Ten 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 managers
who will avoid matchups they should not 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 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.
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 313 of his 319 perimeter snaps at left cornerback
and 295 in the slot.
Witherspoon has been just about everything Seattle hoped he would
be when the Seahawks made in the fifth overall pick last spring.
Since he was roughed up for 64 yards and a touchdown in his NFL
debut in Week 2, the rookie has yielded only two scores and an
average of 22.9 yards in the following nine games. Witherspoon
has not been a shutdown corner by any means - he has allowed 13
of 20 targets to be completed in his coverage for two touchdowns
over the last four contests - but quarterbacks are only completing
50.9 percent of their throws in his direction for the season.
Perhaps the best part of his game is that he has already emerged
as the primary slot defender for Seattle. Among cornerbacks who
have played at least 150 snaps in the slot, Witherspoon ranks
second in passer rating allowed, which is a big deal when we consider
that means he has lined up opposite players such as Adam Thielen,
Ja'Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp and come away looking good. Given
his pedigree as the best all-around corner in this most recent
draft class, Witherspoon will likely only get better as the season
* Has logged 492 of his 591 cornerback snaps on the left side.
Witherspoon was available in free agency well into the summer,
eventually signing a one-year deal with the Rams on June 29 to
serve mostly as a veteran presence for a young secondary. As it
turns out, he may be playing himself into a big contract. It has
not always been a smooth ride, however, as he rebounded from one
of his worst games of the season in Week 11 (3-59-1 on five targets)
with his best of the season in Week 12 (2-23-0 and three pass
breakups on seven targets). Witherspoon is only allowing 48.2
percent of the passes in his coverage to be caught - a mark that
ranks second among the cornerbacks who qualified for this list.
He is also doing a fine job of limiting the damage when those
targets are caught, as he ranks 11th in yards allowed after the
catch with 99. Along with the man in the previous section (Devon
Witherspoon), Ahkello is the only other player on this list who
has surrendered at least three scores, so it is not as if he needs
to be avoided in matchups (Dallas Goedert, Brandin Cooks and DK
Metcalf are the players who have scored against him). He is best
viewed as a poor matchup against middling receivers who line up
on the right side of the offensive formation, but he is not a
scary matchup for most of the receivers we consider to be top
25-30 options in fantasy.
* Has logged 576 of his 604 cornerback snaps on the left side.
If not for a Week 2 against the Rams in which he gave up 10 catches
on 11 targets for 88 yards, Ward might be in play for No. 1 on
this list. In the team's other 10 games, he has permitted only
29 catches on 59 targets (49.2 percent). The two touchdowns he
has surrendered this season were even a bit fluky, as Jordan Addison
ripped what could have easily been an interception in Week 7 and
Andrei Iosivas scored on a play in which it appeared most of San
Francisco's defense stopped prematurely on a play in the red zone
the following week. Other than those two blemishes, Ward has held
up very well despite being the seventh-most targeted corner in
the league (70). He has two interceptions and ranks second in
the league with 12 pass breakups - including eight in the last
four games alone - although it is worth mentioning he is also
tied for second in the league with three dropped interceptions.
While Ward does not move off his LCB spot much, opponents are
not getting much relief targeting RCB Deommodore Lenoir (86.6
passer rating allowed, zero TDs allowed). Either way, most receivers
are likely in for a long day on the right side of the offensive
formation when they face the 49ers.
Week 13: A.J. Brown/DeVonta Smith (42-37) Week 14: Tyler Lockett/DK Metcalf (47-25) Week 15: Michael Wilson/Marquise Brown (39-38) Week 16: Odell Beckham Jr./Zay Flowers (42-34) Week 17: Terry McLaurin/Jahan Dotson (44-29))
* Has logged 601 snaps of his 742 cornerback snaps on the right
Stephens has the distinction of being the most targeted defender
in the NFL through 12 weeks (83 targets). He is allowing a catch
on 60.2 percent of those targets, which should raise an eyebrow
as to why he is on this list and not on last week's countdown.
It is a good question with a relatively simple answer: he has
given up only one touchdown and 10.1 yards per catch - a mark
that is tied for 12th among the cornerbacks who qualified for
this list. Before running into the Keenan Allen buzz saw last
week (five catches on five targets for 50 yards), Stephens was
finally starting to see less action than he did throughout September
and October. Over the previous three games, the SMU product had
surrendered only five receptions on 11 targets for 37 yards and
a touchdown. To his credit, Week 12 also marked the first time
he allowed a completion rate higher than 55.6 percent in his coverage
since Week 4. With the pass-rush success Baltimore is enjoying
AND Marlon Humphrey playing at his usual high standard, Stephens
can probably expect to remain the most targeted corner in the
league. Fantasy managers do not necessarily have to avoid playing
receivers that line up primarily on the left side of the offensive
formation just because Stephens is usually there, but the Ravens'
pass rush and defensive scheme make starting any non-elite receiver
against them difficult.
Week 13: bye Week 14: Tutu Atwell/Cooper Kupp (36-32) Week 15: Calvin Ridley/Zay Jones (43-34) Week 16: Brandon Aiyuk/Deebo Samuel (43-28) Week 17: Jaylen Waddle/Tyreek Hill (39-28)
* Has logged 484 of his 605 cornerback snaps in the slot.
Moore is a great example of how things can change drastically
for defenders from one year to another, even if the coordinator
and/or scheme remain the same. At this same point last year, Moore
was No. 2 on The Delicious
Dozen with a 123.6 passer rating allowed. Some parts of his
profile have not changed, such as a high catch rate (76.3 percent
and 255 yards after the catch in both seasons). The biggest difference
might be that he did not start slow in 2023. Moore surrendered
touchdowns in each of his first three games and four overall in
2022, but he has yet to give one up in 2023. He also failed to
pick off a pass last season but has three this year. As one might
be able to imagine for a player who has surrendered a catch on
three of every four targets in his coverage, he has just one pass
breakup for the season. If it was not already obvious, fantasy
managers with receivers who see a lot of action in the slot do
not need to fear Moore. What they do need to understand is that
Moore has surrendered just one TD in his coverage over his last
Week 13: Nick Westbrook-Ikhine/Chris Moore (51-24) Week 14: Tyler Boyd/Ja'Marr Chase (86-25) Week 15: Allen Robinson/Diontae Johnson (73-20) Week 16: Scott Miller/Van Jefferson/Drake London (48-47-25) Week 17: Hunter Renfrow/Jakobi Meyers (92-24)
* Has logged 228 snaps at left cornerback and 244 at right cornerback.
Taylor-Britt has allowed the most yards in his coverage (514)
of any player on this list despite missing Week 12 with a quad
injury, surrendering at least 60 yards in six of 10 outings. Interestingly,
no cornerback who qualified for this list is targeted further
down the field (16.9 - 1.1 yards more than second-place Ahkello
Witherspoon). The primary reasons he appears on this list are
his four interceptions and a catch rate allowed of 55.8 percent.
Likely due in part to his targets being more down the field than
other corners, he has only yielded 118 yards after the catch.
While it is notable that his four picks this season have all come
in the last six games, it is also important to point out that
both of the touchdowns and four of the six biggest yardage totals
for the season have as well. Considering he has not been targeted
all that much relative to other high snap corners (52 targets
ranks 29th among corners who qualified for this list), it may
not take long for quarterbacks to test their luck with him more
often despite his obvious playmaking ability. With Chidobe Awuzie
struggling in 2023, D.J. Turner still proving himself and Taylor-Britt
being a bit reliant on the big play, fantasy managers do not need
to avoid the Cincinnati secondary.
Week 13: Calvin Ridley (40-43 right-left)/Zay
Jones (36-34 right-left)
Week 14: Michael Pittman Jr. (37-34 right-left)/Alec
Pierce (39-48 (right-left)
Week 15: Jordan Addison (43-32 right-left)/Justin
Jefferson (31-44 right-left)
Week 16: Diontae Johnson (43-37 right-left)/George
Pickens (43-43 right-left)
* Has logged 390 snaps at left cornerback and 242 at right cornerback.
