NFL Week 13 WR/CB Matchups: Will Darius Slay Lock Down Brandin Cooks? More Shadow Dates
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Brandin Cooks, Darius Slay
- Week 13's WR/CB matchups feature a shadow date between Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks and Lions CB Darius Slay.
- Eight other wide receivers are likely to draw shadow coverage. We also break down plus and minus matchups.
I’ll be breaking down the top wide receiver/cornerback matchups every week throughout the 2018 NFL season.
Below is a data-driven analysis of the week’s best passing-game matchup, 10 potential shadow matchups and an additional eight potential non-shadow matchups. At the end, I’ll wrap up with a quick look at plus and minus matchups.
Matchup of the Week
Panthers Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
The Buccaneers defense has been a ship wreck all season (pun intended).
Tampa Bay allowed at least 30 points to everyone except Nick Foles, Baker Mayfield (with Hue Jackson), Alex Smith and Nick Mullens. The Bucs’ league-worst defense in Football Outsiders’ pass DVOA has also started to fade against the run after losing linebackers Kwon Alexander, Jack Cichy and Lavonte David to injury.
The Panthers scored 42 points during their first meeting with the Bucs this season at home. The Panthers have lost three straight since, but Cam Newton has largely kept the offense humming:
- Newton has thrown multiple touchdown passes in a career-high 10 consecutive games and continues to possess an absurd rushing floor.
- Christian McCaffrey became the ninth running back in the past 25 years to gain 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game last week.
- Electric rookie D.J. Moore has 90-plus receiving yards in three of his past five games and offers sporadic rushing upside.
- Similarly electric second-year receiver Curtis Samuel played 54-of-59 snaps last Sunday and has scored six touchdowns on 24 offensive touches in 2018.
- Greg Olsen has just one game with more than six targets this season, but he’s the No. 2 red-zone threat if Devin Funchess (back) remains sidelined.
Be sure to monitor our Week 13 Injury Report to see whether Funchess returns to the lineup after missing last week’s matchup against the Seahawks.
The Buccaneers don’t have a cornerback or safety graded higher than 48th at their position by Pro Football Focus this season. Jameis Winston and the Bucs’ offense possess enough fire power to theoretically turn this game into a back-and-forth shootout; the matchup accordingly has a 54.5-point over/under as of writing (see live odds here).
Consider holding onto these Panthers receivers in season-long leagues. They boast one of the position’s most-fantasy friendly schedules during Weeks 13-16.
The Week 13 Shadow Club
Not many cornerbacks are consistently asked to travel with the opposition’s No. 1 wide receiver, but we can expect the following nine teams to regularly line up across from their opponent’s top receiver in Week 13. (That doesn’t include Marshon Lattimore’s shadow date with Amari Cooper on Thursday night.)
Buccaneers WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson vs. Panthers CBs James Bradberry and Donte Jackson
Evans and the Buccaneers lost this matchup in Week 9, as the Panthers held Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co. to just 228 yards through the air. The Panthers used the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Bradberry against the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Evans, and speedy rookie Donte Jackson (4.32-second 40-yard dash) on D-Jax and Chris Godwin.
Bradberry’s play was dominant in that matchup. Evans caught only 1-of-10 targets for 16 yards and failed to find the end zone.
Still, Kenny Golladay (8-113-1), Alshon Jeffery (7-88-1) and Odell Beckham Jr. (8-131-1) among others have proven plenty capable of defeating Bradberry’s shadow coverage.
Both Evans and D-Jax are capable of winning virtually any matchup, but the Panthers’ unique combination of size and speed on the outside makes them better suited than most to contain the Bucs.
Adam Humphries proved to be Fitzpatrick’s best option in Week 9; Humphries racked up an 8-82-2 line from the slot against the Panthers’ zone-heavy defense.
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey
Ramsey is dealing with a knee injury and the Jaguars reportedly have a high-level of concern about his chances of suiting up Sunday. Be sure to monitor our News Feed for updates on Ramsey’s status.
Hilton and Ramsey are far from strangers at this point. The Jaguars’ No. 1 cornerback has been deployed in shadow coverage in each of his last three meetings against the Colts.
