“The Amateur Ward:” Cornerback Rankings 25-1 (Part 2 of 2)
We will see some shut-down cornerback as I finish my cornerback rankings. Fantasy owners will know most of these names. However, you will want to pay particular attention to the last 15 or so, as they could make or break a playoff season. Cornerbacks may not be the most glamorous or points savvy position in fantasy, but they will propel or stray you away from a great season, so be sure to include one or two top names in your draft strategy.
25.) Jason Verrett (SDC)- Believe it or not, the Chargers are building a sneaky good pass defense, and Verrett will be a major factor going forward. The Chargers pass defense was gassed last season by opponents (only seven total interceptions), but that was in large part to starting corners Verrett and Flowers. With both healthy, it is not out of the question San Diego could have the best secondary in the AFC West. You can ignore his stature at 5’9″, he can cover because he is aggressive and smart when covering receivers. An analysis of his snaps from last season show that he was successful on 80% of his snaps against receivers and 83% when he played press, or five yards of the receiver he covered. If Verrett can stay healthy this season, he could be in for a very solid season and finish higher than this ranking. He has the making of a potential perennial ballhawk. (Photo courtesy of profootballfocus.com)
24.) Brent Grimes (MIA)- Man, what could have been; Vontae Davis and Grimes in the same secondary waiting to pick passes off. It didn’t happen, because former GM Jeff Ireland dealt Davis away, and now he’s one of the top corners in the league. Grimes is a shutdown corner, plain and simple. Receivers can be five yards down the field from him, and he’ll still make the pick. He is able to do this because he jams at the line, then reads the quarterbacks progressions and is able to react and recover. With a lack of quality depth at CB, Grimes will play all over the field like he did in 2014 and be one of the top interception leaders as well as passes defensed.
23.) Trae Waynes (MIN)- Teams will test Waynes early and often this season and the Vikings would be morons not to start him. His ceiling is a shutdown corner and a player who could make plays alongside free safety Harrison Smith for years to come. He has good size, great ball skills and was tough to score on in college, he allowed only two scores against him his final two seasons at Michigan State. With a shear lack of quality starting depth behind Xavier Rhodes, I have no doubt that Waynes will be the Vikings starting corner opposite Rhodes and be a menacing force in coverage from day one. In dynasty leagues, you will need to lock down Waynes early as this is likely the last season you can afford this ballhawk at a discount.
22.) Greg Toler (IND)- Given his position opposite Vontae Davis, who teams refuse to throw to, Toler will see a ton of passes thrown his way and spend a ton of time trying to breakup passes or pick them off. His completion percentage against will not be too bad for a corner, but the danger with Toler is he can be beaten for the big play and can’t finish the tackle. He will need to improve upon last season’s stats of allowing 279 yards after the catch and eight scores.
21.) D.J. Hayden (OAK)- Hayden is fortunate to be playing football, much less be alive after suffering a torn inferior vena cava in his chest when he collided with a teammate back at University of Houston in 2012 before the Raiders took a chance on him with the 12th pick in the 2013 draft. The hope that Hayden would develop into a shutdown corner has not come to fruition just yet. Now fully recovered from his life threatening injury and a groin injury suffered last season, the pressure is on for him to do more than “flash” his talent. He is going to have to earn his starting spot this season and currently is behind Keith McGill for the second starting corner spot opposite Travis Carrie. Hayden is the most talented corner the Raiders have, but he needs to prove himself before the Raiders give him the gig. Fantasy owners invest in him late and see what he does in the early going.
20.) Sam Shields (GB)- The Packers lost both Tramon Williams and Davon House, leaving the likely opening day starter to be first round pick Damarious Randall to start across from Shields. Do not be surprised if Shields sees an uptick in passes thrown his way this season, as Randall is a playmaker and teams may think twice if he impresses early. Shields was given a new contract in 2014 for four years, $39 million. Shields is fast and has great ball skills, but has trouble with bigger or more physical receivers. Shields is still developing and could be a shutdown corner one day if he can improve him play against the zone and improves tackling ability. Fantasy owners should target Shields as a CB2 and enjoy the steady passes defensed that will come, unless he becomes a complete shutdown corner and opponents completely shy away from him. With him manning the right corner spot for Green Bay, and shadowing to make up for secondary weaknesses, owners should be ready for a potential for more picks and big plays out of Shields. (Photo courtesy of eventusa.com)
19.) Byron Maxwell (PHI)- Freshly signed out of the Legion of Boom to a $63 million contract, Maxwell will immediately shore up a porous secondary in Philadelphia. Outside of him, their best option at corner will be rookie Eric Rowe, who will have a steep learning curve in his rookie season in the NFL. Maxwell was sought after because he knows how to cover, play man coverage, jar receivers at the line of scrimmage and make plays on the ball. This could be a career year for Maxwell, after being overshadowed by the big play of Richard Sherman the past three seasons. Let’s hope Sherman’s mouth didn’t rub off on Maxwell too much.
