Pro Football Focus WR vs. CB Breakdown – NFL Week 14
Based on this week’s matchups and projected shadow situations from Pro Football Focus, let’s take a look at some of the most important wide receiver vs. cornerback matchups for this weekend’s daily fantasy slate. If you’re a fan of this article, make sure you’re also checking out our WR v. CB Chart and the Shadow Matrix.
Notes: Any references to statistical and graded rankings for cornerbacks is out of all 101 cornerbacks to play at least 300 snaps, unless otherwise stated.
Atlanta Wide Receivers vs. Los Angeles Cornerbacks – Julio Jones is dealing with a turf toe injury, and has not yet practiced this week (as of Thursday). He’s projected to play this weekend, but the injury is still fairly disappointing considering how attractive his matchup looked on paper earlier in the week. Jones is expected to be shadowed by Los Angeles’ Trumaine Johnson. Johnson has only shadowed once this season, in Week 3 against Mike Evans, when Evans caught eight of 10 targets for 106 yards and a touchdown against Johnson. Johnson has also struggled over the last three weeks, allowing 16 completions on 19 targets for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Over the full season, he ranks 36th in fantasy points allowed per snap, despite also benefiting from poorer surrounding corners soaking up targets.
This brings us to Taylor Gabriel as a terrific low-priced (likely low-owned) option this week. Gabriel runs 83 percent of his routes from the outside, and will likely spend those against E.J. Gaines as Jones draws the shadow from Johnson. Gaines is our worst-graded-cornerback in coverage since Week 5, and ranks bottom-10 in both fantasy points allowed per snap in coverage and fantasy points allowed per target for the season. Gabriel has been fantastic when given the opportunity; he ranks first in fantasy points per target, first in fantasy points per snap, and second in fantasy points per route run (of 125 qualifying wide receivers). His issue, though, is he’s seen more than three targets in just three games this season. The good news is, those three games have all come over his last four games (19 targets over that span), and he could be due for an increase in targets with Jones’ turf toe issue and Mohamed Sanu’s groin injury (as of Thursday, Sanu has not yet practiced this week either).
Washington Wide Receivers vs. Philadelphia Cornerbacks – Philadelphia is allowing 16.8 fantasy points per game to wide receivers’ lined up their quarterback’s right, which ranks highest in the league. DeSean Jackson leads Washington’s wide receivers in percentage of routes run from the right (43 percent). This is also where Leodis McKelvin spends 92 percent of his routes in coverage. McKelvin is allowing the most fantasy points per snap, the most fantasy points per snap in coverage, and the third-most fantasy points per target of any cornerback.
McKelvin has routinely been burnt deep this season. No defender has given up more plays of 30 yards or more (or 40 yards or more) this season. This bodes well for Jackson, who leads the league in percentage of targets to go for 30 or more yards (12.7 percent). Only T.Y. Hilton has more total plays of 30 or more yards. Jackson didn’t do much in his last contest against Philadelphia, but McKelvin also didn’t play in this game.
Safety/slot cornerback, Malcolm Jenkins, covers the slot for Philadelphia and allows the second-most fantasy points per snap in coverage of any “cornerback” projected to start this week. This bodes well for Jamison Crowder, who runs 73 percent of his routes from the slot and ranks 15th among wide receivers in fantasy points per route run. Crowder saw two targets against Jenkins in Week 6, catching both of them for 37 yards and a touchdown. Even Garcon has a favorable matchup this week. He runs 52 percent of his routes from the left, where Nolan Carroll spends 96 percent of his routes in coverage. Carroll is our ninth-worst-graded cornerback in coverage.
New York Giants Wide Receivers vs. Dallas Cornerbacks – Shepard has an intriguing matchup this week, against Dallas’ slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Shepard runs 89 percent of his routes from the slot and should spend near the entirety of his game against him. Dallas is allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers out of the slot.
Odell Beckham Jr. projects to run 48 percent of his routes against Brandon Carr, who ranks average in all statistics frequently referenced in this article, but is Dallas’ highest-graded cornerback. Still, he won’t shadow, and the Giants do a good job of moving Beckham Jr. around the formation to create mismatches. He should run enough routes against Scandrick and Dallas’ left cornerback, Anthony Brown, to make this a favorable matchup. Brown is allowing the 11th-most fantasy points per snap in coverage, the 15th-most fantasy points per target, and is yielding a 125.6 passer rating when targeted (which ranks ninth-worst).
Dallas Wide Receivers vs. New York Giants Cornerbacks – In their first meeting against the Giants, in Week 1, Dez Bryant was held to just eight yards on four targets. Cole Beasley, meanwhile, saw 12 targets, catching eight, for 65 yards. Beasley’s matchup is fairly neutral. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie typically mans the slot, and has been fantastic this season, but the Giants are still allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers out of the slot, due to poor play from his supporting cast.
Dez Bryant has the matchup that intrigues me most. It’s unlikely he’s shadowed this week. He was shut-down in Week 1, but has had great success against the Giants’ top two cornerbacks throughout his career. On 24 career targets against Janoris Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie, Bryant has an incredible 22 receptions, 406 yards, and five touchdowns. From a fantasy points per target perspective, there are few cornerbacks Bryant has had more success against than either Rodgers-Cromartie or Jenkins throughout his career. Eli Apple, New York’s other starting cornerback, ranks 20th-worst in yards allowed per target and has barely graded positively for the season.
The bad news for Bryant is, Rodgers-Cromartie and Jenkins are easily playing the best football of their career. Both Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie rank among our 12-highest-graded cornerbacks in coverage and top-20 in fantasy points allowed per target. I’m hesitant to play Bryant given the Giants’ success against outside wide receivers this season (they’re allowing the 11th-fewest fantasy points per game as a team), but his history against them at least keeps him in play in tournaments.
