For a little background, each year, Warren Sharp of sharpfootballanalysis.com publishes a strength of schedule index. And while this strength of schedule is, of course, a projection, Mr. Sharp is an exceptional projector. You should visit his site, sign up for his premium service, and devour every nugget he publishes. He is, in short, amazing.
Taking a look at his 2021 strength of schedule, here are two teams where you can find potential breakout players and potential busts.
Situational Breakout: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers struggled through another season of bad injuries at key positions, mainly the quarterback position (again) with Jimmy Garoppolo missing more games than he played. The Niners showed they were ready to move on from hoping their middle of road, oft-injured quarterback could stay healthy by paying a king’s ransom to draft Trey Lance at pick No. 3 in the 2021 draft.
The Niners then addressed the running back position in the third round by selecting Matt Waldman favorite running back Trey Sermon.
This is enough to get excited about all on its own, but then Sharp releases his strength of schedule index, revealing San Francisco not only has the easiest schedule, but has the easiest schedule by a wide margin.
Highlights on the schedule including opening against the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. They also play the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, and Houston Texans.
Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Trey Sermon (who I have ranked as my RB16 this year) have breakout season written all over them for 2021. Whether Trey Lance or Jimmy G end up taking the majority of the snaps this year, we should be looking to invest heavily on a team where all the stars seem to be aligning.
Situational Bust: Detroit Lions
Speaking of the Lions, Detroit has hit the reset button, trading Matt Stafford and bringing in a completely new coaching staff. Detroit showed they were one of worst rosters in the league when they had Stafford, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay, and now all three are off the roster.
Things were already looking pretty bleak for the Silver and Blue, and it didn’t get better with Sharp’s SoS release. The Lions’ schedule ranks as the 29th most difficult, with games against the 49ers, Green Bay Packers (twice obviously), Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks, to name just a few.
All this is throwing a big glass of ice-water on my hopes for a D’Andre Swift breakout. The addition of Jamaal Williams, while certainly not a final nail in the coffin, certainly doesn’t help the situation as he could end up being that safer but less spectacular veteran option that newly minted offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn might feel safe playing more than we anticipate. Keep in mind, Lynn is coming off a head coaching stint with the Los Angeles Chargers where he wanted to start Tyrod Taylor over Justin Herbert, but was only saved when Chargers team doctors skewered Taylor’s lung.
T.J. Hockenson had a good rookie year and there is some buzz building around him as a consolation prize for the ‘not paying for Kelce’ crowd. While I agree Goff will be looking for short, easy throws, and that T.J. will certainly be the best option, I don’t trust Detroit to score enough to pay off spending a fifth or even sixth-round pick on the Hock.
All in all, I’m staying well away from the Lions this year in fantasy.