2020 schedule to see who could see the most good and/or bad spots.
Let’s bring back the averages for the best and worst WR matchups from earlier to try to quantify the overall impact. We’ll start by tallying the number of positive, negative and neutral matchups. Just like in the RB article, we’ll value neutral matchups at 1 point (100% of the WR’s scoring for that game). Positive matchups get a value of 1.15 (for the 15 percentage points of added value mentioned above). Negative matchups get a value of 0.822, for subtracting scoring.
Here are the results …
This chart excludes Week 17, as do most of our fantasy leagues. The “15-game factor” combines the per-game values I mentioned above to produce a full-season multiplier for a WR’s scoring average.
Let’s put that into practice: Last year’s WR24 averaged 14.3 PPR points per game. Combine that with the 15-game factors, and you get a range of 224.4 points at the top to 203.9 at the bottom. The WR36 averaged 12.5 points per game. The resulting range: 196.2 points for the “best” schedule; 178.25 points for the worst schedule.
That spread of 18-21 season points isn’t huge over 32 schedules, but it can certainly make a difference.
In case your league plays through Week 17, here is the 16-game version …
Look a little closer at the charts, and you’ll see that only a few teams really get a significant number of positive or negative WR scoring matchups.
The Panthers lead the way because each of the other 3 NFC South teams looks like a positive WR matchup. We should find out quickly whether there’ll be a boost. Carolina opens with the Raiders and gets both Bucs matchups, both Falcons clashes and a trip to New Orleans among the first 10 games.
D.J. Moore -- at WR10 in July BestBall10s ADP -- has been going a little early for my tastes. But that schedule over the 1st half of the season makes him a bit more attractive. It also doesn’t hurt Robby Anderson or Curtis Samuel, who can be had much more cheaply at WR55 and WR56, respectively.
The rest of the NFC South come out well in these charts, too, and that’s without counting Carolina among the positive matchups -- which it certainly could be.
On the other end, the Jets get just 1 positive matchup: Week 13 vs. the Raiders. And they must deal with facing New England twice, Buffalo twice, Denver and the Chargers. We can at least avoid the 2nd Pats matchups in most leagues, as it comes in Week 17. The Jets’ 1st half, however, looks pretty rough. In addition to the red spots, a home date with the 49ers and a trip to Kansas City loom as potentially negative scoring spots.
The Chiefs also see a lot of red in the 1st half of the year, including visits to the Chargers, Ravens, Bills and Broncos. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll let that steer me away from Tyreek Hill. And the Chiefs passing game does start slowly, we might see a buying opportunity before a much more favorable 2nd half.
Beware of a Buffalo schedule that follows a Week 11 bye with …
Seattle, on the other hand, could be in good shape over the same stretch …
(and avoiding the Week 17 visit to the 49ers in fantasy)