Packers vs. Buccaneers WR/CB Matchups: Moderate Downgrade for Davante Adams vs. Carlton Davis
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictures: Davante Adams vs. Carlton Davis
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 Conference Championship WR/CB matchups for the Packers-Rams 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.
Packers (-3.5) vs. Buccaneers (51 Over/Under)
Kickoff: 3:05 p.m. ET Sunday | TV: FOX
Even though 2020 was his first season as an All-Pro, Adams has been the NFL’s best wide receiver for the past few years.
In the post-Jordy Nelson era, Adams has been exceptional. Since 2018, he has been the NFL’s most reliably productive wide receiver on a per-game basis as a fantasy and football producer (including postseason).
- Fantasy Production: 22.3 PPR points (1st) | 14.7 STD points (1st)
- Football Production: 7.6 receptions (2nd) | 93.7 yards (2nd) | 0.89 touchdowns (1st)
Over the past three seasons, Adams is No. 1 with 10.8 targets per game.
On a per-snap basis, he has been a top-five fantasy producer (per PFF).
- 2020 (14 games): 0.47 PPR points (1st) | 0.31 standard points (1st)
- 2019 (14 games): 0.34 PPR points (2nd) | 0.21 standard points (5th)
- 2018 (15 games): 0.34 PPR points (3rd) | 0.23 standard points (4th)
This year, he is No. 1 with 2.96 yards per route. Last year, he was No. 2 with 2.61.
Even though Adams played just half of Week 2, leaving the game early with a hamstring injury that sidelined him through the Week 5 bye, he still finished the regular season No. 4 with 136.3 air yards and yards after the catch (AirYAC) per game.
AirYAC is a leading indicator of fantasy production and can be found in the RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary.
He’s No. 1 in the league with a 0.78 WOPR.
Even with just 14 games, Adams had the best season of his career with 115-1,374-18 receiving on 149 targets. For the year, Adams was No. 1 in Hayden Winks’ usage model, which is hardly surprising given that he had a league-high 34% market share of team targets.
Even against shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the tough Rams’ defense, Adams was 9-66-1 receiving on 10 targets in the Divisional Round.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the perimeter and Allen Lazard in the slot are both fine. They’re probably above-average receivers. Both have flashed playmaking upside.
But their usage and production in the regular season were modest.
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling (16 games): 13% target share | 33-691-6 receiving, 63 targets
- Allen Lazard (10 games): 15% target share | 33-451-3 receiving, 46 targets
They combined for 16 targets last week, so it’s not as if they add nothing to the offense. Lazard especially looked good with 4-96-1 receiving. Valdes-Scantling was a meh-inducing 4-33-0.
Adams, though, is such a dominant force that after him it’s hard for any receiver to produce on a consistent basis.
UPDATE (Sat. 1/23): CB Carlton Davis (leg) practiced in full this week and will play.
No. 1 cornerback Carlton Davis had an uneven-but-excellent game in the Divisional Round.
On the one hand, he’s the defensive back who allowed a 56-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tre’Quan Smith on quarterback Jameis Winston’s only attempt of the game.
Watching No. 24 on this is so fucking hilarious. You can actually see the moment when he realizes, “Oh shit, that’s my guy.” pic.twitter.com/3mS7erltRC
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) January 18, 2021
On the other hand, he’s not the first cornerback to fall victim to a trick play, and he had a strong performance as the shadow defender on No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas, who was held without a catch.
I don’t have a island . I gotta graveyard☠️
— C-Murda ™ (@Carlton_Lowkey) January 18, 2021
And Davis’ performance last week wasn’t a random occurrence. In all three of his matchups with Thomas this season, he did exceedingly well.
Carlton Davis shadowed Michael Thomas 3 times this season. Shown here are his receiving lines for the game (vs. Davis in parentheses).
Wk 1: 5-3-17-0 (4-2-9-0)
Wk 9: 6-5-51-0 (4-3-38-0)
Wk 19: 4-0-0-0 (3-0-0-0)
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) January 18, 2021
For much of the past two seasons, Davis has been a top-tier shutdown defender, allowing just a 56.3% catch rate while matching up most with No. 1 receivers. With his size (6-foot-1, 206 pounds), Davis matches up with Adams about as well as any corner can.
It’s questionable how much weight we should put on what Adams did in the 38-10 loss to the Bucs in Week 6, when almost everything seemed to go wrong for the Packers, but it’s worth nothing that Adams was just 6-61-0 receiving on 10 targets while spending most of the game in Davis’ shadow coverage.
But Davis (leg) exited last week early with an injury — perhaps he reaggravated the groin pull that caused him to miss Weeks 16 and 17 — so he’s uncertain to play this weekend. I’m presently projecting him in and expecting him to shadow Adams, but his status should be monitored.
Davis wasn’t the only Bucs corner to play well last week: All three starters flashed. After all, the Bucs’ defense is No. 5 with a -5.4% pass DVOA (per Football Outsiders).
When Targeted as Nearest Defender
Jamel Dean (5 targets)
🔹 2 rec, 15 yds (Avg Sep: 1.7 yds)
Sean Murphy-Bunting (5 targets)
🔹 3 rec, 7 yds, INT (Avg Sep: 2.1 yds)
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 18, 2021
While Davis is the most-heralded player in the cohort, perimeter counterpart Jamel Dean might be the better cover man. Across his two-year career, he has allowed just 5.7 yards per target with a 58.5% catch rate.
