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Soft Early-Season NFL Schedules for Fantasy Football - Strength of Schedule Draft Targets

Mark Ingram II - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers

It's been more than a few weeks since the NFL released the full 18-week schedules for the 2022 season. The Strength Of Schedule will always make a huge impact on how successful your fantasy team performs in your league. In DFS football, there are no worries about planning for season-long runs in contrast to redraft leagues. Each weekend, you pick your brand new team, trying to exploit the best matchups and running with it. It's not so easy in leagues where you have to draft your squad prior to the start of the season.

Even if that's the case, early soft SOS should absolutely be taken into consideration when you draft your team, or at least when it comes to making late-round picks or snatching some free agents from the waiver wire to start the year. Although often overlooked, picking players expected to put on huge performances from Week 1 and during the first few matches can be key to locking up a playoff spot. The longer you hesitate on putting a player in your starting lineup, the worse. You need to be ahead of the competition as soon as you can.

That's what I'm doing here today. I'm highlighting a few teams with favorable schedules from Weeks 1 to 5 and the players that can benefit the most from that early stretch of games so you can go ahead and erase any doubt you have about drafting them, or in the case of those with "less" value, go ahead and pick them for free before any other fantasy GM does so. Let's get to it!

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Teams with Soft Early Schedules Worth Chasing

 

Indianapolis Colts

Softest games: Week 1 and Week 2

The Colts open the season with the fourth-best matchup (at Houston) for all of their offensive positions in terms of SOS and have another top-eight game in the second week of the year (at Jacksonville). All things considered (W1 to W5 matchups), Indy has the best SOS in the NFL only topped by Cleveland's figure.

With two cupcake games to kick the year off and everybody healthy and willing to start the season putting on a strong outing, the best units to target from the Colts are QB and RB. That means banking on Matt Ryan and Jonathan Taylor/Nyheim Hines. It's going to be hard to find Taylor available late in your draft (he's the no. 1 overall pick these days with a ridiculous ADP of 1.1) but Ryan is getting off draft boards at around the 145th overall pick and as the QB21. That means that fantasy GMs are not drafting Ryan at all in most leagues, even the deepest ones.

You always want to draft a QB and then have some depth in your reserve, so if you punt on a legit QB1 in your draft and opt to draft your quarterback late, make sure to add and deploy Ryan from the WW in the first few weeks of the season as the schedule can't look better. The same goes for RB2 of Indianapolis, Nyheim Hines. Hines' ADP of 132nd overall (RB45) will make him a WW target in a lot of leagues, or a 12th-to-15th-round pick at the very least. Hines carries enough appeal to consider him a very viable option no matter what, but this early-season boost calls for action if you want to secure some tasty FP to kick your season off given the fantastic SOS he'll face early.

 

Las Vegas Raiders

Softest games: Week 2 and Week 3

The first game of the season isn't one you want to target by using players from Las Vegas. Other than that, the schedule turns hella soft in Weeks 2 and 3. The Raiders have the second-best SOS for QBs, the third-best for RBs, and the fifth-best for TEs in Week 2. They also have the second-best for WRs in Week 3. Put it all together and you have top-five matchups for all four offensive positions in that early two-game span.

The Raiders are a top-heavy team, though, so it's not that there will be a lot of cheap/WW opportunities to extract from Las Vegas. The most appealing targets could be QB Derek Carr (often overlooked and currently with an ADP of QB14) and WR Hunter Renfrow (not cheap at an overall 73rd ADP/WR31 but worth his price). The thing with this sort of good-not-great players is that you can take advantage of their early soft schedules by taking advantage of those cupcake matchups, boosting their values, then trading them at their peak.

Carr and Renfrow (the latter mostly because of the arrival of WR1 Davante Adams) could be tough to move if they flop in the first weeks, but if they explode off the gates that might change and help you land players with better mid- and late-season matchups in exchange for a couple of Raiders bound to regress in later games. Waller is the TE5 off draft boards and a season-long bet, so there's not a lot of early value to extract from him that wasn't already there. Kenyan Drake (RB62) is a legit WW target (ADP of 206th overall, not drafted in most 12-team leagues) with upside to explode early as Las Vegas dominates those first weeks and gives him more touches than he'd usually get.

