Projected WR/CB Matchups for all four Wild Card games
The 2016 NFL playoffs have arrived, which means it’s time to put a new spin on the weekly wide receiver/cornerback matchup breakdown. During the playoffs, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at each team’s top wide receivers and projected opposition at the cornerback position.
Before you set your DFS lineup this week, be sure to also study our Wide Receiver vs. Cornerback matchup tool.
More information on weekly WR vs. CB matchups can be found in this week’s Shadow Report.
Green Bay Packers (@ WAS)
Primary matchups: James Jones vs. Quinton Dunbar, Randall Cobb vs. Will Blackmon, Davante Adams vs. Bashaud Breeland
Washington is one of a handful of teams that almost never shadows opposing wide receivers. In fact, Breeland following Odell Beckham Jr. on a handful of snaps early in the Week 12 meeting with the Giants marked the only hint of shadowing during the 2015 regular season.
Although they suffered an excessive number of injuries at the position during the regular season, the Redskins seem to have found a combination that works. Breeland is the star of the unit and primary lines up at left corner. Davante Adams has run 57 percent of his routes wide to Aaron Rodgers’ right, which means he needs to be avoided in playoff and DFS cash contests this week. Adams is one of the league’s least efficient receivers and this brutal matchup won’t help. Blackmon has settled in as the team’s other starting corner, but covers the slot in nickel situations. Green Bay’s third receiver was on the field on an NFL-high 95 percent of the team’s regular season pass plays, so Blackmon will surely be glued to Cobb during this game. Cobb has struggled this season, but Blackmon has been average, at best. Meanwhile, Dunbar is the nickel corner and works opposite Breeland in nickel. Jones’ targets are up significantly over the past month and, combined with primary coverage from Washington’s weakest corner, that trend figures to continue this week. Jones is the top play among Packers’ wide receivers.
Washington Redskins (vs. GB)
Primary Matchups: DeSean Jackson vs. Damarious Randall, Pierre Garcon vs. Sam Shields (or Quinten Rollins), Jamison Crowder vs. Casey Hayward
Like Washington, Green Bay won’t shadow when its top corners are healthy. However, when Shields and Randall have missed time over the past few months, the Packers have gone the shadow report. Randall shadowed Ted Ginn and Demetri Goodson Corey Brown when Shields was out in Week 9. Randall was out in Week 13, so Shields shadowed Calvin Johnson. Shields missed Week 15 and Randall shadowed Amari Cooper, while Rollins shadowed Michael Crabtree. One exception here was Week 14 when each of the top three corners were active. Shields shadowed Dez Bryant early before suffering a concussion. Randall then followed Bryant and Rollins handled Terrance Williams. Shields has missed three straight games since the concussion and is questionable for this weekend’s game. Green Bay did not shadow against Arizona or Minnesota during its past two games.
Regardless of Shields’ status, we should expect Jackson to run the highest percentage of his routes against Randall. Jackson moves around the Redskins’ formation quite a bit, but he’s wide to Kirk Cousins’ right 38 percent of the time. That’s Randall’s primary spot when not shadowing. If Shields is out, Randall very well could shadow Jackson. Green Bay has a strong cornerback unit across the board, but Jackson’s big play ability makes him an intriguing fantasy option. Like Jackson, Garcon moves around quite a bit. He will primarily see Shields (or backups Rollins) and should be downgraded slightly against this group. The easiest matchup to nail down is in the slot. Crowder, who has played well and sits 37th among wide receivers in receptions this season, will face off with Packers slot corner Casey Hayward. Hayward owns our top coverage grade among Green Bay’s corners. Fourth in line for targets in this offense, Crowder is not a recommended fantasy play.
