You’ve collected back-to-back wins in your favorite, longtime league against childhood friends. While your roster has performed admirably, a receiver -- we’ll refer to this mystery player as Mr. E -- you considered no better than a WR2-3, has been the catalyst to your success. Without a second thought, you plug Mr. E into your Week 3 lineup against what the numbers suggest to be a vanilla defense. Later, to your complete surprise, you find out that your clutch Mr. E has laid an absolute dud on your lineup. Checking all of your bases, no injury has been reported, the sportsbook indicates the game score exceeded the over, and your team defense numbers all line up. What in the world happened? Let’s examine…
Defensive units can present a tricky set of variables undergoing a constant state of evolutionary flux. Just as you took immediate notice of Mr. E’s outstanding performances, so have opposing defenses. The opposing defensive coordinator shifted their shutdown corner over to entirely ghost Mr. E. However, without realizing this to be the reason, you bench Mr. E the following week only to find that he had erupted for another monster game. You’re left feeling completely disheartened. I’ve been there myself.
Nobody is perfect. We all start/bench the wrong players, on occasion. Even devoting countless hours researching every bit of data available can lead you toward noisy decisions. Quite simply, failing to prepare with the most relevant roster-specific research can ultimately set you up for failure. One most useful tool to help you make those informed wideout decisions is WR vs. CB matchup data & analysis. For DFS purposes, this data is especially important. DFS platforms use an algorithm to generate salaries factoring expected ownership, past performance, and opposing matchup. For all that, the individual CB encounters they will face are not built into the formulas. By identifying the defensive backs a receiver will be expected to face over a significant number of snaps, immense value can be drawn to give you that advantage over the competition.
Follow along throughout the season as I provide Fantasy Points subscribers with my personal WR vs. CB matchup analysis detailing the receivers I am targeting and avoiding in season-long season-long and DFS.
Matchups to Target
Michael Thomas, NO vs. Carlton Davis, TB
I know what you’re thinking: why do we need analysis to recommend playing Thomas? A very reasonable question. In every season-long league, Thomas should remain pinned to starting lineups. However, in DFS, rostering Thomas will come at a premium price. You simply must be able to make a considerable argument to commit so much of your salary cap. Allow me to begin making that argument with the following stat. Over his career, Thomas has slapped a 24.6 FPS average on Tampa Bay.
It will be very interesting to see if the Bucs follow a late-season trend of mirroring the oppositions No. 1 receiver with Carlton Davis. Make no mistake, Davis is an intriguing future talent for Tampa Bay’s man-heavy schemes. However, Thomas hails from another dimension. The prospect of Thomas facing off against man coverage should have everyone licking their chops for maximum exposure. And Davis may only end up covering Thomas for half of the game. Maybe less. Even better. “CantGuardMike” already has a history of abusing Sean Murphy-Bunting in coverage.
DeSean Jackson, PHI vs. Fabian Moreau, WAS
Even at Age 33, Jackson has maintained his lightning-fast athleticism. A quick glance at the highlights from this matchup during Week 1 last season showcases that fact. Jackson plastered a pair of 50-plus yard TD receptions down the right sideline on third downs, no less, against Josh Norman and Jimmy Moreland. While injuries essentially shut Jackson down following that performance, now it’s the Washington secondary that may be limited by health concerns as Jackson also benefits from injuries to Jalen Reagor and Alshon Jeffery. Both starting CBs, Kendall Fuller and Fabian Moreau, are banged up, forcing Ron Rivera to keep six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster.
Jackson will have a field day if Ronald Darby (allowed the third-most yards on deep targets last season) and/or Moreland are tasked with defending him. We really need to get some proper film together of the Washington coverages under new DC Jack Del Rio before constructing definitive shell expectations. In an attempt to construct an early profile, I attempted to chart footage from the Raiders’ 2017 season under Del Rio. He went to great lengths rotating his coverage techniques to the extent that I was unable to pinpoint a single preferred shell. At the same time, I witnessed a secondary absolutely humiliated by the deep ball.
During the 2018 season, while a member of the Buccaneers, D-Jax collected all four of his TD receptions and half of his receiving yardage on passes of 20-or-more yards. Are you truly surprised? Even if Fuller and/or Moreau take the field, they are both embarrassing liabilities at defending deep targets (both tied for the 10th-highest completion percentage on 20-plus targets). The jury is still in deliberation on starting FS Tory Apke, whereas SS Landon Collins is much better in run defense than coverage at this stage in his career. We are left with a golden opportunity to start Jackson in place of the stud WRs, listed below, I am hoping to avoid in yearlong leagues. Jackson is also my No. 1 bargain at the position in DFS, especially on DraftKings.
Jamison Crowder, NYJ vs. Taron Johnson, BUF
It’s been widely reported that the Jets’ WR unit is considerably banged up. If Breshad Perriman isn’t cleared to play, we could see them roll with Crowder, Braxton Berrios, and Chris Hogan in three receiver sets. No doubt that Le’Veon Bell and Chris Herndon would see an increase in target share, but Crowder will be the main beneficiary, regardless. DC Leslie Frazier will return for his fourth season with Buffalo, giving us plenty of film for secondary expectations.
The Bills field a solid safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, as well as All-World CB Tre’Davious White -- lowest QB rating allowed last season. However, White remains locked to the left sideline, while Poyer and Hyde are essentially rendered helpless at preventing short-stemmed routes underneath their coverage zones. Those 4-3 scheme responsibilities fall upon slot CB Taron Johnson, Mike LB Tremaine Edmunds and Will LB Matt Milano. And Buffalo actually allowed the fifth-lowest fantasy points to slot receivers last season. However, Crowder gashed the Bills with 11/83.5/0.5 line averages in two games last season.
