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The Dirty Dozen - 2022 Edition

By Doug Orth | 12/1/22 |

Nine years ago, I introduced "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Delicious Dozen" around Thanksgiving time. (Here is last week's Delicious Dozen.) 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 fantasy championships.

Receiver-cornerback matchups are among the most critical ones in the real game, yet very few fantasy analysts spend any time breaking them down - and few do it in much detail. Until this becomes a more common practice, there will be thousands of owners who will avoid matchups they shouldn't and vice versa.

The point is the fantasy industry as a whole tends to rely on name recognition when it comes to avoiding a potential matchup rather than doing some research to find out which defenders are playing well consistently. They also tend to stick with their opinions about struggling corners for far too long when they finally break through and begin playing well. The truth is defensive players ebb and flow in much the same way offensive players do.

Note: The cutoff for this piece was 330 coverage snaps. At roughly 30 coverage snaps per game, we should be able to eliminate any players who are not "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 primary coverage from the cornerback below will be listed first. Receivers expected to see less of him will be listed second or third but in the order of times they should square off against the cornerback.

All coverage data courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

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

12. Charvarius Ward, 49ers (Passer Rating Against: 78.7)

* Has logged 463 snaps of 551 cornerback snaps on the left side.

Ward started the season well despite giving up his only touchdown in the Week 1 monsoon game against the Bears but appeared to lose a bit of confidence after getting torched by his previous employer (Kansas City) in Week 7 (six catches on six targets for 104 yards). The loss to the Chiefs started a four-game stretch in which quarterbacks posted a passer rating of at least 86.8 in his coverage three times. (It probably did not help his cause that San Francisco faced Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in two of those three below-average games.) Ward rebounded with his best effort in over a month in Week 11 and has permitted a completion rate of 57.7 percent for the season despite his aforementioned slump. Excluding the Kansas City game, Ward has not allowed more than 53 yards in his coverage in any other contest. He has also surrendered a measly 41 yards after the catch outside of the loss to the Chiefs (32 yards).

Week 13: Tyreek Hill/Jaylen Waddle (Dolphins)
Week 14: Julio Jones/Mike Evans (Buccaneers)
Week 15: Tyler Lockett (Seahawks)
Week 16: Jahan Dotson/Terry McLaurin (Commanders)
Week 17: Mack Hollins/Davante Adams (Raiders)

11. Cameron Sutton, Steelers (Passer Rating Against: 77.3)

* Has played 407 of his 541 cornerback snaps on the right side.

Sutton's three touchdowns allowed are the second-highest total of any player on this list, so he is not exactly a shutdown corner. However, the same three games in which he has given up a touchdown are also the only outings in which quarterbacks have posted a passer rating higher than 87.5 in his coverage. Weeks 2 and 3 are the only games in which Sutton has permitted more than three catches, leading to a stellar 53.3 percent completion rate on throws in his direction. Sutton has also been exceptional in limiting the damage, as Weeks 2 and 3 account for the only times that Sutton has given up more than nine yards after the catch. Since Week 5 against the Bills, quarterbacks are just 8-of-18 for 98 yards and no TDs when targeting Sutton. It is a bit noteworthy that Sutton has logged 98 of his 123 slot snaps for the season in three games (Weeks 1, 2, 12). Interestingly, his primary matchups in those games were Tyler Boyd (not Ja'Marr Chase or Tee Higgins), Jakobi Meyers and Parris Campbell (not Michael Pittman Jr.).

Week 13: Drake London (Falcons)
Week 14: Demarcus Robinson (Ravens)
Week 15: DJ Moore/Terrace Marshall Jr. (Panthers)
Week 16: Davante Adams/Mack Hollins (Raiders)
Week 17: Demarcus Robinson (Ravens)

10. Stephon Gilmore, Colts (Passer Rating Against: 76.8) ***

* Has logged 362 snaps at left cornerback and 339 at right cornerback (only five snaps in the slot all season).

Plenty has gone wrong for Indianapolis in 2022, but the acquisition of Gilmore has been one of the bright spots. While the 32-year-old may no longer be playing at his 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year level anymore, he has managed to do something he has not done since then: stay healthy. Although Gilmore has given up 469 yards and a 60.3 percent completion rate through 12 weeks (permitted 628 yards and a 49.5 percent completion rate in 2019), he has yet to give up a touchdown in his coverage. Looking only at his PFF coverage grades and passer rating allowed, Gilmore was playing at a considerably higher level through the first five contests than he has in the seven games since. Some of that falloff can be attributed to the fact that the former Patriot and Bill has tussled with the likes of Terry McLaurin, Davante Adams and A.J. Brown recently. Still, it is noteworthy that quarterbacks have posted a passer rating of 88.4 or better in four of Gilmore's last five games after doing so only three times in his first seven.

