Daily 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 shadow corners around the league which we discuss weekly on the Edge Pod and elsewhere. A total of 11 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 11 CBs shadowed. I then compared the wide receiver’s production when shadowed to his average production in all other games to get a +/-.
Here are the results. The lower the number, the more dominant the corner was when asked to shadow.
1. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals: -5.65 pointsI’ve been doing this article since 2016. During that time, Peterson has finished third at -7.34, first at -6.25 and fourth at -2.78. He’s also been fifth, 14th, fifth and seventh in PFF’s coverage grades among all CBs during the last four seasons. So it was borderline insane for Steve Wilks to take Peterson out of his shadow role and make him a zone corner. It was only late in the year when Peterson shadowed again as he had majority coverage on Kenny Golladay (2-5-0), Julio Jones (6-82-1) and Brandin Cooks (3-35-0). Peterson also did a number on Stefon Diggs in October, holding him to 3-33-0. We could make a good case that when used properly, Peterson is the most valuable defender in the game.
So we can’t underestimate the impact Peterson’s six-game PED suspension will have on this Cardinals defense. They drafted Washington CB Byron Murphy with the first pick of the second round and added Robert Alford in free agency, but that’s not going to be anywhere close to enough of a replacement. Peterson likely would have seen majority coverage on Golladay, Marquise Brown, DJ Moore, Tyler Lockett, AJ Green and Julio Jones in the first six weeks. They would have been low-floor plays. Instead, those No. 1 wideouts will project very nicely – particularly as the Cardinals up their pace and throwing rate under new Air Raid coach Kliff Kingsbury.
2. James Bradberry, Panthers: -3.41Ron Rivera and DC Eric Washington quietly love to use Bradberry to shadow opposing No. 1s. He did it 11 times in 2018 with some impressive results. Jones (5-64-0 and 4-28-1), Mike Evans (1-16-0 and 4-48-0) and A.J. Green (5-58-0) all struggled against Bradberry and the Panthers. There were certainly some disasters as Odell Beckham Jr. hit Bradberry for 8-131-1 and Golladay got loose for 8-113-1. But overall, the 6’1″/212 lb. former second-round pick showed he’s capable of being a front-line starter as he enters his age-26 season. We can expect Bradberry to be utilized similarly to last season, which means two dates with Mike Evans in the first six weeks and two with Julio in the final seven weeks. It’s not a matchup I’m going to avoid at all costs, but it’s worth noting as a sneakily tougher spot than perceived.
3. Joe Haden, Steelers: -3.20The Steelers deployed Haden into shadow coverage just six times last season. He also only had 19 snaps in slot coverage all season. So Haden is not used as a true shadow corner, but he was asked to follow a couple of the league’s top wideouts on the perimeter. He played a big role in holding Jones to 5-62-0 in Week 5 as the Steelers rocked the Falcons. He also fared well against Green (7-85-0). It is worth noting that when the Steelers faced the Saints in New Orleans Week 16, Michael Thomas went off for 11-109-1 and Haden had him whenever he was on the outside. Haden is heading into a contract year at age 30 and is ticketed for a prime Week 1 duel against Patriots’ first-round rookie N’Keal Harry. It won’t be an easy debut for Harry from a matchup perspective.
4. Stephon Gilmore, Patriots: -2.86Gilmore quietly had a special year in 2018. He finished as PFF’s top-graded CB and had majority coverage on the following elite wideouts: DeAndre Hopkins (8-78-0), Davante Adams (6-40-1), Antonio Brown (4-49-1) and Diggs (5-49-0). Overall, the former No. 10 overall pick of the Bills shadowed in 13 of his 16 games and held his man under his season average in nine of those. The main reason his plus/minus doesn’t look even better here is the odd Week 10 whopping Corey Davis gave him. Davis, who averaged just 10.74 DK points in his other 2018 games, went off for 28.5 on a 7-125-1 line against the Patriots. That proved to be a fluke though – note that if we remove the Davis game, Gilmore’s plus/minus would have been -4.58. He’s not in the Patrick Peterson range, but Gilmore’s talent plus Bill Belichick’s ability to scheme makes it very difficult on opposing WR1s.
5. Casey Hayward, Chargers: -2.81Even without star pass-rusher Joey Bosa for nine games, Hayward shined again. He played a big role in the Chargers defense recovering from a slow start to finish 11th in yards per play allowed, eighth in overall defensive DVOA and 10th in pass defense DVOA. Note that Hayward finished third on this list in 2017 and fifth in 2016. He’s an underrated talent and a key cog of a 2019 Chargers defense which arguably boasts the most talent in the league. Bosa and Melvin Ingram rushing the edge combined with Hayward, slot CB Desmond King and SS Derwin James is an intimidating group for opposing pass games. Hayward’s highlights from 2018 included holding Amari Cooper to 1-10-0 and Davis to 3-10-0.
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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. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.