 

New Orleans Saints

Softest games: Week 1 and Week 3

No need to mention how you must draft Mark Ingram II before it's too late. On top of Alvin Kamara being suspended for the first six games, the Saints have one of the top-five SOS schedules to start the 2022 season with their best matchups arriving in the first three weeks of play. In fact, the Week 1 game at Atlanta is the third-best for RBs in terms of SOS for the Saints. Except in Week 5, Ingram will play above-average SOS situations for the first four games of the season.

QB Jameis Winston (ADP of QB22/151th overall pick) is probably a season-long backup in most fantasy leagues but has top-six matchups in Weeks 3 and 5 and another good one in Week 1. He might be a nice option to deploy early if you can grab him from the WW, and an even better proposition if you can somehow trade him after that five-game span if he puts on good outings--at the end of the day, you'd be trading away a player acquired for free in exchange for more valuable assets down the road.

While not drafted in 99% of the fantasy leagues out there, TE Adam Trautman has a top-four SOS schedule in the first five weeks of the season with his best games projected to come in W1 and W5. If you punt on a top-tier tight end and opt to stream the position, then make sure to land Trautman with a super-late pick or through the WW. He might have his best games early and Winston is always going to deliver big-time chances--while also benefiting from an early-great-SOS boost.

 

Houston Texans

Softest games: Week 4 and Week 5

The Texans have the "worst" peak-SOS game among all five teams highlighted in this column. It will come in Week 5, but even then it's only the eight-best matchup of the week for all four offensive positions on average. The thing about Houston's early schedule, though, is how nice it looks when averaging all matchups from W1 to W5, ranking as the fifth-best overall with the second-smallest deviation in terms of positive SOS (that means no game is so good that it is an outlier swinging the overall results).

Houston has a rough, below-average SOS in Week 1, but after that, the Texans should have a clear path to rack up fantasy points for four consecutive weeks. Only WR Brandin Cooks (ADP of WR27/63rd overall) is getting drafted before the 122nd overall pick, with QB Davis Mills currently getting off the board as the QB28 or 181st overall pick. Marlon Mack (185th) and Dameon Pierce (122nd) are the second-and third-highest draftees from the Texans and they're being left out in the WW of a lot of 12-team leagues.

QB Davis Mills is projected for his easiest games in W4 and W5 and a top-three SOS in the W1-to-W5 span. The running-back unit has a top-five matchup in Week 5 but not a great overall start to the season. The WRs and TEs, though, are projected to have the absolute-best SOS in the first five games (get some cheap shares of Nico Collins/Chris Conley/John Metchie) and the second-best SOS, respectively. That means that under-the-radar tight ends such as Brevin Jordan and Pharaoh Brown could turn into TE1/TE2 options to stream through the first third of the year while available for free in virtually every league.

 

Green Bay Packers

Softest games: Week 4 and Week 5

Green Bay is a glamour-team and that means no player from the Pack will be available for a very cheap ADP. In fact, of the eight players projected by PFF to hit 140+ PPR points in GB's roster, only WR Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb have ADPs past the 179th overall pick. At the end of the day, though, that latter development is the one we want to take advantage of early in the season.

The Packers have the fifth-best SOS for wideouts in the W1-to-W5 span with the best two games coming in W2 and W4, sandwiching a very tough W3 outing. In other words: get Sammy/Cobb from the WW to use them in W2 and W4, and if you can't but they come off a putrid W3 and are available on the WW/trade-block heading into W4, then go ahead and get some shares. You probably won't regret it.

QB Aaron Rodgers won't have a bona fide soft game until W4 and W5, but those two are projected to be above-average chances for him with Week 5 a top-eight matchup for Rodgers. Green Bay's running backs also have top-10 matchups in four of the first five weeks (all games except W3) and the second-best matchup in Week 5 when they'll host the Giants.



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