Seattle Seahawks (@ MIN)
Primary Matchups: Doug Baldwin vs. Captain Munnerlyn, Tyler Lockett vs. Terence Newman, Jermaine Kearse vs. Xavier Rhodes
Minnesota has been fairly inconsistent when it comes to shadowing, but there are a few noteworthy trends. When the team shadows, top corner Rhodes handles the opposing top wide receiver. He shadowed Calvin Johnson twice, Demaryius Thomas on perimeter routes in Week 4, Julio Jones in Week 12 and Alshon Jeffery in Week 15. Rhodes struggled badly in coverage early during the 2015 regular season and didn’t shadow much for a long stretch before improving his play (and thus shadowing more) down the stretch.
Fortunately, we do have a Week 13 meeting between these teams that we can review. Saying Rhodes, Newman, and Munnerlyn simply played their respective position would be an understatement. None of the three moved away from their primary spot for a single pass play. Rhodes (right corner), Newman (left corner), and Munnerlyn (nickel/slot) figure to be utilized the same way this weekend.
Seattle moves its wide receivers around a ton, but Kearse lines up wide to the left on 52 percent of his routes, Baldwin works the slot on 83 percent of pass plays, and Lockett is wide to the right on 38 percent of his routes. Munnerlyn has been Minnesota’s top cover corner, which suggests Baldwin should be downgraded slightly. Of course, he caught all five of his targets for 95 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting between the teams. Only one catch for seven yards was recorded in Munnerlyn’s coverage, but Russell Wilson did a nice job finding him against Newman and Antone Exum for the scores. Lockett, meanwhile, caught all seven of his targets for 90 yards in the first meeting. He had no trouble disposing of Newman on four of those targets. Kearse was limited to no catches on one target, but like Lockett, he saw plenty of both Rhodes and Newman. Baldwin is the best fantasy play despite Munnerlyn’s presence, but Kearse and especially Lockett are fine options, as well.
Minnesota Vikings (vs. SEA)
Primary Matchups: Stefon Diggs vs. Deshawn Shead, Mike Wallace vs. Richard Sherman, Jarius Wright vs. Jeremy Lane
Sherman has gained a reputation as a stay-at-home corner who doesn’t cover the slot or move away from his spot at left corner. It’s not accurate. At times, Sherman has shadowed opposing top wide receivers and/or covered the slot. Sherman shadowed A.J. Green, Torrey Smith (twice), Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown, and Michael Floyd (about half the time in Week 17) during the regular season. When not shadowing, Sherman will stick to his spot at left corner, which is what he did when these teams met in Week 13. He ended up on Wallace – Minnesota’s primary right perimeter wide receiver – on 20 of the receivers’ 29 pass routes. Wallace didn’t catch a pass on one target against Sherman, but did record a pair of catches for 43 yards against Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright.
Behind Sherman, there’s been a lot of movement at the position. A Week 1 starter, Cary Williams was cut during the regular season. Shead hasn’t been much better in his place, which suggests Diggs, who lines up wide to Teddy Bridgewater’s left on 63 percent of his routes, has a major advantage on paper. Of course, Diggs’ targets (and production) have dwindled since the first month of his career. In the Week 13 meeting, he managed only two receptions for 22 yards on six receptions, including one catch for 14 yards on four targets against Shead. Diggs’ boxscore line from that game may cause many to avoid him this weekend, but he’s obviously a sneaky play. Lane has been competent covering the slot, but won’t pose a major threat to Wright, who has enjoyed a 15 percent or better target share in four straight games.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. PIT)
Primary Matchups: A.J. Green vs. Ross Cockrell/Antwon Blake, Marvin Jones vs. William Gay, Mohamed Sanu vs. Brandon Boykin
Considering that they did not shadow during the regular season, the Steelers’ cornerbacks may appear simple to sort out. Unfortunately for us fantasy football nerds, they are not.
Let’s start with the easy stuff. Boykin took over as the team’s primary slot corner in Week 13 and appears locked into that role. He will see Sanu, who runs 88 percent of his routes from the slot, throughout a majority of the game. Sanu is a nice gadget player, but not a good receiver, whereas Boykin has been terrific in coverage. Sanu should be avoided.
