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 Dirty Dozen
All Out Blitz: Volume 71

Planning for the postseason is something I take very seriously. In fact, one could make an argument that I start doing it in June.

I find in highly competitive leagues that it is often smart to plan for the best, prepare for the worst and expect everything and anything (injuries, demotions, etc.) to happen to the players on your roster in between. By the time we reach the doorstep of the fantasy playoffs, a number of third- and fourth-string players such as Harry Douglas, Zac Stacy and Bobby Rainey have become key components to making a run.

With that said, the stretch run is the most important time to pay attention to the remaining matchups. While there is plenty to be said about finding the best possible matchups for certain players, I would argue it is more important to make sure owners do everything in their power to avoid difficult ones at this point of the season. After all, it is one of the main reasons I subscribe to ranking players using “Preseason Matchup Analysis”.

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 in the first place 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 possibly 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.

So, let’s circle back to the wide receiver 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.

Getting back to the focus of this week, I have often said that owners make the most lineup mistakes at receiver because there is more mystery surrounding the receiver vs. cornerback battle than any other fantasy position. As much as I despise using other sports as a comparison, consider the challenge of predicting the final score of a NBA game versus how many points one superstar player will score against the man guarding him. The same individual matchup can occur four times a season and produce four vastly different scoring totals for the superstar, but the final score of the game can turn out roughly the same for any number of reasons.

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. With help from the good folks at Pro Football Focus, I prefer to use the NFL QB rating against a defender (in this case, a cornerback) as a tool to help easily discern what receivers could be in for a long day. Below is a list of the 12 cornerbacks that have played at least 60% of their team’s snaps and been the best at keeping receivers from doing their job.

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.

1. Alterraun Verner, Tennessee (NFL QB Rating - 23.0)

Analysis: Verner was considered a poor fit for the Titans’ new press-man defense at 5-10 and 187 pounds, but all he has done at right cornerback is allow 19 receptions on 47 targets and no touchdowns for the league’s stingiest defense against opposing fantasy receivers.

Week 12: Denarius Moore, Oakland
Week 13: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Indianapolis
Week 14: Demaryius Thomas, Denver
(The Broncos went against their usual tendency and played Thomas on the right side of the formation a lot against Kansas City last week in order to take advantage of a matchup they liked against Marcus Cooper, for what it is worth.)
Week 15: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
Week 16: Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville

2. Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay (45.8)

Analysis: Revis admitted he wasn’t healthy enough early in the season to play the press-man coverage that allowed him to earn his own island in New York, but he still graded out nicely throughout the first half of the season. Starting around Week 8, the Bucs began to use him more in his traditional role and the results have been impressive. Over the last two weeks (Tampa Bay’s only two victories), Revis held Mike Wallace to three catches for 12 yards on six targets and was only targeted once in Week 11 against Atlanta. He’ll get his biggest test of the year this week.

Week 12: Calvin Johnson, Detroit
Week 13: Steve Smith, Carolina
Week 14: Steve Johnson, Buffalo
Week 15: Anquan Boldin, San Francisco
Week 16: Chris Givens, St. Louis

3. Keenan Lewis, New Orleans (53.2)

Analysis: Lewis was considered an emerging talent in Pittsburgh before he inked a free-agent deal with the Saints this offseason in order to play in Rob Ryan’s defense. Playing primarily at the left cornerback spot, he has allowed one touchdown on 24 receptions and 45 targets while picking off three passes.

Week 12: Roddy White, Atlanta
Week 13: Doug Baldwin/Jermaine Kearse, Seattle
Week 14: Brandon LaFell, Carolina
Week 15: Austin Pettis, St. Louis
Week 16: Brandon LaFell, Carolina

4. Joe Haden, Cleveland (56.4)

Analysis: Quickly emerging as the top cornerback in the AFC following Revis’ injury and subsequent trade from the Jets to the Bucs, Haden intercepted both passes that were thrown his way in last week’s loss to Cincinnati and was a big part of the effort that saw the Browns hold A.J. Green to two catches for seven yards. While he has surrendered two scores this season, he has only given up 33 catches on 63 targets for 302 yards.

Week 12: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh
Week 13: Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville
Week 14: Aaron Dobson, New England
Week 15: Brandon Marshall, Chicago
Week 16: Santonio Holmes, NY Jets

5. Tim Jennings, Chicago (60.4)

Analysis: Jennings is annually one of the most picked-on cornerbacks due to his 5-8 and 185-pound frame (as well as Charles Tillman’s presence on the other side), but he continues to be one of the more underappreciated players in the league. From his left cornerback spot, Jennings has yielded two touchdowns on 28 catches for 336 yards. He’s one of the few foundation pieces of the Bears’ defense that isn’t already on injured reserve.

Week 12: Austin Pettis, St. Louis
Week 13: Greg Jennings, Minnesota
Week 14: Terrance Williams, Dallas
Week 15: Greg Little, Cleveland
Week 16: DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia

6. Brent Grimes, Miami (62.4)

Analysis: Even coming off a torn Achilles last season, Grimes hasn’t missed a beat on a Dolphins’ defense that has been stout against the pass for most of the season – even as the run defense has fallen apart. The ex-Falcon has yet to allow a touchdown in his coverage on 33 receptions and 58 targets. Grimes rarely moves off his left cornerback spot, but it appears Miami is willing to use him to shadow opposing receivers when the offense has a clear-cut top option (as it did against Baltimore and Tampa Bay in recent weeks).