- Week 7, 2017: 2 receptions-27 yards-0 TD (8 targets)
- Week 13, 2017: 3-51-1 (6)
- Week 10, 2018: 3-77-0 (7)
Also working against Hilton are his concerning home/away splits since 2014 (per our Trends tool):
- Hilton at home: 17.01 DraftKings points per game, +1.91 Plus/Minus, 51% Consistency
- On the road: 14.2 DraftKings PPG, -0.87 Plus/Minus, 32% Consistency
The Jaguars are in a tail spin that has sapped their defense of any intimidation factor, but Ramsey still ranks among the league’s top 15 cornerbacks in passer rating allowed into his coverage. He’s essentially won every battle this season against wide receivers not named Beckham (11-111-0) or Antonio Brown (5-117-1).
Bengals WR Tyler Boyd vs. Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr.
A.J. Green (toe) is tentatively expected to suit up, but the offense will have to survive the rest of the season without Andy Dalton. This means Jeff Driskel will be under center for the Bengals’ home matchup against the Broncos’ No. 3 defense in overall and pass DVOA.
Green’s potential for reduced snaps or re-aggravation of his injury makes him a high risk option until we know how healthy he is.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah (8 targets) was Driskel’s preferred target after replacing Dalton, and Boyd (7) didn’t boast a significant lead over Auden Tate (6), Joe Mixon (5) or John Ross (4). It’s a low upside situation considering the Bengals have scored 21 or fewer points in five of their past six games.
Also working against Boyd is a potential shadow date with the game’s premiere nickelback. They’ll see each other for plenty of snaps in the slot either way.
This is a matchup that Harris is capable of dominating. Here’s where he’s ranked in snaps per reception allowed in the slot over the past five seasons:
- 2018: 1st
- 2017: 1st
- 2016: 1st
- 2015: 1st
- 2014: 3rd
Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Browns CB Denzel Ward
Chris Raybon and I discussed the Texans’ transformation into a run-first offense on The Action Network NFL Podcast before their matchup against the Titans this past Monday. Basically, Deshaun Watson and the offense have largely abandoned a high-volume passing attack after he injured both his ribs and lung against the Cowboys in Week 5.
The Texans have won eight straight games and have little reason to change what’s been working, but they’ve slowed down the pace and have worked to limit Watson’s exposure to hits behind the league’s No. 31 offensive line in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate.
Hopkins averaged 11.4 targets in Weeks 1-5 compared to 7.5 in Weeks 6-12. He’s still displayed a fantasy-friendly floor by racking up six touchdowns over his past six games, but his volume isn’t moving in the right direction.
Adding to Hopkins’ troubles is his concerning performance without Will Fuller in the lineup over the past two seasons.
- With Fuller (16 games): 10.7 targets, 6.3 receptions, 100.3 yards, 1.1 TDs
- Without Fuller (10 games): 10.5 targets, 6.8 receptions, 79.8 yards, 0.4 TDs
The Browns have varied their coverage schemes against opposing No. 1 wide receivers this season, and it has mostly worked considering they rank fourth in pass DVOA. Cornerbacks Denzel Ward (No. 11) and T.J. Carrie (No. 39) along with safeties Damarious Randall (No. 29) and Jabrill Peppers (No. 30) rank among PFF’s top 40 defensive backs.
Rams WR Brandin Cooks vs. Lions CB Darius Slay
Cooks is averaging a career-high 87.6 receiving yards per game after never approaching a 75-yard average with the similarly efficient offenses in New Orleans and New England.
Cooks has worked alongside Robert Woods as Jared Goff’s favorite target in three games without Cooper Kupp this season.
- Woods: 25 targets
- Cooks: 25
- Todd Gurley: 15
- Josh Reynolds: 14
Up next is a tough but winnable matchup against 2017 first-team All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay.
The Lions have regularly deployed Slay against their opponent’s No. 1 receiver this season, and the results have generally worked in their favor.
Slay, who ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, is one of few cornerbacks with the type of top-end speed to feasibly hang with Cooks (4.33), but there’s hardly been anybody capable of stopping the Rams’ premiere field-stretcher while indoors since he entered the league in 2014. Overall, Cooks has posted an average 5.1-72.4-0.53 line in 32 career games inside compared to a 4.8-70-0.35 line in 37 career games outdoors.
Woods (in the slot) and Reynolds have more favorable matchups against Nevin Lawson and Mike Ford. Quarterbacks have posted absurd passer ratings of 115.4 and 118.8 against Lawson and Ford, respectively.
Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson
Adams and Aaron Rodgers have formed one of the league’s most-prolific wide receiver-quarterback combinations in recent memory. Overall, Adams has scored a touchdown and/or gained 100-plus yards in 25-of-34 games (74%) with Rodgers under center since 2016.
Adams has already been through the lion’s den of shadow cornerbacks this season, winning battles against Slay (9-140-1), Xavier Rhodes (8-64-1, 5-69-1), Stephon Gilmore (6-40-1), Tre’Davious White (8-81-0) and Marcus Peters (5-133-0).
Peterson has a strong case as Adams’ toughest test of the season, but we haven’t seen the same version of the Cardinals’ all-world cornerback in 2018.
Arizona’s defense has embraced a more zone-heavy scheme under new head coach Steve Wilks, and Peterson has only ventured into the slot on 10 total snaps all season. He’s only been charged with two touchdowns allowed this season by PFF, but Peterson didn’t exactly dominate shadow dates against Stefon Diggs (3-33-0), Marquise Goodwin (1-55-1) or Tyreek Hill (7-117-2).
Adams is more than capable of having a productive day against Peterson, although it’s probably not wise to expect either to approach their ceiling in this battle of elites.
Patriots WR Josh Gordon vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes
Rhodes is dealing with a hamstring injury, but head coach Mike Zimmer said there’s a “good chance” that the Vikings’ No. 1 cornerback will suit up Sunday. Still, Rhodes did not practice to open the week, and the Vikings are somewhat notorious for not always revealing the most-accurate injury assessments.
This is a matchup that Rhodes could dominate if he ultimately suits up. He has the type of size at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds and the speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash) to hang with even the league’s freakiest receivers.
The better question is whether Gordon deserves to still be considered one of the league’s premiere talents at the position: He joins Allen Robinson and Kelvin Benjamin as the league’s only receivers averaging fewer than two yards of separation per target. Gordon has lost his only two shadow matchups with the Patriots against Adoree Jackson (4-81-0 on 12 targets) and Tre’Davious White (4-42-0).
One look at Rhodes’ track record this season demonstrates how stringy he’s been against the league’s bigger-bodied receivers. Gordon will need to better utilize some of his field-stretching speed to avoid becoming the next receiver to have his #RhodesClosed.
Vikings WR Stefon Diggs vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore
Diggs didn’t practice Wednesday due to a knee injury and should be considered questionable for Sunday.
The Vikings’ No. 1 outside receiver has a troubling history of under-performing when attempting to play hurt.
His potential absence could lead to more looks for Adam Thielen, but the Vikings’ primary slot receiver is expected to run most of his routes away from Stephon Gilmore regardless. Instead, Thielen should spend most of his time across from Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson, both of whom rank outside of PFF’s top 50 cornerbacks this season.
Gilmore has largely won each of his shadow matchups with the exception of Corey Davis (7-125-1). The Patriots’ No. 1 cornerback has earned PFF’s No. 2 overall grade among 114 qualified corners. Diggs won’t hold a size or speed advantage against Gilmore if he’s ultimately able to suit up.
Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Chargers CB Casey Hayward
Hayward was fantastic in 2017, but he’s faced a soft schedule of No. 1 receivers in 2018. Still, Hayward has shut down the players he’s been tasked with guarding this season.
Brown will be Hayward’s toughest test all season. We haven’t seen AB clear 120 yards during a game, but his 11 touchdowns demonstrate the end is far from near. The league’s best receiver for the past half decade remains capable of creating a game-breaking play at any moment.
JuJu Smith-Schuster will have his work cut out for him in the slot against Desmond King, PFF’s No. 4 overall cornerback. Of course, JuJu’s natural ability and target share make him mostly matchup-proof.
