By utilizing our play-by-play data, we’re able to identify defensive schemes and where each wide receiver and cornerback lines up on each play during the NFL season. By tracking these WR/CB matchups, including potential shadow situations, we can offer the best projections, rankings, sit/start decisions and fantasy advice each week. Fantasy football is a weekly game, so knowing the matchups can also help you make the best waiver-wire pickups.
Below are the receivers with the best and worst matchups this week, as well as the corresponding fantasy impact.
To view the primary defenders whom the top three wide receivers for each team will see this weekend, be sure to check out our weekly WR vs. CB cheat sheet.
Unless otherwise noted, references to where teams rank in statistical categories adjusts to a per-game basis in order to avoid distortion due to bye weeks.
The Chiefs may no longer have Tyreek Hill, but the new-look WR room will be set up with a great Week 1 matchup against an Arizona team that didn’t do a well-enough job improving its cornerback room during the offseason. Murphy returns as the team’s No. 1 option, as well as the primary slot man, and second-year player Wilson is again going to have a big role with Antonio Hamilton on IR. Mullen was acquired from the Raiders in late August and likely will need to immediately play an every-down role. Murphy and Wilson were the top corners in an Arizona secondary that allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers last season, and Mullen was targeted on a massive 25% of his 112 coverage snaps in Las Vegas. This is one of the shakiest CB rooms in the league, which will benefit Smith-Schuster, Valdes-Scantling, Hardman and rookie Skyy Moore. Upgrade them across the board.
Seattle is in transition and the offseason roster turnover included the departure of top corner D.J. Reed. With Reed gone and Tre Brown on the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks are left with Jones and Burns outside, old friend Coleman manning the slot and rookies Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen also in the mix for work. The Seahawks slowed wide receivers well in 2021, but it’s hard to imagine a repeat performance from this patchwork group. Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler are in a good spot in what will be Russell Wilson’s Denver debut and — if you’re into narratives — a “revenge” game against his old squad.
Perhaps St-Juste will make a leap in his second season, but the 2021 third-round pick was heavily targeted and struggled in coverage on 178 coverage snaps as a rookie. St-Juste aligned outside on 98% of those plays, which is notable considering he’s expected to man the slot between Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III in 2022. That’s enough evidence to think Kirk (79% slot with Arizona in 2021) is set up for a big day in his debut as Trevor Lawrence‘s top target. Washington allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to wide receivers in 2021, though it was better in the second half of the season.
Other notable upgrades:
Bengals’ Tyler Boyd vs. Steelers’ Art Maulet (slot)
Ramsey plays the unconventional “star” position for the Rams’ defense, but sometimes being the star means traveling with the opposing team’s top receiver. We saw Ramsey do exactly that often last season, including, at least, shadowing part time against DeAndre Hopkins, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, Deebo Samuel, Mike Evans and Ja’Marr Chase. It’s unlikely we’ll see Ramsey on Diggs full time, but somewhere in the 60% range wouldn’t be a shock. Despite Ramsey putting together another great campaign, the Rams allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to WRs, and that was before Darious Williams‘ departure. There’s no need to panic on Diggs here, but a slight downgrade is sensible. Gabriel Davis (vs. Williams’ replacement, David Long) and slot man Isaiah McKenzie (vs. Troy Hill) can be upgraded slightly.
The Eagles allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers overall and to the perimeter last season. And that was before acquiring star perimeter corner Bradberry during the offseason. Philadelphia now has two of the league’s busiest and most prominent shadow corners on the perimeter, with Maddox covering the slot after a strong 2021. Slay shadowed in eight games last season and it’s certainly possible he and Bradberry are assigned one of Detroit’s outside receivers (Chark or Reynolds), but playing sides seems more likely. St. Brown (78% slot in 2021) will see a lot of Maddox inside. Downgrade Detroit’s receivers.
The Colts didn’t shadow in 2021, but new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley did often with the Chargers and Raiders, so it’s possible top corner Gilmore travels with Cooks, at least when he’s on the perimeter (60% of routes in 2021). The Colts were below average against outside receivers last season, but Gilmore played at a high level in Carolina, and he and new running mate Moore (who also handles the slot) make for a quality duo. Consider lowering expectations for Cooks and fellow perimeter receiver Collins (84%) a bit this week.
