NFL Week 7 WR/CB Matchups: DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey Meet Again, More Shadow Dates
I’ll be breaking down the top wide receiver/cornerback matchups every week throughout the 2018 NFL season.
Here’s a data-driven analysis of the week’s best passing-game matchup, nine potential shadow matchups and eight potential non-shadow matchups. Then we’ll round it out with a quick look at plus and minus matchups.
Matchup of the Week
Chiefs Offense vs. Bengals Defense
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have taken the league by storm, averaging 35.8 points per game and a robust 6.8 yards per play. Naturally, Kansas City’s skill position players have mostly dazzled with their respective opportunities:
- Tyreek Hill ranks second behind only Julio Jones among full-time receivers with 2.74 yards per route run. TyFreak is the PPR WR3 this season.
- Sammy Watkins already has as many games with 75-plus yards this season (2) as he did in 15 games with the Rams in 2017. He also has a career-high four carries.
- Chris Conley hasn’t posted huge stats, but runs a 4.35-second 40-yard dash. He’s averaged a league-high 7.6-yard cushion at the snap (Next-Gen Stats).
- Travis Kelce has averaged more yards per route run (2.3) than Rob Gronkowski (2.19) for the first time in his career. Kelce is currently the league’s PPR TE3.
- Kareem Hunt caught 1-of-3 targets for 5 yards and a touchdown in Weeks 1-3. Hunt has caught 9-of-12 targets for 166 yards and a touchdown in Weeks 4-6.
Overall, nine different Chiefs have scored a receiving touchdown this season — the most in the league.
The Bengals have allowed four of their six opponents to pass for more than 300 yards this season, and they rank among the league’s bottom-10 defenses in both scoring and overall DVOA. They’ve allowed eight separate wide receivers to either score a touchdown or surpass 100 receiving yards this season.
No. 1 cornerback William Jackson has battled injuries, No. 2 cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has already allowed three touchdowns and slot corner Darqueze Dennard ranks outside of PFF’s top 60 cornerbacks this season. They haven’t shadowed, while the Chiefs have consistently moved each of their weapons around the formation. We should see a wide variety of matchups all Sunday night.
The Chiefs and Bengals each boast a fantasy-friendly mix of explosive offenses paired with mediocre defenses. Not surprisingly, their matchup presently boasts a week-high 58.5-point over/under.
The Week 7 Shadow Club
Not many cornerbacks are consistently asked to travel with the opposition’s No. 1 wide receiver, but we can expect at least nine cornerbacks to regularly line up across from their opponent’s top receiver in Week 7.
Texans WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller vs. Jaguars CBs Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye
The Jaguars didn’t ask neither Ramsey nor Bouye to travel with a single receiver in their Week 1 matchup against the Texans last season, but they tracked Hopkins and Fuller, respectively, during their next matchup in Week 15.
Both receivers played about as well as anyone could have hoped for during the latter matchup considering T.J. Yates was under center. Fuller caught all five of his targets for 44 scoreless yards, while Hopkins posted an inefficient 4-80-1 line on 13 targets.
There should be a moderate expectation for improvement this time around with Deshaun Watson under center, although it remains to be seen if he’ll have enough time to give his receivers chances down the field. Overall, the Texans offensive line ranks 30th in adjusted sack rate and has allowed a pressure on an absurd 40% of Watson’s dropbacks.
Keke Coutee is the obvious beneficiary of these matchups, as he’s expected to spend most of his time across from Tyler Patmon – PFF’s No. 93 overall cornerback out of 111 qualified players.
Titans WR Corey Davis vs. Chargers CB Casey Hayward
The Chargers didn’t ask Hayward to travel with speedy wide receivers such as Tyreek Hill. Brandin Cooks and Marquise Goodwin during the first four weeks of the season. They’ve since deployed PFF’s No. 1 cornerback from 2017 in shadow coverage against the opposition’s No. 1 outside receiver in each of the past two weeks, as both Amari Cooper (1-10-0) and Antonio Callaway (2-9-0) were shut down at the hands of Hayward.