Potential Non-Shadow Matchups
- Bills CB Tre’Davious White: The Bills haven’t asked White to shadow on a weekly basis this season; he’s mostly stuck to the left side of the field in matchups against the Ravens, Bears, Jets and Jaguars. The Dolphins don’t have a clear-cut No. 1 receiver, either. Danny Amendola (knee) nor DeVante Parker (shoulder) are guaranteed to suit up, but the Dolphins’ slow-paced and run-heavy offense isn’t a good situation to target anyway. This matchup has a week-low 40 point over/under.
- Dolphins CB Xavien Howard: The Dolphins have recently moved stud rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick’s full-time position from the slot to right cornerback. They’ve accordingly positioned Howard on the left side of the field, even in potential shadow matchups against the Packers (Davante Adams) and Colts (T.Y. Hilton). Kelvin Benjamin is the Bills’ de facto No. 1 receiver, but it’d be surprising if the Dolphins overhaul their new-look scheme for a receiver who has surpassed 50 receiving yards just once this season.
- 49ers CB Richard Sherman: The 49ers have lined up Sherman as the defense’s left cornerback on 85% of his snaps this season. This makes David Moore the play over Tyler Lockett, who is projected to spend the most time across from the 49ers’ No. 1 cornerback. Moore will instead see plenty of Ahkello Witherspoon, PFF’s 111th-graded cornerback out of 114 qualified players. Slot receiver Doug Baldwin has a middling matchup inside against K’Waun Williams, who has allowed just 271 scoreless yards on 41 targets in slot coverage this season. The Seahawks are implied for a solid 28 points.
- Ravens CB Jimmy Smith: The Ravens’ fifth-ranked defense in overall and pass DVOA has spelled trouble for most opposing passing attacks. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley (ankle, elbow) should see a mix of plus-sized corners Smith and Marlon Humphrey, while Mohamed Sanu will square off the in slot with Brandon Carr if nickelback Tavon Young (ankle) remains sidelined. Jones has gone off for 7-121-1, 7-107-1, 6-118-1 and 11-147-0 lines in four games since his infamous touchdown drought.
- Titans CB Adoree Jackson: The Titans have periodically used Jackson to shadow with mixed results. Still, the situation is unclear considering both Sam Darnold (foot) and Josh McCown (back, right hand) were limited in practice on Wednesday. It would make sense if the Titans treated Quincy Enunwa as the No. 1 receiver if Darnold is under center, and Robby Anderson as the No. 1 if it’s McCown. The problem with Anderson is he was also unable to start the week off with a full practice due to a lingering ankle injury. Jermaine Kearse has a tough matchup in the slot either way against Logan Ryan.
- Giants CB Janoris Jenkins: Both Jenkins and B.W. Webb rank outside of PFF’s top 75 cornerbacks. They’re expected to see a mix of Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, with undrafted free-agent rookie Grant Haley spending most of his time with slot receiver Anthony Miller. The Bears are reportedly expected to once again ride with Chase Daniel under center with Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) still sidelined. Daniel’s target distribution last week featured Gabriel (8 targets) and Tarik Cohen (8) over Miller (4) and A-Rob (4).
- Steelers CB Joe Haden: The Steelers have only asked Haden to shadow Julio Jones, A.J. Green, John Brown, Devin Funchess and DeAndre Hopkins since joining the team. He’s spent just 10 snaps in the slot all season, so it’s unlikely Keenan Allen has much to worry about. Tyrell Williams (quad) was active last week, but ultimately played just 9-of-69 snaps. Mike Williams hasn’t had more than five targets in a game since Week 3 and offers a limited yardage ceiling, although he’s one of just 12 players in the league with seven-plus touchdowns.
- Redskins CB Josh Norman: Norman shadowed in Weeks 8 through 11, but returned to his spot on the left side of the field on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys once Quinton Dunbar (leg) was able to return to action. Amari Cooper promptly shredded the Redskins for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and both scores happened to come while lined up against Dunbar. A stationary Norman is good news for Alshon Jeffery, although he’s more-or-less worked as the Eagles’ No. 3 receiver since they acquired Golden Tate.
