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 should be targeted and which ones should be avoided without
always crunching the tape.
Six 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
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 detail for what I can only imagine
is 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 against the Washington Redskins' Josh Norman or
the Minnesota Vikings' Xavier Rhodes due to name recognition.
Norman is allowing 68.9 percent of the passes thrown in his direction
to be caught this year. Rhodes is at 85.5! The
point to be made here is the fantasy industry as a whole isn't
nearly as sharp on who is playing well defensively on a week-to-week
basis and will tend to rely on name recognition when it comes
to avoiding a potential matchup. The truth is defensive players
ebb and flow in much the same way offensive players do.
Note: My cutoff for this piece was 300 coverage
snaps. At roughly 30 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, 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"
The trade for Jalen Ramsey may have seemed a bit over the top
in terms of compensation and overall draft capital, but it's hard
to blame the Rams for doing what they had to in order to make
sure they had at least two quality - if not high-end - cornerbacks.
With offenses using so much 11 personnel (one back, one tight
end, three receivers) nowadays and Los Angeles DC Wade Phillips
a big proponent of man coverage, having at least two cornerbacks
he can trust in single coverage is a must. Per Pro Football Focus,
Robey-Coleman has graded out in coverage slightly below or above
an 80 (100-point scale) in four of the last six games - the No.
1 player on this list has topped 80 only three times this season
- so he's getting the job done lately. Making his spot on this
list even more impressive is the fact he sees plenty of the opponent's
No. 1 receiver as a way to escape Ramsey's coverage on the outside.
Despite checking in at 5-8 and 180 pounds, he's holding up pretty
Week 12: Willie Snead/Marquise Brown (Baltimore) Week 13: Larry Fitzgerald/Christian Kirk/Pharoh
Cooper (Arizona) Week 14: Tyler Lockett (Seattle) Week 15: Randall Cobb (Dallas) Week 16: Kendrick Bourne/Emmanuel Sanders (San
Humphrey played well against the Dolphins in Week 1 (who didn't?)
but had his ups and downs over the next three games. His snaps
in the slot increased dramatically in Week 5 and that has been
his primary home since, even before the trade for Marcus Peters
or the return of Jimmy Smith. However, the presence of Peters
and Smith have enabled the Ravens to keep Humphrey inside even
more. To that end, Humphrey hasn't logged fewer than 41 slot snaps
since in the last four games. Baltimore is facing plenty of three-wide
sets in part because they are playing with the lead so often,
but he's not limited to just playing inside as he is generally
recognized as the team's best corner and plays ahead of Smith
when there are only two receivers on the field. The Ravens are
not averse to using Humphrey as a shadow - he was utilized in
that fashion for five consecutive games from Weeks 3-7 - but again,
the play of Peters and Smith has made it less necessary. He can
be beat - Tyler Lockett caught all four of his targets for 52
yards and a touchdown in his coverage in Week 7 - but the fact
he's given up only 28 catches (and two TDs) on 50 targets this
season should be about all fantasy owners need to know about the
prospects of their receiver faring well against him.
Week 12: Cooper Kupp (LA Rams) Week 13: Kendrick Bourne/Emmanuel Sanders (San Francisco) Week 14: Cole Beasley (Buffalo) Week 15: Jamison Crowder (NY Jets) Week 16: Jarvis Landry/Odell Beckham Jr. (Cleveland)
Every year, this two-part series turns up some interesting results.
This year is no different, as Breeland's PFF coverage grade is
a woeful 41.2. In fact, he's only graded above 60 three times.