Week 12: Brandon LaFell, Carolina
Week 13: Stephen Hill/David Nelson, NY Jets
(Hill has reportedly lost his starting job.)
Week 14: Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh
Week 15: Aaron Dobson, New England
Week 16: Robert Woods, Buffalo

7. Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia (62. 8, mostly in the slot)

Analysis: On an Eagles’ pass defense that was a joke in the early part of the season, Boykin was one of the few players opposing offenses had to respect. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, he is considered mostly a slot corner and has seen as many as 54 snaps only twice all season on a defense that is typically on the field for over 80 plays. As a result, fantasy owners probably don’t need to consider his coverage as much when trying to break a tie in determining what receiver to start.

Week 12: bye
Week 13: Andre Roberts/Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
Week 14: Nate Burleson, Detroit
Week 15: Greg Jennings, Minnesota
Week 16: Brandon Marshall, Chicago

8. Sean Smith, Kansas City (64.2)

Analysis: Something of a bust in Miami, Smith has found his fit in the Midwest. Along with the aforementioned Marcus Cooper, Smith has played well enough at right cornerback to allow top corner Brandon Flowers to move into the slot for roughly 20 snaps per game. In fact, Smith rarely ever comes off the field (he’s only missed three snaps total over the last five games) and is coming off a game against Denver in which opposing receivers caught two passes for 15 yards in his coverage. For the season, he’s allowed two touchdowns on 25 catches and 58 targets.

Week 12: Keenan Allen, San Diego
Week 13: Eric Decker, Denver
Week 14: Pierre Garcon, Washington
(Garcon typically lines up on the left side, but has been on the right side in both games against Philadelphia – the only two games in which that was the case.)
Week 15: Denarius Moore, Oakland
Week 16: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Indianapolis

9. Chris Harris Jr., Denver (65.2, mostly in the slot)

Analysis: The Broncos currently rank in the top half of fantasy points allowed to opposing fantasy receivers in part due to some huge early performances by players like Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon, but have been much stingier recently. Harris has three interceptions and no touchdowns allowed in his coverage to his credit. Unlike Boykin, Harris is a full-time player who has been asked to do more this season in large part due to Champ Bailey’s injury woes and obviously held up well.

Week 12: Danny Amendola, New England
Week 13: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City
Week 14: Kendall Wright, Tennessee
Week 15: Eddie Royal, San Diego
Week 16: Andre Johnson/Keshawn Martin, Houston

10. Richard Sherman, Seattle (67.0)

Analysis: Like Revis and Haden, Sherman’s appearance on this list isn’t surprising to fantasy owners. While the brash left cornerback’s play isn’t quite at the exceptional level it was last season (when he allowed two touchdowns and intercepted eight passes en route to a 40.5 rating), Sherman is still as good as there is in the league.

Week 12: bye
Week 13: Kenny Stills, New Orleans
Week 14: Mario Manningham, San Francisco
(It should be noted that Sherman “shadowed” Anquan Boldin in Week 2 and could easily do the same again, depending on the status of Michael Crabtree at that point.)
Week 15: Victor Cruz/Rueben Randle, NY Giants
(Cruz lines up a lot on the right side in base formations, but moves to the slot on a regular basis – leaving Randle on the outside.)
Week 16: Michael Floyd, Arizona

11. Carlos Rogers, San Francisco (70.8)

Analysis: Rogers’ appearance was a surprise to me and is a bit of an anomaly considering his recent grades. (Week 11 marked the first time in four games that PFF didn’t give him a negative pass coverage or overall grade.) This doesn’t necessary make him a player that offenses will go out of their way to attack, but his relatively low rating appears to be more a product of the fact that he has allowed one touchdown in his coverage and not the fact he has shut down opposing receivers.

Week 12: Josh Morgan/Aldrick Robinson, Washington
Week 13: Austin Pettis, St. Louis
Week 14: Doug Baldwin/Jermaine Kearse, Seattle
Week 15: Tiquan Underwood, Tampa Bay
Week 16: Roddy White, Atlanta

12. DeAngelo Hall, Washington (74.0)

Analysis: Hall struggled mightily in coverage the first two weeks of the season, but has picked up his play since. Like Rogers, Hall’s relatively low rating was a surprise considering how it appears he is giving up a catch (40 receptions on 63 targets in his coverage), but he has also made enough plays (three interceptions) that quarterbacks would probably rather pick on the rest of the Redskins’ struggling secondary. Once again, Hall’s coverage is not a reason for fantasy owners to bench their receiver, but opposing quarterbacks may choose the path of least resistance and target another receiver or tight end given Washington’s struggles defending the pass.

Week 12: Anquan Boldin, San Francisco
Week 13: Victor Cruz/Rueben Randle, NY Giants
(Read earlier note in Sherman’s breakdown for Cruz-Randle explanation.)
Week 14: Donnie Avery, Kansas City
Week 15: Roddy White, Atlanta
Week 16: Dez Bryant, Dallas

Next week, the tentative plan is to take a look at the receiver matchups to target in the last pre-fantasy playoff entry of the season.

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.