Up next for the Chargers’ No. 1 corner is a likely shadow date with Davis. The fifth pick of last year’s draft hasn’t been able to build on his Week 4 breakout performance, as Davis has caught just five passes for 73 scoreless yards combined during the last two weeks against the Bills and Ravens. Still, Davis has continued to work as the undisputed No. 1 pass-game option in the Titans’ 30th-ranked scoring offense:
- Target share: 30% (tied for 2nd among all wide receivers)
- Market share of air yards: 39% (T4th)
- Targets inside the 10-yard line: 5 (T6th)
The good news for Davis is that he should escape Hayward’s shadow for a decent portion of the afternoon. Overall, Davis has lined up in the slot on 21% of his snaps this season compared to just 2% for Hayward.
Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery vs. Panthers CB James Bradberry
The Panthers have utilized Bradberry as their version of a No. 1 cornerback, and he’s largely held up better than expected considering the quality of competition he’s faced. Julio Jones (5-64-0) and A.J. Green (5-58-0) were held out of the end zone during their respective shadow dates with Bradberry, while Odell Beckham Jr. (8-131-1) at least had to work hard for his big performance:
Jeffery doesn’t have the same agility or speed as those aforementioned receivers, but his 6-foot-3 and 216-pound frame enables him to win 50/50 balls against any mortal that lines up across from him. His 29 targets since returning from injury in Week 4 are tied for the 13th most among all wide receivers over the past three weeks.
Jets WR Robby Anderson vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes
The Vikings ask Rhodes to shadow more than any other cornerback in the league, and he’s by and large won his weekly matchups:
- Week 1 Marquise Goodwin: 0 receptions-0 yards-0 TD (left early due to injury)
- Week 2 Davante Adams: 6-64-1
- Week 3 Kelvin Benjamin: 3-29-0
- Week 4 Brandin Cooks: 7-116-1 (scored 47-yard TD on Trae Waynes)
- Week 5 Alshon Jeffery: 2-39-0
- Week 6 Chad Williams: 1-5-0
It wouldn’t be shocking if the Vikings utilized Rhodes against the more-physically imposing Terrelle Pryor, but Anderson seems like the more-likely victim considering his pedigree and huge Week 5 performance (3-123-2).
Both receivers should probably be faded in fantasy in favor of the Jets’ new starting slot receiver with Quincy Enunwa (ankle) ruled out.
Jermaine Kearse caught 9-of-10 targets for 94 yards Sunday — has played 74% of snaps in the slot this season https://t.co/O5BpFRF42z
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 15, 2018
Bears WR Allen Robinson vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore
Robinson racked up 21 targets over the first two weeks of the season and seemed positioned to work as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for his fantasy investors, A-Rob has largely worked as the offense’s No. 3 pass-game option during their last three games:
- Taylor Gabriel: 22 targets
- Tarik Cohen: 20
- Robinson: 17
- Trey Burton: 13
- Anthony Miller: 9 (played only two games)
It’s tough to blame Mitch Trubisky for looking elsewhere. Robinson is one of just 11 receivers that have averaged two or fewer yards of average separation this season, while Gabriel (3.7 yards), Burton (2.9) and Miller (3.5) have regularly given their second-year quarterback more space to throw the ball.
Adding to Robinson’s problems is a difficult shadow date with Gilmore, who has specialized in taking away similar big-bodied No. 1 receivers:
Stephon Gilmore shadow matchups since 2017
M Evans: 5-49-0 (8)
DT: 5-44-1 (8)
Crabtree: 6-51-0 (11)
D Parker (x2): 1-5-0 (3), 4-40-0 (6)
Z Jones: 2-22-0 (7)
M Bryant: 4-59-1 (6)
K Benji: 5-70-0 (7)
C Hansen: 1-15-0 (4)
Nuk: 8-78-0 (11)
Moncrief: 4-34-1 (9)
M Jones: 4-69-1 (6)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 11, 2018
Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Browns CB Denzel Ward
The Browns have begun to utilize this year’s No. 4 overall pick in shadow coverage over the past two weeks to mostly positive results. John Brown (4-58-0) and Keenan Allen (4-62-0) were held in check, and Ward has even spent an average of 5.8 snaps per game in the slot.
