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By Jennifer Eakins, 4for4
Special to Yahoo Sports
At 4for4 we take using strength of schedule to a different level with our signature metric, schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed, or aFPA. By removing schedule bias, we can level the playing field and compare matchups in an apples-to-apples manner.
Making decisions on who to draft at ADP can come down to several factors, but for this article, I’ll point out some players who have an easier start to the season than others, so that you can maximize potential points right out of the gate.
I omitted elite players who you’d be drafting anyway and focused on more of the middle-to-late-round guys whom we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing from one another.
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars (Yahoo ADP: 122.1)
The rookie QB has an early bye in Week 7, but his matchups leading up to it are *chef’s-kiss* good. Lawrence will face three defenses that were ranked 23rd or worse in QB aFPA in 2020, along with the Bengals (18th), Broncos (13th) and Dolphins (11th). As a bonus, the Jags get a Week 8 tilt against the Seahawks who sat 29th against opposing QBs last year.
It may be tough mentally to rely on a rookie QB from the start, but with talent like Lawrence’s and his soft schedule, the 21-year-old is set up for fantasy success from the first snap. Of course, if Gardner Minshew happens to win the starting gig, he’s obviously in a great spot at the start too.
Chase Edmonds/James Conner, Cardinals (Yahoo ADP: 73.8/111.6)
This backfield may end up being a true committee with the hot hand having the advantage each week. It’s not great for fantasy purposes, but their early-season schedule is. They start out the season against three teams who performed poorly against opposing RBs in 2020, with the Titans ranked 28th, Vikings coming in at 23rd, and the Jaguars sitting as 30th in RB aFPA.
Conner is the more affordable of the two with a current 12th-round ADP, so getting a piece of this great start for a cheap draft price could be advantageous. However, Edmonds does offer RB2 potential depending on how they end up using him in the passing game. This situation is something to monitor during training camp and preseason.
J.K. Dobbins/Gus Edwards, Ravens (ADP: 27.0/117.9)
This duo won’t work in the same manner as Arizona's, but they will also face some really soft defenses against the run to start out the 2021 season. Just one of the Ravens' first eight opponents was ranked higher than 20th in RB aFPA last season, with an average of 24.0 half-PPR points allowed to rushers per contest.
Both Dobbins and Edwards have appeal at their respective ADPs and having a cushy path to start us out just adds to their allure for 2021.
Robby Anderson, Panthers (ADP: 88.6)
In the eight contests to start the 2021 season, Robby Anderson gets to face the 32nd-ranked Dallas Cowboys defensive unit in WR aFPA from 2020, the Falcons, Eagles, and Houston who sat 30th, 27th, and 26th, respectively, plus the Vikings who were 24th. Only two games in this stretch feature defenses who were in the top half of the league.
Anderson is reunited with his former QB Sam Darnold, with whom he caught 88 balls for 1,353 yards and 11 touchdowns from in New York. Anderson always has big-play potential, and against some soft secondaries to kick things off, he could be a great asset as a WR3. All this is assuming his current hamstring issue is resolved ahead of the season.
Jakobi Meyers, Patriots (ADP: After Pick 126.7)
Weeks 1-7 are looking pretty nice for the Patriots' WR room. They begin against AFC East rival Miami, who surrendered 31.9 aFPA to opposing wideouts last season, then face a slew of bottom-dwelling units with the exception of a Week 3 tilt against the Saints, who were ranked 13th.
This offense isn’t the easiest to figure out heading into the season, but Meyers seems to be emerging as the beat’s favorite to lead their WR corps in 2021. That kind of buzz has his ADP moving up to where it's now about the same range as Nelson Agholor's.
Jared Cook, Chargers (ADP: 129.0)
Always unsexy and usually overlooked, Jared Cook is actually in a nice spot to outperform his ADP in 2021, thanks in part to an easy path to start. He may not have the greenest schedule among TEs according to our Hot Spot tool, but in the six weeks prior to the Chargers bye week, Cook gets the Chiefs, who sat 27th last season in TE aFPA, along with the 30th-ranked Browns. The remainder of that stretch features four teams with an average ranking of 15.25 in aFPA to opposing TEs, which isn’t too harsh for Justin Herbert and Cook to contend with.
Cook is being drafted as TE19 in Yahoo drafts. He makes for a decent option if you choose to bypass the first few TE tiers and go for a dependable guy in an emerging offense.
A proud alumna of the UGA Grady College of Journalism, Jennifer Eakins has been working in the sports industry for well over a decade. She has had stints with CNN Sports, the Atlanta Hawks and the Colorado Rockies. Her first fantasy football draft took place in 1996 where she selected Ricky Watters with the first overall pick, and she has been a fantasy degenerate ever since.
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