Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      


Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

The Delicious Dozen
All Out Blitz: Volume 72

When it occurred to me last week I should write a two-part column based on receiver-cornerback matchups, it never crossed my mind that I would consider a title that played into the content and pay homage to Thanksgiving Day at the same time. Sometimes, it just all works out…

Speaking of having it all work out, fantasy owners often want/need/crave information as it relates to the best and worst matchups at this time of the season. After 12 weeks, it often feels our emotions are hanging by a thread just as much as the playing status of some of the players on our rosters.

Thanks to the FF Points Allowed tool on FF Today, it isn’t all that difficult to identify which defenses perform well against certain positions. After all, if a defense performs well against Cam Newton, it is logical to believe it will also perform well against Colin Kaepernick. That’s not to suggest Newton and Kaepernick are the same, but they are similar – as are their teams’ offensive philosophies. Running backs aren’t all that much different, because the position relies on 10 other players on his side of the ball to do their jobs and stopping the run for a defense is often an 11-man chore.

While the FF Today points allowed tool is helpful in determining if a team’s receivers or tight ends are likely to have success in a given week, it cannot account for likely individual matchups. However, given the dearth of game-changing tight ends, owners can almost treat that position like quarterback and running back when it comes to estimating their impact in a given week. Furthermore, it is almost a complete waste of time to predicting how often a tight end will be in safety coverage, linebacker coverage or trying to find a hole in zone coverage. Players like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are essentially oversized receivers that have very few defenders that can guard them and play-callers scheming to get them open – which cannot be said for most tight ends – so owners shouldn’t be shocked when an upper-echelon tight end has his way with a good fantasy defense against the position. Why? Because there is a good chance that defense hasn’t seen more than one or two players at the position that can emulate what Graham or Gronkowski can do on the field nor is it all that likely that same defense has faced an offense that makes the tight end a featured position.

In a team game, the receiver vs. cornerback battle is often as individual as it gets at the skill positions. Without getting into too much of a philosophical discussion about how individual it is, we can generally assume that a defense will remain either a team that uses a “shadow” cornerback or opts to “play sides” and not change its method during the course of a game. Receivers tend to move all around the formation and many of the top receivers nowadays spend time in the slot, so the most any analyst can say with any certainty is that a certain receiver should see a lot of a certain receiver in coverage based on where he has lined up to this point.

I have often said owners make the most lineup mistakes at receiver because there is more mystery surrounding the receiver vs. cornerback battle than any other fantasy position. In an effort to eliminate some of that mystery, last week’s “Dirty Dozen” took a look at the 12 cornerbacks we don’t want our receivers to meet at any point of the season, especially now. This week, it is time to turn the spotlight on the juiciest matchups available to our receivers, just in time for what we all hope is a long playoff run.

While the receiver position will probably always remain the most difficult fantasy position to predict from week to week, we do have some tools at our disposal to evaluate just how difficult their upcoming matchups are. Although Pro Football Focus has many stats that can help us to make informed decisions about what receiver vs. cornerback matchups we should target, I prefer to use the NFL QB rating against a defender (in this case, a cornerback) as a tool to help discern what receivers could be in for a big day. Below is a list of the 12 cornerbacks that have played at least 60% of their team’s snaps and struggled for most of 2013.

Note: In most cases, the projected wide receiver-cornerback matchups are based on the side where each player has lined up the most this season and are obviously variable (as noted above) since offenses tend to move their receivers around the formation, send them in motion or use them in bunch sets in order to get help them gain early separation or avoid jams at the line of scrimmage. Identifying possible wide receiver-cornerback matchups will be more difficult this week than last because offenses often try to “scheme” their best receiver so he can get singled up against the opponent’s worst corner. Not surprisingly, defenses often try to “hide” their struggling defensive backs.

1. Josh Wilson, Washington (NFL QB Rating – 126.0, mostly in the slot)

Analysis: Minnesota rookie Josh Robinson actually has the worst QB Rating Against at 127.0, but he might miss the rest of the season with a fractured sternum, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to begin this list with him. Wilson was picked on relentlessly on Monday Night Football against San Francisco, almost to the point where it got to be ridiculous (11 targets while teammate DeAngelo Hall was only targeted twice). For the season, Wilson has been targeted 66 times and given up 55 catches for 716 yards and three touchdowns without recording an interception.

