Ten 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 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. Even in
an era where teams play zone defense more than 70 percent of the
time, it does not mean we cannot isolate the matchups that could
help or hinder our fantasy receivers the most.
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 300
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.
New this season: I have included the percentage
of snaps that each receiver lines up in the area that the cornerback
usually defends. In other words, if a cornerback plays primarily
lines up on the right side of the defense, the number to the side
of the receiver indicates how often he lines up on the left side
of the offense.
* Has logged 203 snaps at left cornerback and 238 at right cornerback.
Benford is coming off the highest-graded performance of his two-year
NFL career after forcing an incompletion on the one ball thrown
in his coverage last week against the Jets. Prior to that effort,
the 2022 sixth-round draft choice had allowed 20 of 25 passes
to be completed in his coverage over the previous six games. In
five of those contests, signal-callers posted a passer rating
of at least 100. On the plus side, the one touchdown he has given
up this season was a bit of a
fluky catch against Mike Evans on a Thursday night in Week
8. While he has done a decent job of preventing big plays - he
has held pass-catchers to 50 yards after the catch and given up
nothing longer than 37 yards - he also is not doing much to discourage
quarterbacks from targeting him (allowing a catch rate of 68.8
* Has played 214 of his 463 coverage snaps in the slot.
Washington's secondary has been a sieve for most of the year,
so it is mildly surprising that St-Juste is the only Commander
to make the cut this week. With that said, he has earned his spot
by ranking second among all cornerbacks with 631 receiving yards
allowed in his coverage. St-Juste, who has surrendered a touchdown
catch in every other game over the last six weeks, has been a
frequent target for quarterbacks since Week 5. Week 11 (against
the Giants) marked the first time over that stretch that St-Juste
was not targeted at least eight times. Predictably, St-Juste gave
up at least 80 yards four times over that same span. The University
of Minnesota product has not helped his cause by yielding 237
yards after the catch - the third-highest mark among cornerbacks
who qualify for this list - and committing seven penalties (only
two were accepted, however). To his credit, St-Juste ranks second
among cornerbacks with 11 pass breakups, although that number
is not surprising when we consider he is also the fourth-most
Week 12: CeeDee Lamb/Brandin Cooks (62-37) Week 13: Cedrick Wilson/Tyreek Hill (41-36) Week 14: bye Week 15: Cooper Kupp/Tutu Atwell (50-44) Week 16: Xavier Gipson/Garrett Wilson (55-30) Week 17: Jauan Jennings/Deebo Samuel (61-31)
* Has played 397 of his 451 cornerback snaps on the right side.
As a result of his early struggles and Joey Porter Jr. picking
up the pro game quickly, Wallace has fallen behind Patrick Peterson
and the rookie on the depth chart. The former Buffalo Bill made
the decision relatively easy on the coaching staff with his play
before Week 8, giving up four TD catches and an average of 68.8
receiving yards in his first six outings. Since his demotion,
Wallace has played more snaps on the left side (38) than the right
(32). As such, fantasy managers cannot target his matchup with
any faith he will be lining up on the right side barring an injury
to Porter or Peterson. It seems reasonable to believe Pittsburgh
will simply ask him to man whatever side the Steelers need him
in the event Porter or Peterson miss time.
Week 12: Tee Higgins/Ja'Marr Chase (40-38) Week 13: Marquise Brown/Michael Wilson (42-33) Week 14: Kayshon Boutte/JuJu Smith-Schuster (67-27) Week 15: Alec Pierce/Michael Pittman Jr. (50-34) Week 16: Tee Higgins/Ja'Marr Chase (40-38) Week 17: DK Metcalf/Tyler Lockett (59-20)-38)
* Has played 386 of his 558 cornerback snaps on the right side.
Bradberry finished last season allowing the third-lowest passer
rating among full-time cornerbacks at 54.2. To say he is having
a down year would be an understatement. Per PFF, he has not graded
out in coverage above 70.2 in any game this season after grading
out at 80.2 for the season in 2022. There are likely three possible
explanations, but only one provides hope he can turn his season
around. Perhaps he is feeling his age (30). Perhaps he is not
a great fit in DC Sean Desai's defense. (Jonathan Gannon left
to coach Arizona.) Or maybe he has been playing with an injury.
While he held up reasonably well against Kansas City in the team's
first post-bye game in Week 11, Bradberry entered the bye week
surrendering four touchdowns in the previous three contests. His
recent coverage grades suggest injuries may be the explanation,
as his worst four grades for the season have come over the last
four outings. On a better note, he is allowing only 55.4 percent
of the targets in his coverage to be completed, which ranks ninth
among cornerbacks who qualified for this list. He also ranks 22nd
in most yards allowed among cornerbacks who qualified for this
list with 374, so the six touchdowns he has surrendered are the
primary reason his passer rating against is so high.
