Strength of schedule is notoriously difficult to project ahead of a season. Differences on both sides of the ball can make a team fantasy-friendly one season and completely inhospitable the next.
But what if we looked backwards?
By looking at the wide receivers at the extremes — the WRs who had the easiest or hardest strengths of schedule in 2015 — we can identify WRs who will most likely have harder or easier schedules in 2016, due to natural regression.
Using the Buy-Low Machine, we can see what WRs had the easiest strengths of schedule in 2015:
The way to read this chart is that the higher-up teams had the easiest schedules, and are therefore the most likely to have harder schedules in 2016. For that reason, I’m just going to focus on the top four because the lower you go down the list the less likely is that a team will have a harder schedule in 2016.
- Dallas had the easiest schedule in 2016, but that really doesn’t help us much here. Dez Bryant had the worst season of his career due to injuries to both his own foot and Tony Romo. It does however make Terrance Williams’ career yardage year even less impressive, not that it was particularly impressive to begin with.
- If you remove the game where he got hurt, Julian Edelman was averaging 20.7 PPR fantasy points per game. That would have made him the WR5 on a per game basis, between Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins. Part of that was Edelman scoring seven TDs in just eight games, better than his previous career best of six TDs in a season. Between a likely harder schedule, the prospect of having to play with Jimmy Garoppolo for four games, and decent odds that Tom Brady falls off of the age cliff, I’ll be staying away at his current third-round ADP.
- It should be unsurprising to see the Jets on this list. They did have two top 13 WRs in PPR in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Marshall is currently being drafted as the WR14 despite finishing as the WR3. Decker is currently being drafted as the WR29 despite finishing as the WR13. Expectations should be tempered, but ADP already more than reflects that. I wouldn’t be too worried about this.
- Buffalo is another team that makes perfect sense to see here. Sammy Watkins finished as the WR20 overall on just 93 total targets, in large part because of tremendous efficiency. Will he be efficient next year? Probably. Will he average 11.3 yards per target again? That’s much less likely. When I projected the Bills I projected Watkins for high relative usage and high efficiency, and he still had a projection that paled in comparison to his 2015 output. This helps explain it. Watkins is currently being drafted in the early third round, which sounds high, but I’m not sure I’d prefer any of the WRs that are cheaper, except for maybe the next guy I’m going to talk about. Still, don’t expect him to match his 2015 output.
Here are the WRs who had the hardest strengths of schedule in 2015:
The way to read this chart is that the teams at the top had the hardest strength of schedule.
- Randall Cobb certainly struggled last season. James Jones had more yards and touchdowns than he did. People have pointed to the absence of Jordy Nelson and Cobb’s own shoulder injury as explanations, but this is more concrete. I’m not dismissing those other explanations, but this is one we can point to with firm numbers behind it. It’s quite possible that all three of those explanations held merit in 2015 that they will not hold in 2016, so Cobb is a great bounce-back candidate to target in the third round of redraft leagues. Cobb’s dynasty ADP is also in the third round of startups, so he makes for a nice buy-low target.
- Shawn Siegele has made the case for Stefon Diggs as his favorite dynasty buy-low. He didn’t even touch on the fact that the Vikings had the second-hardest schedule for WRs, which remains true even if you just limit it to the games where Diggs actually played. Diggs is currently being drafted as the WR46 in the ninth round and his biggest competition for targets is a rookie. Can you say breakout?
- I was actually a bit surprised to see Kansas City on the list. Sure, their WRs didn’t produce much last year. But Jeremy Maclin did, and he was the only one that was really expected to. I already projected Maclin to be a value and this just reinforces that.
- Detroit being on the list might partially explain why Calvin Johnson seemed to struggle last season.1 This may also partially explain why Golden Tate had just 9.0 yards per reception. He’ll benefit from both a likely easier schedule and Johnson’s absence. You’ll notice that Cincinnati had one of the easiest schedules last season, but that doesn’t really tell us much for Marvin Jones since he’s looking to play a much larger role in Detroit.
- Relative to his own incredibly high, generational talent expectations. (back)