Week 13: Victor Cruz, (slot), Rueben Randle (outside); New York Giants
Week 14: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
Week 15: Harry Douglas, (slot), Roddy White (outside); Atlanta
Week 16: Miles Austin, Dallas

2. Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis (119.8)

Analysis: Jenkins was considered something of a rookie revelation because he was opportunistic, but the numbers (66 catches for 715 yards on 107 targets in 2012) show that he gave up his fair share of plays as well. This year, the interceptions have decreased (four to one) while the touchdowns allowed (five to six) and success rate of receivers in his coverage (61.7 to 66.7 percent) has increased. Jenkins’ rookie success is a reminder that just because a cornerback makes splashy plays, it doesn’t mean he is ready to evolve into the next shutdown corner. There’s plenty of time (and talent) still there for Jenkins to become one of the league’s better cover men, but it probably won’t happen this year.

Week 13: Anquan Boldin, St. Louis (based on Week 4 matchup)
Week 14: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona (based on Week 1 matchup)
Week 15: Marques Colston, New Orleans
Week 16: Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay

3. Shareece Wright, San Diego (118.8)

Analysis: To put it kindly, one of the main reasons Wright doesn’t top this list is because he has plenty of teammates in the secondary that are giving up big plays about as often as he is. Wright has graded out poorly in three straight games. He has surrendered 19 catches on 26 targets over that time to Demaryius Thomas, Mike Wallace, Charles Clay and a whole host of Kansas Chiefs (most notably Dexter McCluster). In particular, Thomas scorched him for seven receptions, 108 yards and three touchdowns, meaning Denver saw him as the most exploitable option in a secondary full of weak links.

Week 13: A.J. Green, Cincinnati
Week 14: Victor Cruz/Rueben Randle (outside); New York Giants
Week 15: Demaryius Thomas, Denver (based on Week 10 matchup)
Week 16: Rod Streater, Oakland

4. Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh (116.5)

Analysis: Known for sticky coverage and stone hands throughout most of his career, Taylor’s presence on this list is bit of a surprise for a “shadow” corner. His high ranking appears to be more of a function of facing Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon in consecutive weeks (during which time he has surrendered three of his four touchdowns and 328 of his 807 yards allowed) than anything else. With that said, his play has declined in 2013 after he closed out last season on such a high note.

Week 13: Torrey Smith, Baltimore (based on Week 7 matchup)
Week 14: Mike Wallace, Miami
Week 15: A.J. Green, Cincinnati (based on Week 2 matchup)
Week 16: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

5. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis (111.0)

Analysis: Davis – like many of his defensive teammates – enjoyed their best performance against Denver back in Week 7. The fourth-year corner has also been good enough in keeping receivers in check on occasion (34 catches on 62 targets in his coverage), but has given up an alarming five touchdowns over the last three weeks – including two each to Andre Johnson and Tavon Austin as well as one to Larry Fitzgerald. Davis is dealing with a groin injury and his status is in some doubt for Week 13.

Week 13: Kendall Wright, Tennessee (based on Week 11 matchup)
Week 14: Marvin Jones/Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati
Week 15: Andre Johnson, Houston (based on Week 9 matchup)
Week 16: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

6. Chris Houston, Detroit (108.7)

Analysis: Owners may not get a shot to target Houston this week as he is listed as doubtful with a foot injury for the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game against Green Bay, but they might get an upgrade (at least from a fantasy perspective) since rookie Darius Slay will likely be asked to replace him. Slay (134.0 QB rating allowed) has been benched a handful of times already, so he’ll have a bulls-eye on his back for as long as he is in the lineup. In the off-chance Houston does suit up, it is worth noting that he has given up long touchdowns (34 yards to Antonio Brown and 85 yards to Tiquan Underwood) over the last two weeks.

Week 13: James Jones, Green Bay (based on Week 5 matchup)
Week 14: DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia
Week 15: Marlon Brown/Jacoby Jones, Baltimore
Week 16: Victor Cruz/Rueben Randle (outside); New York Giants

7. Derek Cox, San Diego (106.4)

Analysis: There’s a pretty good chance Cox will not make it more than one year into the four-year, $20 M deal he signed in the offseason. The former Jacksonville Jaguar has been benched in three of the last four games and graded out poorly in coverage in seven of the Chargers’ previous eight contests. To illustrate how bad the situation is for Cox and San Diego right now, when Shareece Wright was injured last week, the Chargers called upon journeyman Crezdon Butler – and not Cox – to replace him. It’s a long fall for a player who was considered a better cornerback that Rashean Mathis when Mathis’ star was still fairly bright in Jacksonville.