Now the tricky part. Gay is locked into an everydown role. He manned the slot prior to Boykin’s promotion, but now plays almost exclusively on the perimeter. He lined up at right corner on 89 percent of pass plays during Weeks 13-16, but moved to left corner for the entire game in Week 17. Opposite Gay, we have the committee of Cockrell and Blake. Like Gay and Boykin, Cockrell has been solid in coverage this season (and arguably the best of the group), whereas Blake has been horrendous. For whatever reason, Pittsburgh continues to rotate the two. Since Boykin’s emergence, Cockrell has been in on 141 pass plays and Blake has covered 127.
As irritating as that is, it helps that Green and Jones play on both sides of the formation. Green lines up wide right 42 percent of the time and wide to the left on 37 percent of his routes. Jones sits at 39 percent and 47 percent, respectively. Both players will see plenty of Gay, Cockrell, Blake, and even a little bit of Boykin.
As division rivals, these teams obviously met twice during the regular season. Primarily against Blake, Green caught 11 of 15 targets for 118 yards and a touchdown in Week 8. Jones was limited to two catches for 12 yards on five targets. Sanu caught two of three targets for 10 yards. Green had more success in Week 14. He lit Blake up for 110 yards on four receptions and one touchdown (four targets), while adding two catches on four targets for 22 yards against the teams other defenders. Jones caught 6 of 8 targets for 61 yards. Sanu was targeted five times. He caught two for 24 yards and two others were picked off. Green will again be a nice play this week, but he won’t see as many routes against Blake. Of his 23 targets, 17 receptions, 250 yards, and two touchdowns against the Bengals, 12 targets, 10 receptions, 183 yards, and one touchdown came against Blake.
Pittsburgh Steelers (@ CIN)
Primary Matchups: Antonio Brown vs. Adam Jones, Martavis Bryant vs. Dre Kirkpatrick, Markus Wheaton vs. Leon Hall
Like the Steelers, the Bengals simply do not use their cornerbacks as shadows. Jones lined up at right corner on 98 percent of the 545 pass plays he defended during the regular season. Kirkpatrick lined up at left corner 97 percent of the time. Nickel/slot corner Hall lined up in the slot 97 percent of the time. That was the team’s primary setup when these teams met in Week 8, but Jones missed the Week 14 meeting and was replaced at right corner by Joshua Shaw. Both Hall and especially Jones have been strong in coverage this year. Kirkpatrick has struggled in a big way, but continues to play an every-down role.
The best wide receiver (and possibly the best player) in the NFL, Brown lines up to Ben Roethlisberger’s left on 47 percent of his routes. He’s wide right on 34 percent and in the slot on 18 percent. Bryant works wide to Big Ben’s right on 54 percent of his routes. He’s wide to the left on 35 percent and inside 12 percent of the time. Both perimeter receivers will see all three Cincinnati corners, but Bryant get the advantage of a few extra routes against Kirkpatrick. He’s an intriguing play, especially after a pair of down games (primarily as a result of injury/illness). Wheaton had a strong December, but expectations should be held in check against Hall.
During two regular season meetings with the Bengals, Brown posted pedestrian numbers by his standards. He caught 13 of 20 targets for 134 yards and the only touchdown scored by a Steelers wide receiver against Cincinnati this past season. Bryant caught 11 of 17 targets for 98 yards. Wheaton managed five catches on nine targets for 70 yards. Heath Miller, meanwhile, posted 20 receptions and 171 yards on 22 targets. Roethlisberger tossed one touchdown and four interceptions during the two games. Brown’s floor is attractive in cash games, but it wouldn’t be a bad strategy to consider pivoting to Bryant (or avoiding this unit) in DFS tournaments.
