Today I'll be looking at wide receivers and the strength of their schedules for the 2016 season. This can be done in a myriad of ways, but for fantasy purposes I try to base the strength of their schedules on statistics I find helpful in fantasy.
My method is to rank each defense in different categories and then average those rankings into a single number. So for wide receivers, I base the opposing defenses on receptions, receiving yards, receiving yards per target, touchdowns, targets, completion percentage, etc. I then average those based on rankings and come up with the numbers you'll see below. The higher the number, the worse defenses performed against wide receivers, at least in allowing them fantasy stats.
My usual caveat for looking at the strength of schedule before the season still holds; it is perilous. Personnel moves in the offseason, both in coaches and players, will change what a defense is capable of in 2016. But, teams can only make so many moves, and an extremely poor defense will have trouble becoming a good defense overnight. That leaves us to gain some insight when looking at extremes, especially for the weakest defenses.
Wide receivers, like every skill position sans kicker, thrive against weak opponents, but often receivers can be schemed against or shut down by a top cornerback. So, the overall defensive ability of a team against wide receivers can be a bit misleading, as some teams defend slot receivers better than outside receivers and vice versa. But on the whole, a good secondary is going to be tougher to go against than a weak one.
Below here, you can see the chart for all 32 teams, but before we get there I'm going to highlight some individual wide receivers.
Steve Smith Sr.
The Ravens receivers could be good and could be not-so-good. Smith Sr. is great, but you can't defeat time and Breshad Perriman will need to prove himself, while Mike Wallace will need to show he isn't done. Thankfully for them their schedule is soft. First off, they get the to face the Steelers and Browns twice, while avoiding the Bengals for fantasy in Week 17. Then they get to face the NFC East, which, on average, is a weak pass defensive division.
I won't be jumping on any of the Baltimore receivers early, but there's a good chance you'll be able to get Smith and Perriman late, as Smith is currently the 50th receiver off the board and Perriman the 44th.
Bryant is already a top receiver going in the first round of many early drafts, but he is currently the sixth receiver off the draft board, which gives us a little room for value. Like the Ravens, the Cowboys get to face the AFC North and the NFC East this season and they also get to face the Ravens, which is a nice boost.
When dealing with first round picks, small things like strength of schedule can move me a little, so I'm feeling better grabbing Bryant in the first round this season. When choosing between him and Allen Robinson, I was slightly on the fence, but this pushes me over.
Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates
There's a familiar theme here as AFC North and NFC East teams all have a favorable strength of schedule, but the Steelers offense is one that is prime for fantasy production. Brown is the clear No. 1 fantasy player going into this season, so the favorable schedule doesn't move the needle on him, but when looking for value, the Steelers have a No. 2 receiver spot that opened up after Martavis Bryant was suspended for the season. There is some risk that Wheaton and Coates will platoon the position and make it nearly impossible to know who will put up numbers on any given Sunday, but it's a spot that's worth investing in, especially with both players going late in drafts. Wheaton is the 47th receiver and Coates the 57th receiver off draft boards. For the most part I'll be leaning toward Coates, but Wheaton has shown improvement and is worth a shot as well.
Tampa Bay has those two juicy matchups against the Saints week's 14 and 16 and if you are in the fantasy playoffs there's a good chance those will help you a ton if you have Evans on your team. But before those matchups it's not quite as appetizing. They'll face top pass defenses from last year: Denver, Seattle, Carolina, Arizona, L.A., Kansas City, San Diego and Atlanta, while facing only two pass defenses on the other end of the spectrum, New Orleans and San Francisco.
As usual, these stats aren't the end all to the analysis you use in selecting your fantasy players this season and I expect Evans to improve on his down sophomore season, but the schedule does give me some pause in grabbing him where he's going at now, which is as the eight receiver in ADP.
Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith
The 49ers will throw the ball plenty this season. Over the last two season Chip Kelly's offense attempted the fourth most passes and like the 49ers, they don't really have a much at quarterback. So that gives us some hope for Smith and Boldin to see more targets than they have in San Francisco, but that optimism may be cut a little by their tough schedule.
They do manage to avoid playing Seattle twice in the "fantasy season" with the Seahawks coming to San Francisco in Week 17. They will have to play Arizona twice, go to Carolina, Las Angeles twice, N.Y. Jets, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Add that to a big question mark at quarterback and I'm probably not going to give them a big boost due to Kelly's offense.