The Shadow Knows 2016 week 12

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport
By the time this article goes live at Football Diehards, we’ll already have seen a couple of marquee receiver/cornerback duels. Josh Norman will have covered Dez Bryant in Dallas. Vontae Davis will have had the Sisyphean task of trying to slow down Antonio Brown in the Thanksgiving nightcap. Week 12 will be underway.

Normally, this article would have touched on those games. Perhaps efforted to discern some information fantasy owners can use to their advantage from Thursday’s triple-header.

But this is not a normal week. Thursday was Thanksgiving – a day to be spent with family and friends…not hunched over a keyboard crunching stats and making groan-inducing jokes.

That sixth piece of pie is already doing that Friday anyway.

So while Thanksgiving won’t totally be a day off for this intrepid scribe, I did sit down to write this piece a day earlier this week so that I might have a little extra time with the poor fools forced to endure me on a daily basis.

I am thankful for their love and friendship, just as I am for you, Loyal Reader. Because without you I wouldn’t be able to do what I do for a living.

I hope the holiday treated you well, and that you didn’t have to choke anyone out to get 70% off a flat-screen TV.

Now let’s get down to business.

Odell Beckham, New York Giants (vs. CLE – Joe Haden)
Haden told John Rowe of North that in his opinion ODB is as good at catching passes as any player in the NFL. "I see a complete receiver," Haden said of Beckham. "He's right up there with all the elite receivers."
For what it’s worth, the respect is apparently mutual. "He's a great corner, somebody I watched a lot when he was at Florida," Beckham said. "He's been playing since he stepped on a [NFL] field. He's been doing this for a long time."

THE SHADOW SAYS: Haden may have the reputation of being a “shutdown” corner, but in an injury-plagued 2016 he hasn’t played like one – at least in the opinion of Pro Football Focus, who ranks Haden 83rd at his position to this point in the season. The numbers bear that out. Over 60 percent of the passes thrown at Haden this year have been completed, and the Pro Bowler has already allowed four touchdowns.
Beckham should be just fine – and quite possibly better than fine.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints (vs. LA – Trumaine Johnson)
As Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus wrote, Cooks’ batterymate Michael Thomas has emerged as the rookie wide receiver making the biggest impact in 2016. “Week 11 saw a nice bounce-back game for Thomas, who caught all five of his targets for 68 yards,” Renner said. “Of receivers with at least 50 targets, Thomas is sixth in catch rate (77.8) and ninth in quarterback rating (111.9). No other rookie wideout comes close to the former Buckeye’s production so far.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Week 12 sets up as an opportunity for Thomas to continue making that impact, as well as a potentially quiet day for Cooks. Assuming that everyone slots where they normally do (and there’s little reason to believe they won’t) it will be Cooks who spends the most time opposite Trumaine Johnson – one of the better cover men most casual fans have never heard of. However, all is not lost. Johnson only allowed 38 receiving yards to the Miami Dolphins a week ago, but it was Johnson who DeVante Parker beat for the game-winning score. Also, last I checked Ryan Tannehill and Drew Brees aren’t quite on the same level.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. SEA – Richard Sherman)
As ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia pointed out, there isn’t a bigger individual matchup in Week 12 than Evans vs. Sherman. “Seeing Evans go up against Richard Sherman should be a real treat for fans,” Kapadia said. “Evans had 105 receiving yards last week, but caught just six of 13 targets, including two of Winston's four failed pass attempts in the end zone. And that was without having to go up against Marcus Peters. At 6-foot-5, Evans' biggest asset is his size, his big catch radius and his vertical leaping ability, which is typically a mismatch for just about any defensive back -- except for guys like Sherman. Evans has been lining up all over the field, including the slot, and it will be interesting to see if Sherman would actually shadow him there too.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: He isn’t kidding, either. The NFL’s most thrown at wide receiver (116 targets) against arguably the league’s best corner. The Buccaneers will no doubt move Evans around in an effort to scheme him open, and it isn’t unheard of for elite receivers to have big games against the Seahawks – Julio Jones caught seven passes for 139 yards and a score against Seattle in Week 6. But for Evans to enjoy similar success, he’s going to have to make the most of his opportunities. Unless Winston forces several passes in to him (which is unwise), it isn’t unreasonable to expect that with Sherman in his pocket Evans may not see as many targets as usual Sunday.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (at ATL – Desmond Trufant)
Trufant missed the Falcons last game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but head coach Dan Quinn told Vaughn McClure of ESPN he’s hopeful the Pro Bowler’s versatility and quickness will be back at the back of the Atlanta defense in Week 12. ``No. 1, it’s the speed,' Quinn said. ``We match him up at a number of different spots. You’ve seen him play left side, right side, and we’ve played him in the slot. We’ve got a lot of confidence to put him in a number of different spots. It’s the way he competes that sets him apart. As a competitor, he’s ready for any challenge we throw upon him, so it was great to have him back out here today."

THE SHADOW SAYS: Trufant’s ability to play the slot increases the chances he’ll be tasked with shadowing Fitzgerald Sunday, as it’s from the slot where Fitz now does most of his damage. It’s not a guarantee – before this season Trufant rarely followed top receivers, and even now it’s been somewhat hit and miss. However, given how poorly Arizona’s other wideouts have played in 2016, it would be rather foolish of the Falcons not to have Trufant follow Fitzgerald. Fitz will still get his (he’s the third-most targeted receiver in the NFL this year), but he’s going to have to work for it.

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (vs. AZ – Patrick Peterson)
Back in 2014, Peterson made it clear in advance of a matchup with the Falcons that he wanted nothing more than to cover Jones while speaking to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “(Jones is) an incredible athlete,” he said. “Love the battle and the competition between us. It just brings out the best in both of us. Me feeling I’m the best corner in the league, I want the team’s No. 1 receiver, period. That’s where you get the opportunity to gain the respect from your peers and be recognized as one of the best and one of the greats after you are done with the game. That’s the kind of pressure I like to have for myself and as a team. “

THE SHADOW SAYS: You know the old adage about being careful what you wish for? In that game, Jones hauled in 10 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown in a 29-18 win for the Falcons. That was the last time the former SEC foes saw one another in a regular-season game, and the moral of the story is pretty clear. One does not ever consider sitting Julio Jones – ever.

Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, a Contributing Writer at Rotoworld and a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Gary was the winner of the 2015 FSWA award for Print Article of the Year.