I much prefer the NFL’s playoff system to that of the NBA. Sure, I understand the argument that in the NFL it’s easier for lesser-quality teams to sneak into the playoffs — the 2010 Seahawks made the playoffs with a 7-9 record and a -97 point differential — but I like that divisional games are worth more in the current system. I love that the league is rife with heated divisional rivalries. Perhaps my opinion might be different if I were a fan of a non-Patriots AFC East team, but I’m not, I’m a Giants fan. I love the Giants, and I hate the Eagles, and I love hating the Eagles.

The NFC East has also been one of the most uniquely balanced divisions in the league over the past decade or so. If the Redskins had won the division last year (instead of the Cowboys), each team would have three division titles over the past 12 seasons. Dating back to 2004, no team has won the division in back-to-back years.

Knowing you’re going to play two games per season against the same three teams every year (and knowing these games are worth more), I wonder how much a team’s player-acquisition decisions are influenced by the rosters of the remaining teams in the division. Was the acquisition of Josh Norman in Washington a counter to New York’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Dallas’ Dez Bryant? Was New York’s signing of Brandon Marshall a counter to that? If it was, I wouldn’t blame them for feeling the need to add a reliable option outside of Beckham — Norman is one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the league.

Over the past three seasons, Norman ranks second-best in opposing passer rating and yards allowed per snap in coverage — the two metrics I look at first when evaluating cornerbacks.

Opposing passer rating

Barrett 1

Yards per coverage snaps

Barrett 2

Not only is Norman one of the toughest cornerbacks in the league, but he is a disruptive force that each opposing offense needs to carefully game plan against. We know Norman will shadow top wide receivers in 2017. So I asked myself two questions: From a fantasy perspective, what does Josh Norman’s presence mean for Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant, and Alshon Jeffery? And from a game-planning perspective, how should each team try to attack Norman?

Knowing that Norman is likely to shadow Beckham, Bryant, and Jeffery twice each this season, I decided to compare each wide receiver’s effectiveness on each route (over the past three seasons) to how Norman has historically fared by each route. Each chart is sorted by Norman’s “worst” routes – which are determined by passer rating allowed (opposing passer rating when targeted) over expected passer rating allowed (average passer rating allowed of all cornerbacks on each route).

Consult this route tree when looking at each chart below:

Barrett 3

Odell Beckham Jr.

Barrett 4

You don’t need me to tell you, but Beckham is a freak and has likely strung together the best first three seasons we’ve ever seen from a wide receiver. No wide receiver has ever averaged as many PPR fantasy points per game over his first three NFL seasons as Beckham – and he paces the runner-up (Randy Moss) by more than two fantasy points per game.

On a per-route basis, he is above average everywhere except on Go and Corner routes. Meanwhile, Norman’s three best routes are deep routes (somewhat surprisingly given his 4.66 40-yard-dash at the combine in 2012) – Go, Corner, and Posts. For this reason, among others, if I were Eli Manning I’d consciously avoid targeting Beckham when he is shadowed by Norman on deeper routes. Instead, I’d look to target Beckham on shorter and more intermediate routes.

On 19 career targets against Norman, Beckham totals 12 receptions, 146 yards, and one touchdown. For Beckham’s standards that’s good. For Norman’s standards, this is unbelievable. Over the past three seasons, no other wide receiver with at least five targets against Norman sports a WR rating over 82.5 This stat line equates to a 104.3 WR Rating for Beckham.

The common narrative is that Norman is “inside Beckham’s head.” That was likely the case in their first meeting where Beckham dropped two passes (totaling 49 yards in the air) against Norman (Beckham had only four drops on 266 targets prior to this game) and was eventually suspended for “on-field antics” related to unsportsmanlike actions taken against Norman in this game. However, it appears Beckham is Norman’s archrival for a reason, in that no wide receiver has been anywhere near as productive against him over the past three seasons.

From a fantasy perspective, against Washington, I’m still starting Beckham in redraft leagues, but am wary in DFS.

Source: Pro Football Focus

No more articles