Week 1 WR/CB Matchups You Need to Know (Fantasy Football)
If I had a dollar for every time that I heard someone say, “Don’t start that wide receiver, he’ll be shadowed by the top cornerback on the opposing defense,” I’d be a rich man. But the truth of the matter is that there aren’t many cornerbacks who shadow opposing No. 1 wide receivers. For instance, did you know that Richard Sherman, who is considered to be one of (if not the) best cornerback in the league stays put on the left side of the field like 95 percent of the time? That’s right, he doesn’t shadow opposing No. 1 wide receivers.
So instead of leaving you in the dark, each week we’ll be here giving you the wide receiver and cornerback matchups that you need to be aware of for both season-long and DFS. It doesn’t even need to be a complete shadow situation for them to be here, but rather some of the best matchups to exploit, as well as some that it’s best to avoid. With that being said, let’s take a look at the matchups in Week 1.
Matchups to Exploit
Antonio Brown vs. Jamar Taylor
I’m not sure when the Browns thought they had so much talent at cornerback that they thought they could cut Joe Haden, the guy who was once looked at as a top-five cornerback in the league. So they’ll reportedly have Taylor shadow Brown this week, which likely won’t end well for him. Taylor wasn’t asked to shadow in 2016, and in fact, he didn’t see many No. 1 wide receivers in coverage, including Brown. In their lone meeting last year (where Brown played), Taylor wasn’t covering Brown on any of his targets. When asked to cover someone like A.J. Green last year, Taylor allowed three catches for 72 yards and a touchdown on just three targets in coverage. He’s not a bad cornerback by any means, but he’s also not ready for the task of covering someone like Brown one-on-one.
Larry Fitzgerald vs. Quandre Diggs
Over the last two years, Fitzgerald has dominated the start of the season averaging 9.1 targets, 6.6 receptions, 85.1 yards, and 1.1 touchdowns over the first five games. His matchup with Diggs in Week 1 doesn’t get much better, as Diggs saw 46 targets in coverage last year and allowed 42 receptions (91 percent catch rate) for 477 yards and two touchdowns. Not just that, but the Lions will also be starting rookie Jarrad Davis at middle linebacker, which could lead to some confusion on the field, particularly over the middle of it where Fitzgerald operates. He’s a WR1 in this contest.
Amari Cooper vs. Adoree Jackson/Logan Ryan
This is one of those situations where it’s unlikely that we see shadow coverage, but the matchup is one to target. Logan Ryan is coming from the Patriots where he wasn’t asked to drape opposing No. 1 wideouts, and rookie Adoree Jackson is someone we saw make some really bad mental errors in the preseason. In fact, it’s possible that LeShaun Sims, 2016’s fifth-round draft pick may start over him. Whatever the case, Cooper should be able to feast on this secondary that’s seen a complete overhaul. Don’t forget that it takes time to learn how to communicate in the secondary. Cooper is one of the few wide receivers who can beat you underneath, but also has the speed to blow the top off the defense. It also helps that the Titans can’t just forget about Michael Crabtree, either.
Doug Baldwin vs. Damarious Randall
Just last year, the Seahawks went into Green Bay and Baldwin was held to just six catches for 46 yards in what was supposed to be a monster game. Russell Wilson was awful in that game, completing just 56 percent of his passes (2nd-lowest of the season) for 240 yards and one touchdown. The Packers used Micah Hyde to help out in the slot last year, but he left the team via free agency, leaving Randall as the primary slot cornerback to cover Baldwin. Not only did Randall allow 15.1 yards per reception last year, but he also allowed a touchdown every 8.6 targets in coverage. Baldwin should feast in this matchup that also has the highest over/under of the week.
Jeremy Maclin vs. Darqueze Dennard
In his first game as a Ravens wide receiver, Maclin gets a treat. The Bengals top cornerback Adam Jones suspended for this game, leaving Dennard as a starter. He was extremely bad out of the slot last year and got benched, but the Bengals shockingly picked up the option to his contract. It just goes to show their lack of cornerback depth on the roster. On just 38 targets in coverage last year, Dennard allowed 33 receptions for 381 yards and one touchdown. Maclin is supposed to be used in the Steve Smith-role of the offense, and if that’s the case, he should be looked at as a WR3, at worst.
Matchups to Avoid (if possible)
Dez Bryant vs. Janoris Jenkins
Raise your hand if you’ve heard me say that Bryant has a tough schedule this season. If you haven’t, this is likely your first time reading one of my articles. While Bryant isn’t ever going to find his way to your bench, you have to dial back expectations in a matchup like this. In two games against Jenkins last year, Bryant totaled just two catches for 18 yards on 14 targets. In standard leagues, he actually finished with negative fantasy points because he lost a fumble. Again, Bryant has the talent to overcome a tough matchup, but he didn’t in this exact matchup last year.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Josh Norman
If you drafted Jeffery, this is not a week to be excited about using him. While the Redskins didn’t allow Norman to shadow last year, they said that he will this year when the opponent has a clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver. Over the last three years, Norman has allowed just seven touchdowns in his coverage on 254 targets, or one every 36 targets. Without Brandon Marshall in Chicago to pull away top-tier cornerbacks, Jeffery has averaged one touchdown every 26 targets, which would have ranked No. 95 last year among the 154 wide receivers who saw at least one target. He’s not more talented than Norman, so approach with caution.
DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jalen Ramsey
As if you didn’t have enough concerns about Hopkins with Tom Savage at quarterback, and now we’re adding a shutdown cornerback to the mix? In their two meetings last year, Ramsey got the better of Hopkins, who saw a massive 30 targets in the two games combined. With all those targets, you would’ve expected more than 13 catches for 131 scoreless yards. The hope for Hopkins is that Ramsey isn’t 100 percent coming off core muscle surgery, but it’s also important to keep in mind that the Jaguars added A.J. Bouye this offseason to help carry the load in the secondary. If there’s anyone who knows how to play against Hopkins, it’s Bouye, who was his teammate last year.
Michael Thomas vs. Xavier Rhodes
It’s not the way that Thomas would have preferred to start his season, while on the road and against one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Rhodes was phenomenal in coverage last year, allowing just a 48 percent catch rate and two touchdowns on 76 targets. It’s important to note that Rhodes isn’t a shadow corner who will travel into the slot, so it’ll be interesting to see if Sean Payton moves Thomas around the formation to create a mismatch with one of the other cornerbacks. Because of that, I’m not moving Thomas out of the high-end WR2 conversation this week.
Keenan Allen vs. Chris Harris Jr.
The good news is that Allen has come back from his torn ACL and looked good in the preseason. The bad news is that he’ll go against Chris Harris Jr. in Week 1, and area of the field known as the “No Fly Zone.” It’s fitting, too, as Harris Jr. allowed just 4.75 yards per target last year, the lowest-mark of any cornerback with at least 60 targets in coverage. In fact, the next closest was his teammate Aqib Talib at 5.32 yards per target. With all the mouths to feed in Los Angeles, it’d be wise for Philip Rivers to look elsewhere this week.