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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

The Delicious Dozen
All Out Blitz: Volume 146

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. 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 64.4 percent of the targets thrown in his coverage to be completed. Xavier Rhodes is at 66 percent. Marshon Lattimore is at 68.2 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 this week was 275 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 lines up 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. Nevin Lawson, Detroit (Passer Rating Against: 113.1)

Lawson has seen time all over the place in 2018, lining up on the right side 48 percent of his snaps, on the left 18 percent and in the slot 34 percent. That's not terribly surprising considering Darius Slay shadows from time to time, but it is also indicative of Lawson's play and Lions questioning where he fits best. Prior to allowing a passable 82.9 passer rating against in Week 11 versus the Panthers, Lawson yielded touchdowns in three straight games - giving up a passer rating of at least 116.7 in his coverage each time over that span. It's certainly not a crime to surrender TD catches to Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson and Adam Thielen as he did, but the bigger point to be made is that he has yet to intercept a pass and has recorded a mere two pass breakups on the season. Perhaps even worse, 62 of the 128 yards he has allowed after the catch have come in the last two games. In short, receivers have caught over 70 percent of the targets in his coverage in four of the last five games AND he is allowing them to tack on significant yardage to boot. And given Detroit's lack of quality depth at his position (again) this season and his 5-9, 192-pound frame, Lawson is going to be someone owners can target for the remainder of the season.

Week 12: Anthony Miller (Chicago)
Week 13: Robert Woods (LA Rams)
Week 14: Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona)
Week 15: Zay Jones (Buffalo)
Week 16: Adam Thielen/Chad Beebe (Minnesota)

11. Tre Flowers, Seattle (Passer Rating Against: 113.5)

Flowers had a rough NFL debut, giving up four catches on four targets for 86 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 when Emmanuel Sanders was in his coverage. (In all, he yielded seven catches on nine targets for 124 yards and a score in that game.) The fifth-round pick, who played safety at Oklahoma State, rebounded nicely over his next four games, allowing a passer rating no higher than 70.1. It's safe to say that while the Seahawks have faced some pretty good quarterback-receiver pairings of late, recent opponents have been able to emulate the success the Broncos had against him. Both Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams beat him for a touchdown on the rare occasion they were in his coverage (three total targets between the two in that game) in Week 9, contributing to a four-week run in which quarterbacks have registered a passer rating of at least 95.5 when throwing in his direction. (Flowers has spent 94 percent of his snaps at right cornerback.) For what it's worth, Shaquill Griffin hasn't been terribly effective either (86.4 passer rating allowed). Neither player appears to be in danger of getting benched anytime soon, meaning this should be a gift that keeps on giving for fantasy owners.

Week 12: Devin Funchess (Carolina)
Week 13: Marquise Goodwin/Pierre Garcon (San Francisco)
Week 14: Stefon Diggs/Adam Thielen (Minnesota)
Week 15: Marquise Goodwin/Pierre Garcon (San Francisco)
Week 16: Sammy Watkins/Tyreek Hill (Kansas City)

10. Ahkello Witherspoon, San Francisco (Passer Rating Against: 113.7)

Witherspoon's last game (Week 10) before the team's Week 11 was easily his best, as he allowed only one 11-yard catch on five targets in his coverage against the Giants. Otherwise, his rather gaudy passer rating against would land him quite a bit higher on this list. As it is, he has allowed quarterbacks throwing in his direction to post a passer rating of at least 100 five times and 96.9 or better six times. To be fair, some of that is a function of opponents choosing to target him rather than challenge Richard Sherman (Witherspoon has been targeted 50 times versus 24 for Sherman). The former third-round pick has not yielded a touchdown in his coverage over the last three weeks after surrendering five over his first six outings, although some of that has to do with the level of competition he's faced over that time (Cardinals, Raiders, Giants). With San Francisco using a Seattle-style Cover 3 as its primary defense under DC (and former Seahawks assistant) Robert Saleh, Witherspoon and Sherman will rarely move off their respective right (81 percent) and left (97) cornerback spots.