Ward is used to playing press-man coverage all afternoon dating back to his days at Ohio State, and he combines 4.3-speed with twitchy short-area quickness that have enabled him to keep up with virtually everybody he’s lined up against for the last 18 months.
Still, Evans is probably Ward’s toughest matchup yet considering his size deficiencies. The Browns’ 5-foot-11 and 183-pound cornerback doesn’t stand much of a chance at bullying the Buccaneers’ 6-foot-5 and 231-pound receiver around. Evans is a noteworthy contrarian tournament play this week considering he carries the second-highest Leverage Rating on DraftKings among all wide receivers priced at $7,000 or higher in Sunday’s main slate.
Ravens WR John Brown vs. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore
The Browns shadowed Smokey with Ward in Week 5, and the Titans had last year’s first-round pick Adoree Jackson travel with him in Week 6. I’m expecting the Saints to follow suit and also use their No. 1 cornerback to track Brown, who has emerged as the Ravens’ most-dangerous receiver:
John "Smokey" Brown …
Joins Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins as only WRs with 900+ air yards
Averaging 7.8 targets per game
League-high average target depth of 22.3 yards
Saints are a bottom-8 defense in overall/pass DVOA and scoring pic.twitter.com/ELuT4Bf4qm
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 17, 2018
Next up is a likely battle with Lattimore (concussion), who is expected to clear the concussion protocol before Sunday’s matchup. Be sure to check out our Injury Dashboard for daily practice participation and estimated game statuses for every fantasy-relevant player.
Lattimore had a tough Week 1 at the hands of Evans, but he’s mostly resumed his lock-down ways ever since:
No. 1 Wide Receivers vs. the Saints in 2018
- Week 1 Mike Evans: 7 receptions-147 yards-1 TD (7 targets)
- Week 2 Jarvis Landry: 5-69-0 (7)
- Week 3 Julio Jones: 5-96-0 (6)
- Week 4 Odell Beckham Jr.: 7-60-0 (11)
- Week 5 Paul Richardson: 4-50-0 (5)
Overall, PFF has graded Lattimore as the league’s 16th-best full-time cornerback from Weeks 2-6.
Meanwhile, No. 2 cornerback Ken Crawley and slot corner P.J. Williams each rank among PFF’s bottom 10 defensive backs this season among 111 qualified players. This is obviously good news for Michael Crabtree and revenge-game minded Willie Snead.
Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Giants CB Janoris Jenkins
Jones’ career-long regular season streak without a touchdown now stands at 11 games. It’s certainly frustrating for fantasy investors to watch one of the league’s best receivers continuously fail to find the end zone, but Jones has still worked as the overall PPR WR6 thanks to an average of 117.8 yards and 7.3 receptions per game.
Next up is a Monday night showdown with Jenkins, who has had an up-and-down season that leaves him as PFF’s 80th-overall cornerback after six weeks.
No. 1 Wide Receivers vs. the Giants in 2018
- Week 1 Keelan Cole: 3 receptions-54 yards-0 TD (4 targets)
- Week 2 Tavon Austin: 2-79-1 (2)
- Week 3 DeAndre Hopkins: 6-86-0 (10)
- Week 4 Michael Thomas: 4-47-0 (4)
- Week 5 Devin Funchess: 4-53-0 (7)
- Week 6 Alshon Jeffery: 8-74-2 (12)
The Falcons’ plethora of weapons on offense has helped them score at least 31 points in four of their last five games. The Giants’ 27th-ranked defense in both overall and pass DVOA shouldn’t be feared in the slightest, even if Calvin Ridley (ankle) and Mohamed Sanu (hip) are ultimately unable to suit up.
