When it comes to playing cornerback in the National Football League, there aren’t many more thankless tasks than trying to cover Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Over the last four seasons, Brown has averaged 7.5 catches a game. In 2016 the 29-year-old was targeted 151 times – more than any other receiver in the AFC. Given that Brown missed a game, he was thrown at over 10 times per contest.
Whether they are star or schmuck, a day spent covering No. 84 is bound to be a busy one.
In Week 1, that job falls to Jamar Taylor of the Cleveland Browns, who is the team’s top cornerback after the release of Joe Haden. Defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker lauded Taylor’s progress this year while speaking with Dan Labbe of Cleveland.com.
“He is [a leader] because he is a worker,” Walker said. “He is pretty soft-spoken so he really doesn’t say a whole lot. At the same time, you can just see his leadership through his work ethic.”
We’re about to see how much better Taylor is courtesy of a trial by fire. And even if he has a good day and just allows Brown to have an average afternoon, Taylor should see enough tackle opportunities to be a rock-solid streaming option in IDP leagues that require his position.
If you can’t grab Taylor (because some other savvy IDP owner already did) here are a few other options to keep in mind for the first weekend of the 2017 NFL season.
E.J. Gaines, Buffalo Bills (vs. NYJ)
As Ryan Talbot reported for New York Upstate, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had high praise for Gaines, who joined the team in the trade that sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams. “E.J., I mean, he had quite a bit of production in the preseason, so we’re really pleased with that. His effort, the way he picked things up in the short time that he arrived,” Frazier said. “We threw a lot at him [and] he responded quite well.”
With Ronald Darby now in Philadelphia, Gaines didn’t take long to work his way into the starting lineup for the Bills. The 25-year-old has shown the ability to be a productive IDP in the past, piling up 70 total tackles and ranking inside the top-10 at the position back in 2014. Gaines has more than a little potential for a strong start to the season this week against the New York Jets and Josh McCown, who has 24 interceptions over his last 24 starts.
Shaquill Griffin, Seattle Seahawks (at GB)
Griffin will be playing in his first NFL game that counts Sunday at Lambeau Field, and as he told Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk, he figures Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers knows that too. “I’m definitely expecting that and that’s something I’m preparing for,” Griffin said. “Even in practice, they continue to throw the ball on me even when I’m tired. That’s something that’s going to happen and I feel like I’m good with keeping poise and understanding that I’m going to be put in that situation again. It’s a task I’m ready to take control of and I’m excited for.”
Yes, Griffin is technically the Seahawks’ nickel cornerback. But against the Packers’ prolific offense the Seahawks will be spending a large majority of the afternoon with extra defensive backs on the field. You can bet the rent that Rodgers is going to aggressively attack whoever he feels is the weak link in that secondary. And until proven otherwise that’s Griffin.
“Rookie corner rule,” anyone?
Darius Slay, Detroit Lions (vs. AZ)
As Dave Birkett wrote for the Detroit Free Press, Slay has nothing but the utmost respect for veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals. “Everybody looks up to Larry,” Slay said. “Fourteen years in the game, takes care of his body, be so professional about everything. Great, great guy. I met him a couple times. He’s a very, very great guy. I just look forward to always working and going against him challenging him cause the only thing he’s going to do is make me better.”
In fact, Slay said that Fitzgerald has gone so far as to offer tips on how to better cover him – as the game is being played. At 34 Fitz remains of the best (and most targeted) wide receivers in the game, and I have the utmost respect for Slay’s matchup this week from an IDP perspective. No team in the NFL allowed more fantasy points to corners in 2016 than the Cardinals.
Trae Waynes, Minnesota Vikings (vs. NO)
Waynes will open the 2017 season as the starting cornerback opposite Xavier Rhodes in a matchup with the Drew Brees and the Saints high-octane passing offense. Adam Patrick of the Viking Age isn’t so sure that’s a great idea. “It is hard to figure out why Waynes has yet to turn into the player Minnesota was hoping for back when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft,” Patrick said. “He seems to have the tools necessary to perform at a high level, but sometimes it looks as though he forgets how much natural ability he actually possesses.”
This recommendation is based on the theory that Rhodes (who will spend Monday night “shadowing” Michael Thomas) isn’t available. If he is, he’d be the preferable fantasy option. But Waynes could be a fine play in his own right. Brees is going to target the pass-catchers who are open, and Ted Ginn should have chances to get there against Waynes. That could mean a big night against a Saints team that was second in fantasy points surrendered to cornerbacks a year ago.