Meanwhile, he's given up a passer rating of at least 95.8 five
times! So how does someone with those credentials make a list
like this? Well, a good start is by not giving up a touchdown
or more than 52 yards receiving in the other six contests. Another
contributing factor: he has allowed only 13 of 31 passes thrown
in his direction over that same "good" stretch to be
completed. Although he did get used as a quasi-shadow against
Tyrell Williams and T.Y. Hilton earlier in the season, Breeland
spends the bulk of his time at left cornerback (86 percent prior
to Monday's game against the Chargers). Two of his worst games
(from a passer rating against standpoint and not from a coverage
grade perspective) were in Weeks 10 and 11, which came on the
heels of his best day (Week 9) of the season (39.6 passer rating
against). Given his inconsistency, Breeland should be considered
more of a neutral matchup than most of the other players on this
Week 12: bye Week 13: Zay Jones/Tyrell Williams (Oakland) Week 14: Phillip Dorsett/Julian Edelman (New England) Week 15: Tim Patrick (Denver) Week 16: Taylor Gabriel/Allen Robinson (Chicago)
For most of the season, fantasy owners have been told to avoid
using outside receivers against the Chiefs. Whether or not anyone
wants to believe Kansas City's "success" against outside
receivers is a bit of a product of the run defense being so bad
- thus limiting the number of opportunities opponents have to
beat them in the passing game - is a worthy discussion. Unlike
Breeland, however, Ward's coverage grades and passer rating against
totals at least match up. The second-year pro has yielded a passer
rating against mark higher than 80.2 only three times and graded
lower than 60 in coverage only twice. Like most teams, Kansas
City doesn't move its corners around much, so Ward has essentially
operated opposite Breeland all season long, spending 86 percent
of his snaps at right cornerback (again, prior to Monday's game
against the Chargers). For what it's worth, he has been roughed
up a bit in the last two weeks, giving up three catches on three
targets for 81 yards in Week 10 and surrendering a 50-yarder on
the only reception he allowed on five targets in Week 11. Still,
for fantasy purposes, he is more of a matchup to avoid than Breeland.
Week 12: bye Week 13: Tyrell Williams/Zay Jones (Oakland) Week 14: Julian Edelman/Phillip Dorsett (New England) Week 15: Courtland Sutton (Denver) Week 16: Allen Robinson/Taylor Gabriel (Chicago)
With James Bradberry, Donte Jackson and Cockrell all taking turns
coming down with injuries lately, it's been hard to pin Cockrell
down to one particular role in this defense. In theory, he is
the primary slot corner when everyone is healthy. At the moment,
however, he's the one that is sidelined. Unfortunately, ever since
HC Ron Rivera suggested Cockrell had "earned the right to
continue playing" about a month ago, his level of play has
fallen off. In fact, two of his worst three games came in Weeks
9 and 10 (he didn't play in Week 11). The Panthers would prefer
using Bradberry and Jackson as the outside corners, so it's fair
to assume Cockrell will resume playing the slot on a regular basis
once he is able to return to action. While Cockrell is sidelined,
Javien Elliott has been the primary slot defender for the Panthers.
Elliott gave up a 13-yard catch the only time he was targeted
in Week 11 but has held up reasonably well in limited snaps prior
to that. Carolina has not been a particularly good fantasy matchup
for receivers all season long, but it appears Cockrell is the
one to lean toward should owners find themselves in a situation
where they must choose.
Week 12: Tre'Quan Smith/Michael Thomas (New Orleans) Week 13: Trey Quinn (Washington) Week 14: Russell Gage (Atlanta) Week 15: Tyler Lockett (Seattle) Week 16: Parris Campbell/Chester Rogers (Indianapolis)
* Spends 78 percent of his snaps at right cornerback.
"Jackrabbit" got off to a terrible start this season,
highlighted (or perhaps lowlighted is a better word choice) by
Mike Evans' huge day against him in Week 3. Ever since that game
in which he gave up eight catches on 14 targets for 188 yards
and three touchdowns in his coverage, Jenkins has been exceptional.
In fact, the 84.0 passer rating against mark he allowed in Week
10 was easily his worst effort since. He has not allowed a touchdown
in his coverage since the Evans disaster and only 103 yards over
that seven-game span. Even more impressively, he has surrendered
a total of 34 receiving yards over the last four weeks! Jenkins
hasn't shadowed since Week 3 and spends the bulk of his time at
right cornerback, which has unfortunately left rookie DeAndre
Baker to get torched on the left side. (Spoiler alert: there's
a good chance Baker's name will appear in this column next week.)
