Grading Divisional Round WR/CB Matchups: Tyreek Hill In Favorable Spot

Grading Divisional Round WR/CB Matchups: Tyreek Hill In Favorable Spot article feature image

David Eulitt/Getty Images. Pictured: Tyreek Hill

  • Matthew Freedman grades every wide receiver/cornerback matchup for the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

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 Divisional Round WR/CB matchups.

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.

I’ll update my WR/CB projections throughout the week.

Divisional Round WR/CB Matchups

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

Saturday, 4:35 pm ET

Vikings WRs: Stefon Diggs had only 19 yards on three targets on Wild Card Weekend, but Adam Thielen went off for 129 yards and had the game-sealing catch in overtime.

After playing 93% of the snaps in Week 16 and resting in Week 17, Thielen definitively showed last week that he is recovered from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for almost two months.

Adam Thielen
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images. Pictured: Adam Thielen

With Thielen back, Olabisi Johnson has been the team’s primary slot receiver, although the Vikings tend to use two tight-end sets as their base formation.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): Thielen suffered a cut on his ankle on Wednesday and missed practice on Thursday but is tentatively expected to play this weekend with protective padding around his ankle.

49ers CBs: With Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams — not to mention backup Emmanuel Moseley — the 49ers are stacked at corner. They rank No. 2 in PFF coverage grade.

And this weekend the 49ers are expecting to get back defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring), safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and linebacker Kwon Alexander (pectoral, IR).

As if the 49ers corners needed any more support from the rest of the defense.

49ers WRs: Since joining the 49ers in Week 8, Emmanuel Sanders has been the ostensible No. 1 wide receiver, but he’s been outproduced by rookie Deebo Samuel, who has had a very 2018 D.J. Moore-esque performance with 42-634-2 receiving and 11-151-3 rushing over the past 10 weeks.

Kendrick Bourne is almost forgotten in the slot as the No. 3 wide receiver.

Vikings CBs: Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes led the effort against Michael Thomas on Wild Card Weekend, as the All-Pro receiver was held to just 70 scoreless yards on eight targets. They are locked in on the perimeter.

But the Vikings have issues in the middle. Starter Mackensie Alexander (knee) missed last week, and backup Mike Hughes (neck, IR) is out for the year. In Alexander’s place, longtime starter-turned-backup safety Andrew Sendejo played slot corner last week, and although he’s competent, it’s not ideal for the 32-year-old veteran to play out of position for an entire game.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): Alexander has been placed on the IR, so Sendejo will likely start at slot corner for the rest of the postseason.

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens

Saturday, 8:15 pm ET

Titans WRs: Adam Humphries (ankle) hasn’t played since Week 13, and Kalif Raymond (concussion) has been out for the past two weeks. Tajae Sharpe is locked in as the No. 3 receiver with a defined slot role.

For Wild Card Weekend, the Titans relied heavily on the running game to attack the pass-deterring Patriots defense, and they might have a similar game plan against the Ravens, who are comparably strong in pass defense.

As a result, A.J. Brown, Corey Davis and Sharpe might see little action this weekend. Against the Pats, they combined for just 10 yards on six targets.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): Humphries is out, but Raymond has cleared the league’s protocol. Still, he’s likely to play behind Sharpe this weekend.

Ravens CBs: Marcus Peters was traded to the Ravens in Week 7, and Jimmy Smith returned from injury in Week 9 after the bye. Along with Marlon Humphrey, they form perhaps the league’s best cornerback trio.

Marcus Peters-Marlon Humphrey
Bryan M. Bennett/ Getty Images. Pictured: Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey

In the eight games in which all three corners have played, the Ravens have held opponents to an average of 14.5 points (per RotoViz Team Splits App).

Ravens WRs: Quarterback Lamar Jackson is the league’s most run-focused and tight end-targeting player at the position, so his wide receivers suffer from inconsistent usage.

But No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Brown is an explosive playmaker, and following an injury-filled season, he should at least be healthy thanks to the bye week.

Titans CBs: Despite limiting Tom Brady and the Patriots to just 209 yards passing and forcing a game-clinching pick-six, the Titans are not strong at cornerback.

No. 1 corner Malcolm Butler (wrist, IR) suffered a season-ending injury in Week 9, and since then the Titans defense has ranked No. 29 in pass success rate allowed (per Sharp Football Stats).

But last week at least the team got back No. 2 cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who hadn’t played since Week 13 because of injury. Although the Titans have occasionally used Jackson in shadow coverage in Butler’s absence, last week he played primarily at left corner.

Opposite Jackson on the perimeter is aged veteran Tramaine Brock, who was claimed off waivers a little over month ago, and in the slot is Logan Ryan, who allowed an NFL-high 114 targets, 80 receptions and 940 yards in the regular season.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): Jackson (foot) missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday but practiced fully on Thursday and is expected to play.

