When it comes to setting a Fantasy Football lineup, the matchups are really important. Okay fine, maybe not for the stud players who rack up stats each week -- they're starting no matter who they play. But there aren't a lot of those guys. It's the non-obvious guys who we all must make decisions on during the season.
This is my attempt to make some of those decisions now. Before Week 1, before the preseason, and before I even draft a single player.
- More Projected Strength of Schedule Rankings: | | |
Every year, I revert to the dark side of Fantasy Football and study every defense. I lean heavily on data such as yards after catch or contact, missed tackles, allowed rush and pass attempts, catch rates, defensive ADOT (or DADOT), blitz and pressure rates and also offensive success rates. But I also evaluate who each team added, who they parted ways with, and how good their starters and bench guys actually are.
When I'm done, I have a grade from 1 to 10 on:
- every team's pass rush
- every team's pass coverage
- every team's run defense
But for tight ends, I went a step further and specifically graded:
- every team's linebackers and safeties pass coverage
Because what good does it do you to grade a team's cornerbacks when they don't line up across from tight ends very often? That job usually goes to linebackers and safeties, be it in man-to-man situations or zone coverage.
That pass coverage grade will cover 75% of the cumulative total. The other 25%? The pass rush grade. Over the past two seasons there has been a correlation between pass rush success and tight end Fantasy points allowed. Nine of the top 11 teams that allowed the fewest Fantasy points to tight ends in 2020 also recorded 40 sacks, and 8 of 11 had a pressure rate of 24.8% or better. A similar story was shown in 2019 -- of the top 13 teams in fewest Fantasy points allowed to tight ends, 10 had at least 40 sacks.
This gave me a formula to use to create the cumulative grade for my subjective Tight End Projected Strength of Schedule (PSoS) rankings. I plugged the grade into each offense's schedule of 17 matchups. I added them together to give an informed projection on which teams have easy schedules, and which ones have hard schedules.
Once you get a look, you'll see who I believe to be the biggest winners and losers based on who they'll play, and in a few specific cases, when they play them. Naturally, this doesn't account for who their quarterbacks are or what their specific PSoS are. Just the matchups.
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How each defense graded out
Here are the final grades for every defense, with the toughest defense ranked first:
What the tight ends are up against
Here are the Projected Strength of Schedule rankings for every team for Weeks 1 through 17 (Week 18 isn't included; easiest projected schedule No. 1):
Kyle Pitts: He might be the greatest tight end prospect since Vernon Davis, but even he will need help adjusting to the next level. A modest 11th-ranked PSoS is helpful, especially if he's going to start seeing more coverage if he's not sharing the field with Julio Jones. The matchups will get better for him as the season moves along because he has some toughies in the early going. Pitts figures to play better than your typical rookie tight end (mainly because he'll be used plenty like a wide receiver), and he will be wildly popular, but reaching for him in Round 5 isn't advised.
Noah Fant: While the ranking doesn't account for quarterback play, Fantasy managers can breathe easy knowing Fant is projected to have the third-easiest PSoS. Not bad for a guy who finished top-12 in PPR points per game last season despite 93 targets in 15 games. Fant's a start-able Fantasy tight end with matchups against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets to begin the year. That's a hell of a start. Hopefully he'll be in position to take advantage.
Jonnu Smith: Not only do the Patriots have the easiest PSoS among tight ends, but they're also third-best among PSoS for wide receivers. Clearly, the team has a plan in place to utilize Smith after chasing and signing him quickly when free agency began. His size-speed combination gave him some nice opportunities in Tennessee, and the hope is that more are on the way in New England, especially if his matchups are good. Hopefully his quarterback situation is good, too. I like Smith as a top-12 tight end you can snag late and start against the Dolphins, Jets and Saints to begin the year.
T.J. Hockenson: Just know before you draft Hockenson that his season begins with the 49ers, Packers, Ravens, Bears and Vikings. These are not easy matchups, and that's just part of his worst-ranked PSoS. As an example, in 10 career games against the Packers, Bears and Vikings combined he has a total of three touchdowns and under 450 yards. We're certain he'll see a lot of targets in Detroit's thin passing game, but he still might struggle to evolve into one of the league's top tight ends. He might also be asked to block a little more because the identity of the Lions offense is changing a bit. He's not a top-60 pick in my eyes.
Robert Tonyan: The Packers tight end is stuck with the second-worst PSoS among tight ends, making it theoretically harder for him to catch a touchdown every 4.7 receptions like he did in 2020. It's those touchdowns that carried his Fantasy value last year since he only saw 3.9 targets per game in the regular season and 4.0 in the playoffs. The bad slate cements him as a pick in Round 10 or later. At least he still has Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, right? Right???