Week 4 WR/CB Matchups: Sammy Watkins vs. Stephon Gilmore, Shadow Grades & More

Week 4 WR/CB Matchups: Sammy Watkins vs. Stephon Gilmore, Shadow Grades & More article feature image

Patrick Smith/Getty Images. Pictured: Sammy Watkins, Stephon Gilmore

Wide receiver-cornerback showdowns might be the most important individual matchups in football.

In this piece, I leverage snap data from Pro Football Focus to project NFL Week 4 WR/CB matchups, especially shadow situations.

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.

UPDATE (Sun. 10/4): I have made updates based on injury reports for the week. Here are some changes and key situations to note.

Wide Receivers: IN

  • Football Team WRs Terry McLaurin (thigh) is projected IN (per Adam Schefter).
  • Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) is tentatively projected IN: He has not practiced at all this week, but he is pushing to play (per Ian Rapoport). I am very uncertain about this situation — because usually if a guy misses an entire week of practice, he sits

UPDATE (Sat. 10/3): I have made updates based on injury reports for the week. Here are some changes and key situations to note.

Wide Receivers: OUT

  • Saints WR Michael Thomas (ankle) is OUT.
  • Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (hamstring) is OUT.
  • Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) is tentatively projected OUT: No practice this week. My heart says Hopkins plays. My head says he sits out one game. 
  • Football Team WRs Terry McLaurin (thigh) & Steven Sims (toe) are respectively projected OUT & declared OUT. McLaurin: Practice on Wednesday, limited practice on Thursday, no practice on Friday.
  • Eagles WRs Alshon Jeffery (foot), DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Jalen Reagor (thumb) & J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (calf) are respectively OUT, OUT, OUT & projected OUT.
  • Chargers WR Mike Williams (hamstring) is OUT.
  • Raiders WRs Bryan Edwards (foot/ankle) & Henry Ruggs III (knee/hamstring) are respectively OUT & projected OUT.
  • Packers WR Allen Lazard (core) is OUT.
  • Colts WRs Parris Campbell (knee, IR) & Michael Pittman (calf) are OUT.
  • Giants WR Sterling Shepard (toe, IR) is OUT.

Wide Receivers: IN

  • Falcons WRs Julio Jones (hamstring) & Russell Gage (concussion) are tentatively projected IN. Jones: Limited practice all week after no practice last week. Gage: Limited practice on Thursday, full practice on Friday.
  • Packers WR Davante Adams is projected IN.
  • Jaguars WR D.J. Chark (chest) is IN.
  • Bills WR John Brown (calf) is IN.
  • 49ers WR Deebo Samuel (foot) is IN: Head coach Kyle Shanahan said "team intends to ease him back in" (per Nick Wagoner).
  • Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (groin) is tentatively projected IN: Limited practice all week after no practice last week. He could be pushed into action sooner if teammate DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) sits.
  • Buccaneers WRs Justin Watson (shoulder) & Scotty Miller (hip/groin) are respectively IN & projected IN.

Cornerbacks: OUT

  • Saints CBs Marshon Lattimore (hamstring) and Janoris Jenkins (shoulder) are OUT.
  • Ravens CB Jimmy Smith (knee) is tentatively projected OUT: Limited practice on Wednesday & Thursday, no practice on Friday.
  • 49ers CBs Richard Sherman (calf, IR), Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) & Emmanuel Moseley (concussion) are OUT.
  • Vikings CBs Mike Hughes (Neck) & Kris Boyd (hamstring) are respectively OUT & projected OUT.
  • Eagles CBs Avonte Maddox (ankle) & Trevor Williams (rib) are OUT.
  • Seahawks CBs Quinton Dunbar (knee) & Marquise Blair (knee, IR) are OUT. 
  • Cowboys CBs Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring, IR) & Anthony Brown (ribs, IR) are OUT.
  • Dolphins CB Byron Jones (groin/Achilles) is projected OUT.
  • Chargers CB Chris Harris Jr. (foot, IR) is OUT.
  • Browns CB Greedy Williams (shoulder) is OUT.
  • Cardinals CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion) is tentatively projected OUT: Practice on Wednesday, limited practice on Thursday, no practice on Friday. 
  • Bengals CB Mackensie Alexander (ribs/hamstring) is projected OUT.
  • Raiders CB Damon Arnette (wrist/thumb, IR) is OUT.
  • Colts CB T.J. Carrie (hamstring) is OUT.