Potential Plus Matchups
Broncos WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton vs. Bengals
Sutton’s upside and big-play ability haven’t quite translated to consistent fantasy production. He’s converted 15 targets into a combined 7-149-0 line in three games since Demaryius Thomas was shipped off to Houston.
Meanwhile, Sanders continues to undergo a revival at 31.
Up next is the Bengals’ league-worst scoring defense that has struggled to slow down slot receivers all season.
- T.Y. Hilton: 5 receptions-46 yards-1 TD (11 targets)
- Tyreek Hill: 7-68-1 (10)
- Adam Humphries: 7-76-0 (10)
- JuJu Smith-Schuster: 7-111-0 (10)
- Mohamed Sanu: 6-111-0
- Willie Snead (x2): 5-51-0, 5-54-0
- Jarvis Landry: 3-30-0 (5)
Sanders and Sutton carry guaranteed prize pool-friendly Leverage Ratings on DraftKings of 75% and 69%, respectively, in our Pro Models. Tight end Matt LaCosse is also in play as a minimum-priced option with Jeff Heuerman (back, IR) done for the season.
Lions WR Kenny Golladay vs. Rams
Golladay has taken over as the Lions’ clear-cut No. 1 receiver with Marvin Jones (knee, IR) sidelined and Golden Tate in Philadelphia. Historically, Babytron has consistently balled out with the workload of a featured target.
There’s a chance that Aqib Talib (ankle) returns from IR this week, but it’s unlikely Talib will be used in shadow coverage. That means we can expect Golladay to run a decent portion of his routes against the ever-burnable Marcus Peters.
Bruce Ellington has caught at least six passes in each of the last two weeks while working as the offense’s new slot receiver. Still, he’ll draw the toughest matchup of the group against Nickell Robey-Coleman, PFF’s No. 16 overall cornerback.
Chiefs WRs Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins vs. Raiders
Watkins (hamstring) wasn’t able to practice Wednesday, so Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson could see a slight increase in targets
Either way, the Chiefs’ pass offense will continue to roll through TyFreak and Travis Kelce. Fantasy’s overall WR2 and TE2 have combined to score four touchdowns against the Raiders in their past four matchups, and it’s tough to see the league’s 30th-ranked defense in pass DVOA slowing down the Chiefs’ ridiculously-talented aerial attack.
The only concern in this matchup is whether the Raiders will stay competitive enough to force the Chiefs to keep their foot on the gas. The Raiders boast the league’s worst overall point differential and have allowed just one quarterback (Phillip Rivers) to surpass 300 yards all season.
Potential Minus Matchups
Giants WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard vs. Bears
OBJ is capable of winning any matchup, but the Bears’ league-best defense in overall DVOA features an intimidating group of cornerbacks who rank among PPF’s top 12 corners: Kyle Fuller (No. 6), Bryce Callahan (No. 9) and Prince Amukamara (No. 11).
Shepard had at least seven targets in seven of his first eight games, but has just 11 total targets in Weeks 10-12. The best option to target on the Giants in this difficult matchup is probably their all-world rookie running back.
Browns WRs Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway vs. Texans
Plenty of variables go into a quarterback’s performance, but Mayfield has objectively been playing much better since Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator in Week 9.
The only negative result in fantasy has been Mayfield’s target distribution. Jarvis Landry (17), Duke Johnson (15), Antonio Callaway (12), David Njoku (11), Breshad Perriman (nine) and Rashard Higgins (eight) have at least eight targets over the Browns’ last three games.
Up next is a brutally tough road matchup against the Texans’ No. 4 defense in overall DVOA. Their slow-paced and run-heavy offense doesn’t mesh all that well with a projected high-scoring affair.
Cardinals WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk vs. Packers
There’s a case to be made for Kirk’s potential fantasy-friendly floor, but a road spot at Lambeau Field isn’t the type of situation we should feel comfortable targeting.
The biggest concern is whether Josh Rosen will even have enough time to throw to his talented rookie receiver.
Fitz has gained 50 or fewer yards in all but two games this season. His five touchdowns in the past five weeks are certainly encouraging, but Rosen has fed Fitzgerald just six combined targets over the last two weeks.
A likely matchup with stud rookie Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander, PFF’s No. 10 overall cornerback, likely awaits Fitz in the slot.
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