Week 12: Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)
Week 13: David Moore (Seattle)
Week 14: Courtland Sutton (Denver)
Week 15: David Moore (Seattle)
Week 16: Taylor Gabriel/Allen Robinson (Chicago)

9. Logan Ryan, Tennessee (Passer Rating Against: 113.8)

Through the first six weeks of the season, Ryan was mostly a bend-but-don't-break corner, allowing 13 of the 18 passes in his coverage to get caught. He did not give up a score though and was able to post passer rating against numbers of 70.1 or lower in Weeks 4-6. The slot has not been as kind since then, however, as he yielded passer rating numbers of 108.3 or higher in three of his last four games (Week 9 versus the Cowboys being the lone exception). The Chargers, in particular, were tough on him, as Keenan Allen caught all three of his targets in Ryan's coverage while Tyrell Williams scored on a 75-yarder on his only target with the former New England Patriot tracking him. He held up fine versus Julian Edelman (3-of-4, 42 yards) in Week 10, but the Colts went 3-for-3 against him, including a seven-yard score from Dontrelle Inman. As if it wasn't obvious by the fact he saw significant time against Allen and Edelman, Ryan has spent 80 percent of his snaps in the slot for the season. Since Adoree' Jackson and Malcolm Butler are pretty much locked in as perimeter corners, owners can be fairly sure he'll line up inside most of the time.

Week 12: Keke Coutee (Houston)
Week 13: Jermaine Kearse (NY Jets)
Week 14: Dede Westbrook (Jacksonville)
Week 15: Sterling Shepard (NY Giants)
Week 16: Trey Quinn/Jamison Crowder (Washington)

8. Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay (Passer Rating Against: 116.2)

Unsurprisingly, Davis is already the third first- or second-year player on this list. It should also come as no surprise that at least one Buc is a part of the Delicious Dozen, although it may come as a bit of a shock there is only one. (The snaps limit is the only thing saving slot corner M.J. Stewart from also being on the list, as opposing quarterbacks are posting a 148.6 passer rating in his coverage.) With that said, this second-round rookie has earned his way on here with four straight poor performances, giving up 10 receptions and two touchdowns on 14 targets in his coverage over that span. (Over the last three games, eight of the nine balls thrown in his direction have been caught.) He has allowed a passer rating of at least 101.7 in each game since Week 8 and six times all season. Amazingly, he's only yielded 19 yards after the catch since Week 2 and 81 all season, which means he's not doing much to stop the completion (something that can be said for pretty much any Tampa Bay defensive back), but he is doing a good job of bringing down the receiver once he has the ball in his hands. Although he has logged only 66 percent of his snaps there for the season, Davis has been pretty much locked into the right cornerback slot since Week 2, which coincided with the return of Brent Grimes following his early-season groin injury.

Week 12: Marquise Goodwin/Pierre Garcon (San Francisco)
Week 13: Devin Funchess (Carolina)
Week 14: Michael Thomas/Tre'Quan Smith (New Orleans)
Week 15: Michael Crabtree (Baltimore)
Week 16: Michael Gallup (Dallas)

7. Josh Norman, Washington (Passer Rating Against: 118.2) ***

Some cornerbacks appear on the Delicious Dozen because they are average talents, others are there because they are a poor fit for the scheme or playing hurt, and still others are good players (and sometimes shadows) who face what seems to be a never-ending line of difficult matchups. Feel free to put Norman in that last group. The 30-year-old ranks 25th in Pro Football Focus' coverage grades among "full-time" corners - right behind Casey Hayward - so it's not as if he has been a slouch. It's important to make that distinction because most corners who have surrendered five touchdowns and 470 yards on 32 catches like Norman might not grade out so well. This is not to suggest Norman is a shutdown corner per se, but rather that he remains a highly capable cornerback who will need occasional help when facing the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins like he has over the last four contests. It is important to note most of those receivers did most of their damage away from his coverage. Norman has shadowed on occasion, but it seems as though Washington only wants to use him in that fashion against the elite receivers - and not on every snap. Thus, it makes it hard to pin down where he will be and who he will defend with any degree of consistency.

