Thu May 23 11:07am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer
The NFL has released schedules, so it is time to see how this impacts the fantasy world. Next up, the running back spot.
Using our rules for our money leagues, we came up with a schedule strength ranking for the running back position. We are using our fantasy defenses report to calculate the rankings. This report can be found in all of our leagues under the "reports" heading. We took the schedule of each team and entered the average number of fantasy points allowed to running backs last season from all of their opponents to get our fantasy points allowed number. This is a good indication of the running backs with the most favorable schedules for fantasy scoring for the coming season.
The Ravens had arguably the most potent rushing attack down the stretch last year and will look to carry that over to this year, so having the easiest schedule for running backs bodes well for this entire offense. Baltimore should be run heavy once again with Mark Ingram and quarterback Lamar Jackson leading the way. Both are setup for big years.
Phillip Lindsay was a huge surprise last year and is looking good again to at least repeat, having the second easiest schedule for running backs. New England, Detroit and Pittsburgh also have favorable schedules, making their running backs good targets for this coming year (i.e. Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson and James Conner).
The Chiefs have run the ball well in recent years with whomever is starting, but have a schedule that could make it a little more difficult this year. Kansas City has the toughest schedule for running backs, which might send up a few red flags for likely starter Damien Williams.
Atlanta struggled to run the ball last year and could be in a similar situation this season, having the second hardest schedule for running backs. Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Houston are other teams with very challenging schedules for running backs. Keep this in mind come draft day.
Take a close at these rankings and tweak your overall rankings accordingly. These schedules could impact running backs - good or bad.
|FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED|
Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said that quarterbacks Kevin Hogan and Brett Rypien "will get the bulk of the play, it not all of it" against the Rams in the preseason game on Saturday and against the Cardinals next Thursday in the preseason finale. Rookie Drew Lock (thumb) is likely to miss Week 1 and beyond with a sprained thumb. Hogan and Rypien will be competing to see who wins the backup job behind Joe Flacco to begin the start of the season, but Lock had looked good before his injury and could still see starts later this year. Hogan and Rypien can be ignored for fantasy purposes, but Lock is still a fine asset to have in dynasty leagues.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are mindful of running back Christian McCaffrey's workload and want to minimize the punishment he takes this year. "We want him to have his 300 touches," Rivera said recently, referencing the fact that McCaffrey had 219 carries and 107 receptions last season. "We just don't want him to do all the other stuff." McCaffrey had 1,9625 total yards and 13 touchdowns last year, so he remains RotoBaller's No. 3 overall fantasy commodity going into the 2019 season. McCaffrey will still get plenty of touches, he just might not be in on as many snaps as he was last season.
The Dallas Cowboys most recent offer in negotiations with running back Ezekiel Elliott would make him one of the league's two highest-paid running backs, which suggests that the team is offering more than Le'Veon Bell and less than Todd Gurley money. With only two weeks left in the preseason, Elliott continues to hold out, but we'd be surprised if that lasts much longer after this most recent offer. Because of the holdout, Zeke has fallen a bit in the top running back rankings, but he remains worth taking in the first round as a high-end RB1. Elliott has gone over 1,000 yards in two of his three NFL seasons, with the lone exception coming in 2017 when he played in only 10 games due to his suspension. He's racked up 28 rushing touchdowns and six receiving scores in 40 games played.
New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung was indicted on a cocaine-possession charge earlier this month, according to assistant attorney Keith Cormier. Chung knowingly possessed cocaine on July 25 in New Hampshire where he owns a home. He's scheduled to appear in court next Wednesday and will be facing a suspension at some point in 2019. The 32-year-old veteran defensive back had 84 tackles, half a sack, one fumble recovery and one interception in 15 games for the Pats last season. Losing him for any amount of time will take away a valuable veteran in the secondary. New England's defense has streaming appeal in the right matchups, but they fall outside of RotoBaller's top-12 fantasy defensive units to begin the year.
Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee (ankle) is still out with his sprained ankle. It's now fair to wonder if Coutee will even be ready for Week 1 or how effective he might be early in the year if he does suit up. The second-year wideout is quickly developing a reputation for being injury-prone and a slow healer. The 22-year-old is electric when healthy, catching 28 passes for 287 yards (10.3 average) and a score in six games in his rookie season. Coutee is currently ranked as RotoBaller's No. 44 fantasy wideout worth taking in the middle rounds, but his stock will continue to drop if he doesn't get back on the field soon. Will Fuller would be the main beneficiary if Coutee wasn't ready for the regular season opener.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who ranked among the NFL leaders in receptions and yards in 2018, is now the team's top target with Antonio Brown gone, and he wants to evolve to become more of a dangerous deep threat. Being able to catch the deep balls down the field, those go balls, those free balls that they send down the field where Ive got to go make those plays, Smith-Schuster said. Thats what Ive focused on a lot, catching the ball over the shoulder and being able to be a threat on the outside. He led the team with 111 catches for 1,426 yards and five catches of 40 yards or longer, ranking in the top six in the NFL in all three categories. The big question is whether Smith-Schuster will be as productive without Brown in the fold, but most fantasy owners think he will, as he's going on average early in the second round of drafts.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (foot) said he's confident he'd be effective if he had to play in the regular season. Real effective, Cooper said from his locker at the Star on Tuesday. Im not really worried. He's dealing with plantar fasciitis, something that he's had experience with before. Cooper has been seeking treatment the last two weeks, and he rated his pain on Tuesday as a three on a scale from one to 10. The team is hoping he will practice next Monday or Tuesday but will "still be a little deliberate with him," head coach Jason Garrett said. Cooper is confident he can perform if he's forced to play through the injury, but fantasy owners will be a little more hesitant now to take him as a high-end WR2. If his injury lingers into the start of the season, it could mean more work for Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Richard Rodgers will be forced to miss several weeks due to a foot injury. Rodgers is just a depth option behind starters Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert (who will both see plenty of the field thanks to Philly's two-tight end sets.) Rodgers was only going to see consistent playing time if one of those two were injured, and even then he'd be a massive downgrade. His absence won't make much of a difference in the fantasy football world.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr (hip) is not expected to play in his team's third preseason game on Friday. Beckham has been dealing with a hip pointer since August 6 and unlikely to play any preseason snaps ahead of the regular season. The star wideout is likely to be fine for the regular-season opener as the Browns are just being extra cautious with Beckham. Most of the other starters are expected to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday, with head coach Freddie Kitchens stating that playing time will be determined on a "player-by-player" basis. Continue to target Beckham as a rock-solid WR1 in fantasy drafts.
Atlanta Falcons kicker Giorgio Tavecchio has struggled this preseason, hitting just four of his seven field-goal attempts. However, he has converted all three extra-point attempts. Tavecchio took over the team's kicking job for veteran Matt Bryant last year, giving him some big shoes to fill. Atlanta should have a strong offense this year and Tavecchio could be a solid sleeper kicker to target if he can put things together.
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman only saw six snaps and one carry in the team's last preseason game against the Jets, but tonight's game against the Redskins should be different. Freeman is coming off knee, groin and sports hernia surgery and only played in two games last year. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn discussed the importance of getting Freeman some game action this week, so look for Freeman to be heavily featured early on in Thursday's game before giving way to backups Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison.
While several teams have yet to see their starting quarterbacks on the field this preseason, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has started both of his team's first two preseason games and has relished the opportunity. Allen was quoted saying there's nothing like live reps and also said that "The teams getting better and Im getting better." Through two games, Allen is 15-for-22 for 168 yards. He's yet to throw either a touchdown or an interception. He'll make his third start of the preseason on Friday against the Lions.
