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. It does not take into account the talent level of the player being covered, although it may be commented on in the notes.
Top 20 Cornerbacks (min. 800 snaps) – Fantasy Points Allowed per Snap
|2||Chris Harris Jr.||DEN||1059||0.059||62.1||561||1||3||32%||15%||25%||17%||60%|
It’s somewhat reassuring to our generally held convictions to see that the current No. 1 cornerback in the league, at least according to prevailing perceptions, Richard Sherman, sits atop our rankings. Having just signed a new contract to become one of the highest paid corners in the game, it’s easy to see why the Seahawks were prepared to stump up the cash when we look closer at his metrics.
Sherman ranked in the top 10 (min. 800 snaps) in three key categories; his 0.42 yards allowed per snap was a figure only bested by Darrelle Revis, and his 3.7 YAC/snap ranked as the 10th best figure in the league, while his 51.7 percent pass completions allowed ranked eighth.
Sherman also allowed only two touchdowns all year (T.Y. Hilton and Jarius Wright), which helped propel him to his 0.054 fantasy points allowed per snap (FP/Sn), which placed him atop our rankings. The one caveat with Sherman would be that his coverage responsibilities in the Seattle system keep him almost exclusively at LCB, so his time spent covering WR1s was only 27 percent. A total of 31 of the league’s cornerbacks playing 800-plus snaps spent a higher percentage of their playing time covering an opponent’s top wideout than Sherman.
It is also of interest that Sherman’s 2013 Seattle teammates Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell, who all played under 500 snaps and have not been included in the data above, ranked in the top 12 for FP/Sn for corners playing under 800 snaps. Thurmond’s (0.053) ranked him No. 1 and he’ll be a welcome addition for the New York Giants alongside Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this coming season in a secondary that has been a weak point for the franchise in recent seasons.
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Brent Grimes and it’s not a surprise to see him make this list, although his cracking the top five has a lot to do with the fact he didn’t allow a single touchdown last season. Grimes didn’t rank in the top 10 for several key fantasy-related metrics (pass completion percentage, yards per snap, YAC per snap) but the bend-but-don’t-break strategy employed by the Dolphins defensive back served him well. In fact Grimes has only allowed two touchdowns in his last 34 games, highlighting just how tough he is to score on, and something fantasy owners should heed moving forward.
Of course Darrelle Revis makes the list. He may have allowed four touchdowns last season, which is as many as he had given up in the three seasons prior to that combined, but he still showed he retains all his ability following his torn ACL in 2011 by leading the league in fewest yards per snap (0.41). Reinforcing the legitimacy of that statistic is his 49 percent of snaps covering WR1s and his Week 12 performance shadowing Calvin Johnson. He covered Johnson for 33-out-of-36 snaps in that game, holding him to three catches from four targets, for 44 yards and no scores.
Revis will have a new home in 2014 playing for Bill Belichick, alongside Alfonzo Dennard and the newly signed Brandon Browner. The Patriots defensive system should look to make full use of Revis’ shutdown ability. Last year’s No. 1 corner for the Patriots, Aqib Talib, was used as a shadow corner in 7-out-of-13 games he played, while his teammates Dennard (six), Kyle Arrington (seven) and Logan Ryan (three) all saw playing time in shadow roles too. Expect the return of Revis Island in 2014 and a re-ignition of the Sherman vs. Revis debate.
A player this study brought to my attention was Saints corner Keenan Lewis. Lewis was a 16-game starter for New Orleans last season but it wasn’t until Jabari Greer suffered a season-ending injury that he really grabbed my attention. His five games as a shadow corner, and 45 percent of snaps covering WR1s, showed the trust the coaching staff had in his abilities and he duly repaid that with his on-field performances.
Lewis’ 0.51 yards allowed per snap was a little off the aforementioned duo of Sherman and Revis, but was good enough to rank him as the third best cornerback (min. 800 snaps). He also allowed just three touchdowns all year despite having shadowed No. 1 receivers such as Dez Bryant, Roddy White, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith and Golden Tate. He also ranked as the top corner in the league for fewest missed tackles per target at 2.9 percent, having missed just two tackles all season, and as the top corner for YAC per reception at 2.9 yards. There has been plenty of media coverage about the Saints’ need for improvement at the cornerback spot, but personally I think they trust Lewis to be a large part of the answer.
