Grading Week 12 NFL WR/CB Matchups: Cowboys-Patriots, Alshon Jeffery Out

Grading Week 12 NFL WR/CB Matchups: Cowboys-Patriots, Alshon Jeffery Out article feature image

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Amari Cooper, Stephon Gilmore

  • Matthew Freedman breaks down that matchup and grades every wide receiver/cornerback matchup for Week 12.

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 12 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.

Also consult our Week 12 injury report for status updates on receivers and corners. I will update this piece over the weekend.

Let’s start with this week’s featured matchup and then run through all the wide receiver situations and sort through my matrix featuring every matchup.

WR/CB Matchup of the Week

Cowboys WR Amari Cooper vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore

I don’t care that Cowboys-Patriots isn’t a primetime game: This is the game of the week.

The Cowboys offense leads the league with 6.7 yards per play, 8.3 net yards per pass play and a 56% pass play success rate (per Sharp Football Stats).

The Patriots defense leads the league with 4.3 yards per play, 4.1 net yards per pass play and 34% pass play success rate.

What. A. Match. Up.

Right now, the best receiving trio in football is Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. Similarly, the best cornerback trio is Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones.

While the Patriots routinely use blanket shadow coverage, the key matchup in this unit-vs.-unit battle will be Cooper vs. Gilmore.

Gilmore routinely tails No. 1 receivers, and I expect him to be on Cooper for most of the game. Gilmore was inconsistent in 2017, his first year with the Pats, but in 2018 he was an All-Pro lockdown defender, and he’s been even better this year. Since last season, Gilmore has allowed a 45.4% catch rate and just 33.8 yards and 0.21 touchdowns receiving per game.

As for Cooper, in his 21 games with the Cowboys (including playoffs), he has a 70.5% catch rate and 84.9 yards and 0.67 touchdowns receiving per game.

Cooper (knee, ankle) is playing through injuries and clearly isn’t his peak self, so he’s at a disadvantage in his one-on-one duel with Gilmore.

But this three-on-three receiver-vs.-corner matchup might be the best one we see all season.

NFL Week 12 WR/CB Matchups

Colts at Texans: Thursday Night Football

  • Colts WRs: Starters T.Y. Hilton (calf) and Parris Campbell (hand) both missed Weeks 10-11 and seem doubtful for Week 12. The Jags have a lot of instability at cornerback. Lonnie Johnson Jr. (foot) played most of the team’s snaps on the right perimeter, but he exited with an injury. Slot corner Bradley Roby (hamstring) has been out since Week 7. He should be nearing his return, but we can’t be certain. The recently claimed Vernon Hargreaves III was inactive last week, but he might get playing time this week if both Johnson and Roby are out.
  • Texans WRs: Will Fuller (hamstring) hasn’t played since Week 7, but he returned to practice last week and is tentatively expected to play. If Fuller is out, Kenny Stills will line up out wide and Keke Coutee will be in the slot. Cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring) missed Weeks 8-11, and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) suffered an in-game injury on Sunday. I doubt either one plays this week. In their absence, Kenny Moore has shifted to the perimeter while fifth-round rookie backup Marvell Tell III and career special-teamer Rolan Milligan fill in as exploitable substitutes.

Buccaneers at Falcons: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Buccaneers WRs: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the league’s best pass-catching duo (1,880 yards receiving). The Falcons are finally healthy at cornerback with the return of Desmond Trufant, but they still have a bottom-five pass defense in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. UPDATE (Nov. 23): CB Kendall Sheffield (illness) is questionable after missing practice on Friday but is tentatively expected to play.
  • Falcons WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage are locked into three-receiver sets. No team has allowed more fantasy points to wide receivers than the Bucs have. They are a total mess at cornerback. Last week they waived Vernon Hargreaves III and benched Jamel Dean and Ryan Smith. In his Week 11 return from injury, Carlton Davis started on the perimeter, and rookie dime safety Mike Edwards played at slot corner for the first time this year. The Bucs are in full-blown “let’s try anything” mode.
Matt Ryan-Calvin Ridley-Julio Jones
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones

Broncos at Bills: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Broncos WRs: Tim Patrick immediately played as the No. 3 receiver in his Week 11 return from the injured reserve. For the past month, cornerback Tre’Davious White has tailed opposing No. 1 receivers, and he presents a tough matchup. For his career, he has allowed a 52.5% catch rate. Shadow matchup: Courtland Sutton vs. White. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Patrick is questionable but expected to play.
  • Bills WRs: John Brown is “high flooring” his way to a career-best campaign with 50-plus yards in each game, and last week he hit season-high marks with 14 targets, nine receptions, 137 yards and two touchdowns. He will be challenged by Pro-Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr., but speedy receivers have had some success when facing him this year: Last week, Stefon Diggs had a 5-121-1 performance vs. the Broncos. Shadow matchup: Brown vs. Harris

Giants at Bears: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Giants WRs: Sterling Shepard (concussion) cleared the league’s protocol late in Week 9 but then reentered it shortly afterward. He last played in Week 5, and although he’s coming off the bye, I doubt he’ll suit up this weekend. Bennie Fowler has played ahead of Cody Latimer as the Shepard substitute over the past two games. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Shepard is in.
  • Bears WRs: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (hip) was replaced late on Sunday Night Football by backup Chase Daniel because of a reported injury — but it looked like a benching. If Daniel gets the Week 12 start, that might improve the situation for all the Bears receivers. No. 1 cornerback Janoris Jenkins (concussion) is uncertain for Week 12. If he’s unable to go, 2018 supplemental third-rounder Sam Beal — who made his NFL debut in Week 10 — might get the start. League-worst slot corner Grant Haley has been benched for sixth-round rookie third-string defensive back Corey Ballentine, who just might be the league’s new worst slot corner with his 72.7% catch rate allowed. The Giants have a bottom-three PFF coverage grade. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Trubisky is expected to start.

Steelers at Bengals: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Steelers WRs: Last week, JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) and Diontae Johnson (concussion) suffered head injuries. Both seem questionable at best for this week. In their place, I expect Johnny Holton will play on the perimeter and Tevin Jones will slide into the slot, although the recently signed Deon Cain could see some action. No. 1 corner Dre Kirkpatrick (knee, IR) is out for the year, and perimeter fill-in B.W. Webb is exploitable. The Bengals have a bottom-five PFF coverage grade. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Johnson is in, but JuJu is out. I expect that Johnson will play in the slot.
  • Bengals WRs: A.J. Green (ankle) has yet to play this season, John Ross (clavicle, IR) has been out since Week 5 and Auden Tate (neck) suffered a scary-looking injury in Week 11. All three seem doubtful for this weekend. Tyler Boyd had just three targets and zero yards last week, but he should play as the clear No. 1 receiver on Sunday. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Tate is questionable after getting in a limited practice on Friday, and potential fill-in Stanley Morgan (illness) has missed practice all week.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83).

Dolphins at Browns: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Dolphins WRs: Without Preston Williams (knee, IR), the Dolphins have used DeVante Parker, Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson in three-wide sets, although the explosive Jakeem Grant is rotating in for more than just a few snaps. Slot corner Eric Murray (knee) missed Weeks 9-11 and is uncertain for Week 12. In Murray’s place, T.J. Carrie has been an exploitable fill-in, allowed a 72.3% catch rate this year. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Murray is out.
  • Browns WRs: Last week, the Browns waived Antonio Callaway, so Rashard Higgins is the clear No. 3 wide receiver, but his snap volume is modest because they Browns are using a lot of two-back packages to accommodate Kareem Hunt. Due to injuries and a number of position changes and roster moves, the Dolphins are currently using undrafted backups Nik Needham, Ken Crawley and Jomal Wiltz in Patriots-style shadow coverage. (My side hurts from laughing.) Shadow matchups: Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Needham, Jarvis Landry vs. Crawley and Higgins vs. Wiltz. UPDATE (Nov. 23): SS Reshad Jones (chest, ankle) and FS Bobby McCain (shoulder) have been placed on IR, so Wiltz might move back to safety. The Dolphins secondary changes on a seemingly weekly basis.

