News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Breaking down strength of schedule by position - wide receiver

Strength of schedule has traditionally been viewed as a power ranking of teams’ schedules based on their opponents' prior-year record. This method has been shown to not be very predictive of a team’s true strength of schedule (SoS). Instead, PFF harnessed the power of our grading system and its year-over-year predictability to produce an easily digestible SoS tool. The PFF Strength of Schedule Tool uses current rosters to provide a more insightful look at fantasy football matchups for the coming season.

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This is the third in a series of articles breaking down strength of schedule by position. The quarterback article can be found here and running backs here. Note: The values found in the live tool are subject to change, since they’re based on current rosters and can be affected by injuries, opt-outs and trades. The values in this article will not be updated after publication.

Top 3 Overall Schedule

1. Detroit Lions

Primary Secondary Slot
Kenny Golladay Marvin Jones Danny Amendola

In 2019, Kenny Golladay ended the year ranked second in average depth of target (16.0), first in yards per reception (18.2) and 13th in yards per route run (1.95) among receivers with at least 100 targets. All were very impressive numbers considering half his season was bogged down by the combination of David Blough and Jeff Driskel — PFF’s 38th and 40th graded passers in 2019 — after Matthew Stafford’s injury.

This year, the Lions have a very favorable fantasy schedule for the wide receiver position. The real meaty part of the season is from Weeks 6 through 13, with every game rated as an above-average matchup — four are rated 8.3 and above (the scale is 0-10; higher is better). The only downside is that the weakest part of their season is during fantasy playoffs. Still, plenty can change by then. Golladay remains a steadfast WR1, while Marvin Jones is an upside WR3 with touchdown potential.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Primary Secondary Slot
Juju Smith-Schuster Diontae Johnson Juju Smith-Schuster

I am expecting a big bounceback for the Steelers passing game, and I know I’m not alone. Last year, Ben Roethelisberger played just two games before heading to IR. However, in 2018 he threw for 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns. JuJu Smith-Schuster and company might not garner that much work, but I’m expecting more similarities to 2018 than 2019.

Right out of the gate, the Steelers should be flying through the air. They're at the Giants Week 1, followed by home games against the Broncos and Texans — all bottom-half teams in YAC allowed per reception in 2019. They might experience some bumps in the middle of the year but will finish strong against above-average matchups in their final four weeks.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Primary Secondary Slot
Chris Godwin Mike Evans Chris Godwin

There are a lot of questions as to how the Buccaneers offense will shift from Jameis Winston to Tom Brady — a stark contrast of play styles. That being said, I don’t think there is much of a question as to whether Chris Godwin and Mike Evans will both still perform in fantasy. Godwin edges out Evans in our projections, mainly due to the difference in passer aDOT — Brady ended 2019 at 8.0, while Winston’s whopping 10.9 was almost three yards deeper on average.

There’s a lot to love about the Bucs’ schedule in 2020. There's one really tough matchup in Week 11 against the Rams. Beyond that, it’s easy sailing. Like the Lions, Tampa has just four matchups rated below a 5.0 for the entire season — not to mention the 12th-easiest playoff schedule in weeks 14-16 (all rated 5.1 or better).

Bottom 3 Overall Schedules

1. Buffalo Bills

Primary Secondary Slot
Stefon Diggs John Brown Cole Beasley

The Bills receiving corps has probably the toughest overall schedule of any position group in the league. They play their division-mate Patriots twice, as usual, but also draw the Rams, Titans and Steelers this year — five matchups in the nightmare category, based on our model.

The addition of Stefon Diggs should help the passing game to some degree. Diggs has been the fourth-highest-graded receiver in the red zone since 2017. That should benefit Josh Allen, who has yet to surmount 20 passing touchdowns in a season entering his third year. Still, this schedule throws cold water on finding a reliable fantasy wide receiver in Buffalo this year.

2. Houston Texans

Primary Secondary Slot
Brandin Cooks Will Fuller Randall Cobb

For a receiving corps that was already a bit of a quagmire, this schedule is not exactly good news. Incumbents Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee didn’t account for much production last year for a few reasons, and newcomers Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb bring their own question marks. Cooks has a history of concussions and Cobb just had his only fantasy-relevant season in the last four years.

The only possible upside here is that struggling early against defenses such as the Ravens, Steelers or Titans, could offer some insight on target distribution before they head into the fantasy playoffs. The Texans have the fourth-easiest schedule in weeks 14-16, not to mention a cushy week 13 at home versus the Colts.

