The Shadow Knows Week 14 2022

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

The New York Jets have backslid a bit of late, dropping two of three since the bye week. But by any reasonable estimation, at 7-5 Gang Green has exceeded expectations. And the team's rookie class has played a big role in the team's success. In fact, there's a real chance that the Jets could accomplish a feat last pulled off by the 2017 Saints.

Feature the winners of both the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards.

In the latter regard, cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner has emerged as the Vegas front-runner for DROY, and with good reason-through 13 weeks, Gardner has allowed just 52.3 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed, has a passer rating against of just 57.5 and leads the league with 15 passes defensed.

As Brian Costello of the New York Post wrote, Gardner told reporters that he'll stack up his performance in 2022 against any other first-year player in the game.

"I don't really be going too deep into individual accolades that I want, but Defensive Rookie of the Year is one of them, and I feel like I'm the best defensive rookie doing it, for real," Gardner said. "The guys I've had to go against and the stuff I've been doing … I feel like I've been going against the best that there is."

Gardner is legitimately playing as well as any cornerback in the league-well enough to be a downgrade for most wide receivers. Stefon Diggs is not one of them, because Stefon Diggs is part of that excusive club of wide receivers for whom matchups do not matter. But given that Gardner doesn't play the slot, he won't see that much of Diggs in coverage anyway. What he will probably see, on the other hand, is a lot of Gabriel Davis.

And with Davis already a feast-or-famine fantasy option, a tough coverage matchup just makes the latter more likely than the former.


Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (Denzel Ward vs. Ja'Marr Chase)

The Cincinnati Bengals have enjoyed considerable success since Joe Burrow got to town, but there has been nothing but frustration where their cross-state rivals are concerned-after getting blown out earlier this year in Cleveland, Burrow is 0-5 against the Browns. Cincinnati didn't have star receiver Ja'Marr Chase for that game, and while teammate Tee Higgins said that having Chase back will be a big plus, he doesn't expect Sunday's rematch in Cincinnati to be easy.

"Y'all know what kind of player (Chase) is," Higgins said, via Mohammad Ahmad of "I'm pretty sure they're (the Browns) not going to change what they're going to do. They're well coached. They play good coverages. They got great athletes on the back end. It's going to be a dogfight for sure."

There isn't much that Chase didn't accomplish as a rookie last year. But success against the Browns was not one of them-in two matchups with Denzel Ward and the Browns last year, Chase managed just eight catches for 75 yards. This isn't to say that Chase isn't a must-start. Of course he is. But expectations should be tempered-at least a little.




Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (Justin Jefferson vs. Jeff Okudah)

The Detroit Lions weren't able to hold off the Vikings in Minnesota back in Week 3, but they did manage to do something that very few opponents have been able to replicate-they held superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson in check. Per Benjamin Raven of, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn admitted that was no easy feat-and it won't be easy to duplicate.

"It's hard to try to hold that player to that, now, he is a player that I really, really respect," Glenn said. "On a number of different levels. Just in my own opinion, I think he's, if not the best receiver, he's one of the top two. They move him around a lot. It's just the fact that he beats double teams. That's just what it is. So, if you're not locked in, like every play on this player, he's going to beat you. He understands how to beat those double teams. We talked to our guys this morning about leverage and understanding what this game plan is about."

It wasn't just that Jeff Okudah played his best game of the season against Minnesota. He had a lot of safety help-so much so that Adam Thielen (6/61/1) and K.J. Osborn (5/73/1) both had big games. With that said, this is Justin freaking Jefferson we're talking about. After managing just three catches for 14 yards the first time against the Lions, you have to think he'll be intent on showing that paltry outing was the flukiest fluke to ever fluke.




Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Patrick Surtain II)

There has been very little that has gone right for the Broncos this season, but Denver's defense can't be blamed for the team's struggles. In just his second season, Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain has become the best player on one of the NFL's best defenses, and per Keith Cummings of Mile High Huddle embattled head coach Nathaniel Hackett continues to be impressed by just how good at playing the position Surtain has already become.

"He's such a great young man. He's going to put his head down and work and learn from every experience that he has," Hackett said of Surtain. "As a DB in this league, you have to have a short memory and you can't win every single play. He's been out there for a whole lot of plays and done some amazing things and sometimes that happens. He was right there, and other guys make good plays too."

The good news where the fantasy prospects for the Chiefs wide receivers (headlined by JuJu Smith-Schuster) are concerned is that they all move around the formation so much that Surtain won't spend the entire game (or even most of it) on any single player. The bad news is that Denver has been a miserable matchup for wideouts all the way around-only one team has allowed fewer fantasy points per game to wide receivers this season.




Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (D.J. Moore vs. Tariq Woolen)

Sauce Gardner isn't the only rookie cornerback who has taken the league by storm-but in the case of Tariq Woolen of the Seahawks, it's that much more surprising. A fifth-round rookie out of UTSA, Woolen is tied for the league lead in interceptions with six, and as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times wrote, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said that Woolen put in a lot of work on improving his hands since arriving in the NFL.

"So he sees Marquise Goodwin and the receivers out there, and they are hitting the tennis balls off the wall. So, he just joins in on that. Then, he sees guys on the Jugs machine, and he starts catching the ball off the Jugs. Then, the quarterbacks are throwing him the football, and he's come full circle. … now he has great hands. He's put the time in.'

Woolen has been one of the biggest steals of the 2022 draft, posting a passer rating against of 55.2 and a completion percentage against of 53.2. What he hasn't done, however, is shadow opposing receivers-as has been the case for years, the Seahawks tend to leave their corners on their respective sides of the field. But before fantasy managers with shares of Moore breathe easy, bear in mind that the Seahawks have allowed the sixth-fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers this season.




New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals (Jonathan Jones vs. DeAndre Hopkins)

Bill Belichick and the Patriots have turned transforming undrafted free agent cornerbacks into stars an art form. There was Malcolm Butler. And then J.C. Jackson. And now there's Jonathan Jones, Jones might be the most impressive of the lot given how undersized he is-he's listed at 5'10" and 190 pounds, and neither are accurate if you have a tape measure and scale. But as veteran safety Devin McCourty told, sometimes big things come in small packages.

"I make fun of him all the time about being under 190 (pounds), but you don't see that," McCourty said. "When he is out there, he's hitting. In the Super Bowl in 2018 he basically broke Patrick Chung's arm coming down and making a tackle on (Todd) Gurley. I think that along with his toughness, he is one of our smartest football players. You see him playing outside, inside, he could even play free safety and make all those calls and do all those things. He is a fun guy to play with."

Jones has been wildly impressive this season, making the transition from the slot to the boundary look easy-quite the feat for a player his size. The Patriots are also a tough matchup for wide receivers, allowing the eighth-fewest PPR points per game to the position. But New England has a dilemma this week. On the outside against DeAndre Hopkins, there's a size mismatch. Jones would appear better-suited to covering Marquise Brown, but he hasn't played inside much this season.

With Belichick you never know what he might try defensively in a given week. But neither Cardinals receiver should get more than a marginal downgrade based on maybes.