Week 12: Taylor Gabriel/Allen Robinson (Chicago) Week 13: Davante Adams/Allen Lazard (Green Bay) Week 14: Jordan Matthews (Philadelphia) Week 15: Allen Hurns (Miami) Week 16: Terry McLaurin (Washington)
* Spends 92 percent of his time on the left side of the defense,
although he has operated in more of a shadow role against Terry
McLaurin, Odell Beckham Jr. and Devante Parker in the last three
White seems to finally be getting his due this season, presumably
because the Bills are a winning team in 2019. Although he had
a bit of a down year by his standards last season, he is what
he has always been since entering the league in 2017: someone
to avoid in fantasy. Although Parker posted a 5-80-0 line in his
coverage last week, White held McLaurin (four targets) and Beckham
Jr. (10 targets) to identical 3-27-0 lines the previous two weeks.
Somewhat amazingly, the LSU product has allowed only five touchdown
catches in his coverage through 2 1/2 years in the league, including
none this season. Like just about every cornerback in the league,
he will give up some yards from time to time, but owners had better
hope their receiver moves around the formation if they want to
have any shot of having a decent fantasy day. With that said,
Buffalo is just a bad matchup for most fantasy receivers period,
as RCB Levi Wallace and slot CB Taron Johnson have also held up
well in 2019.
Week 12: Courtland Sutton (Denver) Week 13: Amari Cooper (Dallas) Week 14: Marquise Brown (Baltimore) Week 15: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh) Week 16: Mohamed Sanu/Julian Edelman (New England)
* A shadow of the stars. He has followed Mike Evans (twice),
DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones this season but has logged 73
percent of his snaps at left cornerback overall.
Bradberry injured his groin in Week 9 and missed Week 10 before
returning in Week 11. Unfortunately, that only partially explains
how he has surrendered a passer rating against of over 100 in
three straight contests and four of his last five. This seems
like a good time to remind readers that cornerbacks are rarely
ever a 16-game shutdown corner or 16-game liability, although
it is obvious after a while that some find themselves on the verge
of being the former much more often than others and vice versa.
Bradberry's passer rating against for the season is significantly
lower now than where he ended up in his first three seasons, while
his coverage grade is roughly the same. The big difference is
that he has yet to yield a touchdown catch in his coverage, which
is notable when we consider the quality of players he has shadowed
already. Much like Tre'Davious White above, Bradberry's coverage
does not necessarily mean a receiver will be shut down, but it
does likely mean he won't have a particularly big day.
Week 12: Michael Thomas (New Orleans) Week 13: Terry McLaurin (Washington) Week 14: Julio Jones (Atlanta) Week 15: D.K. Metcalf (Seattle) Week 16: T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis)
* His passer rating is a combination of his first six games of
the Rams and his first four with the Ravens. He has spent at least
40 percent of his time on the left and right side of the formation
Crab cakes appear to suit Peters more than the glitz and glamor
of Los Angeles. Since arriving in the Charm City, the former Ram
has allowed a passer rating against of 36.6. In six games with
Los Angeles prior to the trade, it was 97.4. In his only full
season with the Rams in 2018, it was 109.7. What seemed apparent
during his time in Kansas City and especially in Los Angeles was
that Peters is more of a second cornerback type that probably
isn't going to fare very well against a superstar receiver, but
he'll function much better when he either knows he has help from
a safety or is otherwise allowed to use his instincts without
suffering from a fear of getting beat (thus making him more of
a corner who should match up against an opponent's complementary
receiver). Peters has run back more interceptions for touchdowns
with the Ravens (two) than he's allowed in his coverage (zero),
which has undoubtedly led to him grading out well in coverage.
Another area that's changed: he's allowing 53.6 percent of the
throws in his direction to get caught with Baltimore, significantly
lower than his 62.5 percent catch rate over his first six games
with the Rams.
Week 12: Brandin Cooks/Josh Reynolds (LA Rams) Week 13: Deebo Samuel (San Francisco) Week 14: Isaiah McKenzie (Buffalo) Week 15: Robby Anderson, Demaryius Thomas (NY Jets) Week 16: Odell Beckham Jr., Rashard Higgins (Cleveland)
* Hayward hasn't technically shadowed a receiver since Week 7.
