NFL quarterbacks are no dummies. This manifests itself in their tireless work ethic to execute a game plan from conception in the classroom to the field. It is observable in the passer’s daily grind in the offseason to scout the latest tendencies by defenses and seize upon weaknesses therein. The hard yards and hours put in lend them prescience about the game and its many interconnected parts.
Quarterbacks hardly need a second invitation when you throw a fresh-faced rookie cornerback into the line-up. You may as well by tossing a prime piece of meat tantalizingly past the eye line of a hungry wolf; the animal can’t help but get a whiff and seize upon it.
This propensity for quarterbacks to pick on rookie cornerbacks is hardly a surprise given their lack of experience with the complexities of NFL passing games. What it means for fantasy owners is a veritable bonanza of points is on offer if we can identify the prime meat.
Thus, the so-called ‘rookie corner rule’ was born into IDP parlance. Before delving into the 2018 class of rookie cornerbacks to target, let us take a look at the data going back to 2014.
Note: This data is based on FBG Standard Scoring for defensive players, which follows the following format:
• 1.5 points per solo tackle, 0.75 per assisted tackle, 4 points per sack
• 4 points for forced fumbles, 4 points for fumble recoveries
• 5 points per interception, 1.5 points per pass defensed
• 6 points per touchdown, 2 points per safety
What the data tells us
Analysis: A bountiful year for rookie cornerback production, four youngsters featured into the top 10 in fantasy scoring for the position. Buffalo’s TreDavious White produced an incredible rookie season, defending an impressive 18 passes, while Adoree' Jackson and Desmond King rounded out the top 10 at eighth and ninth, respectively. Marshon Lattimore was arguably the best cornerback in the league last season, striking fear into quarterbacks, but still placed 13th despite missing three games.
Analysis: In a down year by rookie cornerback production standards, only three featured in the top 15, with just former Carolina Panther Daryl Worley in the top 10. Vernon Hargreaves and a lynchpin of the Jaguars current defense, Jalen Ramsey, slotted in at 13th and 14th, respectively.
Analysis: The rookie cornerback rule was in full flow in this year, with Marcus Peters finishing the season as the top-ranked player at the position. An insane 26 passes defensed and eight interceptions helped, but Peters also tallied 54 solo tackles. Ronald Darby, who had an incredible season in his own right, totaled 62 solo tackles and 11 passes defensed, while Antwon Blake rounded them out in ninth.
Analysis: Three rookies featured in the top 10 at the position, with E.J. Gaines leading the way in fifth with 63 solo tackles and 15 passes defensed. Bradley Roby and Kyle Fuller were also picked on often and produced respectable seasons.
ROOKIES TO TARGET IN 2018
Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns
Draft pedigree: 1st round
The Browns eschewed the perceived positional value of edge rusher in the NFL Draft and chose Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward instead. Draftniks around the world were divided on the selection, but the new front office led by general manager John Dorsey clearly has a plan in place.
Ward is a long-limbed, flexible player with a penchant for erasing receivers in man coverage. He allowed only 35.1% of passes thrown his way in his junior year to be completed and generally made a nuisance of himself. His tackling has been solid in general and he should see plenty of opportunity on a Browns defense that has some growing up to do.
Expect Ward to be thrown to the lions immediately. With the Steelers, Saints, and Raiders passing attacks in the first few games, Ward should tally the tackles.
Draft pedigree: 1st round & 2nd round
Normally I would hesitate to lump two players in together, but landing on the same team lends itself to a joint analysis. The Packers may look back on this draft haul of cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson and pinpoint it as a momentum shift for their defense.
Alexander, who was limited by injuries in 2017, should compete immediately for a large role. Jackson doesn’t have a lot of experience and only played one full season at Iowa, but in that season he picked off eight passes and broke up 18. Not too shabby, if you ask me.
The Packers’ new general manager Brian Gutekunst made it a priority to shore up the cornerback position with this talented duo. In the process, the fresh-faced executive threw off the perceived shackles Ted Thompson, the former general manager, had kept the organization in.
Jackson strikes me as the player more ready to contribute, but Alexander has the first round pedigree and more experience. Both players should be the starting cornerback duo for Green Bay by the end of the season.
Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draft pedigree: 2nd round
A quick perusal of the Tampa Bay cornerback depth chart quickly illustrates the need they had at the position. Fortunately, a draft double dip – Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart – remedied that issue on paper. Davis is the more intriguing player, however, with a long frame enhancing his playmaking potential.
Davis was inconsistent at times last season at Auburn, but the majority of his play has highlighted his ability to make receivers work for every catch. He defended six passes in 2017 and showed off a willingness to stick his nose in against the run. Brent Grimes is on his last legs as a starter in the league, so Davis should be able to supplant the veteran before too long.
Bank on Davis being one of the more sought-after cornerbacks this season.
Donte Jackson, Carolina Panthers
Draft pedigree: 2nd round
The Panthers will move to more man coverage under new defensive coordinator Eric Washington, affording more opportunities for their cornerbacks to make one-on-one tackles. Enter Donte Jackson – or ‘Action’ Jackson, as he prefers to be dubbed. The ex-LSU player is undersized at 5’11’’, but makes up for it with a canny ball-hawking streak and physical tackling.
Head coach Ron Rivera puts a lot of stock in cornerbacks who are not afraid to stick their nose in against the run, and Jackson will please his coach in this regard. Jackson has the flexibility to play the slot, which will only enhance his value from an IDP perspective. The more snaps he can play, the better opportunity and the more tackles he will make.
Mike Hughes, Minnesota Vikings
Draft pedigree: 1st round
Of all the players mentioned, Mike Hughes might have the toughest road to meaningful playing time. At first blush Hughes is buried on the depth chart behind Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, not to mention the ageless Terence Newman. The Vikings may well have taken the best player available, but Hughes is no slouch and could give formfirst-rounderder Waynes a run for his money.
Hughes may take some development, but his final college season – during which he did not allow a touchdown in coverage – was highly impressive. It is not unlike the Vikings coaching staff to bring players along slowly, but it bears watching just how much of an impact Hughes can make in camp.
Cornerbacks should largely be treated as interchangeable parts in IDP leagues, but knowing your rookie cornerback situations can really give you an edge over your opponents. The past few years’ statistics don’t lie: owning a rookie cornerback on your roster can be a plug-and-play position on your team that could help in your championship push. Every edge you can get matters.
Thanks for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your rookie and dynasty startup drafts.
If you have any questions regarding IDP fantasy football, please drop me a line on Twitter @davlar87