Ravens vs. Titans WR/CB Matchups: A.J. Brown Gets Downgrade In Wild Card Round
Getty Images. Pictured: A.J. Brown, Jimmy Smith
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 Wild Card Weekend WR/CB matchups for the Ravens-Titans 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.
Tennessee Titans (+3.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens (55 O/U)
Kickoff: 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: ABC/ESPN
Titans Wide Receivers
Slot receiver Adam Humphries (concussion, IR) is out, and in his absence the Titans have gone heavy with two- and three-tight end sets.
Over the past month, three tight ends have out-snapped fill-in No. 3 receiver Cameron Batson.
- Jonnu Smith (4 games): 185 snaps | 71% snap rate
- MyCole Pruitt (4 games): 114 snaps | 44% snap rate
- Geoff Swaim (3 games): 102 snaps | 53% snap rate
- Cameron Batson (4 games): 84 snaps | 32% snap rate
And none of this even takes into account tight end Anthony Firkser, who has played limited snaps but still outproduced Batson since Week 14.
- Anthony Firkser (4 games): 5-54-0 receiving, six targets
- Cameron Batson (4 games): 1-12-0 receiving, two targets
Batson is the No. 3 receiver in title only. In reality, he’s a guy just running wind sprints from the slot.
But the Titans Nos. 1-2 wide receivers are legit.
A.J. Brown balled out this year with 70-1,075-11 receiving on 106 targets in 14 games. Since entering the league last year, he was No. 1 among all NFL players with 11.0 yards per target (minimum of 200 targets).
And Corey Davis this year has hit career-high marks all around with 65 receptions, 984 yards receiving, five touchdowns and 10.7 yards per target.
The Titans are No. 30 with a 49.5% pass-play rate, so they don’t air it out often, but when they do throw the ball, they have two playmaking receivers at their disposal.
UPDATE (Sat. 1/9): CBs Jimmy Smith (ribs/shoulder) and Marlon Humphrey (shoulder) are both questionable but seem likely to play.
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 last week after missing Weeks 15-16. 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. For context: Trailing him at No. 2 is Xavien Howard, with just 23.
At his best, Peters is one of the best.
In the slot is Marlon Humphrey, who might be my favorite NFL corner. He can do it all. He can play inside. He can play outside. He can shadow. He can hang with fast receivers. He can press physical receivers. He really can do it all.
A 2019 All-Pro, Humphrey has allowed just 6.2 yards per target this year.
At right corner, I tentatively expect Jimmy Smith (ribs/shoulder) to return to action after missing Week 13, exiting Week 14 early and missing Weeks 15-17.
The injury reports for the past few weeks suggest that he is trending in the right direction.
- Week 15: No practice on Wed.-Fri., declared out on Fri.
- Week 16: No practice on Wed.-Fri., declared questionable on Fri.
- Week 17: No practice on Wed., limited practice on Thu.-Fri., declared questionable on Fri.
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 one of the few corners physically capable of hanging with Brown.
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.
If Smith is out, I think it’s likeliest that the Ravens will kick Humphrey to the perimeter and play veteran backup Tramon Williams in the slot, but they could also leave Humphrey in the slot and put backup Anthony Averett at right corner. The Ravens have a lot of corners they seem to trust.
A quick note on this matchup of Titans receivers vs. Ravens corners: Even though I expect Brown and Davis to be challenged, I think 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’re still going to get their targets. I think this contextualization is important.
Ravens Wide Receivers
UPDATE (Sat. 1/9): WR Willie Snead (ankle) seems to be on the positive side of his questionable tag after practicing on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.
Slot receiver Willie Snead (ankle) missed Week 17 with an injury, and I’m skeptical he’ll play against the Titans given that he sat out every practice session last week.
In Snead’s absence, No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews saw 15 of the team’s 19 targets in Week 17.
Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and even Dez Bryant are out there playing snaps and running routes, but they’re not getting targets.
As for Brown, he started the season slowly, and in Week 11 he hit a low point against the Titans with no receptions on just three targets. In the six games since then he is 26-338-6 receiving on 41 targets with either 90 yards or a touchdown in every game.
With his recent performance, Brown is in the best form of his career, and last year against the Titans in the playoffs he was 7-126-0 on 11 targets.
UPDATE (Sat. 1/9): WR Willie Snead (ankle) seems likelier than not to play this weekend. If he plays, Duvernay will return to the sideline, and Snead will match up most with CB Desmond King II in the slot.
No. 1 corner Adoree’ Jackson missed the first 13 games of the season with a knee injury, but he finally returned to action in Week 15.
Although the Titans have occasionally used him in shadow coverage the past few seasons — in Week 16 he tailed Davante Adams, to his detriment — for the most part he stays at left corner, where he will likely match up most with Brown.
Jackson has been an above-average corner throughout this career (based on PFF coverage grades):
- 2017: 75.2
- 2018: 69.0
- 2019: 82.5
- 2020: 66.8
But his career 15:2 TD:INT ratio highlights the extent to which he’s not a defender to be feared. And this year he has allowed 9.6 yards per target on an 80% catch rate (albeit in a small sample).
Jackson is good, but he’s not a significant challenge.
Opposite Jackson is Malcolm Butler. The hero of Super Bowl 49, Butler is not the player he once was. In his three years with the Titans under defensive head coach Mike Vrabel, Butler has yielded 8.1 yards per target and a 63.2% catch rate.
At this stage of his career, Butler is a little bit of a liability.
In the middle is midseason acquisition Desmond King II, a 2018 All-Pro slot defender who has fallen on hard times.
King was so bad for the Chargers in 2019 (10.2 yards per target allowed) that they headed into 2020 with every intention of planting King on the bench. If not for injuries to safety Derwin James and slot corner Chris Harris Jr., King might not have seen the field for the Chargers at all.
But he did play significant snaps for the Chargers in Weeks 1-7, and he revitalized his trade value by allowing just 4.0 yards per target on 2.5 targets per game. In the first half of the season, he looked pretty close to his 2018 All-Pro self.
And then the Chargers traded him to the Titans — and his performance fell off again. In his nine games since the trade, King has yielded 8.7 yards per target with a 77.1% catch rate.
Given his current form and 2019 play, King is a league-average corner at best.
For the season, opposing receiver units are No. 4 against the Titans with 3,100 yards receiving — although it’s worth remembering that much of that production came without Jackson and King.
And as uninspiring as they might be, their backups are significantly worse.
Wide Receiver Upgrades & Downgrades
- A.J. Brown: Large downgrade
- Corey Davis: Moderate downgrade
- Cameron Batson: Large downgrade
- Marquise Brown: Small downgrade
- Miles Boykin: Small upgrade
- Willie Snead: Small upgrade
Titans & Ravens WR/CB Injuries
- Ravens WR Willie Snead (ankle) is projected IN.
- Titans WRs Adam Humphries (concussion, IR) is OUT.
- Ravens CBs Jimmy Smith (ribs/shoulder) & Marlon Humphrey (shoulder) are projected IN.
Ravens-Titans 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 966-750-36 (56.3%) 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.