Pro Football Focus WR vs. CB Breakdown- NFL Week 6

Based on this week’s matchups and projected shadow situations from Pro Football Focus, let’s take a look at three wide receivers we should be upgrading and three wide receivers we should be downgrading for this week’s daily fantasy slate.

Downgrades

Julio Jones vs. Richard Sherman – In Week 4, Sherman covered Brandon Marshall on 11 targets, allowing just four receptions, but also 89 yards and a touchdown. This was the single most fantasy points Sherman has ever allowed to a single receiver in any regular season game. This marked only the fourth time since 2013 (52 games) that a receiver reached double digit fantasy points against his coverage in a single game. Prior to Marshall’s big game, Sherman had allowed just four receptions for 23 yards into his coverage all season.

Due to Sherman’s dominance, Seattle has been a deathtrap for fantasy studs for years now. Even the almighty Antonio Brown was stopped in Week 12 of last season, catching just three passes for 24 yards on nine targets against Sherman. As evident by Jones’ 300-yard Week 4 performance, he has elite upside whenever he sees the field. However, he’s also been a far riskier play this year, averaging just 6.3 targets and 11.4 fantasy points per game across his other four games.

Sherman has ranked as one of our 10 highest-graded cornerbacks in coverage every year since he’s been in the league. When opposing quarterbacks target Sherman in coverage, they are averaging a QB Rating of only 35.8, which ranks sixth-best among 112 qualifying corners. I’m avoiding Jones altogether this week unless his ownership drops well into the contrarian range.

DeAndre Hopkins vs. Vontae Davis – Through the first five weeks of last season, Hopkins had 75 targets to his name – through the first five weeks of this season, he has just 40. Without a doubt Houston’s rookie, Will Fuller, has thrown a wrench into our lofty expectations for Hopkins this season. With Hopkins projected to face Davis in shadow coverage for the majority of his routes this week, it feels more like a Fuller-week than a chance for Hopkins to get back on track.

Over the last two weeks, Davis has shadowed both Allen Robinson and Alshon Jeffery. He held them both to a combined seven receptions and 63 yards on 13 targets.Hopkins has 19 career targets against Davis, catching just eight for 71 yards and no touchdowns. Davis has been a top-20 graded corner in coverage in each of the last three seasons – reaching as high as No. 2 overall in 2014. Patrick Robinson, meanwhile, is giving up the sixth most fantasy points per snap and projects to spend the majority of his time covering Fuller. I’d avoid Hopkins this week, and opt instead for the less expensive Fuller in GPPs.

Brandon Marshall vs. Patrick Peterson – This one could be tricky. As alluded to in the previous section, Sherman had been stout against the pass before yielding a big day to Marshall in Week 4. Prior to Week 5, Steelers’ top corner, Ross Cockrell, hadn’t allowed more than 40 yards into his coverage in any single game. Against Marshall, last week, he gave up seven receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown (on 11 targets). So, we have some evidence that Fitzpatrick DGAFs tough cornerback matchups when his No. 2 (Eric Decker) is out, and that Marshall is likely somewhat matchup proof. Still, Peterson has arguably been the leagues toughest corner this season.

Peterson has seen 19 targets against wide receivers this season, and has allowed just seven receptions, 85 yards, and one touchdown. Peterson is our No. 4 graded corner in coverage after grading out No. 5 last season. Peterson currently ranks top-six in… *takes deep breath* …yards allowed per target, yards allowed per route in coverage, fantasy points allowed per snap, fantasy points allowed per route in coverage, completion percentage, and QB Rating. I suspect Marshall will need some heavy volume to return value, and recent usage suggests he’ll get it, but I’m still avoiding Marshall in cash.

Upgrades

Brandin Cooks vs. Carolina’s Cornerbacks – Early last week, the Panthers decided to part ways with cornerback Bene Benwikere, which means they are now fielding the least-experienced secondary in the league. The Panthers’ new starting cornerbacks will be rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, and veteran Robert McClain (who played in just one regular season game last year). Their other options are Teddy Williams (a former wide receiver) and the newly promoted rookie Zack Sanchez, who combine for just 81 career NFL snaps in the secondary. Their likely best corner, second-round rookie James Bradberry, missed last week’s game and has not yet practiced this week due to a foot injury.

Carolina is currently allowing the sixth most fantasy points per game to outside wide receivers and the fewest fantasy points per game to slot receivers. This makes me far less excited about the Saints’ starting slot receiver, Willie Snead, and much more excited about Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks.