Panthers at Saints: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Panthers WRs: D.J. Moore is starting to come on as the No. 1 receiver with 316 yards over the past three weeks. Last season, Moore had a combined 6-93-0 receiving line in two games against the Saints, but No. 1 corner Marshon Lattimore (hamstring) missed Week 11 and is uncertain for Week 12. In his absence, slot corner P.J. Williams is on the perimeter and third-string rookie safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is in the slot. If Lattimore plays, he will likely shadow Moore, but I’m skeptical he will suit up. Shadow matchup: Moore vs. Eli Apple. UPDATE (Nov. 24): Lattimore is expected to be out.
  • Saints WRs: Michael Thomas had an unassuming 12-78-0 receiving line against the Panthers last year in two games, thanks in part to the strong play of cornerback James Bradberry, who returned to action last week. I expect Bradberry to tail Thomas, especially with cornerback Ross Cockrell (quad) unlikely to play. In Cockrell’s place, Javien Elliott will serve as a vulnerable slot fill-in. Shadow matchup: Thomas vs. Bradberry. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Cockrell is questionable but seems likely to be out.

Raiders at Jets: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Raiders WRs: Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones were the only wide receivers targeted in Week 11. The Jets have a funnel defense that ranks No. 2 against the run but No. 24 against the pass in DVOA, and they are currently starting third-string cornerbacks Arthur Maulet and Blessuan Austin on the perimeter because Trumaine Johnson (ankle, IR) is out for the year, Darryl Roberts (calf) has missed the past two weeks and Nate Hairston has been benched. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Roberts is doubtful and expected to be out.
  • Jets WRs: Although he plays in the slot, Jamison Crowder is the No. 1 option for quarterback Sam Darnold, averaging 8.4 targets, 6.4 receptions, 69.6 yards and 0.43 touchdowns in Darnold’s seven starts. Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring) missed Week 11, and backup slot man Nevin Lawson presents Crowder with a soft matchup. The Raiders have a bottom-five pass defense DVOA. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Joyner is questionable but likely to be out.
Pictured: New York Jets WR Jamison Crowder (82), Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA Today Sports

Seahawks at Eagles: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Seahawks WRs: Tyler Lockett (leg) suffered an in-game injury in Week 10, but he’s expected to play this week coming off the bye. As expected, Josh Gordon seems to be solidifying his role as the No. 3 receiver. With a fully healthy cornerback unit, the Eagles have been much tougher in pass defense over the past two weeks. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Lockett will play. UPDATE (Nov. 24): CB Jamar Taylor has been released. Rookie special-teamer Ugo Amadi might play as the slot corner.
  • Eagles WRs: Alshon Jeffery (ankle) missed Week 11 and is uncertain for this weekend. In his absence, the Eagles relied heavily on two-tight end packages with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert rotating inline and in the slot. As a result, Nelson Agholor played primarily on the perimeter for the first time all season, although he did slide back into the slot when the team used three wide receivers. The recently re-signed Jordan Matthews stepped immediately into the No. 2 role, although — like Agholor — he played mainly on the perimeter, which does not suit his slot-trained skill set. UPDATE (Nov. 24): Both Jeffery and Agholor (knee) are out. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins will play on the perimeter with Matthews in the slot, although the Eagles will likely make heavy use of two-tight end sets.

Lions at Redskins: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Lions WRs: The entire offense suffered in Weeks 10-11 without quarterback Matthew Stafford. Of the three starting wide receivers, Danny Amendola has the best matchup, as slot cornerback Fabian Moreau has allowed an 88% catch rate this year and just allowed 5-76-1 receiving to Jamison Crowder last week. UPDATE (Nov. 24): Stafford (back) is out. Norman (hamstring) is expected to be out, so Moreau I expect will shift to the perimeter and Jimmy Moreland will play in the slot.
  • Redskins WRs: Paul Richardson (hamstring) missed Week 11 and is uncertain for Week 12. If Richardson is out, his snaps will continue to go to sixth-round rookie Kelvin Harmon, who led the team last week with six targets. No. 1 wide receiver Terry McLaurin — #ShowerNarrative aside — could have a rough week against cornerback Darius Slay, who has allowed a catch rate of just 57.7% for his career. Shadow matchup: McLaurin vs. Slay. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Richardson is in.

