One of the "tiebreakers" I use when choosing between two players is the schedule. Every year I go through a process of grading each defense in a number of areas, then plug it into each player's schedule. This helps me figure out which decent players might overachieve because of a favorable slate, and which solid players might disappoint because of a bad slate.
You can read up more on my Projected Strength of Schedule Rankings (PSoS) process and which players have good/bad season-long schedules by position here:| | | .
But I also want to know which wide receivers have a chance to start the season hot because of a bunch of weak opponents in Weeks 1 through 4. Those tiebreakers also come in handy, especially if I am trying to find some cheap starting options to begin the regular season. This year, I'm especially on the lookout for wideouts in the middle rounds since I intend to take plenty of running backs and a stud tight end early.
So go ahead and put a star next to a receiver's name on your pre-draft list if they're ranked high here. It means they're projected to face easy opponents early on. Hey, we need all the help we can get.
Week 1-4 Projected Strength of Schedule WR Rankings
Biggest Early Winners
A.J. Brown, Julio Jones: Tennessee's terrific duo inherited a tremendous start to the year with matchups against pass-defense deficient Arizona, Seattle, Indianapolis, New York (the Jets version) and Jacksonville. All five games not only are favorable for the Titans passing game, but at least three shape up as potential high-scoring games. It's the second-easiest Early PSoS I graded.
Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen: In case you needed more motivation to draft either of these Vikings, their matchups through Week 8 are mostly kiddie play. You might even argue that the worst part of their schedule is a Week 7 bye (right in-between matchups against Carolina and Dallas). This should especially boost confidence in Thielen for the first chunk of the season.
Marquise Brown: Brown finished last season strong (six touchdowns in eight games including the playoffs), and he should be given the chance to pick right back up in September against the Raiders, Chiefs and Lions in the first three weeks. In fact, only a trip to Denver separates him from a pretty excellent schedule through the first seven games. Brown can be picked as a No. 3 receiver who managers could sell high on in late October before the Ravens take on some tough competition.
Darnell Mooney: Not all of the Bears' early-season matchups are cake walks, but through at least the first six weeks there isn't a matchup with two good cornerbacks (though the Browns may challenge that). Mooney's speed along with the hope that Justin Fields matures rapidly will give him a chance to be a boom/bust flex for the first month-plus of the year.
Mike Williams: Honestly, I'd target Williams for Weeks 2 through 4 and then re-evaluate his role on my squad after that. You can't feel great using him in Week 1 at Washington. But the outings against Dallas, Kansas City and Las Vegas should provide evidence to whether or not he's going to break out in 2020 or be an empty Air Yards hog. Williams is a late-round pick you shouldn't need to have too much patience with.
Terrace Marshall: Rookie receivers locked into a No. 3 role typically don't make for solid Fantasy contributors, but the Panthers' easy opening to the year gives him some life. He also has something D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson don't have: Size. There's a decent shot at Marshall succeeding as a red-zone contested-catch winner to help Fantasy managers along.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.
Michael Pittman, T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell: None of the Colts' receivers are being drafted as Fantasy starters; they're all speculative players. That means it'll be OK letting them rest on your bench through the toughest part of their schedule through Week 5. Beginning in Week 6 against the Texans, the Colts receiving corps has it easy -- just three tough games between then and the end of the year. Pittman and Hilton received little bumps in my rankings (think Round 8 through 10), but Campbell especially becomes a sneaky late-round pick. Not only will he also benefit from weaker pass defenses, but the Colts figure to face heavy zone coverages in Weeks 1 and 2, which Campbell should be able to exploit easily from the slot.
Tyreek Hill: The Browns' secondary is very much improved and the Ravens continue to host one of the deepest defensive backfields in the league. Those matchups await Hill in Weeks 1 and 2, followed by the Chargers, Eagles, Bills and Washington. Not that Hill will somehow get shut down in every one of these games ... or even half of these games ... but it is a little annoying. You'd wish he'd play the Raiders sooner than Week 10.
Stefon Diggs: The Steelers, Dolphins and Washington await Diggs and the Bills passing game to begin 2021. Each of those teams has a top-shelf cornerback who might be assigned to cover Diggs in obvious passing situations. Then again, Diggs torched the Steelers and Dolphins last year. OK, probably not that big of a deal.
Calvin Ridley: There's no doubt who the Falcons' top receiver is now. That means we know Ridley will draw top coverage against the Eagles, Buccaneers, Giants and Washington. Also note that at least three of these defenses also have a very good pass rush to wreak havoc on Matt Ryan. There's a legit shot at a slow start here for Ridley, though his schedule does improve as the year rolls along.
Biggest Early Losers
Michael Thomas: On top of there being an adjustment period with whoever the Saints choose to be their new quarterback, Thomas will face off against the Packers, Patriots and Giants in Weeks 1, 3 and 4. All three of those teams have quality cornerbacks who figure to stick to Thomas like glue. If there are accuracy or timing issues between Thomas and his quarterback, you'll definitely feel it in the box score.
Kenny Golladay: Opening against the revamped Broncos defense and then following it up with a trip to Washington makes for a tough first two games for Golladay. The Saints and Rams in Weeks 4 and 6 won't help. What's more likely: Golladay erupts into a matchup-proof beast, or he gets mired down in a mediocre offense captained by Daniel Jones? I fear the latter.
Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, DeVante Parker: Back-to-back AFC East tilts against the Patriots and Bills will make things a degree tougher for the Dolphins offense (remember, Fuller is suspended for Week 1 as it is). Might Bill Belichick and Sean McDermott lay out a blueprint to contain Miami's explosiveness right off the bat? If the alternative is Tua Tagovailoa shredding these secondaries, then it's more believable that the defenses will have a winning plan that will shrivel the offense's Fantasy numbers. Fuller's long-term outlook is actually nice, so don't be thrown off by his rocky start.