Week 13: Michael Gallup/Noah Brown/CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys)
Week 14: bye
Week 15: Justin Jefferson/Adam Thielen (Vikings)
Week 16: Mike Williams/Keenan Allen (Chargers)
Week 17: Darius Slayton/Isaiah Hodgins (Giants)

9. Patrick Peterson, Vikings (Passer Rating Against: 72.0)

* Has played 672 of 690 cornerback snaps on the left side.

In terms of passer rating allowed, Peterson is enjoying his best season since the last time he was named a first-team All-Pro (2015). However, recent evidence suggests the season may be catching up to him. While he was mostly exceptional in the Vikings' thrilling Week 10 win over Buffalo (two interceptions, 65.4 passer rating allowed), the 32-year-old has played more like someone who should have been in The Delicious Dozen in his other four outings since Week 6. (He gave up two TDs over that stretch and allowed a passer rating of at least 109.4 in each contest). Another indication he may be struggling is that he has permitted a 100 percent completion rate in his coverage in three of his last four games. That is in stark contrast to what he did in the first six weeks when he did not yield a TD and kept quarterbacks throwing into his coverage to a 66.7 passer rating or worse in half of them. For the season, he is allowing a still very respectable 60.9 percent completion rate despite his recent stretch of lackluster play. Considering Minnesota had two cornerbacks in last week's Delicious Dozen, quarterbacks will probably continue to look in their direction more often. However, the recent evidence suggests teams - and fantasy managers - can somewhat confidently target matchups against Peterson as well.

Week 13: Corey Davis/Elijah Moore (Jets)
Week 14: Jameson Williams?/Kalif Raymond/Josh Reynolds (Lions)
Week 15: Alec Pierce/Michael Pittman Jr. (Colts)
Week 16: Darius Slayton/Isaiah Hodgins (Giants)
Week 17: Allen Lazard/Christian Watson (Packers)

8. D.J. Reed, Jets (Passer Rating Against: 71.5)

* Has played 609 of 666 cornerback snaps on the right side.

As a 5-9 corner joining his third team in five years, the odds were stacked against Reed being anything more than the part-timer he was for most of his time in San Francisco and Seattle. Such has not been the case for New York in 2022, as Byron Pringle's Week 12 TD catch - essentially one he took off the top of Reed's helmet - was the first score the former fifth-round draft pick has surrendered in his coverage all season. Reed has played so well that the Jets have not been compelled to use rookie stud Sauce Gardner in shadow coverage very often. Reed's coverage has slipped a bit since the team's Week 10 bye - he has permitted a passer rating of at least 106.7 in both games after yielding a 100-plus rating only once in his first nine outings - or else he would be closer to No. 1 on this list than he is already. Even though eight of the last 10 passes in his coverage have been caught, he is still sporting a sparkling 57.1 percent completion rate for the season.

Week 13: Justin Jefferson/Adam Thielen (Vikings)
Week 14: Gabriel Davis (Bills)
Week 15: DJ Chark (Lions)
Week 16: Marvin Jones Jr./Zay Jones (Jaguars)
Week 17: Tyler Lockett (Seahawks)

7. Tariq Woolen, Seahawks (Passer Rating Against: 70.6)

* Has played 689 of 693 cornerback snaps on the right side.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of the 5-7 Reed in terms of size, the 6-4 Woolen has been a revelation for Seattle - even if his production has been more extreme on both ends. The rookie fifth-rounder is second in the league with five interceptions but has surrendered four touchdowns, all of which have occurred in the last five games. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two may be that Woolen has not experienced a truly bad performance so far, as Week 2 is the only contest in which a quarterback completed more than two-thirds of his passes against him. In all, he is holding quarterbacks to a 57.4 percent completion rate when they throw in his coverage. Despite how far someone with his physical tools slipped in the draft - there were some questions about his physicality and the fact he played at UTSA - there is little reason to believe his early play is a mirage. Woolen is probably one of the five fastest players in the NFL right now and has the kind of frame - not to mention ball skills - to make quarterbacks think twice about taking chances on his side of the field.

