NFL Week 6 WR/CB Matchups: A.J. Green and Joe Haden Set for Another Battle, More Shadow Dates
- Week 6 features some interesting receiver-corner matchups including A.J. Green being shadowed by Joe Haden.
- The Seahawks and Raiders receiver are each set up well in a sneaky-shootout spot.
- The Jaguars and Dolphins might not be worth investing in this week.
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, three potential shadow matchups and five potential non-shadow matchups. Then we’ll round it out with a quick look at plus and minus matchups.
Matchup of the Week
Falcons Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
The Falcons and Buccaneers rank 31st and 32nd in points allowed per game, respectively, yet also sport top-10 scoring offenses. It’s no surprise this matchup carries a huge 57-point over/under as of Thursday afternoon.
Also helping matters for the Falcons is Julio Jones’ history against the Buccaneers. He has consistently carved up his division rival since entering the league in 2011:
Julio Jones career vs. Buccaneers:
3 receptions-54 yards-0 TD (8 targets)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 9, 2018
Jones’ current streak of 10 regular-season games without a touchdown is the longest of his career. Coincidentally, he’s scored a career-high 10 regular-season touchdowns against the Buccaneers.
Calvin Ridley (PPR WR18) and Mohamed Sanu (WR34) have maintained fantasy relevance in the Falcons’ high-octane offense. They’re averaging 5.2 and 6.2 targets per game, respectively, and are set up well against a Buccaneers secondary that is lacking in overall talent.
- Brent Grimes: PFF’s 108th-ranked cornerback out of 111 qualified players
- Carlton Davis: Rookie and is PFF’s 85th-ranked cornerback
- M.J. Stewart: Rookie and is PFF’s 79th-ranked cornerback
- Ryan Smith: PFF’s 31st-ranked cornerback
Per our NFL Trends tool, the Buccaneers rank among the league’s bottom two defenses in DraftKings points per game and Plus/Minus allowed to wide receivers this season. They rank dead last in overall and pass DVOA. Exploit the Buccaneers’ putrid defense in every form of fantasy until further notice.
The Week 6 Shadow Club
Not many cornerbacks are consistently asked to travel with the opposition’s No. 1 wide receiver, but we can expect at least three cornerbacks (in addition to Janoris Jenkins against Alshon Jeffery on Thursday night) to regularly line up across from their opponent’s top receiver in Week 6.
Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Steelers CB Joe Haden
These two have a long history together in the AFC North since each entered the league in 2011 and 2010, respectively. Green dubbed the Steelers’ No. 1 cornerback as one of his five toughest matchups last season, probably because Green hasn’t found much success against his rival in recent years:
A.J. Green in 8 career matchups vs. Joe Haden:
1 reception-41 yards-1 TD (4 targets)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 10, 2018
The only question is if the Steelers will wind up asking Haden to follow Green all over the field. Only Julio Jones (5-62-0) and DeAndre Hopkins (4-65-1) have earned a shadow date with Haden since he joined the Steelers in 2017, but Green is certainly talented enough to become the third such receiver.
Once again, Tyler Boyd is set up well as the Bengals’ No. 2 wide receiver against a defense without a worthy second cornerback: Mike Hilton, Coty Sensabaugh and Artie Burns each rank outside of the league’s top 50 cornerbacks in yards allowed per snap this season. Be sure to check out our Week 6 Injury Report to monitor the status of Bengals wide receiver John Ross (groin).
Bears WR Allen Robinson vs. Dolphins CB Xavien Howard
The Bears had an entire bye week to bask in the glory of their 48-10 victory over the Buccaneers in Week 4. The passing game isn’t set up quite as well this week, as the Dolphins’ fifth-ranked defense in overall and pass DVOA has largely clamped down each of its opponents’ offenses (with the exception of the Patriots).
Robinson leads the Bears in targets, air yards and red-zone targets, so he’s expected to draw the watchful eye of Howard. The Dolphins’ No. 1 cornerback has made life exceptionally difficult for Amari Cooper (2-17-0), Julio Jones (6-72-0) and Brandin Cooks (1-38-0), but the team hasn’t asked him to shadow anyone else since the beginning of last season.
Howard has won his individual matchups, but he hasn’t exactly been dominant for the entire season. Overall, he’s allowed 11-of-23 targets into his coverage to be caught for 273 yards and two touchdowns. Note that Howard has also intercepted three passes, tied for the league lead.
The tough matchup again makes Taylor Gabriel a contrarian play, but there’s also a decent chance that Robinson avoids Howard for large portions of the game. A-Rob has posted a 31.3% slot rate this season, and Howard has moved into the slot on just 2.5% of his snaps.
Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Bills CB Tre’Davious White
There might not be a receiver more matchup-proof than Hopkins. He’s consistently won against the league’s best corners over the past season and a half.
DeAndre Hopkins since 2017:
vs. Jalen Ramsey (x2) 7-55-1, 4-80-1 (shadow)
vs. Marcus Peters 4-52-3
vs. Richard Sherman 8-224-1
vs. Patrick Peterson 4-76-1 (s)
vs. Jimmy Smith 7-125-0
vs. Joe Haden 4-65-1 (s)
vs. Janoris Jenkins 6-86-0 (s)
vs. Byron Jones: 9-151-0
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 10, 2018
Nuk will once again have his hands full Sunday, as White deserves to be mentioned alongside the names on Hopkins’ aforementioned burn list. The Bills’ No. 1 cornerback has held up well in shadow matchups against Cooper (5-48-0), Robby Anderson (4-48-1), Davante Adams (8-81-0) and Corey Davis (4-49-0).
The larger issue for Hopkins is the health of quarterback Deshaun Watson (chest) and fellow receiver Will Fuller (hamstring). Both are expected to play Sunday, but the former is considered day-to-day and the latter saw just three targets last week and might not be 100 percent.
Of course, Hopkins has proven throughout his career that he’s capable of balling out with anybody and everybody under center. It’s been unwise to bet against him for the better part of the last five years. Note that White was limited in practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury.
Potential Non-Shadow Matchups
- Falcons CBs Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant: The Falcons switched up their cover scheme in Week 4, asking Alford and Trufant to shadow A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, respectively. This didn’t hold up in Week 5, but it’s probably not something to overthink considering Atlanta has allowed a league-high 121 points over the past three weeks. Jameis Winston has thrown 10 touchdowns in his last 12 quarters of football against the Buccaneers’ divisional rival … and Mike Evans caught four of them. DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin are also certainly in play against the league’s 28th-ranked defense in pass DVOA.
- Redskins CB Josh Norman: The Redskins’ outspoken cornerback partook in an entertaining twitter feud with Michael Thomas following the Saints’ annihilation of the Redskins last Monday night. The situation exemplified opposing offenses’ strategy against the Redskins defense over the past season and a half: Norman sticks to the left side of the field, so offenses match up their best wide receiver against the defense’s lesser talents. This means Norman’s #RevengeGame won’t include a shadow date with Devin Funchess, who is a much weaker fantasy play if tight end Greg Olsen (foot) suits up.
- Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson: The Cardinals’ new-look scheme hasn’t asked Peterson to shadow yet this season, and he’s only lined up in the slot on four total snaps. This means Adam Thielen has a fighter’s chance at becoming the first wide receiver to ever start a season with six straight games with 100-plus receiving yards, while Stefon Diggs will have to spend at least some of his time across from one of the game’s best corners. Unfortunately, the Cardinals have seemingly benched Jamar Taylor — PFF’s worst cornerback out of 111 qualified players this season.
- Chargers CB Casey Hayward: The Chargers have asked Hayward to shadow only Kelvin Benjamin and Amari Cooper this season. PFF’s No. 1 cornerback from 2017 has won both matchups handily, but has moved inside on just eight total snaps through five weeks. Against Cleveland, Hayward could wind up seeing more of Antonio Callaway than Jarvis Landry, who has lined up in the slot on 62% of his snaps this season. Slot corner Desmond King is far from a pushover, but Landry’s robust target share (29%) and status as the offense’s featured red-zone receiver make him capable of winning any matchup.
- Browns CB Denzel Ward: This year’s No. 4 overall pick has thrived in Cleveland, earning PFF’s seventh-highest grade among all cornerbacks while racking up three interceptions, tied for the NFL lead. He’s spent most of his time (71%) as the defense’s left cornerback and hasn’t played double-digit snaps in the slot during any game. This is good news for Keenan Allen, who has failed to score in four consecutive outings despite averaging 8.5 targets per game this season. Browns slot cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun is PFF’s seventh-lowest graded corner out of 111 qualified players.
- Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes: The Vikings have played Rhodes in the slot for just eight snaps this season, so another big week for Christian Kirk might be asking a lot. Larry Fitzgerald (63% slot rate) should be free to attack Mackensie Alexander, who has allowed all 14 targets passes thrown into his coverage to be caught for 177 scoreless yards. The only problem is Fitz hasn’t surpassed five targets in a game since Week 1. Wide receivers with an implied team total of 17 points or less have posted a -1.1 Plus/Minus on DraftKings since 2014. The Cardinals are presently implied to score just 16.25 points.
- Ravens CB Jimmy Smith: The Ravens didn’t ask Smith to play a full complement of snaps last week, but his presence did result in Brandon Carr playing a season-high 11 snaps in the slot. Throw in 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey on the other side, and the Ravens suddenly boast one of the league’s most complete cornerback units. This is all bad news for Corey Davis, who has failed to get much of anything going this season outside of his 9-161-1 eruption against the Eagles in Week 4. Davis’ target share (30%) makes him a tough fade in season-long, but his upside is limited in this week’s matchup.
Potential Plus Matchups
Seahawks WRs Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and David Moore vs. Raiders
Last week we discussed why pivoting to Lockett was the move considering he and Baldwin possessed similar opportunity with not-so-similar projected ownership. This week? We’re attacking the whole damn passing game.
As discussed on this week’s episode of The Daily Fantasy Flex, the Seahawks-Raiders’ matchup in London is shaping up as a sneaky shootout. The matchup boasts a fantasy-friendly combination of big-play offenses facing leaky defenses that aren’t good at pressuring the quarterback.
Each of the Seahawks’ top three receivers carry positive Projected Plus/Minus values and a Leverage Rating of at least 75% on DraftKings in our Pro Models.
Raiders WRs Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson vs. Seahawks
Every nice thing that was just said about the Seahawks’ potential for fantasy-friendly game-flow again applies here. Additionally, Cooper enters a prime bounce-back spot against an Earl Thomas-less Seahawks defense that has already allowed the following big games this season:
- Allen Robinson: 10 receptions-83 yards-0 TD (14 targets)
- Emmanuel Sanders: 10-135-1 (11)
- Cooper Kupp: 6-90-1 (9)
- Demaryius Thomas: 6-63-1 (10)
- Robert Woods: 5-92-0 (7)
The Seahawks don’t have a cornerback graded higher than 70th by PFF this season. Still, be sure to spread out exposure to the ever-evolving Raiders’ passing attack with target share distributions between Jared Cook (21%), Cooper (15%), Jalen Richard (14%) and Nelson (13%).
Rams WRs Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp vs. Broncos
Both Woods and Kupp remain in the concussion protocol and should be considered questionable for Sunday. Additionally, there’s a chance of snow in Denver at game time, so be sure to monitor our news feed Sunday morning.
With that said, the Rams-Broncos’ matchup has the makings of a shootout. It’s presently one of four games with an over/under above 50, and the matchup carries the largest combined explosive pass-play rate in Week 6. The game’s above-average situation-neutral pace also helps, but exposure to the Rams receivers should be focused to Woods and Cooks considering the presence of all-world slot corner Chris Harris.
Broncos WRs Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton vs. Rams
The Rams defense hasn’t quite been the same monster in recent weeks that most anticipated after their offseason spending spree and hot start:
- Weeks 1-2 (Raiders/Cardinals): 6.5 PPG, 192 pass yards, 75 rush yards
- Weeks 3-5 (Chargers/Vikings/Seahawks): 28.3 PPG, 263 pass, 128 rush
The absence of Aqib Talib (ankle, IR) hasn’t helped. Neither has the play of the other addition at cornerback, as Marcus Peters has allowed a league-high five touchdowns after five weeks. Sanders (23%) and Thomas (20%) might have larger target shares than Sutton (15%), but the market share of air yards between Sanders (25%), Thomas (26%) and Sutton (24%) is much closer.
Packers WRs Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. 49ers
The Packers were without Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Allison (concussion) last Sunday afternoon against the Lions, so Adams (12), Jimmy Graham (11) and MVS (10) each wound up with double-digit targets. Up next is a much cushier spot at home against a 49ers defense that ranks just 23rd in pass DVOA this season.
Allison has cleared the concussion protocol, but is still dealing with a hamstring injury. Cobb remains sidelined.
Aaron Rodgers has proven capable of granting seemingly any receiver fantasy relevance in any given week, but Adams deserves some credit for regularly working as one of the league’s very best receivers for the better part of the last 2 1/2 years. He joins Antonio Brown atop the leaderboard with 26 receiving touchdowns since 2016 — including four already this season.
Potential Minus Matchups
Steelers WRs Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster and James Washington vs. Bengals
Brown has scored a touchdown and/or gained 100-plus yards in seven of his last 10 matchups against the Bengals. He joins Adam Thielen atop the league’s leaderboard in targets with 66 and is plenty capable of dominating any matchup. Still, we should keep in mind AB’s extreme home/away splits since 2014:
- Home: 27.3 DraftKings PPG, +6.03 Plus/Minus, 66% Consistency Rating
- Road: 20.7 DraftKings PPG, -0.6 Plus/Minus, 48% Consistency Rating
Smith-Schuster draws the group’s most-favorable matchup in the slot against Darqueze Dennard, while Washington remains a weekly big-play threat considering his absurd average target depth of 19.1 yards.
Dolphins WRs Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola vs. Bears
The Dolphins’ muddled receiving room hasn’t enabled any of the team’s talents a chance to put together a consistent stretch of quality play. Overall, none of the team’s wide receivers have received at least targets in a game this season, and none boast a target share of even 20%.
Things won’t get any easier Sunday against the Bears’ ferocious defense that has been excellent at generating pressure and turnovers through five weeks. This has unsurprisingly helped the unit’s cornerbacks thrive, as each of Prince Amukamara (No. 2), Bryce Callahan (No. 5) and Kyle Fuller (No. 17) rank among PFF’s top 20 defensive backs this season.
Ravens WRs John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead vs. Titans
Brown remains a weekly WR2 with WR1 upside thanks to his stranglehold on the offense’s air yards. Overall, Smokey (43%) joins Julio Jones (47%), DeAndre Hopkins (45%) and Adam Thielen (42%) as the league’s only wide receivers with more than 40% of their team’s air-yard market share.
The outlook isn’t quite as fresh for Crabtree and Snead. Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler has undoubtedly struggled this season, but Adoree’ Jackson and Logan Ryan are plenty talented and have earned top-25 position grades from PFF. Neither Crabtree nor Snead have surpassed 100 receiving yards in a game since 2016.
Jaguars WRs Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook vs. Cowboys
DeAndre Hopkins proved plenty capable of dismantling the Cowboys defense last Sunday night, but it’s unlikely any of the Jaguars receivers will be afforded the same level of opportunity as Nuk. Overall, Moncrief (18%), Westbrook (16%) and Cole (15%) all possess a target share of less than 20% this season.
With that said, Moncrief has the best chance at emerging as the group’s premiere touchdown scorer with starting tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (core, IR) sidelined for the foreseeable future. Moncrief has been the team’s No. 1 receiver in a variety of metrics after five weeks:
- Total targets: 37
- Targets inside the 10-yard line: 4
- Air yards: 482
- Average target depth: 15.3 yards
The only problem is Moncrief has spent most of his snaps as the offense’s left wide receiver, meaning he’ll have to spend plenty of time across from Byron Jones — PFF’s No. 1 overall cornerback this season.
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