Against Dean, the volatile Valdes-Scantling will face a significant challenge. In Week 6, he was just 3-32-0 receiving on five targets against the Bucs.
But in the slot, Sean Murphy-Bunting is something of a liability. For his career, he has allowed a 74.7% catch rate, and this year in particular he has yielded 9.0 yards per target and seven touchdowns.
After his 4-96-1 receiving performance last week, Lazard could have another big game given his matchup.
Buccaneers Wide Receivers
UPDATE (Sat. 1/23): WR Antonio Brown (knee) is out.
With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and midseason addition Antonio Brown, the Bucs have the league’s best starting trio of receivers.
What do you really need me say about these guys?
This year, Evans became the first player in NFL history to open his career with seven 1,000-yard receiving campaigns.
When the NFL Hall of Fame is tweeting about a guy, he’s probably pretty good.
The HOF is tweeting about Mike Evans 👀 https://t.co/S9E1wIDYMW
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) January 3, 2021
And over the past two years, Godwin has arguably been the better receiver (including postseason).
- Chris Godwin (28 games): 160-2,286-17 receiving | 10.3 yards per target
- Mike Evans (31 games): 144-2,285-22 receiving | 9.5 yards per target
As for Brown, he was an underwhelming 20-168-0 receiving on 29 targets in his first month with the team, but in the final month of the regular season he looked very much like his 2018 self with 25-315-4 on 33 targets.
In the playoffs, though, he has been more subdued. On Wild Card Weekend he was a respectable 2-49-1 receiving, but he had just three targets, a total he matched in the Divisional Round before leaving early with an injury. Brown (knee) seems likely to play this weekend…
#Bucs WR Antonio Brown, who injured his knee and underwent an MRI following the game, did not suffer a serious injury, sources say. He’s considered day-to-day in preparation for the NFC Title Game vs the #Packers.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 19, 2021
… but his status should be monitored.
If Brown is unable to play, his snaps will likely be split between upside backups Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller.
Although Johnson has played little in his rookie year, he has flashed with 9.9 yards per target and the ability to line up all over the formation. And his college production at Minnesota was prodigious.
- 2019 (13 games): 86-1,318-13 receiving
- 2018 (13 games): 78-1,169-12 receiving
Miller has also impressed in his second season with 33-501-3 receiving and 9.5 yards per target.
Even if Brown is out, the Bucs’ passing offense will remain intact.
UPDATE (Sat. 1/23): CB Kevin King (back) is dealing with an injury that popped up in practice on Friday, so the odds of No. 1 CB Jaire Alexander shadowing Evans are now much higher, especially with Brown out for the Bucs.
Given the situation with Brown and King, I expect Alexander to shadow Evans on the perimeter while King (or Josh Jackson if King is out) covers the rotating committee of Johnson and Miller on the other side.
For portions of his first two seasons and for the first half of this year, the Packers strategically used No. 1 corner Jaire Alexander in shadow coverage, but he has played exclusively at left corner since Week 9, where I expect him to match up most with Brown this week.
Alexander has always been a good corner. He entered the NFL as a first-round pick with 4.38-second 40-yard speed, and he had PFF coverage grades of 73.0 and 75.8 in his first two seasons.
But this year, Alexander has catapulted himself into the top tier of cornerbacks, ranking No. 1 among all starters at the position with a 90.7 PFF coverage grade.
Alexander has allowed just 4.7 yards per target with a 50.7% catch rate on 4.4 targets per game. He is the primary reason the Packers are No. 3 overall with an 80.6 PFF coverage grade.
While it almost feels like a waste for him not to cover Evans — who was just 1-10-0 receiving in Week 6, most of which was spent in Alexander’s shadow — his recent usage suggests that the Packers will play him at left corner, which means Brown will be his primary responsibility.
And that’s tough luck for Brown.
Opposite Alexander on the perimeter is Kevin King, who has allowed a horrid 9.9 yards per target over the past two years. Matched up against Evans, King is likely to be a glaring liability.
In the slot, Chandon Sullivan will face Godwin most.
A rotational corner last year, Sullivan struggled in the first half of 2020 as a full-time starter, but since Week 10 he has been a rock-solid cover man, allowing just 6.5 yards per target on 4.9 targets per game.
I don’t want to give Sullivan too much credit for his recent small-sample performance, but right now he certainly doesn’t look like a net-negative defender. Against the Packers in Week 6, Godwin was just 5-48-0 receiving on seven targets while playing most of his snaps in the slot.
In the regular season, the Packers were No. 3 in fewest yards allowed to opposing wide receivers with 2,307. Overall, this is a tough matchup for the Bucs’ receivers.
Wide Receiver Upgrades & Downgrades
- Davante Adams: Moderate downgrade
- Allen Lazard: Moderate upgrade
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Moderate downgrade
- Mike Evans: Large downgrade
- Chris Godwin: No change
- Tyler Johnson: Moderate upgrade
Packers & Buccaneers WR/CB Injuries
- Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) is OUT.
- Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis (leg) is IN.
- Packers CB Kevin King (back) is tentatively projected IN.
Packers-Buccaneers 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 996-786-37 (55.9%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.