The backgrounds of coach Josh McDaniels (Patriots) and DC Patrick Graham (Giants) suggest the Raiders will shadow, at least, sometimes, but it’s unclear how they’ll deploy their top corners. For this week, we should expect newcomers Anthony Averett and Rock Ya-Sin on Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer outside, with star slot CB Hobbs on Allen (65% slot in 2021) most of the time. Allen struggled in two games against Las Vegas in 2021, totaling a 13-88-0 receiving line on 19 targets. He managed only 23 yards on three targets on 32 routes against Hobbs. The Raiders allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to the slot in 2021, so we’re downgrading Allen here. Williams and Palmer can be upgraded against Averett and Ya-Sin.
Terrell and newcomer Hayward are both coming off terrific 2021 seasons and set up Atlanta with the potential for a terrific perimeter defense this season. Last season, Terrell lined up at left corner 90% of the time, shadowing only once, and Hayward shadowed occasionally with the Raiders. It’s unlikely that Terrell will travel with Thomas, though he did follow him when both were last active together (Week 13 in 2020). Granted, Terrell was a rookie and didn’t make a leap until last season, but Thomas posted a healthy 9-105-0 receiving line on 11 targets in that game (6-72-0 on 24 routes against Terrell). Regardless, Terrell and Hayward are both terrific and could provide a bit of a roadblock to big fantasy days for Saints outside receivers Thomas and Olave. New Orleans slot man Jarvis Landry draws Darren Hall in the slot and can be upgraded.
Other notable downgrades:
Week 1 Sawdust
Week 1 is always a major learning experience, as we’re getting our first look at teams during the regular season. That being the case, I decided to attack this week slightly different than usual since we’re left with fewer clear-cut matchups. Below are notes, nuggets, thoughts and potential matchups on a majority of the games not previously discussed. This should help you break some ties when setting lineups this weekend.
The Saints’ Marshon Lattimore often shadows clear No. 1 wide receivers, so it’s possible he follows the Falcons’ Drake London. That would be a tough matchup, but London figures to align all over the field, and the Saints’ secondary as a whole is pretty good, so we don’t need any additional downgrade.
Browns CB Denzel Ward shadowed on and off throughout 2021, though usually it was on a part-time basis (Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Justin Jefferson, Tim Patrick, Davante Adams, Diontae Johnson). There’s a chance he follows the Panthers’ DJ Moore on a majority of his perimeter routes (81% in 2021), and Cleveland was great against outside receivers last season (fifth-fewest fantasy points allowed), but there’s no need for a major adjustment here.
The Panthers’ Donte Jackson shadowed on and off throughout last season, so it’s possible he’ll travel with Browns WR Amari Cooper (likely part time) this week. Carolina struggled against the perimeter last season and Jaycee Horn is back, so the Panthers might simply stick to playing sides. If anything, Cooper can be upgraded a tiny bit.
Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis III often shadows opposing No. 1 receivers, but (a) he didn’t shadow against Dallas in Week 1 last season and (b) CeeDee Lamb aligns inside a lot (41% in 2021) while Davis (5%) does not. Perhaps Davis will follow Lamb on his outside routes, but it won’t be close to full time, so there’s not much reason for concern here.
The Vikings shadowed only twice last season and both featured Patrick Peterson against the Packers’ Davante Adams. Of course, Adams is gone and Allen Lazard isn’t as intimidating of a No. 1 receiver. Also, it’s a new Vikings coaching staff, and while Kevin O’Connell comes from the shadow-heavy Rams’ coaching tree, new Vikings DC Ed Donatell almost never shadowed with Denver the past few seasons. Expect Minnesota to play sides this week. Minnesota allowed the most fantasy points to the position in 2021, but Green Bay’s receivers shouldn’t be upgraded against this new-look scheme.
Bills star CB Tre’Davious White (ACL) will miss Weeks 1-4, which means he won’t be in the lineup against the Rams this week. Buffalo allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers overall and to the perimeter last season, but with no White or Levi Wallace (signed with the Steelers), they’ll be relying on Dane Jackson and likely rookie Kaiir Elam on the outside. We don’t need to worry about Rams outside receivers Van Jefferson or Allen Robinson II here, and though Taron Johnson is a terrific slot corner, we’re obviously starting Cooper Kupp (66% slot) with confidence.