Potential Non-Shadow Matchups
- Titans CB Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler: Last week the Titans asked their corners to travel for the first time all season, as Jackson and Butler shadowed Brown and Crabtree, respectively. Still, neither has moved inside to the slot for long stretches this season, so Allen should spend most of his time against Logan Ryan. PFF’s No. 14 overall cornerback is far from an easy matchup, but it’s a battle that Allen is capable of winning. The Chargers’ No. 1 wide receiver offers second-half breakout potential on one of just four offenses averaging at least 6.8 yards per play this season.
- Bills CB Tre’Davious White: It remains to be seen if T.Y. Hilton (chest/hamstring) will play, but he’ll be able to mostly escape White’s coverage by lining up in the slot. The Bills’ No. 1 cornerback will likely be a larger issue for Ryan Grant and Zach Pascal than Chester Rogers if Hilton is ultimately unable to suit up. Only Eric Ebron (22) has more targets than Rogers (21) during the last two weeks, although this shouldn’t be viewed as a complete slam-dunk matchup. The Bills quietly boast the league’s third- and second-ranked defense in overall and pass DVOA this season.
- Lions CB Darius Slay: Slay shadowed Pierre Garcon (4-57-0) and Davante Adams (9-140-1) this season and has already played more than double the amount of snaps in the slot (47) than he did in all of 2017 (21). Still, he hasn’t been asked to shadow against balanced passing teams such as the Jets, Patriots and Cowboys, so it seems unlikely he’ll stick to a single Dolphins receiver for too long. There’s certainly plenty of speed to go around on the Dolphins offense, but nobody boasts a target share of even 20%.
- Dolphins CB Xavien Howard: The Dolphins have moved Howard around the formation against Amari Cooper (2-17-0), A.J. Green (6-112-0), and Allen Robinson (5-64-1) this season, but each has been able to escape his shadow whenever they want by lining up in the slot. It wouldn’t be surprising if Howard simply sticks to the left side of the field this week, where he should see a mix of Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. Golden Tate has caught at least five passes in six consecutive games dating back to last season and will mostly face off against 2018 first-round slot corner Minkah Fitzpatrick.
- Falcons CBs Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant: The Falcons’ injury-riddled defense has allowed an absurd 32 PPG this season. They briefly asked their cornerbacks to shadow in Week 4 against the Bengals, but have since resumed their usual stationary ways. This means the Giants should be free to move Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard around as they please against a Falcons defense that has allowed the fourth-most DraftKings PPG to wide receivers. The expected return of tight end Evan Engram (knee, probable) could be detrimental to Sterling Shepard (12.8 PPR with Engram; 14 without).
- Redskins CB Josh Norman: The Redskins haven’t asked Norman to shadow since his first year with Washington in 2016. Cole Beasley should be “free” to work from the slot against Fabian Moreau, who ranks among the league’s top-six full-time nickelbacks in both quarterback rating allowed and yards allowed per cover snap. Despite the expected absence of Tavon Austin (groin, doubtful), the Redskins’ stingy pass defense probably isn’t the unit to try out against Michael Gallup or Allen Hurns.
- 49ers CB Richard Sherman: Sherman was flagged for a crucial penalty on one of his few snaps against Davante Adams in the slot last week. The 49ers haven’t asked any of their cornerbacks to travel this season, so we can reliably estimate whom they’ll each see the most of Sunday. The expected absence of Cooper Kupp (knee, doubtful) adds some doubt to the following projection, but the Rams aren’t expected to overhaul their offense too much considering they’ve run a league-high 95% of their snaps in 3-WR sets this season.
Robert Woods played a season-high 37 snaps in the slot with Cooper Kupp mostly sidelined last week.
Expected WR/CB matchups vs. 49ers:
Woods vs. K'Waun Williams (PFF's 25th-ranked CB)
Brandin Cooks vs. Jimmie Ward (100th) 👀
Josh Reynolds vs. Richard Sherman (30th)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 17, 2018
Potential Plus Matchups
Jaguars WRs Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief and Dede Westbrook vs. Texans
The Blake Bortles hate has reached a fever pitch after the Jaguars managed to score just 21 combined points during their last two road matchups against the Chiefs and Cowboys. Still, the B.O.A.T is averaging an additional 3.6 pass attempts per game without Leonard Fournette (hamstring, questionable) in the lineup over the past two seasons, and he demonstrated his lofty fantasy ceiling with two performances of 375-plus passing yards and multiple touchdowns in Weeks 1-4.