Week 12: Gabe Davis/Stefon Diggs (42-31) Week 13: Brandon Aiyuk/Deebo Samuel (44-27) Week 14: Michael Gallup/Brandin Cooks (58-29) Week 15: DK Metcalf/Tyler Lockett (59-20) Week 16: Jalin Hyatt/Darius Slayton (53-28) Week 17: Marquise Brown/Michael Wilson (42-33)
* Has logged 419 of his 474 cornerback snaps on the right side.
Evans ended a rough start to the season with a quiet Week 10
against the Saints. (He missed Week 11 with a calf injury.) Over
his first nine games, Evans allowed 70.7 percent of the throws
in his coverage to be completed. While the yardage he has given
up has been relatively modest (319), he has not intercepted a
pass in 20 career games and recorded only five pass breakups on
64 targets (three on 42 targets this season). Such struggles are
not unexpected for a young cornerback who is a full-time player
for the first time in his NFL career, but the overall lack of
impact plays is mildly concerning - especially since DC Brian
Flores is sending a blitz on 47.1 percent of drop-backs. Simply
put, Evans is doing little to discourage quarterbacks from peppering
him with targets. Until Evans can make a big play or two, fantasy
managers should feel good any time one of their receivers lines
up on the left side of the offensive formation versus Minnesota.
* Has lined up in the slot on 282 of his 437 cornerback snaps.
Not since Desmond King in 2020 has a cornerback allowed an 87-percent
catch rate for a full season. That is exactly the territory Bryant
finds himself in after 10 games. He has only one pass breakup
on 46 targets. He recorded his first interception of the season
in Germany against the Colts in Week 10. Bryant's profile gets
even worse when we focus only on his slot snaps. He has given
up 27 catches on 30 targets for 259 yards and two touchdowns,
which is a somewhat remarkable line when we consider he did not
become the full-time slot corner for the Patriots until Week 6.
Perhaps the only reason Bryant does not find himself closer to
No. 1 is that he has only permitted three touchdowns. To be fair
to Bryant, a season-ending injury to Christian Gonzalez and the
release of Jack Jones has forced most of the Patriots' cornerbacks
into positions for which they are ill-suited. Suffice it to say
fantasy managers strongly consider firing up the primary slot
option for any team facing the Patriots for the rest of the season.
* Has lined up outside on 507 of his 523 cornerback snaps (233
on the left side, 274 on the right).
Stevenson appears to be recovering from his "Welcome to the NFL"
introduction over the first half of the season. Even though he
has not surrendered a touchdown catch in either of the last two
games, no cornerback has permitted more this season (seven). Only
one cornerback (Brandon Stephens, Ravens - 75) has been targeted
more often than Stevenson (73), which helps to explain why he
is tied for first in most catches allowed in his coverage (52).
Included in the first half of the season were games he was targeted
17, 13 and 10 times! Perhaps no Bear has appreciated the arrival
of DE Montez Sweat more than Stevenson, who has not been targeted
more than six times in any of the three games the ex-Commander
has played in Chicago. The 2023 second-round pick recorded his
first career interception in Week 11. Stevenson will continue
to be targeted at a high rate because he plays opposite Jaylon
Johnson, but he is a talented enough player who could start making
teams pay for picking on him later in the season.
Week 12: Jordan Addison/Justin Jefferson (73-68) Week 13: bye Week 14: Jameson Williams/Josh Reynolds (73-60) Week 15: Amari Cooper/Cedric Tillman (77-57) Week 16: Marquise Brown/Michael Wilson (80-72) Week 17: KhaDarel Hodge/Drake London (76-76)
* Has lined up outside on 504 of his 520 cornerback snaps (258
on the left side, 246 on the right).
Davis turned in arguing the best season of his career in 2022,
but he is well on his way to his worst in 2023. He has only graded
out well in coverage in one game this season (Week 8 against the
Bears and backup QB Tyson Bagent) and already allowed more yards
in his coverage (498) than he did all of last season (434). He
has given up six touchdowns - twice as many as last year - and
is coming off a game in which he surrendered a season-high 103
yards to a middle-of-the-road passing attack in Green Bay. Davis
has been targeted at least seven times in seven of 10 games and
given up at least one touchdown in four of them. Furthermore,
he has yet to pick off any of the 66 passes thrown into his coverage.
With DE Joey Bosa (foot) now on injured reserve with a foot sprain,
the Chargers' lackluster pressure rate of 20.1 percent figures
to drop even further, which opens the door for quarterbacks to
hold the ball longer and expose players like Davis even more.