Week 13: Tutu Atwell (Rams)
Week 14: DJ Moore/Terrace Marshall Jr. (Panthers)
Week 15: Brandon Aiyuk/Deebo Samuel (49ers)
Week 16: Kadarius Toney/Marquez Valdes-Scantling (Chiefs)
Week 17: Garrett Wilson/Elijah Moore (Jets)

6. Marlon Humphrey, Ravens (Passer Rating Against: 56.6)

* Has played 441 of 460 perimeter snaps on the right side and logged 160 snaps in the slot.

Injuries ravaged Baltimore's secondary last year and Humphrey was no exception. It largely explains why he allowed quarterbacks to post a career-high 98.4 passer rating in his coverage in 2021. (His previous high was 89.0.) Humphrey has returned with a vengeance in 2022, enjoying arguably his best season as a full-time player. While he is giving up a career-high 66 percent completion rate in his coverage during his first season in new DC Mike McDonald's defense, he has limited pass-catchers to a meager 295 yards receiving and no touchdowns. Humphrey has allowed a quarterback to post a passer rating above 83.3 in only two games this season. He has also permitted 50 yards receiving in two games as well. It is at least mildly interesting that Humphrey has logged two of his four highest snap counts in the slot since the Week 10 bye. While some of that likely had to do with Christian Kirk last week, there is not much explanation as to why it was necessary against Carolina one week earlier. Either way, fantasy managers should lower their expectations whenever they have a capable perimeter receiver who occasionally lines up a lot in the slot against Baltimore.

Week 13: Courtland Sutton/Jerry Jeudy? (Broncos)
Week 14: Diontae Johnson (Steelers)
Week 15: Donovan Peoples-Jones/David Bell (Browns)
Week 16: Drake London/ Olamide Zaccheaus (Falcons)
Week 17: Diontae Johnson (Steelers)

5. Jamel Dean, Buccaneers (Passer Rating Against: 54.6)

* Has played 645 of 670 cornerback snaps on the right side.

Dean continues to improve each season opposite Carlton Davis and is enjoying the best year of his NFL career in 2022 even though the rest of his teammates are largely failing to meet expectations. The fourth-year corner gave up two touchdowns against Green Bay in Week 3 (one each by Romeo Doubs and Allen Lazard). He also got beat a few times by DK Metcalf in Week 10. Outside of those two games, Dean has not surrendered a touchdown or allowed more than 29 yards in his coverage all year. Perhaps an even better indicator of his performance is that only 48.1 percent of throws in his direction have been completed. Another impressive mark is that pass-catchers are only averaging 7.7 yards per reception on the 26 catches he has allowed. His most impressive feat may be the work he has done over the last five games; Week 10 is the only time since Week 6 that quarterbacks have posted a passer rating higher than 56.3 when throwing in his direction. While it should be noted that three of those four standout games came against the likes of P.J. Walker, Matthew Stafford and Jacoby Brissett, it is clear he is playing at a high level right now.

Week 13: Rashid Shaheed (Saints)
Week 14: Brandon Aiyuk/Deebo Samuel (49ers)
Week 15: Ja'Marr Chase/Tee Higgins (Bengals)
Week 16: DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals)
Week 17: DJ Moore (Panthers)

4. Darius Slay, Eagles (Passer Rating Against: 54.2)

* Has played 423 of 594 cornerback snaps on the left side.

"Big Play Slay" has been a bit more hit-or-miss than his high ranking here would suggest. In three games this season, quarterbacks have posted a passer rating of over 100 in his coverage. In another three outings, that number has been zero. With that said, the overall body of work has been highly impressive. The only touchdown Slay has surrendered came in Week 1 against the Lions. Week 10 versus the Commanders was the only time he yielded more than 58 receiving yards. Quarterbacks have completed a meager 51.9 percent of their passes in his direction. It is worth noting that three of his first worst games in 2022 - from a passer rating allowed perspective - have come over the last three weeks. It is also worth noting that he has not been limited to the left side of the defense. Because Philadelphia also has another top corner in James Bradberry, DC Jonathan Gannon has seen fit to have the duo travel with receivers in certain matchups. One other note: all 168 of the snaps Slay has taken on the right side this year have come in four games. Slay has long been a corner that can get beat more often than other top corners - such as Bradberry - but his recent slump should not serve as motivation to target him in upcoming weeks.

