2020 Shadow Coverage Report

What if I told you that in week 5 of 2019 you could have avoided playing Mike Evans when he fell flat on his face vs. the Saints for zero points! Now it’s very rare anyone will tell you to sit your studs, but in some cases, there are other factors that should be considered. In this instance, that factor was shadow corner Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore got the best of Evans in 2019 holding him under 70 yards in both match-ups with a zero-reception game on the road in New Orleans. In this analysis we look at each NFL team’s schedule and evaluate how many potential shadow coverage match-ups they have in 2020.

Before we do that though, let’s quickly explain what shadow coverage is, and how it impacts fantasy wide receivers. Shadow coverage is when a defense assigns their best cornerback to cover the offensive team’s best wide receiver. In most cases these defenses use heavy man coverage which allows the cornerback to follow the wide receiver all over the field. A great example of this and how it impacts fantasy wide receivers is the New England Patriots and Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore was assigned every week to the opponent’s top wide receiver and the impact it made for fantasy was significant. Gilmore was able to hold top wide receivers including DeAndre Hopkins (5-64), Amari Cooper (0-0), A. J. Brown (1-4) and Terry McLaurin (3-51) well below their season averages.

Knowing these match-ups are key to avoiding potential bust games in 2020. There are some caveats as many top wide receivers continue to play more in the slot and it is rare that these top cornerbacks travel inside. This will allow some players to either avoid these top corners outright or at least get some production when they are not being shadowed. These among other factors will be evaluated in this analysis, and each week during the season.

The next step is to evaluate the 2020 defenses to see how many teams could use shadow coverage. In the analysis we identify 15 defenses who will most likely use shadow coverage this coming season. Most of these teams utilized a lot of shadow coverage in 2019 including the Patriots, Saints and Lions while others have new defensive coordinators i.e. the team formally known as the Redskins with Ron Rivera that used shadow coverage with their previous teams.

For the analysis we break out these teams into three tiers.

Tier 1 includes teams with a proven shutdown cornerback that use shadow coverage most weeks.

Tier 2 includes teams that have a solid cornerback to use in shadow coverage but don’t use shadow coverage as much as Tier 1.

Tier 3 includes teams that either have rookies or unknown cornerbacks that will be assigned to shadow coverage in 2020.

Notable Secondary Conerbacks includes players who graded out well according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) or have shadowed wide receivers in the past themselves.

Tier 1
Team Top Shadow Cornerback Notable Secondary Cornerback
Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson N/A
Buffalo Bills Tre’Davius White N/A
Los Angeles Chargers Casey Hayward Chris Harris
Miami Dolphins Byron Jones Xavien Howard
Los Angeles Rams Jalen Ramsey N/A
New England Patriots Stephon Gilmore J.C Jackson
New Orleans Saints Marshon Lattimore Janoris Jenkins
Denver Broncos AJ Bouye N/A
New York Giants James Bradberry N/A

*The new Giants DC, Patrick Graham, is a long time assistant of Bill Belichick in New England and was the Defensive Coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Tier 2
Team Top Shadow Cornerback Notable Secondary Cornerback
Green Bay Packers Jaire Alexander N/A
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carlton Davis N/A
Tennessee Titans Adore Jackson N/A

 

Tier 3
Team Top Shadow Cornerback Notable Secondary Cornerback
Detroit Lions Jeffery Okudah Desmond Trufant
Jacksonville Jaguars CJ Henderson D.J. Hayden
Washington Redskins TBD N/A

*New Head Coach Ron Rivera utilized a lot of shadow coverage in Carolina with James Bradberry. It is yet to be determined who will be assigned that role in Washington, but Kendall Fuller is the highest rated cornerback according to PFF grades from 2019 on the roster.

Potential Shadow Corners
Team Top Shadow Cornerback Notable Secondary Cornerback
Minnesota Vikings Jeff Gladney N/A
Philadelphia Eagles Darius Slay N/A
Cincinnati Bengals William Jackson N/A

 

Although the potential shadow coverage teams were left out of the analysis it is important to note that they could make their way in during the season.

The Vikings have used a lot of shadow coverage in the past under Mike Zimmer when they had an elite cornerback in Xavier Rhodes. However, in 2019 Rhodes was a shell of his former self and once he was no longer playing at an elite level the Vikings rarely used him to shadow top wide receivers. Minnesota did use their first-round pick on cornerback Jeff Gladney who could take over that role in 2020. However, with a limited offseason it is difficult to imagine him drawing that assignment immediately.

The Eagles traded for Darius Slay who under the Lions was one of the top shadow corners in the NFL. However, Philadelphia Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz hasn’t been known to use a lot of shadow coverage. He utilizes zone concepts instead. It would be challenging to envision a world where the Eagles don’t capitalize on utilizing one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL to take away top options especially in a division with Amari Cooper and Terry McLaurin.

The Bengals have yet to fully use William Jackson as a shadow cornerback but over the final few weeks of 2019, they began to utilize him more in that role. Jackson had mixed results in these match-ups as Robby Anderson and Devante Parker got the best of him while Odell Beckham was held in check. Jackson isn’t an elite cornerback but if we see early on that he is shadowing an opposing team’s number one wide receiver then those players could be moved down a tier or two if Jackson continues to improve heading into his fourth year.

The final step is to plug in the teams who use shadow coverage into the NFL schedule to quantify how many potential shadow cornerback match-ups each offense will have in 2020. The chart below reflects all 32 NFL teams, and how many defenses they will face in 2020 who use shadow coverage through week 16. When evaluating this piece it’s important to note that in most cases this is best used as a tie-breaker as many factors can change throughout the season. Over the next few articles we will break down each team to see which team’s top wide receivers have the toughest match-ups heading into this season.

 

TEAM Total Number of
Potential Shadow match-ups
San Francisco 49ers 11
Chicago Bears 9
New York Jets 9
Carolina Panthers 9
Seattle Seahawks 9
Miami Dolphins 8
Buffalo Bills 8
Kansas City Chiefs 8
Las Vegas Raiders 8
Detroit Lions 8
New England Patriots 8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8
Denver Broncos 8
Las Angeles Chargers 8
Minnesota Vikings 7
Philadelphia Eagles 7
Arizona Cardinals 7
Atlanta Falcons 7
Las Angeles Rams 7
Houston Texans 6
Cincinnati Bengals 6
New Orleans Saints 6
Pittsburgh Steelers 6
Tennessee Titans 6
Green Bay Packers 6
Jacksonville Jaguars 6
Dallas Cowboys 5
Indianapolis Colts 5
Baltimore Ravens 5
New York Giants 5
Washington Redskins 5
Cleveland Browns 4

Sources: Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference

  1. Son says:
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    Good stuff, Bobby!

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