Defenses change from year to year, but certain units are usually more vulnerable to rushing attacks than others. Based on personnel and coaching changes, we break down which running backs are scheduled to face defenses that could struggle to stop the run.
Jonathan Stewart (ADP = 42.2) Schedule Grade: A+
The Panthers’ lead back should be a workhorse as long as his body can hold up, which is great for fantasy owners that are looking for a hot start to the season. J-Stew will face three atrocious run defenses (JAX, NO, TB) over his first four games before getting the bye in Week 5. After that, the Panthers get a tough matchup against the Seahawks, but 8 of their final 11 games come against teams (PHI, IND, TB, TEN, NO, NYG, ATL x2) that were amongst the 10 worst rushing defenses in the NFL last year. No capable RB has as beneficial a schedule as Stewart.
Joseph Randle (ADP = 31.4) Schedule Grade: A
Randle is expected to at least start the year as the Cowboys primary back, and he should find plenty of running holes given their early schedule. The Cowboys first 7 opponents (NYG, @PHI, ATL, @NO, NE, @NYG) combined to rank 25.4 in run defense last season, but their schedule grows exponentially more difficult starting with a Week 8 matchup against Seattle. There should be plenty of doubts about Randle’s talent and longevity as a feature back, but if he performs well over the first few weeks of the season, he’ll be a very valuable trade chip.
Alfred Blue (ADP = 73.9) / Arian Foster (ADP = 62.9) Schedule Grade: B+
This is a complicated situation of course, as Foster is expected to miss the first half of the season with groin surgery. Blue performed extremely well in a few spot starts when Foster missed time last year, and should be worth owning as either a handcuff or an early-season RB2 to use until Foster returns.
After facing Kansas City in Week 1, the first half of the Texans schedule is excellent. Houston takes on Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville in succession, which is a veritable buffet based on the performance on those defenses last year. In the second half, the Texans schedule becomes much more difficult, but of course, the talent of Arian Foster could overcome some of those tougher matchups. Still, when considering strength of schedule, it almost makes more sense to choose Blue over Foster and hope to sell high on the Texans sophomore before your league mates wise up.
Other positive schedules: Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints
Eddie Lacy (ADP = 4.2) Schedule Grade: D+
Lacy is the feature back in a premier offense, and will likely get plenty of opportunities to run thanks to the genius of Aaron Rodgers. However, the first half of the Packers schedule (@CHI, SEA, KC, @SF, STL, SD, @DEN) is absolutely brutal, with an average run defense ranking of 11.0 last season. Aside from two conference tilts against the Bears, Lacy’s only other plus matchups come in Week 11 (@MIN) and Week 15 (@OAK), so it seems like another slow start is possible for the big man, making him a solid buy-low target in early-season trade talks.
Other negative schedules: Cincinnati Bengals, St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears
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