Week 13: Robert Woods (Titans)
Week 14: Isaiah Hodgins (Giants)
Week 15: Dante Pettis/Equanimeous St. Brown (Bears)
Week 16: Michael Gallup/Noah Brown (Cowboys)
Week 17: Chris Olave/Rashid Shaheed (Saints)

3. Ahmad Gardner, Jets (Passer Rating Against: 47.6) ***

* Has played 561 of 609 cornerback snaps on the left side.

One of Gardner's claims to fame leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft was that he never gave up a touchdown in college at Cincinnati. Amari Cooper ended any suspense about Gardner enjoying a similar streak in the pros by beating him for a score in Week 2, but that remains the only TD on his ledger as a NFL cornerback. The No. 3 overall pick has been spectacular outside of that game, as last week's 72.9 passer rating allowed was his worst mark since Week 3, which is also the only time all season he has given up more than 42 yards in his coverage. His 11 pass breakups lead the league. No other cornerback who meets the qualifications for this article (330 snaps) is allowing a lower completion rate (43.4 percent). Week 9 against the Bills (and Stefon Diggs) is the only time Gardner played more than a handful of snaps somewhere else besides left cornerback, indicating he will only shadow the best of the best - especially with D.J. Reed also playing at a high level. While the best of the best may get him from time to time, fantasy managers need to make sure to lower expectations significantly for their receivers against the Jets and specifically Gardner.

Week 13: Justin Jefferson/Adam Thielen (Vikings)
Week 14: Stefon Diggs (Bills)
Week 15: Jameson Williams?/Kalif Raymond/Josh Reynolds (Lions)
Week 16: Marvin Jones Jr./Zay Jones (Jaguars)
Week 17: DK Metcalf (Seahawks)

2. James Bradberry, Eagles (Passer Rating Against: 44.4) ***

* Has played 492 of 662 cornerback snaps on the right side.

Bradberry appeared to be in a bit of decline with the Giants last season - he surrendered eight touchdowns - after a brilliant campaign in New York the previous year. Apparently, cheesesteaks and a solid pass rush agree with him. Week 10 is the only game in which quarterbacks posted a passer rating higher than 79.4 in his coverage. He has yielded only one touchdown (Week 8) and 291 yards. Throws in his direction are being completed only 45.7 percent of the time. While that may not qualify as shutdown coverage, it shows there is very little upside to testing Bradberry. Only twice this season has the Samford product given up more than 31 yards in his coverage and neither one of those games came in the four contests in which he was somehow targeted at least nine times. Last but certainly not least, pass-catchers are averaging only 9.1 yards per reception on the 32 catches they have made in his coverage.

Week 13: Treylon Burks (Titans)
Week 14: Darius Slayton (Giants)
Week 15: Equanimeous St. Brown/Dante Pettis (Bears)
Week 16: CeeDee Lamb/Noah Brown (Cowboys)
Week 17: Chris Olave (Saints)

Jaycee Horn

1. Jaycee Horn, Panthers (Passer Rating Against: 38.3) ***

* Has logged at least 130 snaps at every spot (LCB, RCB, slot).

Horn was advertised as one of the rare corners who could play any of the cornerback spots at a high level when Carolina selected him No. 8 overall in 2021. He has lived up to that billing and then some. Horn is not getting a ton of credit for what he has done so far in the league because he played in only three games last year due to injury and his team's record is 9-20 since his arrival. Pay no mind to that; he has been dominant as a pro. His career passer rating allowed is a remarkable 34.3. The longest catch he has given up as a pro is for 19 yards. He has surrendered 146 yards and one touchdown in 13 outings, including just 43 yards after the catch. As far as this year is concerned, opponents are barely targeting him (32 times in 10 games). Horn has not permitted more than 35 yards in his coverage. Week 12 - against Denver, of all teams - marked the first time in his career that his passer rating allowed was higher than 100 in a game. If there is one blemish on his overall resume, it might be that he has been flagged twice in two games. Overall, Horn has not given quarterbacks and receivers any reason to believe targeting him is a winning proposition. Since he is effectively being used as a shadow more often than not, it makes sense for fantasy managers to avoid using any receiver - at least one who is his team's clear alpha - against Horn.

Week 13: bye
Week 14: DK Metcalf/Tyler Lockett (Seahawks)
Week 15: Diontae Johnson/George Pickens (Steelers)
Week 16: Amon-Ra St. Brown (Lions)
Week 17: Chris Godwin/Mike Evans (Buccaneers)

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.