Week 12: Amari Cooper (Dallas)
Week 13: Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia)
Week 14: Odell Beckham Jr. (NY Giants)
Week 15: Donte Moncrief/D.J. Chark (Jacksonville)
Week 16: Corey Davis (Tennessee)

6. P.J. Williams, New Orleans (Passer Rating Against: 125.4)

As if anyone needed another reminder about how reliant on stats some prominent football people when it comes time to hand out awards (and how much more progress mainstream media and the like have to make in order to analyze the game well), Williams is a fine example. The 25-year-old was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 8 despite receiving a 32.0 coverage grade from PFF and a passer rating against of 118.8. But he won the award because he forced a fumble and ran an interception thrown right to him back for a touchdown. Williams spends 80 percent of his time in the slot and probably isn't going to move out of there - barring a benching - because the Saints have Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple on the outside. For what it's worth, he's been somewhat respectable at home - last week's passer rating against of 72.9 was his worst in his last three games at the Superdome. On the road, he has been much worse - giving up a passer rating against of 109.7 or higher most recently to Minnesota and Cincinnati.

Week 12: Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta)
Week 13: Cole Beasley (Dallas)
Week 14: Adam Humphries (Tampa Bay)
Week 15: Jarius Wright/D.J. Moore (Carolina)
Week 16: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh)

5. Janoris Jenkins, NY Giants (Passer Rating Against: 128.1)

One of the great unknowns entering any season is how proven players handle scheme changes. While Jenkins hasn't got much help from his pass rush (11 sacks), he hasn't come close to playing at the level in 2018 under new DC James Bettcher that he did in his first two seasons with the Giants under Steve Spagnuolo. "Jackrabbit" has been burned for seven touchdowns this season, including back-to-back two-score weeks against the Panthers and Eagles in Weeks 5-6. Quarterbacks have completed 73 percent of their 63 throws in his coverage for 626 yards, which is a clear indication he has not just been unlucky. Quarterbacks have posted a passer rating of 101.4 or higher against him in four of his last six outings. He has played 85 percent of his snaps at right cornerback, meaning he has not only struggled, but he also doesn't travel under Bettcher like he did last year.

Week 12: Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia)
Week 13: Taylor Gabriel (Chicago)
Week 14: Josh Doctson (Washington)
Week 15: Taywan Taylor (Tennessee)
Week 16: Ryan Grant/T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis)

4. Marcus Peters, LA Rams (Passer Rating Against: 129.0)

Peters began the season with two very good coverage games against the Raiders and Cardinals before injuring his hamstring in Week 3 against the Chargers. It has been all downhill since then, almost to the point where it seems all but certain a report will surface after the season that Peters is playing through some kind of major injury. The falloff has been dramatic since the injury, allowing three passer ratings of 155.8 or higher - unthinkable numbers for a "No. 1 corner." Among his lowlights: Seattle burned him for three touchdowns in Week 5 and Michael Thomas phoned in a 7-146-1 line on nine targets in Week 9. Although he's only yielded only Thomas' TD catch since the aforementioned Seahawks game, the Rams have had to resort to other tactics - such as Peters spending most of Monday night's shootout on Travis Kelce while Sam Shields and Troy Hill were forced to keep pace with Tyreek Hill - to keep him from hurting the defense. Peters is a big-play "gambler" more than a player who defensive coordinators want shadowing, making him something of a near-perfect complement for Aqib Talib, so it was a big deal when the former Bronco got hurt. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, but I tend to believe when Talib returns (Week 13 is the target date), we will see the Peters we expected (assuming his hamstring is actually 100 percent). With Talib tracking the opponent's top receiver moving forward, Peters' tendency to read the quarterback and jump routes will play better because he will, in theory, be guarding a player with less ability to burn him.

