DraftKings fantasy football is a game of matchups. Our weekly projections for offensive players are based not only on talent and opportunity but also on who they’ll be lined up against.
Throughout the season, we look closely at WR vs. CB matchups. It’s often difficult as many teams play zone, partial zones, leave corners on one side, don’t send corners into the slot and rotate defensive backs. That said, there are a fistful of true shadow corners around the league which we discuss weekly on the Edge Pod and elsewhere. Nine different defensive backs shadowed in at least five games last year.
That made me wonder exactly how much these shadow corners impact the fantasy lines of wide receivers. So with the help of Jeff Ratcliffe and ProFootballFocus, I looked at the games in which these nine CBs shadowed. I then compared the wide receiver’s production when shadowed to his average production in all other games to get a +/-. Note that in three cases (Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman and Josh Norman), we had two straight seasons with at least five games shadowing. In those cases, I used the larger sample size of both seasons.
Here are the results. The lower the number, the more dominant the corner was when asked to shadow.
*This is Part 1, looking at the five most effective shadow corners. Part 2, out next week, will look at the bottom four.
1. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals: -6.25 points
It’s difficult to overstate Peterson’s dominance across the last two seasons. He’s held EVERY wideout he had majority coverage on under their season average in terms of DraftKings points per game. That’s a total of 20 straight matchups Peterson has won when shadowing. It includes Julio Jones (4-35-0), Stefon Diggs (6-37-0), Brandon Marshall (3-70-0) and Mike Evans (6-70-1) last season. The hit list also includes Diggs (2-12-0), A.J. Green (4-79-0), Antonio Brown (3-24-0) and Calvin Johnson (5-67-0) in 2015. The bottom line is no one has shadowed more and no one has had more success over the last two years.
It’s important to note that Peterson does not travel into the slot – he lined up there on just 71 of his 1,035 snaps last year (6.8%), via PFF. So we know that an opponent’s top outside receiver will rarely be open thanks to Peterson, therefore funneling targets inside. We also know Peterson won’t be inside, raising the expected effectiveness of slot receivers. For example, Seahawks’ slot man Doug Baldwin’s last four games against ARZ have resulted in 13-171-1, 6-69-0, 5-46-0 and 7-134-1.
2. Joe Haden, Browns: -5.76 points
Haden, the No. 7 overall pick back in 2010, has struggled badly with injuries over the last couple of years. Last season, he missed three games and was constantly on the injury report with a bad groin issue. But when out there and shadowing, Haden was awesome. He held DeSean Jackson to 1-5-0 in Week 4, Brandon Marshall to 4-68-0 in Week 8 and Antonio Brown to 8-76-0 in Week 11. He also kept Mike Wallace (4-59-0) and Brandon LaFell (3-22-0) under their season averages. After the season, Haden underwent groin surgery and is expected to complete a full healthy offseason leading up to training camp. His talents shouldn’t be underestimated despite playing for the Browns.
3. Casey Hayward, Chargers: -5.67 points
For the first month of the season, the Chargers used quietly special Jason Verrett to shadow opposing No. 1 wideouts (Jeremy Maclin, Allen Robinson, TY Hilton, Brandin Cooks). Then Verrett blew out his ACL, leaving the coaching staff to use Casey Hayward in the shadow role. Hayward, the 2012 second-round pick of the Packers, showed his ability by finishing sixth in PFF’s CB grades among 118 qualifiers. Highlights included dominating Mike Evans (3-38-0), Kelvin Benjamin (1-11-0) and Amari Cooper (1-28-0) down the stretch. If Verrett returns fully healthy, the Chargers will have the league’s best corner duo. And not too many people will realize it.
4. Janoris Jenkins, Giants: -4.81 points
Big-money free agent deals in the NFL often backfire, but not this one. The Giants signed Janoris Jenkins to a 5-year, $62.5M contract prior to last season and he responded by finishing as PFF’s No. 7 CB among 119 qualifiers. Jenkins didn’t shadow a ton (only five times) but did hold Dez Bryant to a combined 2-18-0 in two meetings. He also held A.J. Green (7-68-1) and Antonio Brown (6-54-1) in check. The trick here is figuring out when Jenkins will shadow, but we also need to be aware of how strong this Giants’ defense is. They ranked seventh in yards per play allowed last year, have since added DT Dalvin Tomlinson and should get a second-year leap from gifted CB Eli Apple.
5. Desmond Trufant, Falcons: -4.23 points
When the Falcons lost Trufant (torn pectoral) nine games into last season, a bad defense became atrocious. The front office knew it, signing Trufant to a five-year, $69M extension in April. That’s because Trufant has true shut-down ability all over the field – even sometimes going into the slot to battle with the likes of Doug Baldwin (4-31-0). He also kept Amari Cooper to 5-71-0, Brandin Cooks to 2-13-0 and Kelvin Benjamin to 3-39-1 last season. It’s tough not to attack a Falcons’ defense which ends up in so many shootouts and ranked 22nd in yards per play allowed last year, but Trufant’s man isn’t one to be too heavy on.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.