Super Bowl 55 WR/CB Matchups for Chiefs vs. Bucs
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Tyreek Hill, Carlton Davis
Wide receiver-cornerback showdowns might be the most important individual matchups in football.
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.
Chiefs vs. Buccaneers
- Spread: Chiefs -3
- Over/Under: 56.5
- Time: 6:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 7
- TV: CBS
Chiefs Wide Receivers
A lot of factors are in play with the Chiefs receivers heading into the Super Bowl.
First of all, Sammy Watkins (calf) is injured. Beat reporters expect him to play — but they also expected him to play in the Divisional Round and Conference Championship. Officially listed as questionable, Watkins might not see his usual allotment of playing time even if he suits up.
Also, Demarcus Robinson (COVID-19) is on the reserve list.
And Super Bowl LV has its first COVID issues: Chiefs placed center Daniel Kilgore and WR Demarcus Robinson on the Reserve/COVID-19 due to close contact, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 1, 2021
As a close contact, Robinson has a chance to play in the Super Bowl, and I’m tentatively expecting him to be active, but his situation should be monitored, especially since the Chiefs have adopted something of a receiver rotation behind Tyreek Hill in the playoffs.
For most of the 2020 regular season, Robinson was locked into three-wide sets while Mecole Hardman served in a supplemental capacity, but in the postseason Byron Pringle has emerged as a regular player.
In two postseason games, Pringle has actually seen more targets than Robinson (8 vs. 3) and played more snaps than Hardman (84 vs. 70). Right now, he looks like the No. 3 wide receiver ahead of Robinson and Hardman. All three will likely enjoy meaningful snaps in the Super Bowl — especially if Watkins is limited or out — but unlike Robinson and Hardman, the unheralded Pringle plays on the perimeter and in the slot almost evenly, which gives him an edge.
And that touches on a larger point: The Chiefs are one of the few teams to move receivers all across the field on a regular basis. With many teams, receivers line up in the same spot on at least 50% of their snaps. That makes it relatively easy for me to project many WR/CB matchups and for teams to make their defensive plans.
But that’s not the case with the Chiefs. Head coach Andy Reid constantly moves his receivers around the field, which means that Hill, Watkins and Pringle (and even Robinson and Hardman to a degree) are all likely to play significant snaps on the perimeter on both sides of the formation and in the slot.
And that means the WR/CB projections I make for the Chiefs receivers and Bucs corners are highly tentative: We probably won’t see any Chiefs receiver match up with one particular Bucs corner for a supermajority of his snaps.
All of that said, it’s likelier than not that Hill will see at least half his snaps (and probably more) in the slot, where he has played most this season.
Regardless of where he lines up, Hill has the potential to go off.
In the Super Bowl last year, Hill was 9-105-0 receiving on 16 targets. In two playoff games this year, he is 17-282-0 on 21 targets. And against the Bucs in Week 12, he was a career-best 13-269-3 on 15 targets.
I touched on this last week when I was on the Football Analytics Show with Ed Fang …
** New podcast ** Matt Freedman on Predicting Super Bowl Player Props. Awesome conversation that cover his 3 top tips, and how @MattFtheOracle started a daily AMA. https://t.co/rkkWU0MctD pic.twitter.com/4pZrknCLbS
— Ed Feng (@thepowerrank) January 30, 2021
… and I’ll dig into this further in my section on the Bucs cornerbacks — but I expect Hill to get a lot of targets in the Super Bowl, and I don’t think the Bucs have a corner who can hang with him.
A three-time All-Pro, Hill is one of the best receivers in the league. With his speed and ability to line up on the perimeter and in the slot, Hill is an incredibly difficult player to scheme against for opposing defenses.
After Hill, Watkins is usually locked in as the No. 2 wide receiver, but with his injury, his Super Bowl usage is uncertain. His upside, however, is unquestioned.
Even with his frustrating inconsistency in three years with the Chiefs, Watkins has dominated in the postseason. In fact, in their five playoff games together, Watkins has handily outplayed Hill.
- Sammy Watkins (5 games): 24-464-1 receiving | 13.7 yards per target
- Tyreek Hill (5 games): 26-327-2 receiving | 7.6 yards per target
The sample is small, but it highlights Watkins’ talent. Even with his propensity to underwhelm in the regular season, he is an explosive receiver capable of big performances in any game.
After Hill and Watkins, we will see a rotation at the No. 3 receiver spot.
If active, Robinson should see some playing time, but I will unquestionably be betting against him. (You can follow my Super Bowl player props in The Action Network App.) Despite playing 90 snaps in two playoff games this year, Robinson is just 1-14-0 receiving on three targets, and last week he had no targets and played fewer snaps than Pringle. Robinson is on the outs.
But that also doesn’t mean much for Pringle: He has eight targets in the playoffs, and that’s not nothing, but with just 5-36-0 receiving, he’s clearly a tertiary option at best.
Hardman is the rotational receiver who really stands out thanks to his all-around skill set. In 37 career games, he has turned 116 targets into 77-1,189-11 receiving and chipped in 11-96-0 rushing. Add in the fact that he’s one of the best return men in the league, and it’s not hard to see how he could have a peak week with a little luck.
In Week 12, we saw No. 1 cornerback Carlton Davis match up with Hill on many of his perimeter snaps. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly.
Week 12: Carlton Davis vs. Tyreek Hill
♦️ 53% routes covered
♦️ 9 targets
♦️ 9 catches
♦️ 208 yards
♦️ 3 touchdowns pic.twitter.com/k7elUI3pjs
— PFF (@PFF) January 26, 2021
I highly doubt we see Davis on Hill in the Super Bowl. He simply does not have the speed to hang with him.
Instead, I expect to see him shadow Watkins on the perimeter, given that Davis has the size (6-foot-1, 206 pounds) to match up with bigger receivers.
The Bucs don’t always use Davis in shadow coverage, but they did in the Divisional Round and Conference Championship, and he did a great job of limiting both Michael Thomas and Davante Adams. For most of the season, he has done exceptionally well when matched up with No. 1 receivers (with the exception of Hill, of course).
Carlton Davis production allowed in shadow coverage this season (PFF)
Michael Thomas (2-9-0, 3-33-0, 0-0-0)
Allen Robinson (8-62-0)
Davante Adams (3-33-0, 4-31-1)
D.J. Moore (2-55-0)
Tyreek Hill (8-204-3)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 27, 2021
One issue is that Davis — like most shadow corners — rarely travels into the slot, where Watkins plays a significant number of his snaps.
What will the Bucs do with Davis when Watkins is on the interior? Will they put him on Hill? Haha — NO. Given the extent to which Hill dominated Davis in Week 12, I think the Bucs will do everything in their power to ensure that Davis is on Hill as little as possible, and we saw that in the second half of Week 12, when Davis played many snaps against Robinson on the perimeter.
When Watkins is outside, Davis will probably be on him, and when Watkins is on the inside, another corner — probably Jamel Dean — will face Hill with safety help while Davis mans whatever non-Hill receiver is lined up wide on the other side: Pringle, Robinson, Hardman or maybe even tight end Travis Kelce.
For the 40-60% of his routes against Davis, Watkins will be challenged.
For much of the past two seasons, Davis has been a top-tier shutdown defender, allowing just a 57.4% catch rate while matching up most with No. 1 receivers. With his physical playing style, Davis matches up well with Watkins.
The primary concern for Davis will be the few snaps (probably no more than 10) when Watkins is in the slot, Dean and a safety are bracketing Hill on one side and on the other side he is matched up with Hardman in one-on-one coverage.
We saw in Week 12 what Hill could do to Davis — and Hardman is almost as explosive of a playmaker with 10.3 yards per target and a 9.5% touchdown rate for his career. Even in the Conference Championship, we saw Davis allow a 50-yard touchdown reception to the speedy Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
When matched up with a field-stretching burner, Davis is a liability, and as much as the Bucs try to “hide” him this week, at some point he will find himself facing a guy with the speed to beat him deep, whether that’s Hill or Hardman.
What Davis does in that situation might determine who wins the Super Bowl.
But for the most part we should see Davis on Watkins throughout the game, and that’s a matchup Davis has the ability to win.
Opposite Davis on the perimeter is the aforementioned Dean.
While Davis is the most heralded Bucs corner, Dean might actually be the better cover man. Across his two-year career, he has allowed just 5.7 yards per target with a 58.6% catch rate.
When Hill is in the slot, Dean will likely be matched up with whatever non-Watkins receiver is on the perimeter. Most often that will be Pringle, Robinson or Hardman, all of whom — Pringle and Robinson especially — Dean should be able to handle.
But when Hill is on the perimeter, I expect Dean to be the guy who faces him (because Davis definitely can’t). He will likely have safety help, and Dean is one of the league’s few corners with the sheer speed (4.30-second 40-yard dash) to hang with Hill, but that will still be a tough matchup for Dean.
Even with his speed, Dean can occasionally be flatfooted and inconsistently aggressive. Dean probably has the athleticism to face Hill, but he might not have the necessary instinct, experience or skill. Although Dean is likely to match up most with non-Hill receivers, how he does against Hill will be incredibly important.
And that’s especially true because Hill will likely play most of his snaps in the slot, where cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is a liability. For his career, he has allowed a 74.3% catch rate, and this year in particular he has yielded 9.0 yards per target and seven touchdowns.
Against Murphy-Bunting in the slot, Hill (as well as Watkins and Hardman) should put up stats.
Buccaneers Wide Receivers
No. 3 wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) missed the Conference Championship and all of practice last week, but right now I’m tentatively expecting the veteran to try to play in his first Super Bowl in a decade.
With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and 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 (29 games): 165-2,396-17 receiving | 10.3 yards per target
- Mike Evans (32 games): 147-2,336-23 receiving | 9.4 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.
If Brown is unable to play, his snaps will be split between upside backups Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson.
Miller has especially impressed in his first year with quarterback Tom Brady and second year in the league. Despite playing behind Evans and Godwin for the full season and Brown for eight games, Miller was 33-501-3 receiving with 9.5 yards per target in the regular season, and in the Conference Championship he was an impactful 2-36-1 on three targets without Brown.
His touchdown at the end of the first half was probably the most important play of the game.
— NFL (@NFL) January 24, 2021
Miller’s not a high-volume player, but he can make a difference.
And Johnson shouldn’t be overlooked. He has played little in his rookie year, but in the regular season he flashed 9.9 yards per target with the ability to line up all over the formation, and in the playoffs he has pressed Miller for playing time.
His college production at Minnesota was prodigious.
- 2019 (13 games): 86-1,318-13 receiving
- 2018 (13 games): 78-1,169-12 receiving
Even if Brown is out, the Bucs passing offense will remain intact.
The Chiefs rank No. 16 with a 6.7% pass-defense DVOA (per Football Outsiders). They don’t have any truly dominant corners, and — at a glance — the Chiefs don’t look like the type of team that would be tough on receivers.
But in the regular season they held wide receivers to the league’s fewest receptions (169) and second-fewest receiving yards (2,159). What’s going on here?
It’s all about scheme.
The Chiefs pass defense is built to limit big plays deep and on the perimeter, which means opposing offenses tend to funnel the ball short and to the middle of the field. As a result, the Chiefs allowed the most receiving yards to running backs (846) and fifth-most yards to tight ends (954) during the regular season — but their cornerbacks look good.
At right corner, Bashaud Breeland will likely match up most with Evans, although he will see Brown, Miller and Johnson as well. Breeland missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, but since returning in Week 5 he has allowed just 6.5 yards per target with a 58.8% catch rate.
Breeland has also allowed five touchdowns this year and can be beaten deep on occasion, but the 2020 season has probably been his best in the NFL.
Against the Chiefs in Week 12, Evans scored two touchdowns, but he managed just three receptions and 50 yards on nine targets, and against Breeland specifically he was just 1-7-1 on five targets. With his size and skill, Evans can go off in any game, but Breeland is a physical corner who won’t be afraid to mix it up with Evans.
At left corner, Charvarius Ward has been an acceptable but unexceptional defender. An undrafted third-year veteran, Ward has allowed 7.6 yards per target in his two seasons as a starter for the Chiefs. If not for the scheme, Ward would probably be an utterly nondescript player.
He will match up most with Brown (or Miller and Johnson if Brown is out), but Evans will also get some snaps against Ward, who is probably the most exploitable of the Chiefs corners. In Week 12, Ward yielded 2-43-1 receiving to Evans on three targets.
In the slot is fourth-round rookie L’Jarius Sneed, who has been a difference-making standout. Sneed (concussion) is still in the league’s protocol and is officially questionable, but I tentatively expect him to be cleared to play.
In Weeks 1-3, Snead started on the perimeter in Breeland’s absence. Then after missing Weeks 4-10 to injury, he shifted to the middle in Week 11 and has been the starter there ever since.
Despite his status as a mid-round first-year slot man, Sneed has allowed just 5.0 yards per target with a 1:3 TD:INT ratio and a 73.3 PFF coverage grade.
Godwin was a muscular 8-97-0 receiving on nine targets against the Chiefs in Week 12, but much of that production came when he was matched up with other cornerbacks or safeties. Against Sneed directly, he was just 2-10-0 on two targets.
As much as any rookie can, Snead should challenge the veteran Godwin.
Wide Receiver Upgrades & Downgrades
- Tyreek Hill: Moderate upgrade
- Sammy Watkins: Moderate downgrade
- Byron Pringle: Moderate downgrade
- Mike Evans: Moderate downgrade
- Chris Godwin: Moderate downgrade
- Antonio Brown: No change
Chiefs & Buccaneers WR/CB Injuries
- Chiefs WRs Sammy Watkins (calf) & Demarcus Robinson (COVID-19) are tentatively projected IN.
- Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) is tentatively projected IN.
- Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed (concussion) is tentatively projected IN.
Chiefs-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 1,004-797-37 (55.7%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.