Jacksonville entered the season not knowing what it could count
on at cornerback after Tyson Campbell. It turns out Williams has
been the stalwart of the position group thus far while Campbell
has struggled with injuries. Williams was mercilessly picked on
by the Bills in Week 5 (10 catches on 13 targets for 165 yards)
but that game is responsible for 27.8 percent of the receptions
he has allowed, 21.7 percent of the time quarterbacks have thrown
his way and 34.7 percent of the yards he has given up. In the
last three weeks, he has only been targeted seven times. Even
with the Buffalo game included, he has yielded more than 38 yards
in just three games. He ranks 14th among qualified corners with
106 yards allowed after the catch, which is not bad considering
Williams' size (5-9, 187) has long been considered one of his
biggest liabilities. Perhaps the best part of his resume is that
he gets his hands on the ball. In addition to his three interceptions,
he leads the league with 13 pass breakups. As good as that sounds,
he also leads the league with four dropped interceptions. Williams
should not be considered a scary matchup for fantasy managers
- although it would be hard to target his matchup with how often
he moves around - but it seems clear receivers probably are not
going to have a big day as a result of being in his coverage.
Week 13: Tee Higgins (44-39 right-left)/Ja'Marr Chase (35-39
right-left) Week 14: Amari Cooper (35-40 right-left)/Cedric Tillman (31-27
right-left) Week 15: Odell Beckham Jr. (43-45)/Zay Flowers (33-32 right-left) Week 16: Chris Godwin (45-20 right-left)/Mike Evans (23-49 right-left) Week 17: Jonathan Mingo (39-30 right-left)/DJ Chark (37-31 right-left)
* Has logged 344 snaps at left cornerback and 258 at right cornerback.
Sneed may finally be on the verge of getting his due as one of
the league's top corners in his fourth season. Even after a game
in which he lined up mostly against Davante Adams (four catches
for 66 yards on six targets in their individual matchup and seven
catches on 10 targets for 90 yards against every Raider pass-catcher),
the 2020 fourth-round draft choice has surrendered a mere 36 catches
for 342 yards and zero touchdowns on 56 targets in his coverage.
Prior to Week 12, he had permitted only 67 yards over the last
five games combined. He isn't giving up many free yards either;
Week 12 (41) was the first time all season players in his coverage
produced more than 21 yards after the catch. Sneed has done this
despite following the other team's best receiver on occasion.
For the season, quarterbacks are completing only 57.1 percent
of their throws in his coverage. Sneed may be the first player
on this list that fantasy managers should do their best to avoid
with their non-elite options. Even the elite wideouts (Tyreek
Hill and Jaylen Waddle failed to catch any of their three targets
against him in Week 9 and A.J. Brown settled for one catch and
eight yards on four targets against him in Week 11, for example)
need to be downgraded.
Week 13: Christian Watson (39-26 right-left)/Romeo
Doubs (38-47 right-left)
Week 14: Stefon Diggs (36-33 right-left)/Gabe
Davis (40-43 right-left)
* Has logged 496 of his 516 cornerback snaps on the right side.
As impressive as Emerson's rookie season was in 2022, he is playing
at a higher level in 2023. The Mississippi State product is yielding
a catch rate of 44.2 percent in his coverage and has yet to give
up a touchdown after allowing four last season. Only once has
he permitted more than three catches in a game, which has resulted
in him giving up 19 for the season - the lowest number for any
cornerback who qualified for this list. The 323 yards Emerson
has surrendered in his coverage ranks 10th in that same group,
while his 95 yards allowed after the catch ranks 10th. Just as
impressive is the fact he has been targeted only 43 times in 11
games - seventh among qualifying corners - which is eight fewer
than highly touted teammate Denzel Ward, who has played one less
game and logged 44 fewer coverage snaps. Considering the rest
of the league stopped attacking him after DK Metcalf mustered
only four catches on 10 targets for 58 yards against him in Week
8, fantasy managers should probably avoid his primary matchup
as well moving forward.
* Has logged 501 of his 536 cornerback snaps on the left side.
