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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

The Dirty Dozen
All Out Blitz: Volume 145

As much as the league tries to legislate defense out of the game, owners need to understand matchups will always play a fairly big role in how an offense attacks a defense does on a game-to-game basis. One of my bigger frustrations as a fantasy owner is the utter lack of easily accessible analytics to understand which receiver-cornerback matchups I need to target and which ones I need to fear without crunching the tape.

Quite often, an overwhelming majority of the fantasy community who doesn't have the time or ability to watch the Cincinnati Bengals probably lives under the impression William Jackson is still a matchup to fear just because he was so good last year. Conversely, the Kansas City secondary must be one to target the Chiefs have allowed the eighth-most receiving yards to wideouts and are generally forcing teams into shootout mode.

Five years ago, I introduced "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Delicious Dozen" around Thanksgiving time. The idea then - as it is today - was to identify negative and positive receiver matchups, respectively, as a way to prepare owners for the upcoming stretch of fantasy games that usually determine who moves on and who doesn't.

Receiver-cornerback matchups are among the most critical ones in the real game, yet very few fantasy analysts spend any time breaking them down in much (if any) detail for what I can only imagine is a fear of being wrong or a general lack of readily available information. Until all owners can enjoy the same kind of access to defensive "production" as the privileged few, there will be thousands of owners who will avoid matchups with the Detroit Lions' Darius Slay due to name recognition when the truth is "Big Play" Slay is allowing 69.4 percent of the targets thrown in his coverage to be completed. Xavier Rhodes is at 68.3 percent. Marshon Lattimore is at 70 percent. The point to be made here is not to necessarily target these corners in weekly matchups, but understand their production this season is not matching their reputation.

Note: My cutoff for this piece was 250 coverage snaps. At roughly 25 coverage snaps per game, we should be able to eliminate any players who aren't "full-timers." Below each write-up is the remaining schedule and the projected matchups each corner should see in coverage in that week. Please keep in mind that receivers move across the formation a lot nowadays, while most defensive coordinators seem to favor keeping their corners on one side of the formation, so this is far from an exact science.

In cases in which a receiver there isn't a discernible difference in how often a receiver plays on one side of the field or the other (which is quite common), the most likely player to see coverage from the cornerback below will be listed first and the receiver expected to see slightly less of him will be listed second.

*** - Indicates the cornerback has been/will be used as a "shadow"

12. Adoree Jackson, Tennessee (Passer Rating Against: 70.7) ***

It should not come as much of a surprise that the league's top scoring defense has at least one player on this list. Given the money spent to acquire him this spring, however, most would have expected the player to be Malcolm Butler. However, it has been the Titans' other two corners - slot specialist Logan Ryan and 2017 first-round pick Jackson - that have been keeping receivers in check while Butler has been getting roasted. Although he has spent 71 percent of his snaps this season at left cornerback, Jackson spent the bulk of his time in Week 10 shadowing Josh Gordon, did the same in Week 6 against another deep threat in John Brown and was used in a similar capacity on a fairly regular basis as a rookie. One would have to assume with upcoming matchups against T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr., Jackson will shadow in at least half of Tennessee's games moving forward.

Week 11: T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis)
Week 12: DeAndre Hopkins (Houston)
Week 13: Robby Anderson (NY Jets)
Week 14: Donte Moncrief/D.J. Chark (Jacksonville)
Week 15: Odell Beckham Jr. (NY Giants)
Week 16: Josh Doctson (Washington)

11. Byron Jones, Dallas (Passer Rating Against: 69.7)

Seems kind of silly at this point that Jones spent most of the first two seasons of his NFL career at safety, doesn't it? The star of the 2015 NFL Combine has yet to give up a touchdown and is allowing receivers to catch only 51.4 percent of the targets in his coverage during his first full season at corner. At 6-1 and 200 pounds with all-world athleticism, it wouldn't be a complete shock if he grows into a Patrick Peterson-level type of shadow cornerback within the next year or two. Part of the reason why that may not happen for a while is that the Cowboys have lined him up at right cornerback on 96 percent of his snaps in 2018. Part of the reason for this is Chidobe Awuzie has been more than holding his own on the other side, but there will come a time when Dallas will pay for not having its top corner shadow. Given some of the star power remaining on the schedule, it may be in the Cowboys' best interests to start soon.

