Pro Football Focus: Advanced WR/CB Matchups – Week 2
Week 1 is in the rearview mirror and while things move fast in the NFL, it’s important not to let a one-week sample influence us too heavily. Moving forward the next couple weeks, I’ll be combining both 2016 data and what we have so far in 2017 to identify some of the best WR/CB matchups to both target and fade. Let’s get right to it.
Studs to Target
Julio Jones vs Green Bay – Julio is in the best matchup among the top receivers by a landslide. He’s taking on a Packers secondary that allowed the most receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and overall fantasy points to opposing wideouts. The last time he played Green Bay, Julio went off for a stat line of 9-180-2 – good enough for 42 DraftKings points. All three of the Packers’ starting trio of corners rank outside our top-50. Jones is moved around the formation quite a bit and should see plenty of time lined up against each one. He has a legit chance to score every time he’s targeted in this game. He’s a must-play for me in cash.
Brandin Cooks vs Marshon Lattimore – Brandin Cooks returning to the Superdome in a shootout with his former team is sure to draw a ton of ownership, but for good reason. The Patriots have the highest implied team total (31.5 points) and will be taking on a Saints squad that was just embarrassed by Sam Bradford on national television last week. After netting zero passing touchdowns last week, we can expect a bounce back from Tom Brady and company and it begins with their biggest offseason acquisition, Cooks. The Patriots moved Cooks all over the formation last week, but it looks like he should be running most of his routes against rookie Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore was our No. 53 graded cornerback last week in his rookie debut, but his coverage grade (not his run support grade), was bottom-20 among all corners that saw at least 50 total snaps. Cooks saw seven targets last week but played on 82 percent of the team’s snaps. Cooks and teammate Chris Hogan both posted top-10 average depth of target (aDOT) numbers last week with Cooks at 20.3 yards. If Brady can connect a couple more times on those deep looks with Cooks in this mismatch, Cooks has a chance to break the slate with a monster outing.
Antonio Brown vs Minnesota
I wanted to put Amari Cooper here, but the volume is just so difficult to rely on. Instead, I’ll focus on a guy who is matchup-proof and likely to be overlooked with the massive ownership Julio should draw in Antonio Brown. On paper, yes, Xavier Rhodes is a guy we shouldn’t target aggressively. However, last week the Vikings didn’t have Rhodes shadow Michael Thomas at all. They primarily had Rhodes man the right side of the field, and as such, Brown certainly comes into play for tournaments for me. Brown moves quite evenly around on the outside, running 45 percent of his routes at LWR and 40 percent at RWR. OC Todd Haley should find ways to scheme Brown against LCB Trae Waynes, who’s become a bit of a liability on the outside. Dating back to last year, Waynes has allowed 1.55 yards per reception and 0.35 fantasy points per reception, both bottom-15 rates among corners. Brown is a pure leverage play off Julio’s ownership, and any time we can get a top-three player at their position at suppressed ownership, it’s a good time to strike.
Studs to Fade
Mike Evans vs Chicago – Chicago’s defense has done quite well limiting their opponent’s top receiving option. Since Vic Fangio has taken over, they’ve held high-priced options on DraftKings well below their expected points as noted by FantasyLabs’ Adam Levitan:
Despite a lack of secondary talent, Bears have dominated WR1s since Vic Fangio took over. Their results vs wideouts priced over $7500 on DK: pic.twitter.com/HryVOqrvC5
— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) September 13, 2017
Since Fangio took over, WRs priced $7,500 or higher on DK have averaged just 10.6 DK points against the Bears. Evans is priced at $7,700 on DK and his history against Chicago says to fade. Over the past two years he’s played them twice, scoring 10.6 and 10.1 DK points. The Bears gave up just 13 touchdowns to wideouts last year. Only five teams gave up fewer. Chase the upside at your own risk.
Terrelle Pryor vs Trumaine Johnson – In his Week 1 debut with Washington, Terrelle Pryor saw 11 targets. While that volume is something we should be chasing week-to-week, it doesn’t present a great opportunity in Week 2 against the Rams’ Trumaine Johnson. Johnson has been franchise tagged two years straight by the Rams, for good reason. Last year, he finished with a top-25 coverage grade allowing just 0.21 fantasy points per reception and 0.10 fantasy points per target. Opposing quarterbacks have tended to avoid his coverage with him being targeted on just 16 percent of his pass routes defended. Like opposing quarterbacks, I’ll be avoiding Trumaine Johnson’s coverage skills and fading Pryor this week.
