A simple search on the old Google machine will spit out tons of fantasy analysis on 2017 Strength of Schedule. At best, that requires somewhat accurately projecting how good every defense will be this season against each position. (Not easy.) At worst, it’s lazily using last year’s defensive numbers to make predictions for this year. (Not useful.)
What you won’t find is a look back at 2016 schedules. Who ran up against a tough slate? Who benefitted from an easy one? And how will it impact 2017 fantasy production?
Strength of schedule will tend to regress to the mean. In other words, players who faced tough schedules last year are likely to have easier roads this season. And vice versa.
So let’s look back at the 2016 data and figure out what it means for the 2017 fantasy season.
Tough Sledding: These players faced a difficult slate of opponents in 2016. With an easier schedule this coming season, their numbers could climb.
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
This just in: Tom Brady is good at football.
After serving a 4-game suspension to begin last season, he ranked 2nd among QBs in fantasy points from Week 5 on. And he did it despite a tough schedule.
Brady faced a top-8 QB defense in 4 of his 12 games. His fantasy finishes those weeks: 11th, 3rd, 20th and 30th. The final 2 — home for Seattle and at Denver — were his only 2 TD-less outings of the season.
Brady also drew just 1 bottom-8 QB defense all year — and it came in Week 17. (He torched the Dolphins for 276 yards and 3 TDs.)
Already gifted Brandin Cooks this offseason, Brady should also benefit from an easier schedule in 2017. He’s locked in as a top 3 QB and has a fair shot to lead the position in fantasy scoring.
Jordan Howard, RB, Bears
Howard’s massive rookie season came in spite of a difficult schedule. He faced a league-high 7 top-8 RB defenses. Six of those came from Week 4 on, when Howard served as Chicago’s workhorse.
He was super impressive in those 6 outings, averaging 18 carries, 93.5 yards (5.2 YPC) and .33 TDs per game. Howard tallied 100+ yards in 2 of those and failed to reach 77 in just 1 of them. His 15.6 PPR points per game would have ranked 8th among RBs over a full season.
Howard was more productive in his other 7 games as feature back, ripping off 17.1 PPR points per game. That included 3 matchups with bottom-8 RB defenses. Howard posted 22.9 points per game in those.
While we have some concerns about Howard’s supporting cast and pass-catching role in 2017, there’s no arguing that his rookie campaign was 1 of the best by a RB in NFL history.
Cake Walks: These players feasted on favorable schedules this past season. A tougher slate could dent their fantasy production in 2017.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks
No position group faced an easier slate last year than Seahawks WRs. They had a whopping 9 games against bottom-8 WR defenses. And Seattle was 1 of only 3 teams to draw 0 top-8 WR defenses.
Baldwin averaged just .2 more PPR points per game in those plus matchups than his neutral draws. But that’s a bit misleading.
He tallied 6.3 catches and 72.6 yards per game against bottom-8 defenses vs. 5.3 catches and 67.9 yards in all other games. His neutral-matchup scoring average was boosted by 4 TDs. But 3 of those came in 1 game vs. New England. Remove that outing and Baldwin’s PPR average drops to 13.0. That would have ranked 22nd over the course of a full season.
Baldwin is a near lock to face a tougher schedule in 2017. That’s not necessarily a death knell. But it’s another reason — on top of a likely decline from last year’s career-high 125 targets — to be wary of him at his pricey late-2nd-round ADP.