I’ve always found strength of schedule to be an underrated factor when it comes to evaluating and drafting a fantasy team.  Many NFL players over the years have turned in statistical seasons far above their talent levels due to being fortunate enough to play a string of embarrassingly bad defenses.    When it comes to debating two or more players at a position, you should always take into consideration who their opponents will be throughout the season; it can tip the scales in favor of a player and make your decision an easier one.  To me, this statistic isn’t covered well enough in the endless supply of cheat sheets, magazines, and internet articles.  It’s simply too valuable to dismiss.

The rankings below are based on the 2021 schedule for each NFL team and the results of rushing yards given up in 2020 by the NFL defenses they will be facing.  This isn’t a perfect statistic, as some defenses will improve in 2021 and some will regress, but I still find it to be a useful guide. 


  1. Los Angeles Chargers:  The Chargers are certainly an up and coming offense due to the immediate rise of their young QB, Justin Herbert.  Having the easiest schedule against the run certainly strengthens the faith many fantasy owners have in this offense continuing to thrive.  Austin Ekeler is the primary running back, but he’s been known more for his catches out of the backfield than his between-the-tackles prowess.  There’s some very interesting sleeper appeal in the back who is going to back up Ekeler, but the Chargers have been a bit coy about just who that is.  Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree, and Joshua Kelley have all been hyped as that guy, leading to nothing but frustrating speculation for fantasy owners.  With Ekeler’s extensive injury history and a schedule this favorable, there’s a good chance one of those sleeper backs is going to make some noise in 2021.   
  2. Denver Broncos:  The Broncos brought in RB Melvin Gordon last season, who was solid but unspectacular.  Much to Gordon’s chagrin, the Broncos eagerly grabbed North Carolina RB Javonte Williams in the 2nd round.  Since then, Gordon has been disgruntled and injured, and few in the Broncos organization seem to care.  Williams has been the clear favorite, and this favorable schedule really undermines the fact that he’s being under-drafted (RB28).  With Teddy Bridgewater being named the starter, it’s obvious the Broncos will be utilizing a run-heavy approach.  Opponents on the schedule such as the Jaguars, Cowboys, and Bengals are going to make that approach a wise one.      
  3. Cleveland Browns:  The Browns were 3rd in the NFL in rushing last season (148 YPG), and they are definitely set up for another strong season on the ground.  Nick Chubb is one of the most solid, steady, and safe RB’s in the league, well worth his RB5 ADP.  Cleveland also offers the NFL’s best backup RB, Kareem Hunt, so it’s easy to see why they like to hand the ball off.  Creampuff rushing defenses like the Texans, Bengals, and Lions await, and those backs must be licking their chops.  If you are lucky enough to land Chubb, make sure you land Hunt as well – he becomes a top-5 RB if Chubb misses time.   



  1. Tampa Bay Bucs:  The league isn’t going to make a championship repeat easy on the defending champions, with super-tough run defenses like the Rams, Saints (twice), and Colts on tap.  The two-headed monster of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones certainly have their work cut out, although Tom Brady has a tendency to open up running games by forcing defenses to always respect the pass.  New addition Giovani Bernard has also been added in a passing role, and could be a sneaky play in PPR leagues.  Overall it’s a committee situation to avoid unless injuries thrust one of the backs into a heavier role.   
  2. New Orleans Saints:  We’ve been used to pinball-machine offenses in the Drew Brees-era Saints, but it’s going to be a tougher hill to climb behind Jameis Winston.  Alvin Kamara remains a top-4 RB, but he may find himself drawing far more defensive attention than he did in 2020, when the Saints were the 6th ranked rushing offense.  The Bucs were the top defense against the run in 2020, and unfortunately for the Saints they have to face them twice.  There’s a lot of uncertainty in New Orleans about the direction of the team; it feels like a train wreck waiting to happen.  Perhaps it’s better to let someone else grab their players on draft day.   
  3. Chicago Bears:  Chicago’s 25th ranked rushing offense got terrible news when the NFL schedule was released.  Facing stout run defenses like the Rams and Bucs certainly aren’t going to make their mediocre runners any more attractive in the draft room.  David Montgomery is getting a lot of love, but his explosion last season was largely due to a laughably soft schedule down the stretch – he gets no such stretch this season and Tarik Cohen is back after being injured.  If/when rookie QB Justin Fields gets the nod, he’s the one who will likely pile up some rushing numbers.  Whether or not that will open up some holes for the running backs remains to be seen.    


ALL THE REST (ranked easiest to hardest) 

  1. Kansas City Chiefs 
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers 
  3. NY Jets 
  4. San Francisco 49ers 
  5. Jacksonville Jaguars 
  6. Las Vegas Raiders 
  7. Indianapolis Colts 
  8. Baltimore Ravens 
  9. Cincinnati Bengals 
  10. Minnesota Vikings 
  11. Washington Football Team 
  12. Arizona Cardinals 
  13. NY Giants 
  14. New England Patriots 
  15. Carolina Panthers 
  16. Atlanta Falcons 
  17. Buffalo Bills 
  18. Tennessee Titans 
  19. LA Rams 
  20. Detroit Lions 
  21. Miami Dolphins 
  22. Dallas Cowboys 
  23. Philadelphia Eagles 
  24. Seattle Seahawks 
  25. Houston Texans 
  26. Green Bay Packers 


Aaron Bland