A lot of the Fantasy Football analysis you’ll read, watch and hear is focused on the past. It’s about how efficient a player has been, or how many Fantasy points he scored on a per-game basis over a certain number of games. It’s not a bad thing because it’s factual, but just as you’ll hear in advertisements for stock investments, past performance does not guarantee future results.
Alternatively, looking forward is an important part of Draft Prep. The best Fantasy drafters, obviously, are the ones who do a good job projecting into the future and can see big years (or bad years) forthcoming. Simple things like knowing a player’s age, anticipating a player’s role, or understanding a player’s connection with a teammate typically help curate those foresight-based projections.
And if there’s one thing I stand by in my 25 years of playing and analyzing Fantasy Football (my parents are proud), it’s that the matchups really do matter. And I want to get players on my team who have matchups they can exploit — especially if they’re young or in a big role or anything else I mentioned in the above paragraph.
So every year for the past five or so, I’ve taken a stab at projecting every level of every defense to come up with my own Projected Strength of Schedule, or PSoS, to help guide me through which teams and players will have easy or hard matchups. It’s definitely better than the traditional strength of schedule rankings you’ll see, which are based solely on win-loss records from the past season — old, mostly useless information. And while it takes a lot of projecting into account, I find it to be helpful in making Draft Day decisions. At a minimum, the research provides a tie-breaker between similar players. At maximum, it helps sway drafters into avoiding weekly tough decisions and annual underperformers.
Some people just want the takeaways and don’t care about the process. If that’s you, then you can see the full-season and first four-week PSoS rankings sorted by position along with players I’ve moved up and down in my rankings.
For everyone else, this space is reserved for a transparent explanation of my process, intended to help you figure out whether or not you’re willing to trust the process.
How the PSoSausage gets made
I start with a collection of full-season defensive team data that are meant to provide context. Information like pass rush pressure rate, Air Yards completed, yards allowed before contact, yards allowed after contact, and missed tackles.
A boost from Pro Football Focus: The PFF army does a solid job of grading every player every week. By the end of the year there’s a singular grade on a defender for each part of their job: tackling, run defense, pass rush and pass coverage. There are times when I disagree with their grades, but it’s a starting point for each defensive player evaluation.
Stats and usage: I like to see what a defender’s missed tackle rate was, or their QB rating against them in coverage. If there’s a dicey number (like a 15% missed tackle rate, or a QB rating allowed of over 100.0), I’ll take a deeper dive. Was it because his role changed? What about the players around him or the scheme he was asked to play? Was he utilized in specific situations (played more in pass coverage than any other down and distance)? Has he been this bad for years or did he have a down season? I’ll usually pair this with watching some snaps of the player just to have an idea of what’s going on with him.
The grading starts: I’ll study the players individually, then as a specific unit with others who play the same position. Once I determine how a specific unit is expected to play, I’ll give an unofficial grade and move on to the next part of the defense. The unofficial grade also includes depth behind the starters.
This happens for four specific units of each defense: pass rush, pass coverage overall, pass coverage versus tight ends and running backs, and run defense. Every NFL defense receives four separate, tailored grades.
Let’s make it official: Once I have unofficial grades for all relevant positions, I’ll assign one over-arching grade for each specific unit. The grade is on an extremely complicated, impossible-to-understand scale … okay, fine, it’s a basic 1-to-10 rating where 1 stinks and 10 is elite. Why complicate this more than it needs to be?
Our secret proprietary blend: Every grade a defense earns from me is a whole number. However, those numbers are part of a simple formula that best reflects the combination of defense players at each position that an offense will face.
- Pass rushes and pass coverages both greatly affect every quarterback, so their PSoS grade is a 50-50 blend of both numbers.
- If pass rushes and pass coverages matter for quarterbacks, they obviously matter to pass catchers, too. But the pass rush isn’t as big of a deal, especially for tight ends since they typically see shorter average target depths than wide receivers do. The tight end PSoS grade is 90 percent of the opponents’ running back/tight end pass defense grade and 10 percent of the opponents’ pass rush grade. The wide receiver grade is 80 percent of the opposing pass coverage grade and 20 percent of the pass rush grade.
- Run defenses make the biggest impact against running backs. Duh. But the defenders expected to cover running backs on pass plays also warrant consideration. Their PSoS grade is 90 percent of the opponents’ run defense grade and 10 percent of the opponents’ running back/tight end pass defense grade.
How about an example? In Week 1, the Bills will play the Rams. The grades the Bills’ skill-position players received are based on the aforementioned combinations determined by position.
The grades I gave the Rams were:
- 8 for pass coverage
- 9 for pass rush
- 10 for run defense
- 8 for RB/TE pass coverage
This means Josh Allen’s PSoS for Week 1 is 8.5; Devin Singletary’s is 9.8; Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis’ is 8.2; and Dawson Knox’s is 8.1.
Remember, these numbers are unaffected by the offensive players — it’s all about the defense. Every offensive player the Rams will face have these exact same PSoS for that matchup.
Are we done yet? Every skill position for every NFL offense has a cumulative grade based on who they play. The teams are ranked in order based on that cumulative grade. If your team is ranked No. 1, your team’s specific skill position has the easiest PSoS. If your team is ranked No. 32, your team’s specific skill position has the hardest PSoS.
I also do a separate ranking for the first four weeks of the season. I find this especially helpful when it comes to looking for early-season cheat codes with my late-round picks … and players to avoid on Draft Day BUT acquire via trade when they get off to a slow start. Don’t worry, I’ll highlight those players in each positional PSoS story on the site.
Schedule tie-breakers: The last piece is adding a penalty for any team that plays in Europe, any team that plays three straight road games and any team that plays on the road on a short-week Thursday. These teams are at a theoretical disadvantage because of these situations and are penalized one point per occurrence. It’s essentially the equivalent to a tie-breaker.
That’s it. That’s the process. Like it? Hate it? Chat me up on Twitter @daverichard — I will be receptive to your constructive criticisms.
Last but certainly not least: The results! Here are my defensive grades for each defense based on each corresponding category (these are NOT the PSoS grades):
(as of May 23, 2022)
Defensive grades: Pass coverage
Defensive grades: Pass coverage vs. RB/TE
Defensive grades: Pass rush
Defensive grades: Run defense