The worst performing cornerback unit in the NFC West comfortably belonged to the Cardinals. They were the worst for several reasons, mainly their poor play against the run (-4.7), pass (-9.8) and penchant for giving up penalties (16). They were prone to boom or bust plays however as they led the division in stops (50) and interceptions (7) despite their negative gradings. Unsurprisingly Steve Spagnuolo’s pressure heavy defensive meant the Rams trio was the most effective at rushing the passer (+2.7). In fact if it wasn’t for their penalties (14), they would have comfortably been the best unit having conceded the fewest TDs (7) and lowest passer rating (79.2). Seattle’s unit had mixed success. It had the fewest missed tackles (11) but least stops (24), most pass deflections (26) but most TDs allowed (14). They also had the fewest interceptions (2). The 49ers corners have the profile of allowing easy, short completions; they gave up the shortest average catch (11.8yds), the highest completion percentage (69.5) and shortest ‘long catch’ (58 yards).
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The overwhelming factor in the unit’s poor gradings was Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He only had three games all year with positive ratings and two were when he had a pick-6, the other was only +0.4. He also led the division with 8 penalties and was second for missed tackles (12). He is however an IDP must have for all of those reasons as he will continue to be targeted by opposing quarterback when he lines up against their #1 wide receiver. He also has that big play capacity as shown by returning 2 of his 3 interceptions for touchdown. Greg Toler was a waiver wire pick-up in many leagues this year and should be a solid contributor to fantasy teams again next year. He led the NFC West in solo tackles (79) and was second for stops (25). His sub 60% completion allowance marks him out as better than both Rodgers-Cromartie and Adams so expect his number of targets (95) to decrease, but his sure tackling will keep him fantasy relevant.
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Like the Cardinals, Seattle’s low grading stems from one player’s, in this case Marcus Trufant’s, poor play. He was the worst in the division in coverage (-10.3) allowing 6 TDs and a 103.3 passer rating. He also allowed the second longest catch in the division (67 yards) and the worst total yards (884) and third worst average catch (14.2 yds) figures. He is still Seattle’s #1 corner so will face tough match-ups each week and his mediocre performances make keep him fantasy relevant, although they’ll be more productive alternatives. Kelly Jenning’s PFF gradings mark him out as having played at a higher level than Trufant, but he still allowed 6 TDs and a 105.9 passer rating. Whereas poor coverage skills can result in high tackle numbers and make a cornerback a viable fantasy play, Jennings only averaged 2.7 tackles a game.
San Francisco 49ers
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Nate Clements was comfortably the best corner in the NFC West in 2010 with a +9.9 rating. He was the best against the run (+7.0) and second best in coverage (+2.6). He notched up a division leading 30 stops but also allowed the most YAC (368) and a 64.5% completion rate. He was a top fantasy performer with 3 interceptions, a sack and 81 total tackles tackles. Expect him to produce similarly next season as his production level was on par for the rest of his career. Shawntae Spencer was a permanent starter opposite Clements (1048 snaps) but his substandard level of play was only exceeded by Rodgers-Cromartie and Trufant (-7.9). Allowing the worst completion rate for a starter in the division (70.1%) and missing the most tackles (14) it wouldn’t surprise me if new head coach John Harbaugh looked for a replacement next season. Nicklel corner Tarell Brown’s futility is evidenced by allowing a 106.7 passer rating and 73.4% completion rate. He might also find himself replaced.
St. Louis Rams
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Rams #1 Ron Bartell was the best shutdown corner in the division with a +4.5 grading in coverage and allowing only a 75.9 passer rating, only beaten by his team-mate Bradley Fletcher (67.4). He also only allowed a 52.1% completion rate which again, was only beaten by Fletcher (51.2%). His main weakness was the fact he didn’t get a single interception in 2010, but on the opposite side Fletcher grabbed a division leading four. Being a good cover corner normally restricts a players fantasy value and Bartell is no exception as he only averaged 3.7 tackles a game. Fletcher’s turnovers were supplemented by 4.3 tackles a game which made him a spot starter this season. Kevin Dockery’s value came only as a nickel blitzer (5 QB pressures) so expect the Rams to look to upgrade this unit in the offseason which could see Fletcher’s role reduced to playing Dockery’s role if they get the right man. If not, Fletcher has value on your roster, but Bartell and Dockery don’t.