Indianapolis Wide Receivers vs. Houston Cornerbacks – With Kevin Johnson headed to injured reserve, Kareem Jackson projects to get kicked outside, with former Hard Knocks celebrity, Charles James, moving to the slot. Charles has played on the majority of his team’s snaps in just four career games. On 26 career targets, he’s allowed 16 receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns. James ran a 4.49 forty yard dash at his Pro Day in 2013. Hilton runs 57 percent of his routes from the slot, and projects to match up against James for the majority of the day. Hilton ran a 4.34 forty yard dash in 2012, and should be no match for the inexperienced James.
Phillip Dorsett runs 47 percent of his routes from Andrew Luck’s right and projects to spend the majority of his day against Jackson. Jackson is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per snap in coverage. Dorsett’s matchup is intriguing, but recent usage pushes him out of play (six over the last four weeks). Donte Moncrief, meanwhile, draws one of the toughest matchups of the week against our fifth-highest graded cornerback in coverage, A.J. Bouye. Bouye ranks seventh-best in fantasy points allowed per target.
Denver Wide Receivers vs. Tennessee Cornerbacks – I owe Brandon Browner and Antwon Blake a lot of money. Last season, they made me a very profitable DFS player, constantly playing whichever wide receiver was lined up against them. Browner is now out of the league. Blake was recently a back-up with Tennessee, but is now projected to start following Perrish Cox’s release.
Last season, no cornerback in the NFL gave up as many fantasy points as Blake. Out of 118 qualifying cornerbacks, he graded out second-worst, just behind Browner. He led all cornerbacks in missed tackles with 28; the next closest cornerback “only” had 16. He gave up over 1,000 yards in coverage – no other cornerback hit four digits. He allowed eight touchdowns into his coverage, second most at the position. He was also routinely burnt deep, giving up six plays of 40 or more yards – most in the league. Basically, he was so bad last season, he had to change his name to “Valentino”.
Emmanuel Sanders projects to draw him on the majority of his routes (roughly 42 percent). Demaryius Thomas draws the tougher matchup against Jason McCourty, on roughly 44 percent of his routes. McCourty is allowing the 22nd-fewest fantasy points allowed per target.
Mike Evans vs. Delvin Breaux (Shadow) – This week, we have New Orleans’ Breaux projected to shadow Tampa Bay’s Evans. Evans has been fantastic all season, and has been unaffected by shadows from even the league’s elite shutdown cornerbacks. Evans has been shadowed seven times this season, more than other wide receiver, by Patrick Peterson, Desmond Trufant, Tracy Porter, Trumaine Johnson, David Amerson, Casey Hayward, and Richard Sherman. In those games, he’s averaging 11.1 targets, 6.6 receptions, 87.1 yards, 0.86 touchdowns, and 20.4 fantasy points per game. Evans is PFF’s highest-graded wide receiver this season and ranks second at the position in fantasy points per game. Breaux is not nearly the talent as some of the other cornerbacks who have shadowed Evans this year. Breaux has played in just five games this year, but grades out 25th-worst in coverage of 203 qualifying cornerbacks.
New Orleans Wide Receivers vs. Tampa Bay Cornerbacks – Willie Snead disappointed last week in a fantastic spot, but so did the entire New Orleans offense. He’s a good bet to bounce-back this week against Vernon Hargreaves, who has moved back to the slot with Jude Adjeu-Barimah suspended. Hargreaves is our 11th-worst cornerback in coverage this season and has given up the fourth-most total fantasy points this year. Admittedly, he has been better when in the slot, but Snead still has the best matchup of the three New Orleans wide receivers. Brent Grimes is our 17th-highest-graded cornerback in coverage. On an admittedly small sample size, Alterraun Verner is allowing a 67.9 opposing passer rating when targeted, which ranks 12th-best of 122 qualifying cornerbacks. Despite the somewhat difficult matchups, I’m unwilling to downgrade Brandin Cooks or Michael Thomas given their incredible success against tough cornerbacks.
Seattle Wide Receivers vs. Green Bay Cornerbacks – Doug Baldwin runs 75 percent of his routes from the slot and should spend the majority of his game against slot cornerback Micah Hyde. Hyde is our 10th-worst-graded cornerback and is allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per target. When targeted by opposing passers, he’s allowing a 142.0 passer rating, which ranks worst in the league.
Kearse and Lockett run a near even split from the outside. They should spend the better portion of their days against Ladarius Gunter and Damarious Randall. Randall is our seventh-worst-graded cornerback in coverage and ranks fourth-worst in fantasy points allowed per snap in coverage, and second-worst in fantasy points allowed per target. Gunter hasn’t been great either, allowing the 16th-highest opposing passer rating and the 21st-most fantasy points per target. Both outside corners have also been routinely burnt deep this season. Randall and Gunter have each given up five plays of 30 or more yards (tied for sixth-most among cornerbacks).
Antonio Brown vs. Buffalo’s Cornerbacks – Brown runs roughly 85 percent of his routes from the outside with a near-even split on both sides. He should spend the far majority of his day against Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. Gilmore is allowing the seventh-most yards per target. Darby is allowing the 24th-most fantasy points per snap in coverage. When targeted by opposing passers, he’s allowing a 107.1 opposing passer rating, which ranks 21st-worst. Darby has given up six plays of 30 or more yards (tied for most in the league) and Gilmore has given up five such plays (tied for sixth-most). If the targets are there, Brown should be able to make the most of them. He has only 13 targets over the last two weeks – both games ending in blowouts. If Buffalo can keep this competitive, Brown should be in for a big day.