Week 11: Julio Jones/Calvin Ridley (Atlanta)
Week 12: Josh Doctson (Washington)
Week 13: Michael Thomas (New Orleans)
Week 14: Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia)
Week 15: Ryan Grant (Indianapolis)
Week 16: Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)

10. Brandon Carr, Baltimore (Passer Rating Against: 68.9)

Jimmy Smith enjoyed his best game of the season in Week 9, so he may be on his way to changing the dynamics of this defensive backfield shortly. It's anyone's guess if his early struggles were the result of his late start this season (he served a four-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy), but Carr has emerged as a stud of the Ravens' secondary so far in 2018. Allowing only 53.5 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed, Carr has yet to give up a touchdown in his coverage. Baltimore appears to be one of the few teams in the league more interested in finding the best defensive matchups for its corners (as opposed to having them play sides like most of the league) because Carr has spent 42 percent of his snaps at LCB and 52 percent at RCB (fellow starter Marlon Humphrey is at 31 and 62 percent, respectively), making it difficult to figure out what receiver to downgrade each week.

Week 11: John Ross/Cody Core (Cincinnati)
Week 12: Brandon LaFell/Jordy Nelson (Oakland)
Week 13: Julio Jones/Calvin Ridley (Atlanta)
Week 14: Sammy Watkins/Tyreek Hill (Kansas City)
Week 15: Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)
Week 16: Mike Williams (LA Chargers)

9. Morris Claiborne, NY Jets (Passer Rating Against: 67.9)

Already one of three current or former Cowboys on this list, Claiborne is thriving in his first year with the Jets even as his team's fortunes are sinking. The 2012 first-round pick has been able to stay healthy for a change this season and seems to have found a fit in a scheme that emphasizes man coverage much more than one he left. Claiborne has yielded two touchdowns in his coverage, but only 48.2 percent of the passes thrown in his direction are getting completed. Claiborne has been inconsistent though, posting a passer rating against of 69.4 six times and 100 or higher in his other three games. New York has been much easier to attack elsewhere, however, as Trumaine Johnson (99.0 passer rating against in the five games in which he has played) and slot CB Buster Skrine (126.4) have not held up well.

Week 11: bye
Week 12: Josh Gordon (New England)
Week 13: Taywan Taylor (Tennessee)
Week 14: Kelvin Benjamin (Buffalo)
Week 15: DeAndre Hopkins (Houston)
Week 16: Davante Adams (Green Bay)

8. Tre'Davious White, Buffalo (Passer Rating Against: 67.4) ***

There's a pretty good chance most owners are already familiar with White's work. Despite shadowing some of the league's best receivers already, White has only yielded one touchdown (DeAndre Hopkins) and allowing only 53.3 percent of the targets in his coverage to be completed. Unlike some of the other players on this list, White is one cornerback owners should avoid unless they have a recognized elite option at the position such as Antonio Brown or Hopkins. Among others, White was credited with holding Stefon Diggs to four catches for 16 yards on 10 targets in Week 3, Corey Davis to four receptions for 49 yards and Josh Gordon to four catches for 42 yards. In other words, owners need to downgrade (and probably avoid starting) any team's No.1 receiver who spends the majority of his time running perimeter routes when he faces Buffalo.

Week 11: bye
Week 12: Donte Moncrief (Jacksonville)
Week 13: DeVante Parker (Miami)
Week 14: Robby Anderson (NY Jets)
Week 15: Marvin Jones (Detroit)
Week 16: Josh Gordon (New England)

7. Richard Sherman, San Francisco (Passer Rating Against: 66.8)

This wasn't supposed to happen, at least not this year. Released by the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason due in part to age (30) and the fact he was coming off an Achilles' tear, "Sherm" was set up to something of a liability, at least early on with games against the strong receiving corps of Minnesota, Detroit and Kansas City. While he did sustain an early calf injury that cost him a game in Week 4, the Stanford product has instead only been targeted 24 times and allowed only 11 completions and no touchdowns in his coverage. Much like he did in Seattle, Sherman plays almost exclusively at left cornerback and doesn't move off that spot. Unfortunately for him and his new team, no other 49ers corner has posted a passer rating against lower than slot corner K'Waun Williams' 96.7, so San Francisco remains a plus-matchup for fantasy purposes.