Cornerbacks: IN

  • Browns CB Denzel Ward (groin) is tentatively projected IN: No practice on Wednesday, limited practice on Thursday & Friday.
  • Lions CBs Desmond Trufant (hamstring) & Darryl Roberts (hip) are projected IN.
  • Panthers CB Eli Apple (ankle/foot) is IN: Activated from IR.
  • 49ers CB K'Waun Williams (hip) is tentative projected IN: No practice on Wednesday, limited practice on Thursday & Friday.
  • Colts CB Rock Ya-Sin (illness) is IN.
  • Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler (rib) is IN. 
  • Buccaneers CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (groin) is IN.
  • Seahawks CB Shaquill Griffin (shoulder) is projected IN. 

Let’s start with this week’s featured matchup and then run through all the potential shadow matchups and most notable upgrades and downgrades.

JUMP TO:WR/CB Matchup Matrix

WR/CB Matchup of the Week

Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: CBS

Although the Patriots have been the league's most shadow-heavy team over the past few years, occasionally they mix it up by going old school and playing their perimeter corners on set sides of the field for the entire game.

That's what they did in Week 3 with Gilmore, and it made sense: The Raiders were without No. 1 wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (knee), and they didn't have anyone worth shadowing.

Plus, simply hunkering down at left corner and shutting down his side of the field gave Gilmore the opportunity to recharge his battery after it was thoroughly de-juiced in Week 2 by second-year breakout wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.

Stephon Gilmore allowed 1 TD all last season…


— PFF (@PFF) September 21, 2020

The primary Metcalf defender two weeks ago, Gilmore saw the big-bodied bruiser overpower the Patriots defense for 4-92-1 receiving on six targets. Against Metcalf, Gilmore looked like a younger brother trying to stop his varsity sibling.

Last week, though, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year returned to form, allowing just two receptions and 20 yards on three targets. Despite his poor performance against Metcalf, Gilmore is still a shutdown defender.

In Week 4, the Patriots will likely resume their shadow agenda by matching Gilmore up with Watkins, with whom he is highly familiar.

For three years in Buffalo (2014-16), Gilmore and Watkins were teammates and practice competitors as the top corner and receiver on the roster.

In one moment that went viral for a hot second a half decade ago, Watkins absolutely destroyed Gilmore on a double move in 2015 Bills training camp.

MY GOODNESS @sammywatkins TAKE IT EASY on @BumpNrunGilm0repic.twitter.com/9ntAUEZLbl

— SC: GrippyDontDoIt (@BrandonKampbell) August 3, 2015

"Oh, Sammy! Sammy! Oh, God!" Talk about nailing an impersonation of Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally …

Since Gilmore and Watkins left the Bills in 2017, they have faced each other three times, and in each game Gilmore has been the primary Watkins defender.

In these matchups, Watkins has had some up-and-down performances, but he has underproduced when going directly against Gilmore (in parentheses).

  • Week 6, 2018: 2-18-0, four targets (all vs. Gilmore)
  • AFC Championship, 2018-19: 4-114-0, eight targets (1-54-0, three targets)
  • Week 14, 2019: 4-50-0, eight targets (2-13-0, six targets)

In total, Watkins is just 5-85-0 receiving on 13 targets in Gilmore's coverage. That's a catch rate of 38.5%, which according to my spreadsheets is not good.

It's no wonder that Watkins started a fight with Gilmore in the fourth quarter of last year's game: What else was he going to do? Run routes against the guy?

Here's the thing: It's not as if Gilmore has dominated just Watkins since joining the Patriots. He has dominated everyone. The 6.5 yards per target he's yielded to Watkins is right in line with his mark of 6.7 with the Pats over the past three-plus years.

Gilmore is a true technician. He's a philosopher of the position.

With the Pats, he has limited receivers to a catch rate of only 50.8%.

Watkins is capable of going off in any given game, but as long as he finds himself in Gilmore's shadow coverage, he will be significantly challenged.

Action:Large downgrade for Watkins

Potential Week 4 Shadow Matchups

Here are the shadow matchups I’m projecting.

Sammy Watkins, Chiefs
Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
Robert Woods, Rams
James Bradberry, Giants
Adam Thielen, Vikings
Bradley Roby, Texans
Darius Slayton, Giants
Jalen Ramsey, Rams
Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers
Darius Slay, Eagles
Mike Evans, Bucs
Casey Hayward Jr., Chargers

Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Texans CB Bradley Roby

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: FOX

The Vikings have completed an NFL-low 46 pass attempts this year, so there's only so much that Thielen can do within this moribund aerial attack.

But he is still No. 3 in the league with a 45% market share of team air yards and No. 7 with a 29% target share (per RotoViz NFL Player Statistical Summary). He's at least getting as many opportunities as possible within the confines of his limited offense.

Through three weeks, Thielen is 12-170-3 receiving on 21 targets. It's possible that he could finish the year as one of the league's few 1,000-10 producers.

He's still a near-elite receiver. And I must say that I like his matchup this week — or at least I don't mind it.

Under the impression that Roby is a shutdown corner, the Texans have had him tail No. 1 receivers over the past four games (going back to the Divisional Round of the playoffs).

It's true that the guys he faced didn’t have big receiving performances (production vs. Roby in parentheses).

  • Tyreek Hill (Divisional Round): 3-41-0, four targets (all vs. Roby)
  • Tyreek Hill (Week 1): 5-46-1 , six targets (3-25-1, four targets)
  • Marquise Brown (Week 2): 5-42-0, six targets (3-40-0, three targets)
  • Diontae Johnson (Week 3): 0-0-0, two targets (all vs. Roby)

But the Chiefs and Ravens racked up 51-31, 34-20 and 33-16 victories against the Texans and didn’t need to throw the ball, and Johnson (concussion) played just 19 snaps last week before leaving early with an injury.

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In his three games against Hill, Brown & Co., Roby had subpar PFF coverage grades of 39.5, 51.6 and 58.0. Last week, he was at 67.0 — but he played most of the game against rookie injury fill-in Chase Claypool after Johnson's exit.

What Roby has done recently against No. 1 receivers — and what he's done across the span of his career, frankly — has been unremarkable.

Roby isn’t a bad corner, but he's not someone a quarterback should avoid.

Action:No change for Thielen

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Chargers CB Casey Hayward Jr.

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: CBS

It's not a guarantee that Hayward will shadow Evans. Although he shadowed Sammy Watkins in Week 2, Hayward played at left corner in Weeks 1 and 3 and could do so again.

But last year Hayward tended to tail big-bodied No. 1 receivers. He shadowed DeAndre Hopkins and Courtland Sutton (twice). Evans feels like the kind of guy Hayward would follow across the formation, especially now that slot receiver Chris Godwin (hamstring) and slot corner Chris Harris (ankle) are both uncertain for Week 4.

In the overall matchup of Bucs wide receivers and Chargers corners, it really all might come down to Evans vs. Hayward.

Only the second player in NFL history to open his career with six 1,000-yard receiving seasons (the first was Randy Moss), Evans has had an intriguingly uneven first few weeks to 2020.

  • Week 1 (at NO): 1-2-1 receiving, four targets
  • Week 2 (vs. CAR): 7-104-1 receiving, 10 targets
  • Week 3 (at DEN): 2-2-2 receiving, four targets

It's troubling that Evans' production with new quarterback Tom Brady has been so uneven, but it's notable that Evans' best performance came when Godwin was out with a concussion in Week 2.

If Godwin misses Week 4, Evans could have another 10 targets coming his way.

Mike Evans
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Evans

But the matchup is tough. Hayward entered the season as PFF’s No. 3 cornerback, and he is already in midseason form: Through three weeks, he has allowed just 4.6 yards per target on a 42.9% catch rate.

In his eight NFL seasons, Hayward has never had a PFF coverage grade lower than 73.2.

Expectations for Evans should be tempered in Week 4.

Action:Large downgrade for Evans

Rams WR Robert Woods vs. Giants CB James Bradberry

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: FOX

A physical press-man defender, Bradberry has been used in shadow coverage over the past two weeks, and he has played well, allowing just 4-63-0 receiving on 12 targets while breaking up five passes and grabbing an interception.

In his first season with the Giants, he has been a lone bright spot for the defense, putting up an 84.1 PFF coverage grade. No other key contributor in the secondary has a mark higher than 61.5.

Last year with the Panthers, Bradberry faced the Rams in Week 1, and although he played left corner, he still matched up with Woods split out to the right on about half of his snaps. For the game, Bradberry allowed just 11 yards and one reception on four targets, and he intercepted one of the attempts intended for Woods. He dominated.

And yet Woods still had a serviceable performance because he escaped Bradberry's coverage by lining up wide to the left, in the slot, inline and in the backfield on 40 snaps.

His splits vs. Bradberry are telling.

  • Robert Woods vs. James Bradberry: 1-11-0, three targets, one interception
  • Robert Woods vs. All Other Defenders: 7-59-0, 10 targets | 2-16-0 rushing

If Bradberry shadows Woods on the perimeter, it will be harder for the receiver to put up his usual stats — but what about the slot?

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A versatile player with back-to-back seasons of 1,200-plus yards from scrimmage, Woods has lined up in the slot, inline and in the backfield on 37.4% of his snaps this year, and in his four years with the Panthers, Bradberry almost never defended anywhere else other than the perimeter.

It's likely that Rams head coach Sean McVay will attempt to scheme Woods open by moving him around the formation and specifically ensuring that he gets his usual allotment of slot snaps. And that will probably work — but it's worth noting that last week Bradberry actually played a career-high eight snaps in the slot. Perhaps the Giants are toying with the idea of letting Bradberry shadow into the interior. And it makes sense: What do they have to lose?

Even in the slot, Woods might see more of Bradberry than he wants this weekend.

Action:Medium downgrade for Woods

Giants WR Darius Slayton vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: FOX

Ramsey has been the primary shadow defender against Amari Cooper, Jalen Reagor and Stefon Diggs over the past three weeks, and yet he has allowed just 5.4 yards per target this year, which is well below his career mark of 7.3.

Over the past two weeks he has forfeited just five yards. Not five yards per target. Five yards — in two games. If Ramsey isn't in peak form right now, he's pretty close to it.

Welcome to Shutdown City. Population: Darius Slayton.

A big-play receiver, Slayton flashed as a rookie in 2019, putting up a 48-740-8 receiving line despite entering the league as a fifth-rounder and catching passes from a broken-down Eli Manning and first-year Daniel Jones.

And in Week 1 he showed his explosiveness with 6-102-2 receiving on nine targets.

But Slayton has struggled to put together consistent production. He's just 6-86-0 receiving on 13 targets over the past two weeks.

The injuries to wide receiver Sterling Shepard (toe, IR) and running back Saquon Barkley (knee, IR) should theoretically create extra opportunities for Slayton, but he will be incredibly hard to trust against one of the league's best cover men.

Action:Large downgrade for Slayton

49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk vs. Eagles CB Darius Slay

Kickoff: 8:20 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: NBC

In Week 2 Slay played at left corner against the Rams, but in Weeks 1 and 3 he shadowed wide receivers Terry McLaurin and A.J. Green, so I think it's likely that Slay will tail Aiyuk — especially since the 49ers have limited pass-catching options after him.

A multi-talented playmaking first-rounder, Aiyuk had a nondescript NFL debut in Week 2 with 2-21-0 receiving on three targets, but in Week 3 he flashed his potential with a 5-70-0 receiving and 3-31-1 rushing performance.

Aiyuk is a special player. In the 2020 rookie class, he was a top-five receiver in a number of key statistics (per Sports Info Solutions).

  • Yards per target: 11.5 (t-4th)
  • Yards after catch: 10.9 (2nd)
  • Yards per route: 3.2 (t-2nd)

With wide receiver Deebo Samuel (foot, IR) and tight ends George Kittle (knee) and Jordan Reed (knee, ankle) injured, Aiyuk should continue to get opportunities.

But his matchup with Aiyuk won't be easy.

For a half-decade span in Detroit, Slay was one of the league’s most reliable cover men.

  • 2018: 78.2 PFF coverage grade, 6.2 yards per target
  • 2017: 80.0 PFF coverage grade, 6.8 yards per target
  • 2016: 80.2 PFF coverage grade, 6.8 yards per target
  • 2015: 77.0 PFF coverage grade, 8.5 yards per target
  • 2014: 70.0 PFF coverage grade, 7.0 yards per target

Slay was especially strong in 2016-18, a period highlighted by a 2017 All-Pro campaign in which he had league-high marks with eight interceptions and 26 passes defended.