I found an interesting stat on Brandin Cooks earlier this week. I have a spreadsheet with every pass attempt since 2007, and on it it includes who that pass was intended to and who was covering that receiver at the time. I have another spreadsheet with every cornerback’s combine numbers since 1999. I merged the two spreadsheets to see if there was any correlation between wide receiver success and a cornerback forty-yard-dash time. The answer is “not really, but it depends on who the wide receiver is”. Since 2007, wide receivers average 1.675 fantasy points per target against cornerbacks with sub-4.45 forty times. Against all slower corners, they average 1.662 fantasy points per target. Cooks, however, was a whole different story.

Cooks ran a 4.33 forty-yard-dash in 2014. He has 115 career targets against cornerbacks who recorded a forty-yard-dash time at the Combine. Against all such corners with sub-4.45 forty times, he averages 1.41 fantasy points per target (on 63 targets). Against all slower corners, he averages a whopping 2.37 fantasy points per target (on 52 targets). The implication here is that Cooks may rely on his straight line speed more than the typical wide receiver.

I could definitely just be getting too crazy with my data, but I do think this signifies an attractive matchup for Cooks. The Panthers’ two highest-graded corners both posted sub-4.45 forty times in the 2016 Combine (Bradberry 4.50, Worley 4.64). No other Carolina cornerback earned a Combine invite; though, according to their Pro Days, all are faster. Still, McClain was our overall worst-graded corner last week. Williams and Sanchez played on just a combined 23 snaps (their first of the season). Whichever way you spin it, Cooks looks to have an attractive cornerback matchup this week at home. While Cooks might not have the 300-yard game Julio Jones posted against Carolina, I am increasing GPP exposure because I like his chances of burning someone deep in this contest.

Tavon Austin vs. Quandre Diggs – Okay, this one doesn’t feel good, but like it or not, Austin does rank 12th among wide receivers in targets. I’m not saying Austin isn’t bad; I’m just saying, Diggs is probably worse. Austin typically runs the majority (51.5 percent) of his routes from the slot. The Lions are allowing the second most fantasy points per game to opposing slot receivers. This is primarily due to the fact that their starting slot corner, Diggs, has played terribly.

Diggs is our fifth worst-graded cornerback this season, out of 112 qualifying. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging a 150.5 QB Rating when targeting a wide receiver covered by Diggs – this ranks second-worst among corners. He’s given up the eighth most fantasy points of any corner, and he’s allowing the most fantasy points per snap, the third most fantasy points per target, and the fifth most fantasy points per route in coverage. At $3,900 on DraftKings, if Austin doesn’t hit value this week, I’m never playing him again.

Antonio Brown vs. Tony Lippett and Byron Maxwell – Rookie cornerback Xavien Howard recently underwent surgery to repair his Meniscus, has not practiced since, and is looking unlikely to play this week. That means Miami’s outside corners will be Lippett and the formerly benched Maxwell. It seems DraftKings’ pricing algorithm is well aware of Miami’s deficiencies in the secondary, as Antonio Brown’s salary has reached $10,000 – the first time that’s happened for any player since at least 2014.

Since 2014, Brown averages 25.2 fantasy points per game in games Ben Roethlisberger has played. Though that number dips when on the road, Brown still offers, perhaps, both the highest floor and the most upside of any player. So far this season, Brown has run 87 percent of his routes from the outside, which means plenty of opportunities against Lippett and Maxwell.

When opposing passers target a receiver in Lippett’s coverage they are averaging a QB Rating of 142.9, which ranks fifth worst among corners. Opposing quarterbacks are intentionally picking on him too, targeting him on 22.6 percent of his routes in coverage, which ranks second most among all corners. Lippett is allowing the second most fantasy points per route in coverage and the 11th most fantasy points per target.

Last season, Maxwell gave up the 11th most fantasy points per target. Opposing quarterbacks averaged a 100.7 QB Rating when targeting him, which ranked 14th-worst. He played poorly enough this season to get benched, and likely would still be there if not for the Howard injury.

Miami has already given up a combined 33 targets, 27 receptions, 409 yards, two touchdowns and 79.9 fantasy points to Terrelle Pryor, A.J. Green, and Doug Baldwin. Now imagine what the best wide receiver in football will do. Due to Brown’s high price tag this week, there’s a good chance we can land him at a contrarian ownership percentage. If Coates plays this week, he’ll have an attractive matchup as well.