DeVante Parker vs Casey Hayward – DeVante Parker is expected to be shadowed by San Diego’s Casey Hayward in a matchup that looks safe to avoid completely. Hayward has developed into a shutdown corner allowing just 0.23 fantasy points per reception and finished 2016 as our No. 7 overall graded corner. He allowed just one touchdown on 96 targets last season. We saw over the preseason that the connection between Jay Cutler and DeVante Parker looked strong, but I won’t be trying to test that in Week 2 against Hayward’s shadow coverage. Hayward has allowed just a 57 percent completion percentage on targets thrown in his direction.
Values & Hidden Gems
Tyreek Hill vs Jalen Mills – The way to beat the Eagles is on the outside by attacking their corners. Tyreek Hill has a chance to absolutely demolish the boundary corners of Philadelphia and appears to be mispriced on both sites. Jalen Mills was PFF’s worst-ranked cornerback last season, ranking 119 of the 119 qualifying. He gave up 2.04 yards per route defended, fifth-most in the league. He now gets the unenviable task of trying to cover Hill and his reported 4.24 speed. Per NFL.com’s NextGenStats, Tyreek Hill led all wide receivers in average separation — that’s the distance between himself and a defender — with 4.7 yards last week. Mills will have a tough time keeping up with that given his 4.61 speed. Philadelphia gave up the most fantasy points on deep passes last season to opposing wideouts, and they’ll surely be cognizant of keeping Hill in front of them at all times. Going back to the NextGenStats well, Hill had the highest amount of cushion — yards between himself and a defender at the time of the snap — than anyone in the league at 8.0 yards. If Philadelphia sells out to protect the deep ball, Hill could rack up a ton of underneath receptions as the team’s primary receiving target. Hill saw eight targets last week, finishing with 29.8 DK points. He could be in line for even more volume given the plus matchup playing at home against Mills.
Adam Thielen vs Mike Hilton – 2016 UDFA Mike Hilton has somehow climbed from the abyss of the Jaguars practice squad in 2016 up to the starting slot corner for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, I had to Google that. Hilton is a bit of an unknown commodity, but the important thing is that he’s seeing significant playing time in 2017. Last week, Hilton defended 23 routes last week against the Browns. Every single one of them came with him lined up in the slot. Adam Thielen is coming off a monster outing where he dominated out of the slot, catching eight passes for 146 yards. Hilton wasn’t targeted much last week against the Browns, allowing just two receptions on three targets for 12 yards. I wouldn’t be shocked if Sam Bradford (if healthy) decides to test the former undrafted free agent a bit more in Week 2, leading to another potentially big game out of Thielen out of the slot. Thielen commanded over 31 percent of the team’s targets last week. If we get the green light on Sunday that Bradford is good to go, fire up Thielen with confidence in a high-scoring game that will be terrific to game-stack.
Emmanuel Sanders vs Dallas – The Broncos like to move Emmanuel Sanders all over the formation. He’ll draw matchups against almost all of the Cowboy’s corners and that’s a good thing. Last year, Sanders ran 35% of his routes from the right, 24% from the slot, and 41% from the left side of the formation. The Cowboys’ RCB Nolan Carroll was our #100 ranked CB last year. LCB Anthony Brown was credited with allowing five touchdowns last season. Slot CB Orlando Scandrick may be out of this one after needing to put a metal plate inserted into his left hand. If Scandrick were to miss time, Sanders stands to benefit greatly when running routes from there against their fourth-stringer. Sanders is in a plus-matchup no matter where OC Mike McCoy lines him up. Sanders will likely have low ownership after last week’s poor performance, but he still netted six targets and just missed out on scoring a touchdown. The Broncos are minor home dogs and they’ll likely be forced to pass here against a subpar secondary. 52% of the targets went between Sanders and Demaryius Thomas last year. That should remain the same as they both get flooded with targets in Week 2 against a poor secondary.