We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.
There aren’t many cornerbacks who are good enough to hang with modern-day receivers in man-to-man coverage. There are even fewer who are asked to travel across the field with the opponent’s No. 1 receiver, and only a handful in who can handle this task with any measure of success.
Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White appears to be well on his way to becoming one of those special cornerbacks. LSU’s latest stud cornerback was selected 27th overall in 2017 and has been balling out since. White has started every game of his career and is on the cusp of greatness entering Year 3.
Let’s breakdown exactly what makes White tick, where he stands among the league’s very best shadow cornerbacks and whether you should avoid matchups against him in fantasy football.
Tre’Davious White Is a Handful for Any Receiver
White is a former four-star recruit who played in 48 career games at LSU. He fell in the first round largely due to tackling concerns; nobody has doubted White’s ability to mirror and match receivers throughout his football career.
Tre'Davious White is a BALLER pic.twitter.com/iHjHF268cn
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 7, 2019
It’s rare to see cornerbacks with White’s combination of size (5-foot-11 and 192 pounds) and speed (4.47-second 40-yard dash). He accordingly proved to be a thorn in the side of any receiver he was tasked with guarding in 2018 (stats via Player Profiler):
- Average target separation: No. 2 among all cornerbacks
- Burn rate: No. 1
- Fantasy points allowed per cover snap: No. 1
- Fantasy points allowed per target: No. 5
- Target rate: No. 7
White’s ability to regularly stay with his man resulted in quarterbacks rarely targeting their top receiver against the Bills. White and the secondary managed to largely shut down most of the alpha receivers they faced throughout the season.
- Keenan Allen: 6 receptions-67 yards-0 TD
- Stefon Diggs: 4-17-0
- Davante Adams: 8-81-0
- Corey Davis: 4-49-0
- DeAndre Hopkins: 5-63-1
- T.Y. Hilton: 4-25-2 (neither TD on White)
- Josh Gordon: 4-42-0
- Robby Anderson: 4-76-1
- Kenny Golladay: 7-146-0
Of course, White wasn’t locked up on any the above receivers for every snap during their respective matchups. This is the reality of the NFL: Offenses have gotten better and better at scheming their top weapons into favorable matchups.
Not Many NFL Cornerbacks Shadow Full Time
Only Stephon Gilmore, James Bradberry, Darius Slay and Xavier Rhodes shadowed on double-digit occasions in 2018 (per Pro Football Focus). White traveled with a single receiver on the majority of his snaps on seven separate occasions.
Fifty-one cornerbacks were asked to shadow at least once in last season, and 13 did so at least five times. We’ll use the high-frequency shadow corners as our focus group. The below figures denote the production allowed per game by each cornerback during their respective shadow dates in 2018.
Some notes from this group:
- White ranked sixth in fewest targets, seventh in receptions allowed, eighth in yards allowed, tied for seventh in touchdowns allowed and eighth in fantasy points allowed. He was by all accounts an average shadow cornerback in 2018.
- The most targeted shadow cornerbacks last season were Stephon Gilmore, James Bradberry, Jalen Ramsey, Xavier Rhodes and Marshon Lattimore.
- Rhodes was the best of the most-targeted group, allowing just 40.7 receiving yards and 0.2 touchdowns per game to his man.
- Jason McCourty, Casey Hayward Jr. and Denzel Ward allowed fewer than six fantasy points per game to their opposing receiver, emerging as the league’s most effective high-frequency shadow cornerbacks.
- You probably remember McCourty making arguably the single best play of the Super Bowl.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 5, 2019
- Lattimore wasn’t used as a shadow cornerback as often after the Saints acquired Eli Apple halfway through the season.
- Neither Hayward, James Bradberry nor Patrick Peterson were asked to fully shadow their respective receivers, as the Chargers, Panthers and Cardinals finished 2018 ranked as the respective No. 2, No. 7 and No. 3 defenses in zone-coverage frequency.
- Rhodes (6.4 yards allowed per target), Gilmore (6.4) and Joe Haden (6.6) were the best high-frequency shadow corners on a per target basis.
- Only McCourty (31% snaps in the slot), Gilmore (18%) and Slay (14%) spent a double-digit percentage of their snaps on the inside in 2018.
Remember that each of these cornerbacks have been asked to shoulder this shadow responsibility because they’ve demonstrated the ability to play the position at a high level. An average or even mediocre shadow corner still deserves credit for consistently taking on difficult assignments that a lesser player likely wouldn’t even have the chance to attempt in the first place.
Play Fantasy WRs Against White with Caution
The Bills quietly boasted the NFL’s second-best defense in Football Outsiders’ overall DVOA last season behind only the Bears. Buffalo’s secondary (No. 2) was better than its run defense (No. 14), which is common among today’s elite defenses. The Bills performed admirably against No. 1 wide receivers (No. 7), tight ends (No. 2) and running backs (No. 9) alike.
White is the straw that makes one of the league’s best secondaries stir. Only the Bills, Vikings, Jaguars and Colts allowed fewer than 30 DraftKings points per game to the wide receiver position last season. Adam Thielen, Kenny Golladay and Julian Edelman were the only wide receivers who cracked 20 fantasy points on the Bills all season.
There’s reason to believe that the 2019 edition of Bills Mafia could be even better. Starting safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will once again provide the backbone of the defense, while the front office signed former first-round pick and long-time Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson to work as the defense’s No. 2 cornerback. Continuity shouldn’t be underrated, and 2019 will mark the defense’s third consecutive season with head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
Fantasy investors should think twice about streaming players against the Bills in fantasy football. Even regular starters should be approached with extreme caution if they’re expected to face off against White in 2019.
Pictured above: Tre’Davious White
Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports