In the NFL, cornerback is one of the most important positions on the defensive side of the ball. Given the league’s propensity for spread offenses and pass-heavy game scripts, if you don’t have quality options at the cornerback position, you’re going to be in a load of trouble.
However, the same doesn’t hold true in Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues — even the deeper formats that require the position.
Cornerbacks are two things in fantasy football — plentiful and plenty unpredictable. There’s a staggering amount of turnover at the top of the fantasy leaderboard among corners from year to year — so much so that investing any real draft capital in the position is a speculative exercise at best.
At worst, it’s an exercise in futility. Banging your head against the wall.
For that reason, I’ve long been a proponent of taking a page from the team defense book in standard fantasy leagues — punt at the position in IDP drafts until late and then stream cornerbacks based on matchups. It’s a philosophy that has served me well — it’s been shown time and again that you can field a “Frankencorner” who will out-point bigger names taken much earlier in drafts.
That’s the point of this article — every week I’ll be pointing out a handful of options at the cornerback spot who (in theory, anyway) have the sort of favorable matchups that set the stage for a solid statistical outing.
This doesn’t mean these players are guaranteed to have a big game. But that’s the thing with cornerbacks.
There are no guarantees.
Eli Apple, New Orleans (vs. Houston)
Matt Williamson of Touchdown Wire did his best Captain Obvious impression recently when he wrote that the 2019 season is a make-or-break one for the former first-round pick.
“Apple’s first contract expires after this season and he has already been on two teams,” Williamson said. “He has a very good long body type to excel as a press man coverage corner, but inconsistencies have followed Apple at every turn thus far. There is ability here to work with for sure, but can Apple finally put it all together and set himself up for a nice contract? That is debatable.”
Apple’s big season starts off with a bang — a primetime matchup with Deshaun Watson and a Houston team loaded with passing-game talent. Apple will probably draw Will Fuller in coverage most of the game — the same Will Fuller who has 11 touchdown receptions in 11 games with Watson. With Marshon Lattimore on DeAndre Hopkins, it’s a matchup Houston will likely look to exploit.
James Bradberry, Carolina (vs. L.A. Rams)
Like many of the corners in this week’s piece, Bradberry’s on the final year of his contract. But according to Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, if head coach Ron Rivera has his way the 26-year-old will be back with Carolina for a fifth season in 2020.
“He is a guy that I hope we do keep around,” Rivera said, “because he is important to what we’ve done. We’ve kind of shown that you have to be able to keep that type of a corner around. (James) is steady. He comes to work and he works hard. He does the things he needs to do to improve. That’s one of the things I’ve been most impressed with, is just how resilient he is.”
Bradberry’s been a regular in this piece over the past two seasons — he has 155 total tackles over that span and finished inside the Top 15 fantasy cornerbacks each year, including a Top 5 finish in 2017. Despite that steady production and a skill-set that’s tailor-made for IDP, Bradberry remains annually undervalued — at least partly due to a lack of name recognition. Take advantage of that ahead of a matchup with the Rams and their loaded cadre of receivers.
Adoree Jackson, Tennessee (at Cleveland)
Jackson’s as athletically gifted as any cornerback in the NFL. But after an uneven second season that saw highlight-reel plays and head-shaking mistakes in equal measure, he told ESPN’s Turron Davenport that he spent the offseason working on the mental aspects of the game.
“Physically, I will take my tangibles over anybody. I mean every athlete will say that,” Jackson said. “I am trying to better myself mentally. It’s something that has always been in my mind. I want to be better. I have to figure out what I don’t do well and how I can do it better to help myself, this secondary, the defense, and it will trickle down.”
Opponents haven’t been shy about targeting Jackson the last two years — over that span he’s the leagues second-most targeted cornerback. He’s also a good tackler who finished the 2018 season as a Top 15 fantasy option. That’s certainly good enough to merit a look headed into a matchup in which he’ll see a lot of Odell Beckham Jr., but not so good that he won’t still be available in affair percentage of IDP leagues.