The Chargers won’t have new top CB J.C. Jackson this week, but they matched up often without him in 2021, including both games against the Raiders. Michael Davis shadowed Darren Waller on 17 of his 24 perimeter routes in those games and the corners matched up with receivers occasionally. We might see some of that this week, but it’s not a major concern. Waller (6-72-1 receiving line in the two games) and Hunter Renfrow (10-58-3) were both productive against the Chargers, and Davante Adams just adds to the Raiders’ firepower.
The Patriots have shadowed in most games since I started tracking in 2015, but a majority of it was by J.C. Jackson, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Do the Patriots turn to Jalen Mills as their top shadow CB in 2021? Perhaps, but it might not matter much this week since versatile Tyreek Hill is all but “un-shadowable.” New England did not travel full time in its past meetings with the Chiefs, and while Mills did shadow Waddle on his perimeter routes in Week 18 last season, that was before Hill’s arrival. We don’t need to downgrade Miami’s receivers here, even against a Patriots defense that allowed the third-fewest fantasy points overall to the perimeter and to the slot in 2021.
The Packers’ Jaire Alexander could travel with the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson, as he did in Week 8 back in 2020, but Jefferson moves around enough that it likely won’t be full time. Granted, Alexander missed both 2021 meetings, but Jefferson had little trouble against the Packers, posting a 14-227-2 receiving line on 22 targets in the two games. Green Bay’s defense is loaded, so there’s some reason for pause with Minnesota’s offense, but we’re obviously firing up Jefferson with confidence.
The Dolphins’ Xavien Howard shadowed a few times last season, and he’s Miami’s clear No. 1 corner with running mate Byron Jones (IR) sidelined. Of course, with New England operating a bit of a wide receiver by committee, it seems unlikely that Howard would shadow. Downgrade Patriots slot man Jakobi Meyers slightly against Nik Needham. Meyers totaled a 10-114-0 receiving line on 18 targets in two games against Miami in 2021, including a 2-8-0 line on six targets against Needham. The Dolphins allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the slot in 2021.
When the Steelers and Bengals met in Week 12 last season, Chidobe Awuzie shadowed Diontae Johnson and Eli Apple shadowed Chase Claypool until removed in what was a blowout. Both Steelers had respectable days going (99 combined yards) before the starters departed. Perhaps the Bengals will match up again, but Claypool (now manning the slot) will see more of Mike Hilton, leaving Johnson and George Pickens to deal with Awuzie and Apple. We don’t need to downgrade anyone here.
The Bears’ Jaylon Johnson did not shadow against the 49ers in 2021, and new coach Matt Eberflus did not shadow when he was the DC of the Colts. That said, Johnson figures to play his side against San Francisco this week. Top Niners receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are in a decent spot against Johnson, Kindle Vildor and rookie Kyler Gordon this week.
The Cowboys and Buccaneers will meet in Week 1 for the second year in a row. In last season’s showdown, Trevon Diggs shadowed Mike Evans (37/47 overall, 28/28 perimeter, 9/19 slot), and Anthony Brown shadowed Antonio Brown (27/36 overall, 26/32 perimeter). Evans had a down game (3-24-0 receiving line), but Brown (5-121-1), Chris Godwin (9-105-1) and even Rob Gronkowski (8-90-2) had big games. Diggs figures to shadow Evans again (he traveled in seven games last season), but he struggled in coverage enough that it’s tough to be too worried about a repeat dud from Evans.
The Giants shadowed a ton last season, but a lot of that was getting top corner James Bradberry on the opposing No. 1 WR. With Bradberry out, it’s possible Adoree’ Jackson steps into that role and covers Titans’ Robert Woods this week, but especially with a new coaching staff in place, that’s far from certain. Woods can be started as you normally would.
Jaguars CB Shaquill Griffin shadowed often in 2021, but new coach Doug Pederson’s Eagles didn’t shadow until they acquired Darius Slay in his final year with the team. Griffin and free agent addition Darious Williams (who is expected to man the slot in nickel) might play sides in this one, but even if Griffin shadows the Commanders’ Terry McLaurin, it’s not a concern.