The Arizona Cardinals officially signed free-agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a one-year deal on Wednesday. The 31-year-old will have to prove himself to make the roster in the next two weeks, but he does offer some intrigue in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense if he sticks around, although he'll have to compete with rookies Andy Isabella and Keesean Johnson. Crabtree will help replace rookie Hakeem Butler (hand), who could miss the rest of the season. The veteran had 54 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns for Baltimore in 2018. You shouldn't be drafting him in standard leagues, but keep an eye on Crabtree's role if he makes the final squad. Trent Sherfield is also in the fold as well.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller (ankle) hasn't practiced since Aug. 10 due to a sprained ankle and also missed most of the team's work at organized team activities and minicamp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old has plenty of potential but could start off slow in 2019 because of his lack of practice due to injuries in the offseason. He needs more time to learn the nuances of head coach Matt Nagy's offense and must become more detailed as a route runner. The biggest challenge is the timing with the quarterback, Nagy said Wednesday. Thats the No. 1 challenge. Temper expectations with Miller to begin the season. His fantasy stock is falling, and he's not even a lock to be ready for Week 1.
Cleveland Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell talked up running back Nick Chubb on Wednesday. "I think hes going to be special like he was last year," said Mitchell. "Hell be used a little more in the passing game than he was last year. Nick just continues to improve on the skillset that he has, and I think he has a fantastic skillset." In a rising offense as the lead back that could see more work catching passes in his second season, Chubb has low-end RB1 appeal. The 23-year-old had 192 carries for 996 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season and caught 20 passes for 149 yards and two more scores. Chubb could lose some playing time on passing situations once Kareem Hunt returns from suspension in the second half of the season, but it shouldn't make him any less appealing.
Baltimore Ravens rookie running back Justice Hill caught a short pass from quarterback Lamar Jackson and darted upfield, causing two Eagles defenders to collide in Monday's joint practice. Hill is the Ravens leading rusher after the first two weeks of the preseason, amassing 82 yards on 20 carries. According to the Baltimore Beatdown, Hill forced a missed tackle on nine of 12 touches in Baltimore's Week 2 game against Green Bay. Hill's running style is intriguing; he's lightning-fast, he breaks tackles and he can catch the ball well. The first-year back currently sits fourth on the Ravens depth chart and likely won't see a ton of touches at the start of the season, but keep him on your radar toward the end of your drafts. He's being picked up in the 12th round of most drafts and poses as an exciting sleeper to handcuff to Mark Ingram.
The Arizona Cardinals are closing in on signing free-agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree, according to sources. The Cards released former first-rounder Kevin White on Wednesday, and it looks like Crabtree is who they'll replace him with. It remains to be seen how Crabtree might fit in head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, but the veteran wideout should make Arizona's offense more versatile and give them another weapon. He had 54 grabs for 607 yards and three touchdowns last year with Baltimore in a run-first offense. Crabtree is a nice red-zone option, but he'll have to battle for targets with rookies Andy Isabella and Keesean Johnson.
Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has been a top-five fantasy option for the last five years and holds the crown as the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. "I think we've got an if it ain't broke, don't try to fix it type of situation going on here," Tucker told the media after Tuesday's practice. Drafting a top kicker in your leagues might not win you the championship, but drafting one who has made 89.7 percent of his field goals in his seven seasons will obviously help. If you happen to catch the run for kickers at the right time in your drafts, Tucker is the best kicker you should be looking to target.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had another solid practice Wednesday as he prepared for what will likely be his last preseason action Saturday vs the Saints. Darnold completed 10 of his first 11 passes in team drills Wednesday and also threw four straight touchdowns in red-zone drills, a major area of weakness in his rookie season. Head coach Adam Gase said the starters will play the first half plus one series in the team's third preseason game Saturday so this is the best look fantasy owners will get at the sophomore QB before drafts. Darnold has been having a strong camp and has higher upside than a lot of the other quarterbacks expected to be drafted as backups in fantasy.
Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell has had the cards stacked against him this preseason. After hitting just 13 of 20 field goals and only 43 of 48 extra point attempts in 2018, head coach Mike Tomlin was very vocal that he was going to test Boswell this preseason. However, the fifth-year kicker knows there's nothing wrong with a challenge. "It does bring out the best in everybody. Well see where it goes, he said. The team brought in rookie Steven Wright from UCF to challenge Boswell this preseason. However, the incumbent has answered all doubts, hitting both field goal attempts, including a 47 yarder, along with all three extra point attempts. If your fantasy league utilizes kickers, you can leave Boswell in the player pool on draft day, but if he proves he is capable of hitting the necessary kicks, he could be a solid streamer after the first few games.