One season after allowing quarterbacks to post a 123.6 passer
rating on 69 throws in his coverage, Adebo has been considerably
better this year - especially since Week 7. He has been good for
an average of one pass breakup per week over that five-game span,
which is the same period of time in which he has recorded three
of his four interceptions for the season. The former third-round
pick ranks 12th among qualified cornerbacks in fewest yards allowed
(331) and is tied for sixth in fewest yards allowed after the
catch (93). He is also one of only seven qualified corners who
has yet to give up a touchdown, joining Sneed, Moore and Emerson
as the players from this list who have achieved that feat. Opponents
have enjoyed a bit more success against him of late, however,
as pass-catchers have hauled in 12 of 16 targets over the last
three contests. Considering Tyson Bagent, Joshua Dobbs and Desmond
Ridder were the quarterbacks that New Orleans faced in those games,
perhaps Adebo is a bit too high on this list. While fantasy managers
do not need to go overboard in avoiding Adebo's primary matchup,
it is fair to wonder if at least a couple of the Saints' upcoming
opponents (Panthers in Week 14, Giants in Week 15) have the personnel
to challenge him.
Week 13: Josh Reynolds/Jameson Williams (32-30) Week 14: Jonathan Mingo/DJ Chark (39-37) Week 15: Jalin Hyatt/Darius Slayton (40-39) Week 16: Puka Nacua/Tutu Atwell (44-22) Week 17: Chris Godwin/Mike Evans (45-23)
* Has logged 284 snaps at left cornerback and 258 at right cornerback.
Even though his year-end totals from his first three seasons
do not show it, Johnson has dabbled with greatness on what has
been a bad defense throughout his NFL career. Although it figures
to be another non-playoff year for the Bears in 2023, the 24-year-old
may be on the verge of being recognized as one of the best at
his position in the league. He has not surrendered more than three
catches in his coverage during a game all season long. Johnson
has not given up more than 22 yards in his coverage since Week
2 and has surrendered a league-low (among qualified corners) 162
for the season. Since that Week 2 outing, Johnson has permitted
only 16 catches on 32 targets for 88 yards and one touchdown versus
three interceptions. Quarterbacks are completing only 50 percent
of their passes in his coverage. Of the 40 targets he has faced,
only one of them resulted in a play of more than 16 yards. Johnson
already has a career-high three interceptions. While it will be
hard to predict who his primary matchup will be from week to week,
Johnson is now a cornerback that fantasy managers should try to
Week 13: bye
Week 14: Josh Reynolds (32-29 right-left)/Jameson
Williams (30-36 right-left)
Week 15: Amari Cooper (35-40 right-left)/Cedric
Tillman (31-27 right-left)
Week 16: Marquise Brown (38-42 right/left)/Michael
Wilson (39-33 right-left)
Week 17: Drake London (29-46 right/left)/Van
Jefferson (27-26 right-left)
* Has logged 467 of his 470 perimeter snaps at right cornerback.
There is a good chance by now most of America is familiar with
Bland's handiwork. He has already returned a league-record five
of his league-high seven interceptions for touchdowns. Perhaps
the most fascinating part of his emergence is that he started
the season as the team's primary slot corner before Trevon Diggs
tore his ACL in practice before the team's Week 3 game. Bland
has tallied four of his picks over the last five games, three
of which he has returned for a score. With that said, he is far
from a "lucky guy." Quarterbacks are only completing
52.5 percent of their throws in his coverage, while nearly a third
of the yards he has allowed (122 of 353) came in the team's Thanksgiving
Day rout of the Commanders. Bland also comes with the incredibly
rare distinction of having more than twice as many yards after
the catch (interception return yards) than the men he has guarded
(209-102). As a result of playing opposite Stephon Gilmore, quarterbacks
will likely continue trying their luck with Bland until Gilmore
shows signs of a decline. The great thing for Bland is that he
should be able to continue playing aggressively since Dallas'
pass rush removes much of the fear of getting beat deep. Bland
(and Gilmore, for that matter) is not an avoid-at-all-costs matchup
for managers, but there is little to no chance of a ceiling outcome
for receivers facing the Cowboys' defense this season.
Week 13: DK Metcalf/Tyler Lockett (59-19) Week 14: DeVonta Smith/A.J. Brown (37-36) Week 15: Gabe Davis/Stefon Diggs (43-33) Week 16: Jaylen Waddle/Tyreek Hill (39-28) Week 17: Jameson Williams/Josh Reynolds (36-29)
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.