Week 12: bye
Week 13: Marvin Jones (Detroit)
Week 14: Taylor Gabriel (Chicago)
Week 15: Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia)
Week 16: Christian Kirk/Chad Williams (Arizona)

3. Chidobe Awuzie, Dallas (Passer Rating Against: 135.3)

Perhaps my eyes betrayed me last week when I mentioned Awuzie was playing well enough to make the Cowboys feel better about moving on from their veteran corners last offseason. That is not the case. The second-year corner gave up a perfect passer rating in Week 11 against the Falcons and has not posted a rating of lower than 80.4 all season. In fact, he's only kept it under 100 twice! It gets worse: Awuzie has allowed 76.9 percent of the 52 targets in his coverage to be completed. Only once have opponents not completed at least 60 percent of their passes in his coverage. The Cowboys play sides with their corners - Byron Jones has played 96 percent of his snaps on the right side and Awuzie has played 96 percent on the left side - so this is not a situation where owners can pick the No. 2 receiver from the opposing team in a given week and feel confident he will be a DFS superstar. What it does mean is that an opponent's top two receivers should line up across from him about 40 percent of the time. Regardless, fantasy owners should not avoid matchups with the Cowboys just because Jones is playing well. If a coordinator keeps his receivers on the move, they will avoid him often enough.

Week 12: Maurice Harris/Josh Doctson (Washington)
Week 13: Michael Thomas/Tre'Quan Smith (New Orleans)
Week 14: Alshon Jeffery/Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia)
Week 15: T.Y. Hilton/Ryan Grant (Indianapolis)
Week 16: DeSean Jackson/Mike Evans (Tampa Bay)

2. Malcolm Butler, Tennessee (Passer Rating Against: 136.4)

While Adoree' Jackson is clearly on his way to becoming a top cornerback in the league, things are going so poorly for Butler that he may be playing for his starting job in 2019 despite signing a five-year contract worth $61.25 million this past offseason. His performance has picked up over the last two weeks with respectable passer ratings allowed of 89.6 and 64.6, but that number was 95.8 or higher in seven of his first eight games. He has allowed 639 yards, seven touchdowns and a 71 percent completion rate. Such performances would be more understandable if he was working as a shadow opposite the greatest receivers in the game at the moment, but most of this production is coming with Jackson following those players. As one might suspect, offenses are attacking him; his receiver has been targeted at least nine times in three games this season. With Jackson shadowing on a regular basis, this is one matchup owners should be able to predict and feel confident their receiver is going to produce a respectable line more often than not.

Week 12: Demaryius Thomas/Keke Coutee (Houston)
Week 13: Rishard Matthews (NY Jets)
Week 14: D.J. Chark (Jacksonville)
Week 15: Sterling Shepard/Bennie Fowler (NY Giants)
Week 16: Maurice Harris (Washington)

1. Robert Alford, Atlanta (Passer Rating Against: 144.0)

Alford allowed a passer rating of 75.7 in Week 1 and again in Week 11. In between, anyone betting he would give up a touchdown in a given week was right 71.4 percent of the time. He has yielded 18.3 yards per reception so far and surrendered 204 yards after the catch. Opponents are completing 68.6 percent of their targets in his coverage and five of the 35 completions he has permitted have been for touchdowns. He has no interceptions and only one pass breakup (last week) since Week 4. Get all that? All this is made worse by the fact the Falcons are so bad at defending running backs in the passing game, which suggests quarterbacks are sometimes (often?) willing to forgo what should be a layup pass to a running back to throw a bit deeper and into Alford's coverage. As is seemingly the case with all coaches who called the shots at some point in Seattle's heyday as an elite Cover 3 defense, Atlanta does not move its corners very often, meaning Alford has spent 93 percent of his snaps this season on the right side. Much like Awuzie, owners aren't going to get a full-time matchup for their receiver with Alford. Thankfully for those owners, left cornerback Desmond Trufant's passer rating against is 100.2 and slot corner Brian Poole's is 108.1, so almost any decent receiver should have a solid day at the office if they see at least five to seven targets against Atlanta.

Week 12: Michael Thomas/Tre'Quan Smith (New Orleans)
Week 13: Michael Crabtree (Baltimore)
Week 14: Davante Adams (Green Bay)
Week 15: Christian Kirk (Arizona)
Week 16: Devin Funchess (Carolina)

Other notable corners who missed the list due to lack of coverage snaps or otherwise (passer rating against in parentheses: Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati (115.9); Casey Hayward, Pittsburgh (112.0); Bradley Roby, Denver (108.1); William Jackson, Cincinnati (107.6); James Bradberry, Carolina (107.2); Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans (106.0); Darius Slay, Detroit (103.4)

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.