Jaguars at Titans: 4:05 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Jaguars WRs: Dede Westbrook returned from injuries in Week 11 and played his usual complement of snaps in the slot. Quarterback Nick Foles also returned to action, and he heavily relied upon D.J. Chark as his clear No. 1 receiver. No. 1 cornerback Malcolm Butler (wrist, IR) is out for the season. In the Titans first game without him in Week 9, they moved Adoree’ Jackson across the field and played the exploitable LeShaun Sims in a full-time role. Coming out of the bye, I expect they will have a similar approach. Shadow matchup: Chark vs. Jackson
  • Titans WRs: Corey Davis (hip) missed Week 10 and is uncertain coming off the bye. If Davis is out, Tajae Sharpe will continue to play in his place. Last week, for the first time in the post-Jalen Ramsey era, cornerback A.J. Bouye played exclusively on one side of the field, but he was facing the T.Y. Hilton-less Colts. Against the Titans, he has a No. 1 receiver to follow. Shadow matchup: A.J. Brown vs. Bouye. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Davis is in. I tentatively expect Bouye to shadow Brown, but he could tail Davis instead. 

Cowboys at Patriots: 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday

  • Cowboys WRs: Over the past two weeks, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb have combined for 630 yards receiving. The Pats are the league’s most shadow-heavy team and rank No. 1 in PFF coverage grade. Shadow matchups: Cooper vs. Stephon Gilmore, Gallup vs. Jason McCourty and Cobb vs. Jonathan Jones. UPDATE (Nov. 23): McCourty (groin) is questionable after a limited practice on Friday but is tentatively expected to play.
  • Patriots WRs: Phillip Dorsett (concussion) left Week 11 with an injury and seems unlikely to play this week. In Dorsett’s absence, first-round rookie N’Keal Harry served as the No. 3 receiver and played almost exclusively out wide to the left. Since joining the Patriots in Week 8, Mohamed Sanu has settled into his place on the perimeter. Although Sanu still gets occasional snaps in the interior, Julian Edelman’s slot stronghold is secure. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Sanu (ankle) and Dorsett are questionable but expected to be out. WR Jakobi Meyers will likely play in the slot with Edelman sliding outside.

Packers at 49ers: Sunday Night Football

  • Packers WRs: In Week 10, Allen Lazard and Jake Kumerow played ahead of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, although all three are in a clear tier below Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison in usage. Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon returned from injury last week, but he’s evidently been Wally Pipped by Emmanuel Moseley, who is now locked in opposite Richard Sherman on the perimeter.
  • 49ers WRs: Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) played through an injury last week and seems to have made it through without a setback. Deebo Samuel is starting to break out with 10-plus targets and 100-plus yards in each of the past two weeks. Second-year receiver Dante Pettis — from whom much was expected this year — played behind Kendrick Bourne, Marquise Goodwin and Richie James Jr. last week. Early in the season, the Packers used No. 1 corner Jaire Alexander in shadow coverage, but for the past four games, he’s played primarily at left corner. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Sanders and Samuel (shoulder) are both questionable but expected to play.

Ravens at Rams: Monday Night Football

  • Ravens WRs: Miles Boykin continues to function as the No. 4 receiver behind the pedestrian Seth Roberts. Marquise Brown (ankle) is playing through an injury. He appears to have gotten through Week 11 without any re-aggravation, but he has a tough matchup this week. Since trading for Jalen Ramsey, the Rams have used him exclusively against No. 1 receivers, and they have a top-five PFF coverage grade. Shadow matchup: Brown vs. Ramsey
  • Rams WRs: Brandin Cooks (concussion) suffered his second head injury of the season in Week 8 and hasn’t played since. He is doubtful for this week. Robert Woods (personal issue) was a surprise inactive in Week 11, but we’ve had no indication that he won’t be able to play this weekend. If Woods is out, Mike Thomas will likely play in the slot with Kupp kicking out to the perimeter. Either way, the matchup is tough: The newly formed three-headed corner unit of Jimmy Smith, Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey has played top-notch defense over the past two weeks. And this is a #RevengeGame for Peters, who has allowed a 53.6% catch rate and turned two interceptions into touchdowns since the Rams traded him to the Ravens in Week 7. UPDATE (Nov. 23): Cooks has cleared the league’s protocol and will play. Woods is technically questionable, but he practiced this week and is expected to play.

NFL Week 12 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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