With both of Los Angeles' perimeter corners (Asante Samuel Jr.
being the other) ranking inside the bottom 22 of passer rating
against this season and Bosa sidelined, fantasy managers can feel
good about starting their perimeter receivers against the Chargers
just about every week.
* Has lined up in the slot on 439 of his 446 cornerback snaps.
Johnson suffered a concussion in Week 11 that will likely sideline
him against the Eagles in Week 12 (Buffalo is on bye in Week 13.)
Much like last year when he graded out well in coverage but was
a frequent target for quarterbacks, his PFF coverage grade of
70.6 for the season does not come close to telling the full story.
The 27-year-old is allowing 81.8 percent of the throws in his
coverage to be completed. (He did not force his first incompletion
until Week 6!) Another troubling number: 194 of the 305 yards
he has given up have come after the catch. He does not have an
interception in 2023 - he has only four across five-plus NFL seasons
and no more than one in any year - and only one pass breakup on
44 targets. If there is a silver lining on his 2023 resume, it
might be that all three of the touchdowns he has yielded on the
season came in back-to-back weeks against the Patriots and Buccaneers
in Weeks 7-8. As the second Buffalo cornerback on this list, we
can conclude that most receivers worth considering in fantasy
should get a slight boost to their stock when they face the Bills.
* Has lined up in the slot on 339 of his 542 cornerback snaps.
Kohou was occasionally pressed into perimeter cornerback service
for the first seven weeks of the season as Jalen Ramsey was recovering
from his preseason knee injury. With that said, it has not mattered
much where he lines up because quarterbacks prefer not to challenge
Ramsey or Xavien Howard. It is not hard to understand why given
the following information: Kohou is allowing a catch rate of 83.9
percent in his coverage and has somewhat remarkably surrendered
a catch rate lower than 80 percent in only two games. He has yielded
four touchdowns versus no interceptions and two pass breakups
across 62 targets. He has surrendered 568 yards - fourth-most
in the league - including a league-high 253 after the catch. It
has been a drastic step back from his promising rookie season
in 2022 during which he allowed a catch rate of 65.4 percent and
a passer rating of 80.9. Although most fantasy managers already
know Howard and Ramsey are good, Kohou is struggling enough that
we should be encouraged anytime a receiver who spends most of
his time in the slot faces Miami.
* Has played 336 of his 422 cornerback snaps on the right side.
Dean has been on the injury report with a variety of injuries
as often as he has been absent from it this season, which seems
to be the most likely explanation as to how a cornerback who has
never given up a passer rating higher than 94.6 in any season
finds himself in the 130s. In three of his first four seasons,
Dean did not allow a catch rate higher than 52.4. This year, it
is at 68.9. He has already surrendered a career-high 448 yards
in his coverage, including a career-high 161 after the catch.
Dean had never given up a catch of longer than 53 yards in his
career until Brandon Aiyuk busted off a 76-yard touchdown in Week
11. The 27-year-old has already permitted four touchdowns in 304
coverage snaps in 2023 after he allowed six across 1,027 coverage
snaps over the previous two seasons combined. Last but not least,
he has been penalized four times this year after drawing only
one flag in 2022. Fantasy managers should continue targeting the
Bucs - and specifically Dean - for as long as they can, but history
tells us that the well could dry up quickly if Dean heals up and/or
regains his confidence.
* Has played for 448 of his 596 cornerback snaps on the right
Wilson appeared to be on the rise in 2022 after struggling -
as most rookies do - in 2021. He has noticeably regressed in his
first season under HC Jonathan Gannon and DC Nick Rallis, almost
to the point where he may not be in Arizona in 2024 for the final
season of his four-year rookie deal. As bad as it has been, it
could be even worse were it not for Week 9 against the Browns
in which he was not targeted on 30 throws from Deshaun Watson.
Wilson has surrendered a league-high 732 yards, including at least
73 in four games. He has yielded two two-touchdown games (Weeks
5 and 11) and five overall. Receivers have caught 78.5 percent
of their targets in his coverage. With zero interceptions and
only four pass breakups on 65 targets in his coverage AND little
reason to believe he is a capable NFL corner, fantasy managers
should jump at the opportunity to start receivers who figure to
see a lot of Wilson.
Week 12: Cooper Kupp/Tutu Atwell (38-35) Week 13: George Pickens/Diontae Johnson (43-36) Week 14: bye Week 15: Brandon Aiyuk/Deebo Samuel (44-27) Week 16: D.J. Moore/Tyler Scott (47-40) Week 17: DeVonta Smith/A.J. Brown (39-34)
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.