Bills vs. Ravens WR/CB Matchups: Stefon Diggs Gets Downgrade vs. Baltimore Corners
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images. Pictured: Stefon Diggs.
Wide receiver-cornerback showdowns might be the most important individual matchups in football.
In this piece, I leverage snap data from Pro Football Focus (PFF) to project Divisional Round WR/CB matchups for the Bills-Ravens game.
For more, see the FantasyLabs Matchups page, where we provide basic and advanced data — including fantasy and red-zone performance — for each offensive skill-position player based on his matchup.
As we get more clarity during the week on the injury status of receivers and corners, I will update my WR/CB projections.
Bills (-2.5) vs. Ravens (50 Over/Under)
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday | TV: NBC
Bills Wide Receivers
In his first year with the Bills, Stefon Diggs finished the regular season as the league leader with 1,535 yards, 127 receptions and 166 targets.
And then on Wild Card Weekend he was 6-128-1 receiving on nine targets.
I used to be a Diggs denier. I was wrong.
Opposite Diggs on the perimeter is John Brown, who disappointed last week with no receptions on four targets.
But he did have a 97% snap rate on Wild Card Weekend, and in his seven healthy games during the regular season, Brown was 33-458-3 receiving on 46 targets. Although he is now the No. 2 receiver behind Diggs, Brown is still every bit the player who had a career-best campaign last year with the Bills.
In the slot is Cole Beasley, who has hit career-high marks this year with 107 targets, 82 receptions, 967 yards and 9.0 yards per target. He missed Week 17 with a knee injury, but in his return to action last week he was an efficient 7-57-0 receiving on seven targets.
Of all full-time slot receivers, Beasley is No. 1 with 2.31 yards per route.
Rotating in with the three starters is rookie dynamo Gabriel Davis, who can play all three receiver positions. A 21-year-old upside fourth-rounder, Davis was monstrously undervalued as a prospect.
During the regular season, Davis was 35-599-7 receiving on 62 targets, and last week he was 4-85-1 on four targets with a 54% snap rate.
Even though he’s just a rotational player now, Davis looks like a future 1,000-yard receiver and is a strong contributor off the bench.
For my money, the Ravens have the NFL’s best trio of starting cornerbacks.
At left corner, they have Marcus Peters, who returned to action in Week 17 after missing Weeks 15 and 16. A two-time All-Pro defender, Peters can be beaten deep with double moves because of his aggressiveness, but he’s a total ballhawk. Since his 2015 rookie season, he has a league-high 33 interceptions in the regular season. For context: Trailing him at No. 2 is Xavien Howard, with 23.
At his best, Peters is one of the best. Last week, he allowed only 29 yards on five targets and grabbed an interception. Diggs can make any corner look foolish, but Peters will be one of the best defenders Diggs faces this year.
In the slot is Marlon Humphrey, who might be my favorite NFL corner. He can play inside. He can play outside. He can shadow. He can hang with fast receivers. He can press physical receivers. He can do it all.
A 2019 All-Pro, Humphrey has allowed just 6.7 yards per target over the past two seasons. Against the tight end-heavy Titans last week, he played on the perimeter in base defense and in the slot in nickel packages, thereby allowing the Ravens to ease right corner Jimmy Smith back into action in his return from injury. Again, Humphrey can do it all.
Given how frequently the Bills use three-wide sets, Humphrey is likely to spend most of this game matched up in the slot with Beasley. Advantage: Humphrey.
At right corner, Jimmy Smith has dealt with injury issues for much of the past two months. He missed Week 10, returned in Week 11, exited Week 12, missed Week 13, tried to hobble his way through Week 14, missed Weeks 15-17 and then finally returned to action last week.
Fortunately for him and the Ravens, the Titans make little use of three-wide sets, so he was able to play just 21 snaps and get through the game without aggravating the rib and shoulder injuries that have sidelined him. Smith should be as healthy as possible for the Divisional Round.
And that’s bad news for the Bills.
As good as Peters is on the perimeter, Smith is probably better. With his size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash), Smith is a versatile corner who can hang with almost any receiver.
Since last season, Smith has allowed just 4.8 yards per target with a 51.3% catch rate. Smith is yet to garner even a Pro-Bowl nod in his 10-year career, but he has the skills of an All-Pro cover man. He will give Brown all he can handle.
One more note on this matchup of Bills receivers vs. Ravens corners: Even though I expect Diggs & Co. to be challenged, their median outcomes are largely intact. Their ceiling and floor outcomes are significantly lower because they will likely be less efficient than usual. But their median outcomes should be about the same because even with the matchup, they will still get their targets.
Ravens Wide Receivers
The Ravens often use three-wide sets, but Marquise Brown is the only guy who consistently matters.
Last week Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Dez Bryant and Devin Duvernay combined for 2-9-0 receiving on four targets.
Of this underwhelming quartet, Snead is the most reliable. Over the past two years, he has averaged a respectable 8.2 yards per target, and in the middle of the season he had a couple of blowup performances (5-106-0, Week 8; 5-64-2, Week 10).
But Snead also had just 48 targets in the regular season.
As for Brown, he started the season slowly, and in Week 11 he hit a low point with no receptions on just three targets. But in the six games after that, Brown closed the regular season 26-338-6 receiving on 41 targets with either 90 yards or a touchdown in every game.
And last week he was 7-109-0 on nine targets. With his string of recent performances, Brown is in the best form of his career.
No. 1 corner Tre’Davious White has been used in shadow coverage for much of the season, and I expect him to tail Brown this weekend. While White typically matches up with bigger-bodied No. 1 receivers, he hasn’t shied away from small and fast field-stretchers like Hollywood.
A 2019 All-Pro defender, White has had an inconsistent season. On one hand, he has allowed a mediocre-at-best 8.7 yards per target. On the other hand, he has shadowed opposing No. 1 receivers almost every week and allowed only 4.2 targets in his coverage per game. His 76.5 PFF coverage grade this year speaks to his overall talent and play.
For his career, White has a 56.0% catch rate allowed. He represents a tough matchup for Brown.
With White on Brown, we will likely see Levi Wallace on Boykin and Taron Johnson on Snead for most of the game.
Wallace is an above-average cover man, but Johnson is a liability in the slot. Since last year, he has allowed a 73.7% catch rate. Even if the Ravens opt not to exploit it, Snead will have an edge over Johnson in this matchup.
Wide Receiver Upgrades & Downgrades
- Stefon Diggs: Moderate downgrade
- John Brown: Large downgrade
- Cole Beasley: Large downgrade
- Marquise Brown: Large downgrade
- Willie Snead: Moderate upgrade
- Miles Boykin: Small downgrade
Bills & Ravens WR/CB Injuries
- Bills WRs Stefon Diggs (oblique) & Cole Beasley (knee) are projected IN.
- Ravens CB Marcus Peters (back) is projected IN.
Bills-Ravens WR/CB Matrix
Pos = left, right or slot WR or CB
Projected shadow matchups are CAPITALIZED
WR Exp = Wide Receiver Expectation: I rank from 3 to -3 how much I think we should adjust expectations for wide receivers based on matchups. 3: Large upgrade. 2: Medium upgrade. 1: Small upgrade. 0: No change. -1: Small downgrade. -2: Medium downgrade. -3: Large downgrade.
Thanks to Scott Barrett for providing me with some of PFF’s historical data.
Matthew Freedman is 982-775-37 (55.9%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.
The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.