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, 3:05 pm ET

Texans WRs: DeAndre Hopkins had a solid 6-90-0 performance last week (with a two-point conversion), and that was despite seeing steady coverage from cornerback Tre’Davious White. Hopkins was less productive this season than in 2017-18, but the three-time All-Pro dominator is still one of the league’s best receivers.

It’s notable that Hopkins played a season-high 50% snap rate in the slot last week, but I suspect he lined up there primarily to get away from White. This week, he should play on the perimeter per usual.

DeAndre Hopkins
Bob Levey/Getty Images. Pictured: DeAndre Hopkins

Will Fuller (groin) exited Week 16, sat Week 17 and missed Wild Card Weekend as a game-time decision, but he is tentatively expected to return this week (per NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport). With Fuller back, Kenny Stills will shift to the slot.

If Fuller is unable to play, Stills will play on the perimeter with backup DeAndre Carter in the slot. Keke Coutee is a distant memory: He played not one snap last week.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): Fuller and Stills (knee) were both limited this week but are tentatively expected to play.

Chiefs CBs: The Chiefs have a competent yet nondescript group of corners in Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward and Kendall Fuller. They are No. 6 in pass defense DVOA and specifically Nos. 3 & 7 against opposing Nos. 1-2 wide receivers (per Football Outsiders).

This year, the Chiefs have held opposing wide receivers to the league’s second-fewest fantasy points. This is by no means a favorable matchup for the Texans wide receivers.

Chiefs WRs: Although he still moves around the formation, Tyreek Hill has played as the team’s primary slot receiver since returning from injury in Week 13. Sammy Watkins is entrenched as the No. 2 wide receiver with Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman rotating in the No. 3 role.

Texans CBs: Johnathan Joseph (hamstring) exited Week 17 early and sat last week, but his absence was barely noticeable: He’s been largely replaced in nickel sets by corner Gareon Conley anyway. When Joseph returns, he will likely be no more than a rotational player.

Houston’s defense ranks No. 26 against the pass (per DVOA). This is a good matchup for all the Chiefs wide receivers, especially Hill, as slot cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has a 43.5 PFF coverage grade this year and has allowed a 77.5% catch rate since joining the Texans in Week 12.

Looking ahead to the Divisional Round: Tyreek Hill vs. Vernon Hargreaves III

Tyreek WR1.

— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) January 5, 2020

UPDATE (Jan. 11): Joseph is expected to play this week, but I doubt he will start ahead of Conley.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Sunday, 6:40 pm ET

Seahawks WRs: Over the past two weeks, rookie D.K. Metcalf has outperformed No. 1 receiver Tyler Lockett with a beefy 13-241-2 receiving performance on 21 targets. Metcalf is still a raw player, but he has the potential to dominate the position.

After Lockett and Metcalf, Josh Gordon (suspension) is out for the rest of the year, Malik Turner (concussion) is still in the league’s protocol and Jaron Brown (knee) is dealing with a knee injury. Until further notice, David Moore is the acting No. 3 receiver.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): Turner and Brown both returned to full practice this week and are expected to suit up. I tentatively have Moore ahead of them, but all three will likely get playing time.

Packers CBs: No. 1 corner Jaire Alexander has shadowed on occasion this year, and it probably would make sense for the Packers to put him on Metcalf for most of the game, but I expect he will play almost exclusively at left corner per usual.

Because of where they tend to line up, Metcalf is likely to face right corner Kevin King for most of the game. A 2017 second-rounder, King entered the NFL with promise, but he’s failed to realize his potential, and of any starting corner still in the playoffs, no player has a worse mark than his 1.71 yards allowed per snap (per PFF).

Packers WRs: Since returning from injury in Week 9, Adams has averaged a robust 11.4 targets per game, and for the season, he’s had either 100 yards or a touchdown in eight of 12 games. His campaign has gone overlooked because of four missed games, but on a per-game basis, Adams has had a very Nuk-esque season.

Allen Lazard and Geronimo Allison are locked in as the Nos. 2-3 wide receivers, but Jake Kumerow and Marquez Valdes-Scantling still play more than a few snaps per game. After Adams, no Packers receiver can be trusted.

Seahawks CBs: The Seahawks play sides in their secondary, so Adams is likely to face right corner Tre Flowers for most of the game. An overmatched player, Flowers has allowed 170, 91 and 99 yards in the three games this year with eight-plus targets in his coverage.

Ugo Amadi has settled in as the slot corner over the past month, but the fourth-round rookie plays relatively few snaps because the Seahawks prefer their base defense to their nickel package. Given that Amadi has allowed a 92.3% catch rate in his coverage, they’re probably right to try to keep him off the field.

Divisional Round WR/CB Matrix

I take a cautious approach to injured players 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.

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