Another underrated cornerback who will be looking to establish themselves further this coming season should be Leodis McKelvin. His teammate Stephon Gilmore is perceived to be the top corner in Buffalo, but it is McKelvin who spent a higher percentage of snaps on WR1s (43% vs 31%), while also performing better in numerous key metrics: pass completion percentage (46.1% vs 53.9%), yards allowed per snap (0.60 vs 0.88) and YAC per reception (3.6 vs 5.7).
McKelvin did allow more touchdowns (2 vs 1), but considering the 102 targets he faced over the course of the season, his 2.0 percent touchdowns per target is an excellent figure and good enough to rank sixth in the league (min. 800 snaps). As a result of all this McKelvin’s 0.073 FP/Sn placed him as the 12th-toughest corner to throw on for fantasy purposes in 2013.
Jason McCourty has been one of the top fantasy corners for IDP gamers for several seasons, but this data suggests he is also one of the tougher cornerbacks to throw on for fantasy purposes too. The fifth ranked of the six cornerbacks who covered WR1s for more than 40 percent of their snaps who made this top 20 list, McCourty played three shadow games last year, covering Andre Johnson twice and Demaryius Thomas once, showing that the Titans clearly favored his talent level over Alterraun Verner.
This was confirmed when Verner was allowed to depart in free agency this offseason for Tampa Bay. Interestingly, Verner allowed fewer fantasy points per snap than McCourty (0.068 vs 0.079), but McCourty was handed the tougher coverage duty more often than not, facing WR1s on 42% of snaps compared to Verner’s 28%.
I’d be remiss not to mention Joe Haden in an article about the best cornerbacks in the league (even for fantasy purposes), and despite the exceptionally tough coverage assignments Haden was handed week-on-week, he still makes this list on merit alone. Although he allowed six touchdowns, Haden was so good in other areas of the game he still scrapes in as the 20th-best corner in the league (min. 800 snaps) with 0.086 FP/Sn.
Haden faced off against WR1s for a ludicrous 65 percent of snaps and had shadow games against the likes of A.J. Green (twice), Torrey Smith (twice), Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Cecil Shorts, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and also split time on Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, so his 0.52 yards per snap (fifth best), 3.1 YAC/rec (second best) highlight how well Haden played in 2013.
To emphasize further the disparity in coverage assignments, the average percentage of the other 19 cornerbacks in the top 20 covering WR1s was just 31 percent, less than half of the snaps Haden spent on an opponent’s top receiver. The addition of rookie Justin Gilbert to the Browns roster, the first cornerback taken at pick No. 8 overall in the 2014 Draft, Cleveland has become one of the tougher teams to pass on in the NFL.
Some further names that need mentioning who fell beneath the 800-snap threshold include rookie Xavier Rhodes and newly signed New York Giant, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rhodes spent 31 percent covering WR1s and although he had zero interceptions did record 12 passes defensed on his 76 targets. His 0.074 FP/Sn was a shade worse than Leodis McKelvin, but better than Jason McCourty and with the return of Harrison Smith to that secondary should be even better in 2014.
Rodgers-Cromartie missed the 800-snap threshold by the narrowest of margins, having played 787 snaps. His 0.088 FP/Sn was comparable to Joe Haden, but there were a couple of areas for concern in his stat profile. Although clearly a ballhawk (his 19.1 percent PDI put him up with the league’s elite) and difficult to complete a pass on (his 44.1 percent passes completions allowed led the league for cornerbacks with a minimum 780 snaps), when he was beaten, he was beaten badly. His 15.1 yards allowed per reception was fifth worst and his 7.3 YAC/Rec was second worst, which suggests throwing on DRC was a boom-or-bust prospect.
The other articles in this series can be found below: