Picking Cornerbacks for Dummies

Tom Kislingbury

Corners in IDP leagues tend to be a pain in the butt.  They often don’t score that many points, they’re unpredictable, even the experts say there’s not much positional advantage to them, they’re tough to evaluate because they’re often not on the screen and generally we fans would rather watch big receptions than well-defended passes. 

Although corner is one of the most important positions in the modern, pass-heavy NFL, it’s probably the least appreciated of all in dynasty. We owners tend to ignore it until we absolutely have to pay attention and stream options carelessly instead of planning.  What I want to do here is establish a very simple process to getting some production out of your corners without it becoming a back-breaking task.

Often fantasy players are guilty with corners of relying on tells that aren’t great indicators. 

  • We look at recent points scored and expect those trends to continue.  This is buying players at peak production and wondering why they can’t sustain it. 
  • There’s a widely held belief that rookie corners score well (mostly it’s not true).  Here’s average points scored by corners vs years of experience:

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image 1 agae of corner

  • At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find fantasy players who scour points against every week for corners to play the matchups.  I think there’s an easier way to get good performance.  So in this article I’ll give you five simple rules to follow that will stop you making that mistake ever again.

These five rules will help you pick up corners who will be effective and likely sitting around on waivers in many leagues right now.

Rule 1 – pick corners that are on the field

The magic number here is around 55.  You want players who are on the field for at least 55 snaps per week.  There are some exceptions to this, but very few for the simple reason that opportunity is everything.  You can’t make plays if you’re not on the field.  This is how many snaps corners averaged per game against their ranking in particular league:

image 2 score vs snaps

What should you do?

Look at snap counts for the last couple of games for a target player.  If it’s less than 55, ignore him.  You can do better.

Rule 2 – pick the bad player

We all know that “good” NFL corners tend to be bad fantasy players.  What’s less well-known is that a good way to find good fantasy corners is look for the guy quarterbacks target instead of the good player.  Logan Ryan was a good player the last two seasons because Malcolm Butler was on the other side.  Marcus Cooper was productive in 2016 because QBs avoided Patrick Peterson.  Bashaud Breeland was effective last season because they were avoiding Josh Norman

What should you do?

I like to use PFF grades here to be objective.  If the player you are targeting is not rated significantly lower than the best corner on the team then avoid them.  You can do better.

At this stage I wanted to show you what this list looks like.  Applying these two rules to every corner that played in 2016 gives us this list:

image 3 long list 3

Straight away we’ve identified a much smaller group from which to pick players with a decent floor.  That’s not bad but it’s still a little unwieldy.  So we’ve got more criteria to apply.

Rule 3 – some team’s schemes favour corners

Teams use their corners in different ways.  And some of those ways are more conducive to fantasy production.  This graph shows the tackles per snap from 2016 sorted by NFL team:

image 3 efficiency per team

As you can see, the difference is significant.  Some teams either scheme for (or are schemed against) in a way that means their tackles reliably make more tackles. 

What should you do?

If the player you’re looking at is in the bottom ten teams here move on.  You can do better.

So that slims the list down.  Now we’re down to 28 players:

image 4 med list 2

Rule 4 – pick players who have some ball skills

Passes defended are one of the very best statistical indicators of quality coverage.  It is absolutely bizarre to me that they’re not referred to more.  Fortunately they’re freely available and easily used.  This graph shows the relationship between 2016 fantasy points and passes defended for all corners:

image 5 pds vs points

As you can see there’s a clear positive relationship.  Better fantasy corners make more plays on the ball.

What should you do?

Simply look at the player’s recent history of PDs.  If the player you’re looking at hasn’t averaged more than 0.5 PDs per week over the last ten games then you can do better.

Rule 5 – pick sound tacklers

Regardless of the league format you play with a decent tackle floor for corners is a great way to establish reliable scoring.  35 separate corners in 2016 averaged four or more tackles per game in 2016.  Top 12 corners in my favourite league averaged 4.5 tackles per week. 

What should you do?

This is the simplest of the lot, but just check tackles per game instead of points.  If the player you’re looking at has fewer than four tackles per game over his last ten or so games don’t pick him up.  You can do better.

This leaves us with a list of just five players who were extremely productive players in 2016:

image 6 short list 2

Obviously depending on when you do this task you may end up with more or fewer players on the list.  I’d advise altering the guidelines (maybe you want three tackles per game instead of my four, or to avoid the bottom five teams in team corner efficiency instead of my bottom ten) to ensure your final list has a handful of options on it.  All of those players will very likely be solid contributors for your team.

See?  I told you they were simple rules.  And this is something you can do easily at any time of the season to apply some rigour to how you pick corners.  Of course this is still cornerbacks so variance will be high but hopefully that can help you streamline the time you spend on the position but still get good results.

Best of luck!


tom kislingbury