3. Denver Broncos

Primary Secondary Slot
Courtland Sutton Jerry Jeudy Jerry Jeudy

If you read the quarterback article in this series, you will recall that Drew Lock was listed in the “Tough Early Matchups” section. With a handful of young receivers and a limited offseason, the Broncos' passing game will likely get off to a bumpy start.

Looking another layer deeper, things get even slightly worse for the wide receivers. With just one great matchup all season, the Broncos might not hit their recognized upside this year. Even worse, their only great matchup lands during fantasy playoffs — if you even make it there.

Strong Season Starters

1. Chicago Bears

Primary Secondary Slot
Allen Robinson Anthony Miller Anthony Miller

This is where we’ve arrived with Allen Robinson — a camp battle between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. Hopefully the competition lights a fire under the eventual starter because the Bears' opening schedule for wide receivers is hot. Robinson is currently sitting at the end of the third round in redraft mocks on Fantasy Football Calculator, and Anthony Miller is an afterthought in the 12th round. Last year, Robinson averaged 71.7 yards per game and hit paydirt seven times on the season.

The biggest issue is that the Bears have a tough slate after their first four games. Even some of the better-rated teams as of right now — like the Saints and Vikings — could be more difficult matchups than the ratings currently predict.

2. Baltimore Ravens

Primary Secondary Slot
Marquise Brown Miles Boykin Willie Snead

Similar to the Broncos, the Ravens made this list for both quarterbacks and wide receivers. Lamar Jackson remains an exciting yet high-draft-cost option. So the arbitrage play here is to grab his receivers.

Marquise Brown showed flashes in his rookie campaign, but ultimately his yearlong stat line suffered due to injuries and the Ravens' ridiculous 52% run-play percentage.

Earlier this offseason, PFF's Kevin Cole looked at Brown’s chances of a breakout sophomore season. The bottom line: He should easily outperform his current ADP of WR28. An easy early-season schedule should help.

3. Arizona Cardinals

Primary Secondary Slot
DeAndre Hopkins Christian Kirk Larry Fitzgerald

The general consensus these days is that DeAndre Hopkins will likely see a downtick in targets from his time in Houston. Many drafters have also been scared off of Christian Kirk, future HOFer Larry Fitzgerald and sophomore slot man Andy Isabella

Right now, Hopkins is being drafted as a top-five receiver in redraft leagues. He could still hit that mark early in the year, as the Cardinals play five of their first seven games against teams rated 5.1 or higher by our SoS model. The end of the season, on the other hand, looks rough with three out of five below-average matchups. That includes a championship week against the 49ers, whose combination of stout defense and run-heavy clock control could spell a second-place finish.

Tough Early Matchups

1. New York Giants

Primary Secondary Slot
Darius Slayton Sterling Shepard Golden Tate

I am all the way out on Giants skill position players not named Saquon Barkley this year. I cited the Bills as having the worst overall schedule for wide receivers, but the Giants have the worst beginning of the season schedule by far. Four out of their first five games are rated 3.9 or below, and they have three games on the road, including their easiest opponent during that stretch (Chicago).

There wasn’t much fantasy upside in this group anyway, outside the possibility of Darius Slayton building on his impressive rookie season. This rough start is going to send most, if not all, of these receivers to the waiver wire in a hurry.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Primary Secondary Slot
Tyreek Hill Mecole Hardman Various

The Chiefs' receivers land on this list, but unlike with the Giants we have nothing to worry about here. Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman might have their upside capped slightly against teams like the Chargers, Ravens and Patriots, but Hill should be in lineups regardless. Even Hardman has shown home run ability on a lighter workload in 2019 — he had four receiving touchdowns of 40-plus yards.

That being said, those three opponents were all top-six in terms of fewest explosive pass plays (15-plus yards) allowed last year. Temper expectations lightly for the Chiefs wide receivers early in the year, but enjoy the fantasy goodness to follow later in the schedule.

3. Seattle Seahawks

Primary Secondary Slot
Tyler Lockett D.K. Metcalf Tyler Lockett

The Seahawks statted out as the third-worst team in their first four matchups by our SoS model, but on paper it’s honestly not even that bad. Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf will have a tough outlook Week 2 against the Patriots. Outside of that, it’s basically just mediocre matchups until week 10 against the Rams.

This schedule is not severe enough to make me adjust rankings of Lockett or Metcalf. They remain part of the seventh-best offense in passing yards per attempt, which also has room to increase the passing attempts — the Seahawks ranked seventh in run-play percentage in 2019. #LetRussCook

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