Week 11: bye
Week 12: DeSean Jackson (Tampa Bay)
Week 13: Tyler Lockett (Seattle)
Week 14: DaeSean Hamilton (Denver)
Week 15: Tyler Lockett (Seattle)
Week 16: Taylor Gabriel/Allen Robinson (Chicago)

6. Orlando Scandrick, Kansas City (Passer Rating Against: 65.9)

It's a good thing for Dallas that Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie are playing well because it doesn't speak well to the Cowboys' ability to match their scheme up with their players' strengths when two former players appear on this list one year after they were allowed to leave. The 31-year-old had his moments with the Cowboys, but it appears Chiefs DC Bob Sutton's man-coverage schemes seems to be a much better fit for Scandrick than Dallas DC Rod Marinelli's Cover 2. Scandrick coughed up two touchdowns in his coverage in the opener against the Chargers but has not given up one since and has only twice allowed a passer rating against as high as 80 following that rough outing. It's not as if he isn't been tested either, as he has been targeted 65 times - fourth-most in the league. Despite the high volume, he's only allowing 49.2 percent of the passes thrown in his coverage to be completed. Scandrick has played 94 percent of his snaps this season at left cornerback.

Week 11: Brandin Cooks/Josh Reynolds (LA Rams)
Week 12: bye
Week 13: Brandon LaFell/Jordy Nelson (Oakland)
Week 14: John Brown (Baltimore)
Week 15: Tyrell Williams (LA Chargers)
Week 16: Tyler Lockett (Seattle)

5. Patrick Peterson, Arizona (Passer Rating Against: 62.3) ***

The more things change in Arizona, the more they stay the same. Despite asking for a trade and seeming genuinely unhappy over the first half of the season, Peterson might as well have a regular seat at the "Dirty Dozen" table, as he has surrendered only 11 touchdowns in his coverage since the beginning of the 2015 season, including one this season (against San Francisco). The seven-time Pro Bowler is the rare corner not tied down to one side of the formation (44 percent on the right side, 54 percent on the left) and is a player - like Tre'Davious White above - who owners need to avoid in their weekly matchup, although he has shown vulnerability of late - passer rating against of at least 100 in three of the last four contests. How much of that has to do with the quality of competition (Minnesota and Kansas City are among the four teams) and how much has to do with HC Steve Wilks' preference for zone coverage is certainly up for debate. But until this recent "decline" becomes more of a pattern, it is still best to avoid any matchup in which a receiver will be going toe-to-toe with Peterson, especially when opponents know how easy it is to pick on whatever side he's not on.

Week 11: Jordy Nelson (Oakland)
Week 12: Tyrell Williams/Keenan Allen (LA Chargers)
Week 13: Davante Adams (Green Bay)
Week 14: Marvin Jones (Detroit)
Week 15: Julio Jones (Atlanta)
Week 16: Brandin Cooks (LA Rams)

4. Kareem Jackson, Houston (Passer Rating Against: 61.6)

The first of two "part-timers" on this list (given how much he played safety to begin the season), Jackson began 2018 at free safety in part to improve their ability to defend the pass, in part to cover for the absence of Andre Hal and in part because he was no longer one of the two (or even three) best corners on the team. Well, Houston's top three corners got hurt and, lo and behold, Jackson is a new man. Not unlike the next man on this list, Jackson is seeing a lot of time at all three cornerback spots (left, right and slot) since his awakening. As such, identifying his weekly "matchup" is going to be difficult. To that end, slot corner Aaron Colvin is due back this week, likely taking slot duty off the table. Jackson has yet to give up a score this season, but if there is one negative, he has allowed 60 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed. However, it's a far cry from the 70-plus percent marks he gave up each of the previous three seasons.

