The strength of schedule for running backs only considers rushing yardage and scores. There is a significant difference between how often teams use them as receivers, and that impacts the stats allowed by a defense. For a simpler and more 1:1 consideration, this is the strength of schedule for only rushing production that was allowed by defenses including each home or away venue.
The extra game in the NFL schedule starting this year won’t help running backs to stay healthy as well.
For fantasy contests and such, only total points matter, so below are the total points for each rushing offense derived from their schedule against the average rushing fantasy points allowed in 2020 by those defenses.
Three different views are below. Week 1 to 17 is the full-season fantasy strength of schedule. “The Dorey Rule” says draft like the season only lasted the first six weeks for a hot start. Finally, Weeks 15 to 17 represent the most common fantasy playoff weeks. “Good” games were when they faced one of the top 22 venues from last year; “Bad” was when they played in one of the worst 22. The middle 20 matchups were neither good nor bad.
Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams (DEN) – The backfield situation could change from game to game, but whichever back takes the lead will enjoy the most favorable schedule in the NFL. Aside from two midseason games, the entire lineup of opponents is light, and four of the final five matchups go against weaker defenses from 2020.
Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown (MIA) – The Dolphins matchup with the AFC South helps to give the otherwise mediocre backfield a chance to surprise if they don’t add another back and start rotating players. The final nine games only contain one tough venue, and there’s nary a bad weather game possible.
Najee Harris (PIT) – The hottest rookie running back takes a further step in the lead with a schedule that can reward a full-time rusher. He gets a fast start with no bad matchups until Week 8 and then three of the final four games face weak defenses right when you need him most.
David Montgomery (CHI) – Hopefully, the spike in production that ended 2020 picks up again this season while enjoying one of the lighter schedules for rushers. Montgomery faces a mixed set of games through midseason but then faces his final tough venue in Week 9. The Bears fortunes should increase in the second half of the year and the passing offense will be hitting a higher gear by then as well.
James Robinson, Travis Etienne (JAC) – The schedule is kind aside from a three-game stretch from Week 11 to Week 13. And then the final four games all face favorable matchups during the fantasy playoffs. The split in workload between James Robinson and Travis Etienne may evolve through the season, but the primary back for December should end the season on a high note.
Jonathan Taylor (IND) – Second-year running back Jonathan Taylor already broke out in 2020 with over 1,100 rushing yards, and he gets a chance to take another step up, facing seven opponents with weaker defenses. The first seven weeks are tough with four bad matchups but then clears up with only one more in the final nine games while playing in five weak venues. A Week 14 bye will hurt in larger leagues and contests, but hosting the Raiders in Week 17 should end the fantasy year with a bang.
Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette (TB) – There’s already a committee backfield that shifts roles, and now the Super Bowl champion’s path to a repeat navigates the worst rushing schedule of any team. They only play in two of the lighter venues from last year while over half of their matchups go against the toughest rush defenses. Starting in October, they face a twelve-game stretch without any weak defenses.
Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon (GB) – The quarterback situation will be resolved, but the rushing schedule never improves for the Packers in 2021. After a mostly challenging stretch through midseason, Aaron Jones not only has a Week 13 bye, but the last six weeks of the season produces only one favorable matchup and yet four of the toughest venues for rushers.
2021 weekly grid
Average rushing fantasy points allowed (points per game)
Fantasy values were derived from 1 point per 10 rushing yards and six-point rushing touchdowns.