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Week 8 WR/CB Matchups: Adam Thielen vs. Jaire Alexander, Shadow Grades & More

Credit:

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images. Pictured: Jaire Alexander.

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 8 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.

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

UPDATE (Sun. 11/1): I have made updates based on injury reports for the week. Here are some changes and key situations to note.

Wide Receivers: OUT

  • Saints WRs Michael Thomas (ankle/hamstring), Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19), Marquez Callaway (ankle) & Bennie Fowler (shoulder, IR) are OUT.
  • Patriots WRs Julian Edelman (knee) & N’Keal Harry (concussion) are OUT.
  • Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (finger) is OUT.
  • Broncos WR Tim Patrick (hamstring) is projected OUT.
  • 49ers WRs Deebo Samuel (hamstring) & Richie James (ankle) are OUT & projected OUT.
  • Jets WRs Breshad Perriman (concussion) & Jamison Crowder (groin) are respectively OUT & projected OUT.
  • Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (hamstring) is OUT.
  • Raiders WR Bryan Edwards (foot/ankle) is tentatively projected OUT.
  • Eagles WRs Alshon Jeffery (calf) & DeSean Jackson (ankle, IR) are OUT.

Wide Receivers: IN

  • Bears WR Allen Robinson (concussion) is projected IN.
  • Bills WR John Brown (knee) is projected IN.
  • Eagles WR Jalen Reagor (thumb) is IN.
  • Colts WR Michael Pittman (calf) is projected IN.
  • Buccaneers WR Scotty Miller (hip/groin) is projected IN.
  • Browns WR KhaDarel Hodge (hamstring) is projected IN.

Cornerbacks: OUT

  • Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore (knee) is tentatively projected OUT.
  • Vikings CBs Mike Hughes (neck) & Holton Hill (foot) are OUT.
  • Packers CB Kevin King (quadricep) is OUT.
  • Seahawks CBs Shaquill Griffin (concussion/hamstring) & Ugo Amadi (hamstring) are OUT & projected OUT.
  • Bills CB Josh Norman (hamstring) is OUT.
  • Eagles CB Cre’Von LeBlanc (quadricep) is OUT.
  • Titans CBs Kristian Fulton (knee) & Tye Smith (shoulder) are OUT & projected OUT.

Cornerbacks: IN

  • Bengals CBs William Jackson III (concussion) & Darius Phillips (knee) are IN & projected IN.
  • 49ers CB K’Waun Williams (knee/hip) is projected IN.
  • Lions CBs Desmond Trufant (hamstring) & Darryl Roberts (groin/hip) are projected IN.
  • Ravens CB Jimmy Smith (Achille) is projected IN.
  • Steelers CB Mike Hilton (shoulder) is projected IN.
  • Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler (COVID-19) is projected IN.
  • Bills CB Levi Wallace (ankle) is tentatively projected IN.
  • Vikings CB Kris Boyd (hamstring/back) is IN.

Jump To: WR/CB Matchup Matrix

WR/CB Matchups of the Week

Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Packers CB Jaire Alexander

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

Alexander is No. 1 at the position with a 90.6 Pro Football Focus (PFF) coverage grade and has just 5.1 yards per target allowed on four targets per game.

Ever since his rookie year, the Packers have periodically tried to use Alexander in shadow coverage, and it usually hasn’t gone well for him.

His first shadow assignment ever was against Thielen in Week 12 of 2018. Thielen went off for 8-125-1 on nine targets. In Week 1 of this season, Alexander once again shadowed Thielen, who was 6-110-2 on eight targets.

As the Meat Puppets once put it: “Some things will never change. You just stand there looking backwards half unconscious from the pain.”

But things have started to change for Alexander. In Weeks 4-7 (with a Week 5 bye), he shadowed Calvin Ridley, Mike Evans and Will Fuller, all of whom underwhelmed (production vs. Alexander directly in parentheses).

  • Calvin Ridley (Week 4): 0-0-0, five targets (0-0-0, two targets)
  • Mike Evans (Week 6): 1-10-0, two targets (0-0-0, one target)
  • Will Fuller (Week 7): 3-35-1, six targets (0-0-0, one target)

Alexander is playing like one of the league’s best corners right now.

But his previous shadowing inconsistency and history with Thielen give me the tiniest bit of pause.

Coming off the bye, Thielen is Nos. 1 & 3 in the league with seven touchdowns receiving and a 0.73 WOPR.

WOPR (Weighted Opportunity Rating) is a stat created by Josh Hermsmeyer. It combines market shares of targets and air yards and is available at AirYards.com.

If there’s one receiver who can make Alexander revert back to his pre-Weeks 4-7 shadow form, it’s probably Thielen — but his matchup with Alexander must be respected.

Action: Medium downgrade for Thielen

Bills WR Stefon Diggs vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore

Editor’s note: Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore (knee) is tentatively projected OUT.

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

As a bigger cornerback, Gilmore normally shadows prototypical No. 1 receivers, but last year he shadowed John Brown, who is comparable to Diggs in size and athleticism. That means Gilmore could certainly tail Diggs this year as the new No. 1 receiver for the Bills.

The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore has had a challenging season. In Weeks 1-2, he allowed 8-148-1 receiving on 12 targets, and then he missed Week 5 after testing positive for COVID-19.

But in Weeks 1-2, he shadowed Preston Williams and D.K. Metcalf, so his performance is a little more excusable. In the four games since then, he has held receivers to just 5.1 yards per target and a 58.3% catch rate on three targets per game.

He’s still a dominant player.

In his three-plus years with the Patriots, Gilmore has allowed a 51.0% catch rate and 6.6 yards per target.

Diggs hasn’t topped 50 yards in either of the past two weeks, but he’s Nos. 7 and 12 in the NFL with 10 targets and 86.1 yards receiving per game.

Potential Week 8 Shadow Matchups

Here are the shadow matchups I’m projecting.

WR CB
DeVante Parker, Dolphins Jalen Ramsey, Rams
Amari Cooper, Cowboys Darius Slay, Eagles
Mike Evans, Buccaneers James Bradberry, Giants


Dolphins WR DeVante Parker vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey

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

Against the Cowboys in Week 1, Ramsey had a tough matchup and allowed a line of 8-81-0 receiving on nine targets. On top of that, he was beat deep for a long reception toward the end of the game that was called back by a questionable penalty.

By the eye and the numbers, it was a bad performance.

Since then, however, Ramsey has allowed just 2.0 yards per target on a 37.5% catch rate. (Note: These numbers do not include the Rams’ Monday Night Football win over the Bears in Week 8.)

A 2017 All-Pro pass defender, Ramsey has always been great, but this year he has really come into his own. He seems to attack each play with the mindset that he’s the best cornerback in the NFL — and he’s probably not wrong.

Parker has dealt with different injuries for much of the season, but he should be healthy coming off the bye and leads the Dolphins with a 20% share of targets and 25% share of air yards.

But with the matchup and rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa making his first start, Parker could underwhelm.

Action: Large downgrade for Parker

Cowboys WR Amari Cooper vs. Eagles CB Darius Slay

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

Cooper is without starting quarterback Dak Prescott (ankle, IR), and backup quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) is uncertain for this one.

For Sunday Night Football, he might be stuck with small-school, seventh-round rookie Ben DiNucci.

Pain.

But Cooper is still No. 6 with 10.3 targets per game, and he has had seven-plus targets and 75-plus yards in every week but one.

He is still a viable fantasy receiver, but we’ve seen Cooper struggle in the past with tough cornerback matchups, and that’s what he has this week.

There’s no guarantee that Slay will actually tail Cooper. In Weeks 2 and 4-6, he played almost exclusively at left corner. But in Weeks 1, 3, & 7 Slay shadowed Terry McLaurin, A.J. Green and Darius Slayton, all of whom are comparable to Cooper with their size and playing style.

Slay was one of the league’s most reliable cover men for over half a decade in Detroit.

  • 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 that was highlighted by a 2017 All-Pro campaign in which he had league-high marks with eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed.

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. He hasn’t regained the elite form he had with the Lions, but he has allowed a manageable 7.5 yards per target and forfeited just one touchdown this year.

When the Cowboys played the Lions in Week 11 last year, Slay shadowed Cooper on 87.5% of his routes. For the game, Cooper was 3-38-0 receiving on eight targets and 3-38-0 on six targets directly against Slay.

Given the circumstances and the matchup, Cooper has increased bust potential this weekend.

Action: Medium downgrade for Cooper

Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Giants CB James Bradberry

Kickoff: 8:20 p.m. ET on Monday | TV: ESPN

It’s not guaranteed that Bradberry will shadow Evans. In Week 7, the Bucs gave Evans a season-high 32 snaps in the slot, where Bradberry rarely travels.

Given that the Bucs’ pair of strong receivers in Evans and Chris Godwin, the Giants might choose simply to park Bradberry at left corner, where he has lined up most throughout his career, and let him face on any given snap whoever happens to line up across from him. After all, what’s the point of following a receiver all over the field when the opposing team has two receivers good enough to draw shadow coverage?

But I still expect Bradberry to be on Evans, with whom he has a long-held rivalry from their days together in the NFC South with the now Giants corner having spent the first four years of his career with the Panthers.

In his first two seasons, Bradberry played mostly at left corner but in 2018-19, the Panthers used him to shadow big-bodied No. 1 receivers, so he has tailed Evans four times in the past two years.

In these matchups, Evans has had remarkably little success, especially on a per-target basis (production vs. Bradberry directly in parentheses).

  • Week 9, 2018: 1-16-0, 10 targets (1-16-0, seven targets)
  • Week 13, 2018: 4-48-0, six targets (all vs. Bradbury)
  • Week 2, 2019: 4-61-8, eight targets (3-61-0, six targets)
  • Week 6, 2019: 9-96-0, 17 targets, 2-point conversion (7-82-0, 13 targets)

A physical, press-man defender, Bradberry played left corner in Week 1, but in the six games since then he has been used in shadow coverage . Over that time, Bradberry has allowed just 20-186-0 and 5.5 yards per target while breaking up six passes and grabbing three interceptions.

In his first season with the Giants, he has been a lone bright spot for the defense, putting up an 80.3 PFF coverage grade. No other key contributor in the secondary has a mark of even 60.

Given how inconsistent Evans has been this year and the struggles he has had against Bradbury, he will carry extra downside risk in Week 8.

Action: Large downgrade for Evans

Week 8 Shadow Borderline

There are two cornerbacks with matchups on the shadow borderline. Although these cornerbacks shadow periodically, I cannot say with confidence that they will follow opposing No. 1 receivers across the formation this week.

Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers vs. Bills CB Tre’Davious White

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

Against No. 1 receivers, the Bills almost always use White in shadow coverage. He has allowed just 7.3 yards per target on a 55% catch rate for his career.

Of course, the Patriots don’t really have a No. 1 receiver. Or a passing offense.

Slot receiver Julian Edelman is the top option in the passing game, but White rarely plays in the slot and New England lacks a true alpha receiver on the perimeter.

In the absence of an established perimeter threat, White typically stays at left corner, where I expect him to play most against Jakobi Meyers, an injury fill-in for starter N’Keal Harry (concussion).

Meyers should struggle mightily against the All-Pro defender.

Action: Large downgrade for Meyers

Giants WR Sterling Shepard vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis

Kickoff: 8:20 p.m. ET on Monday | TV: ESPN

I have become enamored with Davis this year.

Dating back to last season, he has allowed just 6.0 yards per target and become a true shutdown defender.

Davis typically shadows larger No. 1 receivers, but who is the true top pass-game option for the Giants?

With his size, Darius Slayton is the type of receiver Carlton would typically shadow, but Sterling Shepard looks like the team’s No. 1 perimeter option since his return from injury. In his first game back from injury last week, Shepard was 6-59-1 receiving on eight targets.

Without a clear-cut top receiver to shadow, I expect Davis to play primarily at left corner, where he’ll see Shepard most.

Action: Large downgrade for Shepard

Notable Wide Receiver Upgrades

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

Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Lions CB Jeffrey Okudah

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

Hilton has massively underwhelmed in his first year with quarterback Philip Rivers, but he’s coming off the bye and is still No. 1 on the team with market shares of 19% and 28% of targets and air yards.

Okudah has already been benched once this year and is an injury fill-in for starter Desmond Trufant (hamstring). In limited action, Okudah has allowed 24-350-0 on 35 targets. He’s dead last among starting corners with a 30.1 PFF coverage grade.

Action: Large upgrade for Hilton

Bengals WR Tyler Boyd vs. Titans CB Chris Jackson

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

Boyd is pacing toward his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, and he has a team-high 21% target share. I have been notoriously low on Boyd since he was a prospect entering the league, but even I must admit his matchup this week is immaculate.

Jackson is a seventh-round rookie backup who has been thrust into action because of injuries to No. 1 cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (knee, IR) and slot starter Kristian Fulton (knee). In four games of action, Jackson has allowed 16-149-2 on 21 targets. His 29.9 PFF coverage grade suggests the extent to which he is overmatched.

Action: Large upgrade for Boyd

Notable Wide Receiver Downgrades

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

Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey

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

Smith-Schuster had a season-high 14 targets last week, and he could see significant volume once again if perimeter receiver Diontae Johnson (leg/ankle) misses Week 8. But Smith-Schuster has just 6.6 yards per target this year vs. 9.2 from 2017-19, and he has had more than eight targets in a game just once in 2020.

After moving to the slot in the middle of last year, Humphrey faced Smith-Schuster in Week 17 and shut him down. Smith-Schuster was 2-6-0 on six targets and 0-0-0 on two targets against Humphrey, specifically. An All-Pro defender last year, Humphrey has allowed just 6.1 yards per target this year.

Action: Large downgrade for Smith-Schuster

Broncos WR Tim Patrick vs. Chargers CB Casey Hayward Jr.

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

After having back-to-back 100-yard performances in Weeks 4 and 6 (with a Week 5 bye), Patrick (hamstring) exited Week 7 early with a soft-tissue tweak and is uncertain for this weekend. If he plays, he will almost certainly be less than 100% and will see fewer targets now that tight end Noah Fant and wide receiver K.J. Hamler have returned from injury.

Hayward entered the season as PFF’s No. 3 cornerback and since joining the Chargers in 2016, he has allowed a catch rate of just 53.0%.

Action: Large downgrade for Patrick

NFL Week 8 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 701-562-27 (55.5%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.

The Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, Freedman is commonly called the Oracle & the Labyrinthian.

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