Using the shadow coverage matrix from Pro Football Focus we took a deep dive into all the shadow coverage matchups in 2020. The first step was to make some eliminations in the data to get a more accurate representation of the notable shadow corners in 2020. In the analysis we did this by using the following criteria:

  1. The shadow coverage matchup must be for at least 50% of snaps
  2. AND the opposing shadow corner must have shadowed in at least 4 games in 2020

By using this criteria, it allowed us to eliminate a lot of corners who were either not consistently used as a shadow corner or who weren’t the best cornerbacks on their team. The importance of this is it allows us to better predict impactful shadow coverage matchups in the future by highlighting teams who consistently use shadow coverage week in and week out.

After factoring in these criteria only 11 wide receivers faced at least three notable shadow corners in 2020.

 

Wide Receiver
Shadow Coverage Matchups
D.K. Metcalf 10
Mike Evans 5
Terry McLaurin 5
A.J. Green 3
Adam Thielen 3
Allen Robinson II 3
Darius Slayton 3
Davante Adams 3
Marquise Brown 3
Michael Thomas 3
Stefon Diggs 3

 

The first takeaway (which is an obvious one) is most of the players on this list were clear number ones on their teams. However, exceptions to this rule were A.J. Green and Darius Slayton. Green was viewed early on in 2020 as the top outside wide receiver for the Bengals before Tee Higgins emerged and started to outplay him. Slayton we could argue was the Giants best outside wide receiver, but once Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate were on the field together it seemed like Shepard took over as the true number one. Overall, it is clear the best shadow corners are tasked to shut down the best wide receivers.

The second takeaway that stood out was D.K. Metcalf’s crazy 10 shadow coverage matchups. On the surface, finishing as the sixth best wide receiver in fantasy in 2020 would suggest that he dominated even vs. shadow corners. However, seven of his 10 shadow coverage matchups came in the second half of the season. This could be one of the main drivers as to why Metcalf went from the wide receiver two in weeks 1-8 to the wide receiver 17 in weeks 9-17.

The final and biggest takeaway is only three wide receivers saw a shadow coverage matchup vs. a notable shadow corner in over 25% of their games. This probably means that shadow coverage matchups as a whole don’t have a huge impact on most fantasy players season ending finishes. This means shadow coverage is best viewed on a weekly case by case basis and mostly in daily formats.   

Now that we know who had the most matchups vs. these shadow corners the next question is how did they do?

 

Wide Receiver PPG vs. Shadow Coverage PPG vs. All Other Opponents Difference
Michael Thomas 3.6 11.5 -7.9
Mike Evans 8.8 15.4 -6.6
Allen Robinson 10.1 14 -3.9
D.K. Metcalf 13.6 17.2 -3.6
Davante Adams 18.5 21.7 -3.2
A.J. Green 3 6.1 -3.1
Darius Slayton 5 7.9 -2.9
Marquise Brown 9.3 10.1 -0.8
Average 9 13 -4

 

For season long leagues, Allen Robinson’s 10.1 points per game for example still makes him a useable asset, but clearly in daily fantasy these players probably won’t return value.  The impact of shadow coverage is real, and matchups need to be considered on a weekly basis.

Eight of the 11 wide receivers saw a negative impact to their points per game when facing shadow coverage. Those eight players saw an average of -4.0 points per game when facing those top shadow corners vs. all other opponents in .5 PPR. These eight wide receivers averaged 13 points per game which is equivalent to the WR17 in points per game in 2020. Meanwhile these same players vs. shadow coverage only saw 9 points per game which would have been tied for the WR 51 in points per game in 2020. It is clear that most players are negatively impacted by facing top corners with most losing between roughly 3-4 points per game.

 

Player PPG vs. Shadow Coverage PPG vs. All Other Opponents Difference
Terry McLaurin 15.2 10.3 4.9
Adam Thielen 22.4 12.2 10.2
Stefon Diggs 22.8 15.1 7.7
Average 20.1 12.5 7.6

 

Finally, meet the outliers Terry McLaurin, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. These three players pretty much dominated across the board but had huge performances when facing shadow coverage.

Now we had a few questions. Why were these specific receivers successful? Was it because of who they faced or was it because of their usage? After looking deeper at those elements, in many cases that could be the reason, but sometimes it’s just luck.

Let’s take Terry McLaurin for example who had two 20-point performances vs. shadow coverage. The first came vs. Patrick Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals. When looking at this game his 7-125-1 looks amazing, but most of his production came in the 4th quarter down three scores in garbage time. The second great game was in week nine vs. the Giants and James Bradberry. In that game McLaurin only had 5-36 vs. Bradberry, but because of his usage he kicked inside and secured a long TD from the slot. This allowed him to finish with 7-115-1. If you watch the play, poor tackling resulted in that long score. If the Giants made the play, his final stats would have been closer to 7-70 which is a much more modest day.

In the next article we will touch more on the notable cornerbacks from 2020 to see how much of an impact they had on wide receivers last season. In the article we will highlight coaching changes and new potential shadow corners who could make an impact in 2021.

Sources: Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference and Razzball

  1. Foxman says:
    (link)

    Bobby,
    This is very useful information. Best fantasy football content I have read all offseason. Are there certain shadow coverages that don’t move the needle?
    How large is the gap between the elite shadow coverage and the bottom?
    Keep up the great work
    Fox

    • Bobby LaMarco

      Bobby LaMarco says:
      (link)

      I think it’s based more on the corners themselves. Some cornerbacks aren’t as elite or aren’t used as frequently in shadow coverage. I drill down and focus more on the elite shadow CBs because it allows us to better identify and predict these matchups moving forward. PFF wrote an article back in 2019 that highlights shadow coverage as a whole. I recommend checking it out as they cover all shadow coverage. Be on the look out for my next article that talks about the CBs/defenses that use the most shadow coverage.

Comments are closed.