Week 4’s wide receiver/cornerback matchups were highlighted by a Nuk and Will Fuller explosion in Houston, a sideline meltdown from Antonio Brown, as well as a return to form for the entire Carolina passing game. Let’s break down this week’s notable WR/CB matchups using our NFL Matchups tool as a guide.
Antonio Brown vs. Jacksonville Secondary
Brown’s 34 yards last Sunday against the Ravens were his fewest in a game since October of 2015. Of course, a trip back home has usually been all that’s needed to get the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver going again. Brown shares Ben Roethlisberger‘s extreme home/away splits in a good way, as he’s averaged an absurd 27.8 DraftKings points per game with a +8.5 Plus/Minus and 76 percent Consistency Rating at home since 2014 (per our Trends tool).
In part thanks to his high volume and unrivaled route running, Brown has had more success than failure when facing shadow coverage since the beginning of last season. Here’s how he’s fared against some of the elite shadow corners:
- Xavier Rhodes (5-62-0)
- Janoris Jenkins (6-54-1)
- Vontae Davis (5-91-3)
- Joe Haden (8-76-0)
- Malcolm Butler (7-106-0)
However, it’s not a stretch to call the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey the best cornerback Brown will have seen in quite some time. Ramsey has allowed a league-low 0.3 yards allowed per cover snap and an overall 7-42-0 line on 19 targets in coverage this season. Ramsey didn’t leave his spot at left cornerback for the first two weeks of the season but has since been moved all over the formation. The presence of A.J. Bouye – PFF’s No. 2 overall cornerback from a season ago – doesn’t offer much relief in the event Ramsey doesn’t shadow Brown.
Brown is certainly capable of making any cornerback look foolish for four quarters, and while the 6’1″ and 210-pound Ramsey combines ideal size with quick twitch movement and playmaking ability . . .
. . . it’s still AB at Heinz Field. His $8,400 price tag on DraftKings is $1,000 cheaper than when he had a similarly-tough matchup at home against Rhodes in Week 2, and Brown’s five to eight percent projected ownership is well below his average mark of 18.2 percent at Heinz Field since 2015.
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb vs. Cowboys Secondary
Despite taking a gruesome helmet-to-helmet hit last Thursday night, Davante Adams has practiced in a limited fashion in consecutive days and reportedly has a chance to suit up Sunday. Historically, Adams’ presence has actually helped both Cobb and Nelson since 2014:
In the event Adams doesn’t suit up, Geronimo Allison will start in the Packers’ three-receiver sets. Additionally, the potential absences of running backs Ty Montgomery (ribs, questionable) and Jamaal Williams (knee, probable) could lead to added backfield reps for Cobb. Whoever winds up suiting up in the team’s three-receiver sets has a great matchup against a Cowboys defense that has allowed 14 pass plays of 20-plus yards – tied for the fifth-highest mark in the league. Secondary starters Nolan Carroll (concussion) and Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring) are questionable at best for Sunday, while the defense could once again be without their heart-and-soul linebacker, Sean Lee, as he hasn’t practiced yet this week.
Assuming the Cowboys don’t receive any surprise reinforcements, the team’s top cornerbacks are rookie Jourdan Lewis, rookie Xavier Woods, and second-year Anthony Brown. Presumed No. 1 corner Orlando Scandrick has allowed a 7-98-1 line on 13 targets this season, and only Lewis has allowed a QB rating under 90 through four weeks.
Aaron Rodgers is capable of balling out against any defense, and especially an injury-riddled Cowboys team that simply isn’t the same team we saw for the past few seasons. In the past, playing the Cowboys was concerning for opposing offenses due to their ability to chew up the clock and control the game. In 2016, the Cowboys’ average time of possession was 31:28 – second in the league. This season: 28:24 – 23rd.
DeVante Parker vs. Titans Secondary
Parker has received eight-plus targets in eight career games; three of those games have come this season. Jay Cutler isn’t anyone’s idea of a good quarterback, but he’s continued to feed “Faster Alshon” in all the right ways. Overall, Parker leads the team in targets inside the 10-yard line and on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield. This attention is warranted considering Parker’s average of 2.11 yards per route run is the 10th-highest mark among all full time receivers this season.
And then we have the Titans secondary. They’ve been a bottom-10 pass defense in almost every metric imaginable and have the league’s fourth-worst pass defense in DVOA through four weeks. Every No. 1 receiver they’ve faced this season has gained at least 75 yards or scored a touchdown. Parker should see a mix of 5’9″ and 185-pound Brice McCain, as well as rookie Adoree’ Jackson, who is one of just five corners to allow three-plus touchdowns this season. Parker has done a great job being efficient with his plethora of targets to this point; now he gets a chance to cash in on his fantasy-friendly targets against the worst secondary he’s seen to this point.
Golden Tate vs. Panthers Secondary
The absence of Kenny Golladay in Week 4 led to Tate playing a season-low 65 percent of his snaps from the slot. Luckily for him, the Panthers don’t have a cornerback of Rhodes’ caliber, so Tate should be able to attack the Panthers’ zone-heavy defense from wherever he lines up. He presents a major mismatch problem for a Panthers defense that loves to stay in their base 4-3 front; all three starting linebackers have played at least 70 percent of the defense’s snaps this season.
Assuming the Panthers adjust their personnel to account for the Lions’ three-receiver sets, he should see plenty of slot corner Captain Munnerlyn. The two faced off six times when Munnerlyn was with the Vikings from 2014-2016, with Tate averaging a 6.3-55.3-0.3 line. While the expectation was for Eric Ebron to soak up most of Anquan Boldin‘s red zone role, Tate leads the team in red zone looks through four weeks. He gets a Panthers defense that has allowed touchdowns to slot men Danny Amendola and Brandon Coleman in consecutive weeks.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Cardinals Secondary
Through four weeks, it’s clear Carson Wentz won’t go out of his way to feed Jeffery in the same manner Cutler did once upon a time. Both Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor have more targets inside the 10-yard line this season, and Jeffery’s target totals have decreased in back-to-back weeks. Through four weeks, Jeffery is on pace for a season-long 68-860-8 line.
Jeffery’s inability to take over thus far isn’t all his fault: Zero of his seven deep-ball targets have been catchable (PFF), and he’s had some brutal matchups to start the season. Still, Patrick Peterson isn’t anyone’s idea of a get-well spot, and he’s shadowed and completely erased whoever he’s lined up against through four weeks:
- Marvin Jones (2-37-1)
- T.Y. Hilton (4-49-0)
- Dez Bryant (2-12-1)
- Pierre Garcon (4-36-0)
Jeffery’s ability to routinely come down with contested catches makes him somewhat matchup-proof, but he’s struggled against shadow coverage this season with underwhelming 3-29-1 and 4-56-0 lines against Casey Hayward and Janoris Jenkins, respectively. Peterson, at 6’0″ and 219 pounds, is not only better than both of those corners, but he’s also bigger and less likely to be pushed around by Jeffery.
Kelvin Benjamin vs. Lions Secondary
Benjamin hasn’t found the end zone through four games on an average of 4.75 targets per game. Still, he missed the majority of the team’s Week 3 matchup against the Saints due to a knee injury and ranks sixth among all wide receivers to play at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps with an average of 2.55 yards per route run. Considering Benjamin has received only two red zone targets this season, there’s plenty of room for positive regression for the 6’5″ and 240-pound beast who is now in his second year coming off an ACL tear.
And then we have Darius Slay, who has allowed a 16-175-0 line on 28 targets this season. An expert at not allowing big plays, Slay has allowed the sixth-worst quarterback rating among all full time corners and doesn’t figure to allow Benjamin to run freely through the secondary like he was able to against the Patriots last week. Slay has shadowed the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Stefon Diggs, and Julio Jones this season, and he’s held his own every step of the way:
Benjamin has matched up with Slay only once, converting his eight targets into a 2-46-0 line in his second career game back in 2014. Cam Newton shredded the Patriots for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns last Sunday, but prior to that game he failed to surpass 230 yards against the 49ers, Bills, and Saints. Newton has the league’s fifth-worst quarterback rating on deep balls this season, and the Panthers’ newfound reliance on dumping the ball down – Newton’s average target distance last season was 11.0 yards; it’s 8.3 yards this season – could continue to limit Benjamin’s upside in a tough matchup.
Doug Baldwin vs. Rams Secondary
Baldwin played on just 68 percent of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps Sunday night, and head coach Pete Carroll later admitted he was limited due to a groin injury sustained in Week 3. Even if Baldwin is able to be a full participant in practice this week, he faces a tough matchup against a Rams secondary that has managed to stifle any and every slot receiver this season:
- T.Y. Hilton (3-57-0)
- Jamison Crowder (4-47-0)
- Trent Taylor (3-32-1)
- Cole Beasley (3-17-0)
Slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman has allowed just 0.95 yards per cover snap, while outside corners Kayvon Webster and Trumaine Johnson are at 1.47 and 2.00 yards allowed, respectively. Overall, Robey-Coleman ranks among the top-10 slot corners in average cover snaps per target, yards per cover snap, and cover snaps per reception this season. Baldwin has failed to surpass 45 receiving yards in four of his last five games against the Rams, and he’s reliant on Russell Wilson having enough time to throw behind the league’s third-worst offensive line in pass-blocking efficiency this season.
- T.Y. Hilton vs. 49ers Secondary: Hilton is averaging just seven targets per game this season, down from his average of 9.7 per game in 2016. Still, he has an exploitable matchup against K’Waun Williams, who is the only full time slot corner to allow at least 2.0 yards per cover snap this season.
- Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Chargers Secondary: Beckham is capable of winning any matchup, and he should have plenty of chances to do so with his average of 14 targets per game over the past two weeks. He’s expected to be followed all over the formation by Casey Hayward, who has allowed a 70.6 quarterback rating and zero touchdowns on 23 targets into his coverage this season.
- Rishard Matthews vs. Dolphins Secondary: Matthews has eight-plus targets in three of four games this season and now gets a Dolphins secondary that has allowed bottom-five marks in yards per attempt, completion rate, and quarterback rating. Of course, much of Matthews’ upside hinges on the availability of Marcus Mariota (questionable, hamstring).
- A.J. Green vs. Bills Secondary: All three of the Bills’ primary cornerbacks have allowed fewer than 1.0 yard per cover snap this season; as a defense they’ve allowed a league-low one touchdown pass through four weeks. Green should still have plenty of chances to make a play, as he’s averaged double-digit targets over the past two weeks, and that workload isn’t going anywhere with Tyler Eifert (back) and John Ross (knee) each expected to miss another week.
- Dez Bryant vs. Packers Secondary: Per PFF’s Scott Barrett, Bryant is the most cornerback-sensitive wide receiver in the league. Predictably, he’s struggled during the team’s first four tough matchups but now will get plenty of chances against rookie Kevin King with Davon House questionable with a quad injury. Bryant is the second-highest rated receiver for Sunday’s main slate on DraftKings in Adam Levitan’s Pro Model.
The Shadow Factor
Very few cornerbacks shadow a receiver for the entirety of a game due to various scheme factors from both the offense and defense. Still, there are candidates each week who could see a heavy dose of their snaps against a single corner, including:
- Antonio Brown vs. Jalen Ramsey
- Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Casey Hayward
- Kelvin Benjamin vs. Darius Slay
- Alshon Jeffery vs. Patrick Peterson
- Dez Bryant vs. Kevin King