18.) Jimmy Smith (BAL)- If Jimmy Smith could ever stay on the field, he could be a top-five shutdown CB1, but injury issues continue to derail his career. Last season, Smith ranked as the seventh best overall corner and fourth best in coverage, and he still may not have reached his pinnacle upside. Some analysts think he is better than Joe Haden, some don’t, but one thing is sure, he is the best corner by far in the AFC North. His stats matchup and were even better at times last season than Sherman and Haden. Teams are not going to score on him, so Smith may not have a high or moderate tackle total, but when he is thrown on, most of the passes are incomplete due to his sound technique and fluid playing style.
17.) Stephon Gilmore (BUF)- Rex Ryan runs an aggressive defense and one that will allow Gilmore to improve his overall ability as he will play the ‘Revis’ role in Buffalo this season. After missing games the past two seasons with injuries, a fully healthy Gilmore could be a fantasy goldmine for passes defensed and picks. Looking at Rex’s defensive players at disposal, Gilmore is a CB2 lock, with upside to be a low-end CB1 depending how he reacts and plays as the man lining up against teams’ top receivers.
16.) DeAngelo Hall (WSH)- When he is healthy, he is a pick machine and fantasy force. He can’t stay healthy (two Achilles injuries), so his draft stock is down and the Redskins are committed to lessening his load by placing him in slot this season as opposed to outside, where he would have more acreage to cover. Chris Culliver and Bashaud Breeland will man the outside corner slots. If Hall can stay on the field, fantasy owners who gamble on him will be nicely rewarded with a solid interception total, tackle total for a corner, and passes defensed.
15.) Bradley Roby (DEN)- Roby is going to see enough time at both corner and safety to qualify for both positions in most leagues, and his upside in fantasy circles is immense. The knock against him is the so often heard ‘off-field issues.’ Coming out of The Ohio State University in 2014, Roby was arguably the top corner, if not for those questions. He flashed potential his rookie season in Denver, and will be given more playing time and will start at safety. He will also see a lot of time at corner in sub packages. Fantasy owners should draft and enjoy the production as the good stats are just beginning to roll and he has the makings of a shutdown corner, and the Broncos would be wise to keep him there long-term. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)
14.) Buster Skrine (NYJ)- There are inherent advantages to being the weakest player on your team at a respective position. That would be Skrine on the Jets among Revis and Cromartie, both of which are shutdown corners. This leaves slot work and ample chances for Skrine. Better news for fantasy owners, Skrine is lousy in coverage and will continue to be thrown on at a tremendous rate.This should lead to a hopefully high passes defensed total, a few picks and moderately high tackle total.
13.) William Gay (PIT)- Gay is a top-ten corner, and last season allowed a pretty solid 8.7 yards per target and was successful 56% of the time when covering opposing top wideouts. His natural best fit is the slot, but the Steelers secondary was so bad last season, they had to deploy Gay against top wideouts. While he showed his limitations against them, Gay also had three pick sixes and fared pretty well as the Steelers top corner. With the atrocious play of Ike Taylor gone (retirement, he was the worst corner last season) and addition of Brandon Boykin to the Steelers corner corps, hopefully Gay can return to his natural fit in the slot. If not, fantasy owners should feel comfortable with him as Pittsburgh’s CB1 and will get an added boost with his strong play against the run.
12.) Xavier Rhodes (MIN)- Rhodes was a top 20 cover corner last season, and will take another step forward in 2015. It is only a matter of time before Rhodes is one of the leagues elite cover corners. While he plays his best defense in press coverage, he reads and reacts well and locates the ball extremely quickly. He lacks in run coverage and in the slot when he has to play quicker receivers, but is very solid overall and a foundation piece for the Vikings secondary along with Harrison Smith and Trae Waynes. Invest with confidence in Rhodes as your CB1.
11.) Bashaud Breeland (WSH)- Breeland is the Redskins top corner, and he showed his ability against the Cowboys’ Bryant in their preseason game before leaving with a knee injury from which he’ll miss six to eight weeks, before serving a one game suspension for violating the league’s substance policy. When he returns, expect him to establish himself as one of the premier cover corners and one who can hold his own in the run game, despite his less than ideal physical frame and trouble with premier route runners. Going forward, his two interceptions from last season should be his baseline.
10.) Kyle Fuller (CHI)- When the Bears let Peanut Tillman go to Carolina this offseason, they were anointing Fuller as their top cornerback of the future, and you need to grab him now. Jennings is solid and ProBowl calibre, but Fuller has the upside to challenge for some top corner honors in the NFL going forward. He may never be as dominant as Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis, but he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the pass and run game. He is an absolute ballhawk and has already drawn high praise from Calvin Johnson after the Lions-Bears second game last season. He plays physically, attacks the ball, possesses phenomenal reactions, but still needs some work in man-cover situations. (Photo courtesy of roanoke.com)
9.) Alterraun Verner (TB)- When the Buccaneers signed Verner in 2014, they got a comparable player to Revis. The Bucs signed Verner and released Revis because Revis didn’t fit Tampa’s Cover-2 defense and Verner would fit perfectly. Looking at his stats from last season, Verner had a ‘bad’ season versus the pass as he regressed, finishing as the leagues 42nd ranked cornerback, even though he was stout versus the run where he had 18/23 stops. Last year is likely an anomaly as he should return to being a ballhawk, but do not over-draft him this season based on namesake nor his career year in 2013.
8.) Prince Amukamara (NYG)- Amukamara could be one of the most talented corners in the league, but he also has major durability issues as he has played a full 16-game slate once going into his fifth season. If the Giants want to contend for the NFC East Title, Amukamara is a key cog as the Giants secondary flounders without him on the field. In eight games last season, he managed 11 passes defensed and three picks, suggesting he is one of the leagues top corners, but his health caught up and he missed eight games with a torn bicep. He is definitely worth drafting, given his propensity for passes defensed and interceptions, but grab a solid backup as he is a major injury question.
7.) Joe Haden (CLE)- Haden is one of the premier corners in the league and is not afraid to lower the boom, as evidenced by his steadily rising tackle total. Head Coach Mike Pettine has a stud corner and he knows exactly how to utilize him; against top receivers and let him dominate. You know what you are going to get with Haden come draft day, so go ahead and nab him before someone else does. He doesn’t have to be paying attention to make a play, he makes up the ground and makes the play.
6.) Aqib Talib (DEN)- What makes Talib so valuable in fantasy circles is his ability to be a top cover corner, produce sacks, and engage with would-be receivers and tight ends for the ball. After signing with the Broncos in 2014, where he posted two pick sixes and seventeen passes defensed, look for Talib to continue his coverage dominance in 2015 while being your top corner.
5.) Desmond Trufant (ATL)- I admit I am a Falcons homer, but Trufant is a star in the making and a bright spot in the porous Falcons secondary. Last season, it may not appear he was one of the league’s top corners. However, that was due to the defensive scheme the Falcons ran, which limited the number of qualifying snaps, or the number of plays he was lined up in coverage or zone coverage. Deeper analysis of his numbers show that he went neck-neck with Richard Sherman in success rate on qualifying plays (screen or zone plays not resulting in one-on-one coverage), and that he will continue to improve in 2015 on a Falcons secondary that is trying to rebuild. He is a legit CB1 and a must-own come Draft Day. (Photo courtesy of thefalcoholic.com)
4.) Chris Harris (DEN)- Do not expect opposing quarterbacks to continue to challenge Harris, because he is flat-out nasty in coverage and an interception waiting to happen. Of course, playing alongside Aqib Talib helps his stats, but Harris absolutely smothers the opposition with his play, finishing fourth according to Cornerback Coverage Ratings by DFS NFL Metrics. Eight months after a torn ACL, Harris had one of the most dominating seasons a corner has had in 2014, outside of Revis’ 2009 season. No touchdowns and no plays for over 22 yards were allowed by Harris, suggesting you better not look his way. If he can post that after eight months recovered from an ACL injury, what will he do for an encore in 2015? If you don’t even attempt get your hands on him, you have no right to play fantasy football.
3.) Johnathan Joseph (HOU)- Jackson is not an emerging star like Harris or Trufant, but he is darn consistent in coverage and a mentoring sight in Houston as he ushers in the young defensive players. Since joining the Texans from Cincinnati in 2011, Joseph has played over 86% of Houston’s defensive snaps and has missed a total of three games. After grading out as ProFootball Focus’ 20th cover corner and posting 11 passes defensed, look for him to be a cornerback staple this fantasy season. One who will stay on the field and contribute in coverage and tackling while being a vocal leader for the Texans defense.
2.) Jason McCourty (TEN)- Taken as a whole, it could be argued McCourty is the top fantasy corner, but I have Davis a tad above him. McCourty will once again be a solid source of passes defensed, tackles and interceptions. However, we will likely see his coverage ability dip. He is still a top corner in press coverage, yet struggles in man coverage for the Titans with his tackle totals are sure to dip. Hopefully the added boost on offense (Mariota) will rejuvenate his interception and passes defensed numbers in 2015.
1.) Vontae Davis (IND)- Flat out, Davis was nasty in coverage and allowed opposing QBs a QBR of 38.8 when targeted last season and had the highest cornerback rating of all corners in 2014. While this suggests he was better than Sherman and Harris, read cautiously as Davis played right cornerback, as opposed to left corner, where the latter two, and most of the NFL’s top corners play. If Davis can replicate his 2014, and play LCB with those numbers, then the case should definitely be made for him to be the league’s top corner as he’ll play against team’s top receivers, not WR2. Nonetheless, fantasy owners need to make Davis the top corner off the boards as he shows no signs of slowing down, and could see an uptick in passes defensed, depending on how often he plays against WR1s in Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of indystar.com)
Hope you guys made it through all 25 players and are enjoying the NFL Preseason as we are very close to the season now. We all just hope that none of our team’s big name players go down with season ending injuries, as the IR is piling up quickly with two such names: EJ Gaines (Lisfranc) and Kelvin Benjamin (ACL) already out for 2015.
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Major League Fantasy Football Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Saturday August 22nd from 2-4pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy SportsShow sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in live at 646-915-8596. This week’s topic is team back fields with question marks.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday August 23rd from 7-8:30pm EST for the Major League Fantasy Sports Show sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in live at 646-915-8596. We will be doing our 2015 wrap up.