The NFL draft has come and gone. The free agency period seems like it occurred ages ago. Now the NFL schedule has been released, completing the trifecta of off-season occurrences that have an effect on the upcoming fantasy football season.
The success of a team’s running attack is inherently correlated to their strength of schedule. Teams that are leading are more likely to run the ball at a higher rate, especially later in games.
The strength of schedule is important when drafting fantasy pieces and with each coming year, there are winners and losers. In the 2020 NFL Schedule Running Back Winners and Losers, we’ll break down who has the most to gain from the recently released schedule as well as who gets the short end of the stick.
2020 NFL Schedule Running Backs Winners and Losers
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David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
As a rookie, David Montgomery posted solid numbers with the Chicago Bears. Although he split time with scatback Tarik Cohen, Montgomery averaged 9.1 fantasy points per game, producing 267 touches on the season.
While these numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, they were enough to keep fantasy ownership across most leagues.
This season, he’ll be facing one of the most favorable schedules for running backs. He’ll be matched up with the Lions twice, who gave up the fifth-most points to running backs in 2019. Montgomery also takes on the Packers twice, who gave up 20.9 fantasy points per game to running backs last season.
One thing that helps Montgomery’s case is a favorable matchup down the stretch. When the playoffs roll around, Montgomery should be able to thrive against weaker defensive fronts. Don't expect Montgomery to be in RB1 territory, but having an easier schedule and a year of experience under his belt should put the former Iowa State alumnus in the mid-RB2 range.
Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
A year ago, nobody had heard of Raheem Mostert. After being a part of San Fransisco’s run to the Super Bowl, he’s definitely on the radar. In the last six weeks of the 2019 season, Mostert was ranked seventh in scoring among fantasy running backs.
Despite being in a crowded backfield, Mostert has become the go-to guy in San Francisco. It’s reasonable to believe that he’ll see an uptick in touches this year, especially if he can produce early in the season.
Mostert will have some juicy matchups, especially against the Giants in Week 3 and Dolphins in Week 5. The Dolphins gave up the third-most rushing yards in 2019, averaging over 121 yards while the Giants gave up 21 touchdowns to the running back position.
While Mostert will be competing for carries with Tevin Coleman and Jerrick McKinnon in the mix, he is the best bet out of the three.
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Coming into his rookie season, Jonathan Taylor doesn’t have previous NFL stats to compare. Despite this, he comes into the NFL with one of the best schedule outlooks in the league.
Taylor starts his career against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who gave up the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs with 24.8.
In Weeks 5 and 6, he’ll face Cleveland and Cincinnati who struggled immensely with stopping the run game last season. Not to mention darling matchups later in the season with the Lions and Texans.
Even though he may have to fend off Marlon Mack (who is certainly a serviceable running back for the Colts), Taylor stands a lot to gain from a schedule that has consistently favorable matchups.
Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
Adrian Peterson is only human; at least I think he is.
He’s somehow been able to stay relevant in fantasy circles for years, defying the odds while his age increases. Eventually, this will end: and I’m betting it will be this year.
Cue Derrius Guice.
Guice enters his third season only having played five games. His career has been plagued with injuries but he has shown his upside, albeit in a small sample size. In 2019, Guice averaged 10.1 fantasy points per game while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Should he stay healthy, the sky is the limit for the former second-round pick.
The Redskins will play the Giants twice, who lack playmakers on the defensive side of the ball and in particular sport an unspectacular unit on the D-Line. They also have matchups with the Panthers, Lions, Browns, and Bengals —all of whom were in the bottom-10 against the run in 2019.
Fantasy owners could have the opportunity to cash in with Guice as a sleeper in mid-to-late rounds.
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have one of the toughest schedules in the league. Not only are they in the bottom half of the NFC South that features two juggernauts in the Saints and Bucs, but they also have to contend with a challenging string of non-divisional games against the Cowboys, Seahawks, Packers, and Vikings. It’s going to be tough to run the ball when they’re trailing.
Todd Gurley has had issues with durability and although he’s extremely talented, lacked efficiency in the Rams’ offense last season.
In 2018, Gurley averaged 22.4 fantasy points per game. Last year, he was down to 12.6. Given his injury history, coupled with a horrendous schedule, owners should temper their expectations going into the 2020 season.
Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
As a Charger, Melvin Gordon was a fantasy stud. Averaging 13.3 fantasy points per game over his career, Gordon was among the league’s elite running backs since his sophomore year.
Get ready for everything to change.
Not only is Gordon joining a new team with the Broncos, but he’s also going to be facing some of the toughest matchups right out of the gate. Gordon and the Broncos have a hellish draw early on, facing some of the league’s toughest run stoppers including the Titans, Steelers, Buccaneers, Jets, and Patriots in their first five games.
One upside for Gordon owners will be the stretch run. In Weeks 14 through 16, the Broncos will have the Panthers, Bills, and Chargers, all of which are favorable matchups.
Despite having a decent fantasy playoff schedule, Gordon owners might find it tough to make it to the postseason in the first place.
Expect Gordon’s fantasy points per game to drop considerably from his career average.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
There’s no question that Saquon Barkley is one of the elite rushers in the league. He’s a generational talent. He’s the center of the Giants offense and has averaged 16.6 fantasy points per game over the two seasons he’s been in the league.
Barkley is also facing a grueling schedule. He’ll be against the Buccaneers, Steelers, Niners, Ravens, and Eagles (twice). As good as Barkley is, he’ll have a tough time churning out big-time numbers behind an inexperienced O-Line while facing one of the NFL’s toughest schedules.
While there’s little doubt that the 23-year-old is a high-caliber player, because of the tough matchups he’ll be facing, drafters might want to target other running backs in the first round.
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