Next up is a Texans defense that Bortles has historically shredded at home. Houston’s pass-funnel defense has yielded at least 27 points to Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Andrew Luck this season, but 20 or fewer points to Blaine Gabbert, Dak Prescott and Josh Allen/Nathan Peterman. Each of the Jaguars’ top-three receivers have a target share between 16% and 17%, and they all rank among the main slate’s top-six receivers in Leverage Rating on DraftKings.
Panthers WR Devin Funchess vs. Eagles
Last week Greg Olsen (foot) returned to the lineup … and Funchess turned his usual eight targets into a productive 5-74-1 line. Somehow still just 24-years old, the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver deserves credit for becoming a consistent threat in all areas of the field:
Funchess has consistently averaged more than a target per game fewer with Olsen in the lineup, but this week’s matchup against the Eagles’ putrid secondary remains intriguing. They’ve allowed a league-high 110.2 yards per game to the opposition’s No. 1 wide receiver this season.
Vikings WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs vs. Jets
Thielen is the first player to record 100-plus receiving yards in each of Weeks 1-6. He leads the league in target share (31%) and is behind only Julio Jones in air yard market share (45%). The league’s overall PPR WR1 is again set up for success against a Jets defense that could again be without starting cornerbacks Buster Skrine (concussion) and Trumaine Johnson (quad).
And then there’s Diggs, who was shut down by Patrick Peterson last week. It marked his first game with fewer than 10 targets since the opener. The only concern with a potential sneaky shootout is the potential for slow play, as each of the Vikings (No. 19) and Jets (No. 32) rank lowly in situation neutral pace.
Browns WRs Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway vs. Buccaneers
Landry and Callaway have combined to catch just 19-of-53 targets over the past three weeks with Baker Mayfield under center. It’s understandable that the offense’s timing has been a bit off, as Hue Jackson decided against giving Mayfield any first-team practice reps back in August.
Luckily for everyone involved, this week’s get-right spot against the Buccaneers’ league-worst defense in essentially every pass defense metric has yielded the most DraftKings PPG to opposing quarterbacks, and the second-most to opposing wide receivers. The Browns-Buccaneers’ over/under has increased to 50.5 points since opening at 49.5.
Potential Minus Matchups
Patriots WRs Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Chris Hogan vs. Bears
The Patriots are perfectly capable of hanging 40 points on anybody with Tom Brady under center, but the Bears will be a tough matchup for any team as long as they continue to pair one of the league’s best pass rushes with their talented trio of cornerbacks:
- Prince Amukamara: Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall cornerback
- Bryce Callahan: PFF’s No. 3 CB
- Kyle Fuller PFF’s No. 8 CB
Of course, the Bears will have their hands full against an offense that utilized Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski on over 80% of the offense’s snaps last week.
Saints WRs Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr. and Tre’Quan Smith vs. Ravens
Much like the Patriots, the Saints shouldn’t be counted out against even the league’s best defenses. That describes the Ravens this season, as their No. 2 overall defense in DVOA combines a stifling front-seven with an abundance of competent cornerbacks now that No. 1 corner Jimmy Smith has returned from suspension. The Ravens are objectively one of the league’s best teams:
Top-five NFL teams in point differential
1. Rams (+78)
2. Ravens (+76) 👀
3. Bears (+43)
T3, Chiefs (+43)
5. Saints (+40)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 16, 2018
If Ginn (knee) doesn’t suit up again, both Smith and Cam Meredith will be in play as contrarian tournament options. Exposure to Drew Brees should certainly be centered on DraftKings, where he’s the slate’s 10th-most expensive quarterback. Brees is the second-most expensive signal caller on FanDuel.
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