NFL Cornerback Rankings: Is Xavien Howard Actually Elite?

by The Podfather ·

Match-ups matter in fantasy football. For decades, the assessing the strength of an opposing defense was more alchemy than science, more qualitative than quantitative. Then, FootballOutsiders published Defense DVOA, spawning a more analytical approach to measuring defense robustness. This season, the Chicago Bears feature a more suffocating -31.6 Pass DVOA and -27.3 Rush DVOA than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who entered the season with a generational defense based on 2017 advanced stats, metrics, and analytics. Yet, the narratives persists — the Jaguars’ elite defense makes the team a Super Bowl contender, while the Bears are merely an upstart. Cringe.

Fantasy footballers are not interested in team power rankings. They care about one thing each week: Who do I start and who do I sit? Of the fantasy-relevant skill positions, wide receiver is the most difficult to assess week-to-week. The tight end position is a production void. Stumble upon an Eric Ebron or a Jared Cook and hold on tight. The running position features well-defined tiers. Saquon Barkley is a bell cow, Marshawn Lynch is a workhorse, and Lamar Miller is neither — bench Miller and move on. Wide receiver, on the other hand, is significantly more challenging to project week-to-week. Wide receivers touch the ball less than running backs and quarterbacks, so the average NFL receiver’s production naturally oscillates more wildly. Furthermore, with more NFL teams deploying three and four-receiver sets on any given play, the pool of fantasy-viable wide receivers is significantly deeper than other skill positions. In this context, solving the WR start/sit dilemma requires more analytical firepower.

Cornerback Rankings

Xavien Howard

PlayerProfiler’s Cornerback Rankings provide a more granular view of a opposing defense’s strengths and weaknesses. By the end of 2017, a narrative surfaced that Xavien Howard was playing at an elite level. Yet, analytical scrutiny of his 2017 season reveals Howard ranked inside the top-10 in zero efficiency metrics.

Check out Xavien Howard on PlayerProfiler’s Cornerback Rankings:

In 2018, the narrative resurfaced after Amari Cooper underperformed against the Dolphins in week 3.

Once again, analytical scrutiny reveals a good-but-not-great NFL cornerback.

Xavien Howard 2018 Metrics Value Rank
 Target Rate 21.0% #37
 Target Separation 0.83 #20
 Coverage Rating +23.8 #23
 Passer Rating Allowed 76.8 #21
 Fantasy Points Per Cover Snap 0.43 #60

Howard’s 21.0-percent Target Rate alone suggests NFL quarterbacks do not respect his coverage skills as much as Miami Herald beat writers. Looking beyond subjective grades, the Howard’s advanced metrics perfectly illustrate the value of an evidence-based approach to the cornerback evaluation and WR-CB match-up analysis.