Houston Texans (vs. KC)
Primary Matchups: DeAndre Hopkins vs. Sean Smith, Nate Washington vs. Marcus Peters, Cecil Shorts vs. Ron Parker
Like many of the teams playing this weekend, the Chiefs do not shadow with their top corners. Sean Smith was suspended during Weeks 1-3, but has been terrific while lining up at right corner on 96 percent of pass plays this season. Rookie Marcus Peters struggled badly out of the gate, but has been terrific during the second half of the season. He’s lined up at left corner on 96 percent of 609 pass plays defended. Ron Parker has played well as Kansas City’s primary slot corner (94 percent).
One of the league’s most-talented and heavily-targeted wide receivers, Hopkins lines up wide to Brian Hoyer’s left on 46 percent of pass plays. He’s wide right on 39 percent and in the slot 15 percent of the time. He’s certainly a candidate for a letdown game against one of the league’s top pass defenses and cornerback duos. Washington’s usage has varied depending on the health of Shorts, but he’ll primarily work on the perimeter with Shorts expected to return Sunday. Washington provided WR1 numbers when Shorts was out during the regular season, but was well off the fantasy radar when Houston’s wide receivers were all active. He’s especially risky off an injury of his own and up against this defense. Shorts lines up in the slot on 86 percent of his routes. He’ll see Parker nearly exclusively, which is the best matchup of the trio, but that’s not saying much.
Kansas City and Houston faced off during the regular season, but the game was way back in Week 1 when both teams were in the midst of struggling out of the gate. As mentioned, Smith was suspended for that game. Hopkins caught nine of 13 targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns. He scored both touchdowns against Peters, but did most of the additional damage against Jamell Fleming. Washington caught six of 10 targets for 105 yards. Shorts caught four of seven targets for 57 yards. Fleming and Peters were picked on in a way in that game, but it’s not the same secondary Houston will see this weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs (@ HOU)
Primary Matchups: Jeremy Maclin vs. Johnathan Joseph, Albert Wilson vs. Kevin Johnson, Chris Conley vs. Kareem Jackson
Of this week’s eight matchups, projecting how Houston will handle Maclin was the trickiest. When these teams met in Week 1, Joseph shadowed Maclin on 28 of his 33 pass routes. That included one (of four possible) routes in the slot. Since that game, Joseph has shadowed only occasionally. He followed Julio Jones in Week 4, Sammy Watkins in Week 13, and T.Y. Hilton in Week 15. Most of that shadowing came on the perimeter, with Joseph covering the slot only a few times vs. the trio. On the year, Joseph lined up in the slot on only five percent of pass plays. This is all important background information because Kansas City recently increased Maclin’s slot snaps in order to get perimeter receiver Chris Conley on the field over slot man Jason Avant. During Weeks 1-14, Maclin lined up inside on 30 percent of his routes. During the team’s past two games, that mark is 41 percent. It’s not a huge adjustment, but it’s enough that it makes you wonder if Joseph will exclusively shadow a team’s primary slot receiver. He hasn’t done it this season. My best guess is that Joseph will shadow Maclin the 60 percent of the time he’s on the perimeter, plus a few times on key plays in the slot. Otherwise, Jackson, Houston’s primary slot corner, will cover him. Joseph has been outstanding in coverage this season and Jackson has been competent. It’s a tough challenge for Maclin, who caught five of eight targets for 52 yards in Week 1. Seven of those eight targets came against Joseph (five) and Jackson (two).
With Joseph likely to be on Maclin quite a bit, Johnson figures to follow Wilson. The two matched up against one another on 17 of the 21 pass plays Johnson was in the game for in Week 1. Wilson caught both targets against the rookie for 19 yards, but wasn’t being used nearly as often as he is over the past month. The same could be said for Johnson, who has been respectable in coverage opposite Joseph. As noted, Jackson figures to see some of Maclin, but he’ll also work against Conley and Avant. Conley’s role has increased over the past few weeks, but he’s not seeing enough work to warrant fantasy consideration. In the Week 1 matchup, Travis Kelce (6-6-106-2) and Jamaal Charles (7-5-46-1) did most of the damage, including scoring all three of the teams receiving touchdowns.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL