At ProFootballFocus we watch every snap of every game and use that data to gain an edge at fantasy football. One of the ways we use that information is to follow pre-snap wide receiver vs. cornerback positional alignments. This allows us to identify cornerbacks who are asked to shadow top receivers, rather than just arbitrarily assigning them the moniker of being a shutdown corner because of the perceived status and ability.
This subset of that data takes a cornerback’s allowed touchdowns and yardage over the course of the 2013 season and converts it into fantasy points allowed per snap.
Bottom 20 Cornerbacks (min. 800 snaps) – Fantasy Points Allowed per Snap
There are some surprising names on the list of easiest fantasy cornerbacks to throw on, at least from a pure talent perspective. Other players who have made the list are somewhat less surprising. The cornerback who tops the list for most fantasy points allowed per snap (FP/Sn), and earns the dubious honor of being the easiest corner to pass on in the league is Shareece Wright.
Wright certainly had an up and down season, from the lows of allowing three touchdowns in Week 10 when shadowing Demaryius Thomas, to coming back five weeks later and conceding none, and only 50 yards in the same matchup. Wright’s 0.139 FP/Sn is double the rate the toughest eight fantasy cornerbacks in the league allowed, so that gives you an idea of the disparity in performance against his peers.
His five shadow games (A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, DeSean Jackson, Mike Wallace and Cecil Shorts) and 45 percent of snaps spent on WR1s do show he was given tougher assignments than most NFL corners, but he simply did not deliver the performances that would have been expected from him. His problem wasn’t being responsible for allowing touchdowns (four all season) despite the poor game against Denver, rather it was his league worst 1.09 yards per snap allowed (min. 800 snaps) and 6.0 YAC/Rec (eighth worst) which best represents his struggles in 2013. I would say in Wright’s defense he was greatly improved down the stretch, and the Chargers seem committed to keeping him as the top cornerback for the upcoming season. He’ll be a fantasy matchup to monitor.
Perhaps the least surprising name on this list is Ike Taylor. Not in a condescending way, rather the fact that he was torched in back-to-back weeks by Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson for 328 yards and three touchdowns. Before that point in the season Taylor had been used extensively as a shadow cornerback (eight games), but it had now been made abundantly clear that he was no longer up to the task of manning up against the league’s very best receivers consistently in a one-on-one basis.
From that point onward in the season, the Steelers stayed away from asking him to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers. Taylor led all cornerbacks in yards allowed (1,043 yards) and his 0.98 yards allowed per snap was the second worst figure in the league, so add in the six touchdowns and 62.8 percent of passes completed (12th worst in the league) and you’ve got a very beatable matchup for fantasy purposes.
Considering his excellent 2012 season, Antonio Cromartie’s inclusion as one of the easiest fantasy cornerbacks to throw on is certainly a surprise. His 2012 campaign generated a 0.077 FP/Sn, good enough to put him in the 2013 season’s top 20, but conceding seven touchdowns and allowing an average of 19.1 yards per completion (worst in the league) made him a burnable target.
Although he only allowed over 100 yards in just one game last season, Cromartie gave up a pass of 40 yards or more on eight Sundays, which led to another league worst stat – his 8.1 YAC/Rec. There are some suggestions that his poor play was due to a nagging hip injury, but the end result was that the Jets allowed him to walk and eventually sign with the Cardinals, where he will be penciled in as a starter opposite Patrick Peterson.
Talking of Patrick Peterson, the much-hyped shutdown corner is another name many would not expect to find on this list. Allowing seven touchdowns last year caused Peterson to record a 0.100 FP/Sn and rank as the 14th easiest corner to throw on, and he has now been paired up with Cromartie who ranked as the fourth easiest at 0.124 FP/Sn. Flying in the face of public belief, it could be argued that this makes the Arizona corner duo the best matchup for fantasy purposes in the league. Perhaps the other NFC West teams might want to rethink their run-first offensive strategies?
Peterson will retain his role as the team’s primary shutdown corner (55 percent on WR1s) and will continue to be asked to shadow the opponent’s most dangerous threat (11 shadow games), while Cromartie should get a much easier coverage assignment seeing as he spent 41 percent of snaps on WR1s last year, and Peterson’s previous partner in crime, Jerruad Powers only spent 8 percent on WR1s. As with the developing trend in the NFL, starting safety Tyrann Matthieu will be given slot and nickel duties.