Week 13: Marvin Jones/Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati
Week 14: Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants
Week 15: Eric Decker, Denver (based on Week 10 matchup)
Week 16: Denarius Moore, Oakland (based on Week 5 matchup)

8. Mike Jenkins, Oakland (102.7)

Analysis: Jenkins has a few things working against him as we speak. Although he hasn’t yielded a touchdown in his coverage over the last two games, he has still permitted 14 receptions on 19 targets for 151 yards over that span. Making matters worse, he suffered a concussion in the Week 12 loss to Tennessee, but Oakland is still expected to make him active for its Thanksgiving Day game against Dallas. For the season, he has allowed 43 catches on 63 targets for 521 yards and three touchdowns.

Week 13: Miles Austin/Terrance Williams, Dallas
Week 14: Stephen Hill/David Nelson, New York Jets
Week 15: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City (based on Week 6 matchup)
Week 16: Keenan Allen, San Diego (based on Week 5 matchup)

9. Johnthan Banks, Tampa Bay (101.9)

Analysis: It’s hard to come down too hard on any rookie, especially one that knows he will be targeted just about every week Darrelle Revis is healthy and shadowing the other team’s best receiver (which oddly started happening about the same time the Bucs started winning). Revis’ status appears to be in some doubt with a groin injury, so perhaps Tampa Bay will go back to the zone-heavy scheme it utilized during its losing streak. As a result, I’ll settle for predicting his likely matchup with Revis in the lineup below because it is almost pointless to project his primary matchup if the Bucs play a lot of zone.

Week 13: Brandon LaFell, Carolina
Week 14: Robert Woods, Buffalo
Week 15: Mario Manningham/Michael Crabtree, San Francisco
Week 16: Austin Pettis, St. Louis

T-10. Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets (100.4)

Analysis: After a brilliant 2012 that made parting with Revis a little easier, Cromartie has struggled mightily in 2013 – thanks in large part to an old hip injury that really hasn’t received a lot of press. He was burned on Torrey Smith’s 60-yard catch last week, Marquise Goodwin’s 43-yard TD catch a week earlier, Robert Meachem’s 60-yarder the week before that and A.J. Green’s 53-yard reception in Week 8. Suffice it to say that someone like Mike Wallace may get a deep target or two if he had the good fortune of facing him. As luck would have it, that matchup should happen this week. Josh Gordon owners that are still around for fantasy championship week should rejoice.

Week 13: Mike Wallace, Miami
Week 14: Denarius Moore, Oakland
(If Moore is still not healthy in two weeks, Rod Streater becomes the likely opponent.)
Week 15: Steve Smith, Carolina
Week 16: Josh Gordon, Cleveland

T-10. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City (100.4, mostly in the slot)

Analysis: This one is a stunner and likely a bit of an anomaly. Although the success rate (49 catches on 71 targets) against him suggests his play may not be matching his reputation as one of the top corners in the league, the two touchdowns he has allowed this season were to Dez Bryant in Week 2 and TE Ladarius Green last week. As a result, I’m not exactly sure opponents (and thus, fantasy owners) should target Flowers as a plus-matchup just because the 5-9 Virginia Tech product surrendered TDs to two of the bigger and most-gifted athletes at their respective positions.

Week 13: Wes Welker, Denver (based on Week 11 matchup)
Week 14: Santana Moss, Washington
Week 15: Brice Butler, Oakland
Week 16: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis

12. Kyle Arrington, New England (99.0)

Analysis: Like Johnthan Banks above, Arrington operates opposite one of the league’s top “shadow” corners in Aqib Talib, so it is only natural he is going to see his fair share of targets. (Arrington has seen plenty of playing time since Talib and Alfonzo Dennard have each dealt with injuries.) Arrington often finds himself in the slot when everyone is healthy and has graded out pretty well according to PFF in most games. However, while he has yielded a respectable 38 catches on 65 targets, Arrington has been charged with five touchdowns – including the game-winner to Ted Ginn against Carolina in Week 11 on Monday Night Football.

Week 13: Keshawn Martin, Houston
Week 14: Davone Bess, Cleveland
Week 15: Rishard Matthews, Miami
Week 16: Marlon Brown, Baltimore

Suggestions, comments, about the article or fantasy football in general? E-mail me or follow me on Twitter.

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and 2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C). He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.