Week 11: Josh Doctson/Michael Floyd (Washington)
Week 12: Corey Davis (Tennessee)
Week 13: Antonio Callaway (Cleveland)
Week 14: Ryan Grant (Indianapolis)
Week 15: Robby Anderson (NY Jets)
Week 16: Jordan Matthews/Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia)

3. Chris Harris Jr., Denver (Passer Rating Against: 60.8)

Harris' name doesn't carry the same weight as Patrick Peterson's, but he's not far off. He's also a rare breed of cornerback - one who isn't afraid of moving into the slot to follow the other team's top receiver if necessary. In fact, Harris has played 63 percent of the snaps this season inside, meaning he is about the only top cornerback in the league No. 1 receivers can't escape by moving into the slot. The 29-year-old has allowed receivers to catch 57.8 of their targets in his coverage this season, but he has yet to surrender a touchdown. And, for what it's worth, he hasn't even been called for a penalty. The problem for Denver is that Harris' excellence is going to waste because fellow starter Bradley Roby is getting roasted on a regular basis, allowing a passer rating against of at least 89.6 in six of his eight games - including four games over 100.

Week 11: Keenan Allen (LA Chargers)
Week 12: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh)
Week 13: Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati)
Week 14: Dante Pettis/Trent Taylor (San Francisco)
Week 15: Jarvis Landry (Cleveland)
Week 16: Seth Roberts (Oakland)

2. Steven Nelson, Kansas City (Passer Rating Against: 59.0)

It's fair to wonder if GM Brett Veach was on pins and needles hoping he could find some capable bodies at corner this season after he traded away Marcus Peters or if he was confident he knew something the rest of the NFL didn't. Former Washington Redskin Kendall Fuller has started to play better in the slot after a rough start, while we've already discussed how well Scandrick is doing. Like Fuller, Nelson also got off to a slow start (although his didn't last nearly as long). Nelson has been very good in three of his last four starts, however, posting a passer rating against of 52.8 or lower. What's even more impressive with his spot on this list is the fact he has been targeted a league-high 72 times, yet allowed only one touchdown and 48.6 percent of the passes in his coverage to be completed.

Week 11: Brandin Cooks/Josh Reynolds (LA Rams)
Week 12: bye
Week 13: Jordy Nelson/Brandon LaFell (Oakland)
Week 14: Michael Crabtree (Baltimore)
Week 15: Mike Williams (LA Chargers)
Week 16: David Moore (Seattle)

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami (Passer Rating Against: 48.5)

While Xavien Howard entered the season as the Dolphins' most likely shutdown corner candidate based on the way he finished last season, it has been the versatile rookie who has been the better player on a consistent basis. Howard can't be downgraded too much for giving up touchdowns to DeAndre Hopkins in Week 8 and Davante Adams in Week 10, but true "shutdown corners" don't give up a perfect passer rating in their coverage in any game (Week 4 against New England) or ratings of 111 or higher in three of four games like he has since Week 7. Fitzpatrick's numbers are helped by the fact he has played a fair amount of safety this year and just made the cutoff for coverage snaps, but he was drafted No. 11 overall this spring because he was considered to be a rare player who could excel at both cornerback and safety. The former University of Alabama standout has surrendered no more than one catch in his coverage in any of the last five weeks and remains unscored upon for the season. Most of Fitzpatrick's corner work has been in the slot, but he may need to move outside opposite Howard more often now given the struggles of Bobby McCain and Torry McTyer. For the purposes of this article, we'll assume that Howard will continue to shadow on a regular basis and Fitzpatrick will work opposite him.

Week 11: bye
Week 12: Ryan Grant (Indianapolis)
Week 13: Zay Jones (Buffalo)
Week 14: Chris Hogan (New England)
Week 15: Laquon Treadwell (Minnesota)
Week 16: D.J. Chark (Jacksonville)

Other notable corners who missed the list due to lack of coverage snaps or otherwise(passer rating against in parentheses: Mike Hilton, Pittsburgh (66.4); Aqib Talib, LA Rams (66.7); Joe Haden, Pittsburgh (71.1), Prince Amukamara, Chicago (71.9), Desmond King (72.2), Jaire Alexander, Green Bay (72.5), Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville (73.4), Denzel Ward, Cleveland (73.7)

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.