Another NFC West player to feature as a good matchup for your fantasy receivers is Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins. An outside corner and ballhawk with a tendency to break on routes and look for a big play, Jenkins can be susceptible to a double move and it shows – he allowed seven touchdowns last year. Typically lining up at RCB, he only played three games as a shadow corner last season (Julio Jones, Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith) but did spend 40 percent of snaps covering WR1s.
It could be argued his biggest problem was missed tackles (12), which led to his poor 6.6 YAC/Rec (fifth worst). Somewhat of an enigma, Jenkins had six games in 2013 when he allowed less than 30 yards, but had two games when he gave up 80-plus yard touchdowns. A boom or bust fantasy matchup, Jenkins is a corner who can be exploited by a smart route runner.
How the mighty have fallen. It wasn’t that long ago that Brandon Flowers’ name was mentioned in the same breath as the league’s best. In 2010 he graded out as PFF’s second best cornerback and allowed just one touchdown all season. Fast forward to 2013 and Flowers missed two games, still gave up five touchdowns, allowed 0.95 yards per snap (third worst) and his 66.7 percent pass completions allowed ranked him fifth worst in the league. The net result is that the Chiefs are reportedly looking to trade him.
In defense of Flowers, he is a special breed of shadow corner (five games) in the fact he played 50 percent of his snaps in the slot. The closest comparisons would be Kyle Arrington (seven shadow games, 55 percent slot) and William Gay (five shadow games, 43 percent slot) and both Arrington and Gay are more a product of the usage of the other cornerbacks on the roster (Talib in New England, Taylor in Pittsburgh), whereas Flowers, Kansas City’s top corner, is specifically given that role. As a result of the way he is used, Flowers sees extended playing time against smaller, faster receivers, running routes that get them open quickly. His shadow duties last season were on Dez Bryant, Cecil Shorts, DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker (twice). If Flowers sticks in K.C. for another year I’d expect a similar performance, which is a useful nugget of information for those playing daily fantasy games when speedy slot receivers play the Chiefs.
For me the most shocking name in this list was Lardarius Webb. Although coming back from a torn ACL that caused him to miss the majority of the 2012 season, Webb looked a shadow of his former self. His 2011 season saw him make eight interceptions and allow zero touchdowns on 102 targets (including playoffs), and he graded out as PFF’s fourth best corner in the regular season. Last year, however, Webb struggled mightily. Missing 16 tackles led to a 6.8 YAC/Rec (second worst) and 0.89 yards allowed per snap (fifth worst), while he also gave up three touchdowns and snagged only two interceptions.
The most intriguing part of his season was his usage; he played no games as a shadow cornerback, which in itself isn’t overly surprising, but instead it was a mid-season role change that had me head scratching. He typically played at LCB early in the season, but from Week 10 onward he was essentially the primary slot cornerback, while Corey Graham (traditionally the Ravens slot/nickel corner in recent seasons) was given the LCB role. It’s a quirk I’ll be interested to see if it is repeated in 2014 as Webb threw down a marker in 2011 that put him in a bracket with the likes of Joe Haden, Brent Grimes and the other top cornerbacks hanging onto the coattails of Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis.
I’m not going to throw DeAngelo Hall under the bus for making this list. I covered him fairly extensively in the first article in this series, Shadow Cornerbacks – The Big Four. Hall will always be a beatable cornerback who over-hypes his own game, however, there is only a small handful of cornerbacks in the league that could have faced down his slate of matchups last season and not made this list.
A few mentions of players under 800 snaps that were very good matchups for fantasy purposes would include several 2013 rookies, notably Darius Slay (0.192 FP/Sn), D.J. Hayden (0.158) and Dee Milliner (0.159). While it’s no surprise that rookie cornerbacks make for exploitable options, this trio account for the first, second and fifth selected corners from the 2013 draft. I should also mention that the Xavier Rhodes (fourth taken in 2013) and Dwayne Gratz (10th) made honorable mentions in the toughest corners to throw on article.
Another two names to note would be Charles Tillman (0.185) and Cortland Finnegan (0.162) – tough, veteran corners with lofty reputations who both struggled last season. Finnegan played just nine games, lining up in the slot on 61 percent of snaps, and allowed four touchdowns, 0.96 yards per snap and a woeful 76.5 percent passes completed. He was released by the Rams and picked up by the Dolphins, where he is currently listed as their No. 2. Tillman played only 438 snaps over eight games last season but still allowed seven touchdowns. He also gave up 0.89 yards per snap, but did still show his playmaking ability with three interceptions.
The other articles in this series can be found below: