“The Amateur Ward” Cornerback Rankings 2015 (1 of 2) (40-26)
Cornerbacks are often over-looked in fantasy circles as too many leagues use the DB distinction, instead of CB and S distinctions, but CBs are paramount in fantasy, as they are often the position that accounts for the most passes defensed. Top corners, or CB1s on NFL teams, often play left cornerback (LCB), and are regarded as “shutdown” corners or a team’s top corner, leaving the right cornerback (RCB) to accumulate more opportunities for passes defensed, tackles, and interceptions. After all, would you really want your team to challenge someone like Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, or Patrick Peterson consistently? When looking for cornerbacks for fantasy teams, look for those that are oft targeted due to poor cover skills, or playing opposite shutdown corners, as they will likely be the top corners in any league. These corners have low success rates against opposing receivers or have trouble finishing plays, making them the targets they are on defense.
40.) Dwayne Gratz (JAX)- Gratz is currently expected to back-up both cornerback positions (McCray and House) and the slot position (Colvin), but it is early in the preseason. I’ll make this easy, Gratz was absolute garbage last season when he started the first four weeks and the last nine weeks (thanks to an injury to Alan Ball, biceps), and will be thrown at constantly when he is on the field in 2015. When you give up an average of 10.2 yards/reception, good for third to last in the league last season, you deserve to be benched. The only thing keeping him on this list is the fact that Jaguars players have a tendency to go down like flies. He is still young enough to turn things around, but he has a long road ahead to claim a starting gig again. (Photo courtesy of jaguars.com)
39.) Antonio Cromartie (NYJ)- Cromartie is very talented, but very inconsistent. He had an atrocious 2013, when he allowed 937 yards and 7 touchdowns against him, good for 100.7 QBR versus. In 2014, after the Jets let him walk, he rebounded nicely with a four pick season in Arizona, but opposing QBs still posted a decent 74.9 QBR versus him. In 2015, he returns to New York and will line up opposite shutdown corner Darelle Revis. Cromartie is a talented corner, but his skills in coverage have been on the decline in his heydays. He should see a boost in value this season as opposing QBs will not throw to Revis Island’s side of the field as much, and know Cromartie can be beat deep and is a horrible tackler.
38.) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (NYG)- The trouble with DRC is not coverage ability, which is solid (opposing QBs completed 56.8% of passes versus him), but it is his ability to tackle and lack of physicality in the run game. He is an athletic, rangy corner who has the tools to be a shutdown corner, but his weaknesses hold him back. The Giants will be reliant upon him to be their top corner in coverage this season, as Amukamara (torn bicep) is returning and is a much better player in the run game and at tackling. Fantasy owners should be confident in starting Amukamara most weeks, but be careful starting him against run-heavy teams as his stats will suffer in those matchups.
37.) Tim Jennings (CHI)- Jennings’ struggles in 2014 were not totally his fault. After all, he was a Pro Bowl CB in 2012 and 2013 under Lovie Smith, but with the coaching change to Mel Tucker’s defensive scheme his numbered dipped and he had an astounding zero picks. Under Lovie Smith, the Bears were more defensively oriented, but under the defensive direction of Tucker, the team adopted a more offensive approach which curbed Jennings’ ability to make plays all over the field. To add insult to injury, Charles Tillman went down, forcing Jennings to play CB1 as opposed to inside, and Jennings struggled to make plays. Marc Trestman is out in Chicago and John Fox now gets his crack at fixing the Bears woes with new defensive coordinator Vic Fangino in charge of the defensive unit. Things should be looking up for Jennings, as the Bears look poised to return a more defensive-minded attack with a better DC now on board. It’s not a sure bet, but Jennings could return to Pro Bowl numbers, especially if Fangino lets him play as he was accustomed to under Smith. A worthy investment at a discount.
36.) Kareem Jackson (HOU)- Headed into free agency this year, it could be said that Jackson was the best corner available. This is masked by the fact that Jackson had played on some very questionable defenses, particularly against the pass, in Houston since being drafted in 2010, when Houston’s pass defense was simply beyond atrocious. It was one of the worst in NFL history and finished dead-last against the pass according to passing defense DVOA. Since then, Jackson has had two very solid seasons, finshing as a top-12 corner in 2012 (12th) and 2014 (7th), and two bad seasons where he finished 65th (2011) and 76th (2011) in terms of success rate and pass coverage. Houston got Jackson back, and fantasy owners should be intrigued by him as he is a solid, young, and versatile corner. Look for Houston to let him loose this season as their top corner. Enjoy the production as Jackson continues to improve. (Photo courtesy of footballoutsiders.com)
35.) Richard Sherman (SEA)- Sherman simply takes away one quadrant of the field when he takes his position at left cornerback. This is not just because he picks-off or defends passes so well on his side of the field, but also can come up and deliver huge hits. What this leads to is opposing teams lining up their top receivers on the offensive left side of the field, which for most right-handed QBs is throwing across the body, instead of simply downfield. This limits the depth QBs can get on the ball and gives secondary players more time to react. While there was a discussion of having Sherman always play across from a team’s best receiver, the Seahawks need to keep him on the left side, as it not only takes away one part of the field, but also forces opponents to throw short, or across the body deep. Those starting Sherman may have some quiet weeks, but he is also a playmaker who will rack up the interceptions and passes defensed on a nasty defense.
34.) Lardarius Webb (BAL)- Those leagues counting passes defensed will want to nab Webb because he’s going to be thrown at a ton and have a lot of passes completed versus him as teams shy away from Jimmy Smith. Once heralded as an emerging star at corner, Webb has lost a step in his game after his 2012 ACL tear. He hasn’t been the same since and has yet to show any semblance of the playmaking ability that he was once heralded for with his then-supreme athleticism. The Ravens may start to look elsewhere, unless Webb shows he can stay healthy this season and rebound from a bad eight passes defensed season. Playing opposite Smith will afford him many looks, but owners should realistically draft him then adopt a wait and see approach.
33.) Janoris Jenkins (STL)- Opposing offenses are going to pound passes at Jenkins because he is easy to pass against and cannot tackle. He missed 16 tackles last season; most among corners. A look at Jenkins’ 2013 stats show he was also easy to score on as he allowed 783 yards and seven scores against him. Most of this damage came from opposing teams making the big play against him as he is overly aggressive going for the ball and can be duped into committing too early. He is a ballhawk and he has shown flashes of tough covering abilities, but he spends most of his time lining up against WR2s, not WR1s, and rarely sees matchups one-on-one against the likes of Julio Jones or Dez Bryant. If you start Jenkins, you’re in for a hit or miss afternoon as he could limit opposing QBs to 30 yards or less, or get torched for big play scores against him.
32.) Orlando Scandrick (DAL)- For as bad as Dallas’ pass defense was last season, they had two silver linings in Scandrick and Moore, who were phenomenal when placed in pass coverage. Scandrick did not allow a touchdown against him all of last season and finished tenth in best cover corners from last season. With Moore gone, the Cowboys were smart to lock up Scandrick for at least one more season. They will be reliant upon his coverage play to improve as a pass unit in 2015. His targets will be fewer than cornerback Brandon Carr’s (hand) and rookie Byron Jones’, but he is still going to be a nice source of passes defensed and interceptions, as their opposition may want to stray away from their run defense which finished eighth in the league.
31.) Eric Rowe (PHI)- Rowe will be pressed into immediate action after the Eagles finished 31st in pass defense last season and lost pretty much all over their secondary, outside of Malcolm Jenkins, from last season. They also added former Seahawk ballhawk Byron Maxwell. Rowe’s only competition is Nate Carroll, who couldn’t beat out Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher for a starting gig. If Rowe wins the gig, he will be tested early and often as a rookie. Teams won’t want to test Maxwell, who is a plus defender against the pass, leaving Rowe in the firing lane. He is a good press coverage corner with good size (6’1″), ability to hit, and make passes difficult to corral, but he lacks elite speed in the deep game and does not recover well. He did not give up a touchdown against him his senior year Utah, but that may change in his first season with the Eagles. He is a sneaky play immediately given he can play man coverage and showed the ability to be physical at the point of the ball reaching receivers.
30.) Patrick Peterson (ARZ)- With Antonio Cromartie gone, Peterson will resume his role as Arizona’s top corner and fantasy owners should be paying attention. Peterson may have diabetes, but he dropped weight in the offseason and now seems poised to return to dominant form. His job will be to cover opponents’ top receivers, which could lead to an uptick from the three interceptions he had in 2013 and 2014 after a career high seven picks in his sophomore season in 2012. The key to Arizona’s pass defense is Peterson, and fantasy owners should be targeting him for his playmaking ability. (Photo courtesy of csnbayarea.com)
29.) Cortez Allen (PIT)- There are those questioning whether Allen deserves a starting gig, and I believe those doubters. After the 2014 was marred by injuries and underperformance, Allen’s starting corner spot is at risk. Already strapped for talent at the cornerback position following the departure of Brice McCain and retirement of Ike Taylor, Allen needs to step up or Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks could be in for a bad 2015. If the Steelers are committed to Gay and Allen as starting corners, then fantasy owners will want every part of Allen, as both should rack up targets and passes defensed given their horrible coverage abilities.
28.) Cary Williams (SEA)- Williams is merely a stop-gap corner on a one-year deal for the Seahawks, until they find a long-term solution for the departed Byron Maxwell. Statistically, Williams was bad in 2014, finishing with 70 completions against him on 118 targets and four scores. In Seattle, those numbers could worsen as ‘Hawk Sherman is opposite him and teams want nothing to do with him. From a defensive standpoint, do not expect Seattle to be as dominant as they were in the secondary last season as Maxwell is exponentially better than Williams in almost ever facet of coverage play, except when he had to change directions. Fantasy owners looking for targets and passes defensed should target Williams, as he is going to be picked on more than the schoolyard nerd come the regular season.
27.) Darius Slay (DET)- Slay went on record as to saying that the Lions defense was “on par with the Legion of Boom,” this offseason. Two words: Playoff success. Especially after losing arguably your best defensive lineman to Miami (Suh), you might want to hush your mouth, Slay. Big mouth aside, Slay could be a future stud at corner for the Lions after he graded out as the 19th best corner in 2014, and finished with seventeen passes defensed and two picks. Locked in as Detroit’s top corner, Slay could continue to contribute a solid tackle total for a corner and increase his pick total from 2014. Look for Slay to take strides in 2015 as a cover corner and bolster the Lions defense.
26.) Marcus Peters (KC)- Peters’ upside is vast, and the 2015 first round pick will be a Week 1 starter for the Chiefs opposite Sean Smith with Phillip Gaines in the slot. Peters has plus ball skills (3 picks in 9 games in 2014; 5 picks in 13 games in 2013) and press cover skills along with size, but has questionable off-field concerns as he was kicked off the Washington Huskies for clashing with coaches. If the Chiefs can work with him on calming his demeanor and off-field issues, they could have a steal on their hands and a very explosive, versatile corner for years to come, but he comes with risk. Fantasy owners should target him as he has elite ball skills and could rack up a decent number of interceptions.
Next week, we finish up our cornerback rankings with the top 25, as preseason gets revved up and rosters are cut to the 53 man rosters. Those will be a mix of high upside CBs as well as corners that are simply going to be thrown at every time teams get a chance because they are horrible in coverage.
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