There may have been extenuating circumstances as to why he didn't
travel with Davante Adams or Tyreek Hill. Adams was a game-time
decision in Week 9, while Hill got hurt early in Week 11.
Hayward's presence on this list should not come as a surprise.
Last season was a down year by his standards (five TDs allowed,
no interceptions), but 2019 is shaping up to be the third time
in four years with the Chargers in which he has allowed a passer
rating in the 50s and his coverage grade will likely end up somewhere
in the 80s. He's allowed only one touchdown and quarterbacks are
completing just under half of their passes in his coverage this
season. He has given up 11 or fewer receiving yards in seven of
his 11 games. Most impressively, he's allowed a total of one catch
on nine targets for no yards in the last four contests! As is
typically the case nowadays, teams with legitimate shadow cornerbacks
don't use them as such every week, instead saving them for when
the opponent has a true stud receiver. That is legitimately bad
news for most of the names below, as only the best route-runners
(Adam Thielen among them) should be trusted to do much of anything
against the likes of Hayward.
No team plays more man coverage than the Patriots and no defense
has utilized one cornerback in shadow coverage more frequently
than New England has with Gilmore. It's not hard to understand
why either. Although the competition hasn't been the greatest,
the former Buffalo Bill is allowing a 45.9 percent catch rate
in his coverage. He has yet to surrender a touchdown in 2019 after
giving up six last year. Despite following the other team's best
receiver on roughly 75-80 percent of his snaps this season, no
individual receiver has more than four catches or 51 yards in
his coverage. With some of the game's most elite receivers coming
up over the next three weeks, it's possible HC Bill Belichick
and his defensive brain trust opt to go with a strategy they've
utilized in previous years - sticking Gilmore on the opponent's
No. 2 receiver and putting the No. 2 corner (likely Jason McCourty
in this case) on the stud receiver while giving him safety help.
Either way, throwing on New England has been a losing proposition
for most of the season. Most owners cannot sit the first three
names on the list below, but expectations need to be severely
Week 12: Amari Cooper (Dallas) Week 13: DeAndre Hopkins (Houston) Week 14: Tyreek Hill (Kansas City) Week 15: A.J. Green/Auden Tate (Cincinnati) Week 16: John Brown (Buffalo)
* Spends 98 percent of his snaps at left cornerback.
Sherman's Achilles injury in 2017 was supposed to be the beginning
of the end, which was one reason why Seattle released him. He
had a decent season in 2018 despite spending most of it on the
injury report, although nothing close to the standard he set while
headlining the Legion of Boom. Well, the old Sherm is back. While
San Francisco's pass rush is certainly helping him out, quarterbacks
are hardly even targeting him in 2019. (Only Cleveland threw the
ball in his direction more than five times.) Only Chris Godwin
in Week 1 has scored a touchdown in his coverage. He has allowed
a total of 185 yards on 21 catches. It's not hard to see where
this is going. If there is any good news for opponents, it's that
Sherman pretty much doesn't move off his left cornerback spot.
The problem is RCB Emmanuel Moseley and slot corner K'Waun Williams
are also playing well. Despite that, it probably goes without
saying they are the players that fantasy owners and quarterbacks
are going to want to target if they have to pick a matchup against
Week 12: Allen Lazard (Green Bay) Week 13: Miles Boykin (Baltimore) Week 14: Ted Ginn/Michael Thomas (New Orleans) Week 15: Calvin Ridley/Julio Jones (Atlanta) Week 16: Robert Woods (LA Rams)
Other notable corners who missed the list due to lack of coverage
snaps or otherwise (passer rating against in parentheses): J.C.
Jackson, New England (18.9), Quinton Dunbar, Washington (51.3);
Troy Hill, LA Rams (62.0); K'Waun Williams, San Francisco (64.6);
Tre Herndon, Jacksonville (65.9); Denzel Ward, Cleveland (68.1);
Donte Jackson, Carolina (74.9)
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.