With the Lions, he regularly faced opposing No. 1 receivers and was one of the few shadow defenders capable of tailing his man from the perimeter to the slot.

After a down 2019 season — perhaps because of head coach Matt Patricia’s defense — Slay has rebounded in his first year with the Eagles.

For the year, he has allowed just 5.4 yards per target and is yet to forfeit a touchdown.

Action:Medium downgrade for Aiyuk

Week 4 Shadow Borderline

These two matchups are on the shadow borderline. Although these cornerbacks shadow periodically, I cannot say with confidence that they will follow opposing Nos. 1 receivers across the formation this week.

Lions WR Kenny Golladay vs. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: FOX

After missing Weeks 1-2, Golladay made his 2020 debut in Week 3 and was his typical high-end self with 6-57-1 receiving on seven targets.

Lattimore shadowed in Week 1 but played right corner in Weeks 2-3. He has struggled to open the year with 10-155-2 receiving allowed on 12 targets, but for his career he has held receivers to a catch rate of 59.3%.

Action:Medium downgrade for Golladay

Seahawks WR D.K. Metcalf vs. Dolphins CB Xavien Howard

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: FOX

Even with his Leon Lett-esque goal-line fumble last week …

DK Metcalf just got stripped at the 1 yard line on a 63 YD reception.

He now averages 1 fumble every 4.75 games for his career. pic.twitter.com/lCJ96lyW7A

— Barstool Sabermetrics (@sabermetrics) September 27, 2020

… Metcalf has dominated in his second season with 12-297-3 receiving on 22 targets.

Howard shadowed in Week 2, but he played right corner in Week 3 with teammate Byron Jones (groin) out.

For his career, Howard has held opposing receivers to a 55.4% catch rate.

Action:Small downgrade for Metcalf

Notable Wide Receiver Upgrades

Here are a couple of advantageous matchups that must not be ignored.

Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett vs. Dolphins CB Jamal Perry

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: FOX

As good as teammate D.K. Metcalf has been this year, Lockett has probably been better with 24-259-4 receiving on 29 targets.

The Dolphins are in defensive array and have used a different player as their primary slot defender each week this year. Last week it was Perry, a special-teamer who had a 41.3 PFF coverage grade last year and this year has allowed a 100% catch rate and 9.7 yards per target.

Action:Large upgrade for Lockett

Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Texans CB Vernon Hargreaves III

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: FOX

With his shift from the slot to the perimeter, Jefferson broke out in Week 3, putting up a 7-175-1 receiving line on nine targets.

Justin Jefferson so far today:

7 Rec
175 Yards
1 TD

Breakout game for the rook 💥
(via @Vikings)pic.twitter.com/DvLUaRzXWg

— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 27, 2020

Hargreaves is one of the league’s most generous cornerbacks, allowing 9.0 yards per target for his career.

Action:Large upgrade for Jefferson

Notable Wide Receiver Downgrades

Here are a couple of disadvantageous matchups to keep in mind.

Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill vs. Patriots CBs Jonathan Jones

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: CBS

In his four career games against the Patriots, Hill is 21-379-4 receiving on 31 targets.

But in their past two matchups, the Patriots have neutralized him with Jones and safety assistance. In the 2018-19 AFC Championship and Week 14 last year, Hill was just 7-104-0 receiving on 11 targets.

On the year, Jones has allowed just 6.4 yards per target.

Action:Large downgrade for Hill

Football Team WR Terry McLaurin vs. Ravens CB Jimmy Smith

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | TV: CBS

McLaurin is building upon his impressive rookie campaign with a 16-269-1 receiving stat line on 25 targets through three games. In Week 2, he had a dominant 125-yard, one-touchdown performance against cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Terry McLaurin burns Patrick Peterson for the touchdown! 💪🌰 pic.twitter.com/XBmFabjZUI

— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) September 20, 2020

But Peterson is slowing down, and Smith is one of the league's best pass defenders. Although he opened the year at safety, he's shifted back to corner following the injury to teammate Tavon Young (knee, IR). Since last year he has allowed just 5.2 yards per target.

Action:Large downgrade for McLaurin

NFL Week 4 WR/CB Matrix

I take a cautious approach to injured players who I expect to be questionable or out. If by the weekend it seems likely that they will play, I will include them in my updates.

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 632-509-24 (55.4%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.

He’s the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Rosemount, Minnesota, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.

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