We know the Bills play a significant amount of Cover 1 (man with a single high safety) on early downs and Cover 4 (zone with four deep defenders) on obvious passing downs. In six-of-seven ‘19 games where Crowder averaged 15-or-more FPS, he faced a team featuring a Cover 1 shell. But he actually did his best work when those defenses dropped into zone coverages. Despite the Bills efforts in man and zone coverage, even throwing a laundry list of defenders at Crowder, nobody provided the answer. He’ll face off with nearly an identical set of defenders, led by Johnson, and will see the same coverage schemes. Get Crowder in your Week 1 lineups in all PPR formats.
Anthony Miller, CHI vs. Justin Coleman, DET
Detroit replaced DC Paul Pasqualoni with Cory Undlin during the offseason. Although, HC Matt Patricia reported that the defensive schemes will remain intact. The Bears made a swap of their own, exchanging OC Mark Helfrich with Bill Lazor. HC Matt Nagy will continue to call the plays with Lazor responsible for personnel and playbook adjustments. Nagy recently reported that Miller completed one of the best training camps on the team. With Miller heading into the ever important Year 3, developmental praise is of significant importance.
The matchups between the Bears and Lions last season found Miller pulled between two extremes. In Week 10, he was followed by slot CB Justin Coleman (eighth-highest QB rating allowed last season), only receiving two looks the entire game. In fact, over the first nine games, Miller averaged barely over three targets/game. That number more than doubled, also scoring his only two TDs, during the final seven games of the season. When Miller next met up with the shadow coverage of Coleman, he put on an absolute show with a 9/140/0 line on 13 targets.
With Patricia promising no significant defensive changes, we can expect Coleman to shadow Miller, once again. Nagy realized late last season that Miller was ready for a more significant role. Miller responded by having his best offseason to date. Miller may not be a burner (4.52 40 time at his Pro Day) but does possess the quickness that Coleman has struggled defending out of the slot -- Detroit allowed the third-most FPS to slot receivers last season -- that dates back to his days as a Tennessee Volunteer. Thus, Miller makes for an excellent DFS tournament play this week and WR3 in PPR leagues.
Tyler Boyd, CIN vs. Desmond King II, LAC
The Chargers signed free-agent slot specialist Chris Harris Jr. this offseason. While Boyd did rack up a healthy 6/97/0 line in a matchup with Harris back in 2018, all team reports actually state Harris will start on the outside, opposite Casey Hayward Jr. The Chargers essentially live within a Cover 3 or Cover 3-Seam shell. As will be detailed below, Hayward is likely to mirror A.J. Green on more snaps than not. As for Boyd, he will face the zone coverage of rookie Mike LB Kenneth Murray and Will LB Kyzir White on early downs and slot CB Desmond King II in obvious passing situations.
Murray’s coverage skills have never been his strength and White hasn’t been much better. King saw a significant drop off -- sixth-highest QB rating allowed -- last season but had been a stellar contributor in years prior. The Chargers permitted the league’s highest completion percentage last season, much of which was due to fielding a Cover 3 on such a high number of snaps. This plays right into a possession receiver like Boyd’s game. When also factoring in the injury to All-Pro SS Derwin James and the addition of phenom Joe Burrow, Boyd’s Week 1 potential is trending skyward.
Other matchups to consider: John Ross III, CIN vs. Chargers Cover 3 / DK Metcalf, SEA vs. Isaiah Oliver, ATL / D.J. Chark Jr., JAX vs. Colts Cover 1/2/3
Matchups to Avoid
Tyreek Hill, KC vs. Bradley Roby, HOU
The Texans will face the Chiefs somewhat short-handed in the secondary after placing Gareon Conley on the NFLs new three-game injured reserve. Although, the divisional round between these teams last season provided ample evidence of who will be covering Hill. Despite Kansas City successfully rallying from a 23-point deficit to begin the game, Bradley Roby forced the Chiefs to target alternatives throughout that comeback with glove-like coverage of Hill.
Considering the Chiefs would go on to score a whopping 51 points, Hill’s 3/41/0 line highlights the impact made by Roby. Nobody can deny the blistering speed of Hill. However, Roby was clearly unfazed by Hill’s 4.2-speed, utilizing his own blazing speed. Watching their earlier, Week 6 matchup should further seal the deal to avoid Hill in Week 1 DFS. While Hill was eventually able to secure a 5/80/2 line overall, Roby simply shut him down with a 1/8/0 line on the five targets he was charted in coverage, and that included two pass breakups. It was that performance that left the Houston coaches no choice but to shadow Hill with Roby during their playoff matchup. Expect the same in Week 1.
A.J. Green, CIN vs. Casey Hayward Jr., LAC
As described above, Green is likely to line up opposite of the zone coverage of All-Pro Casey Hayward Jr. The Chargers predominantly play within a Cover 3 shell (three deep defensive backs) that fundamentally trades underneath targets for the prevention of explosive plays. However, Rayshawn Jenkins will replace Derwin James at strong safety. Jenkins is a far cry from James. Jenkins has allowed an alarming rate of missed tackles and blown coverages. By the time James took the field in Week 13 last year, the Chargers were 4-8.
But the loss of James is unlikely to provide much of a boost for Green. Even if the Chargers move him around the formation to avoid the coverage zone of Hayward, he’ll land within the zone defended by Chris Harris Jr.
Let’s be real here. Green hasn’t played a snap of football in over 21 months. That includes 2020 training camp. We also heard offseason rumblings from Green that he didn’t want to be a part of the team’s future. Even with Joe Burrow running the show and without James patrolling the field, the odds are heavily stacked against Green. If he somehow manages to make it through the game without a soft-tissue injury, he’ll need to deal with Hayward and Harris. Leaving us with no other choice but to sit Green in Week 1. Wait to see if he is able to remain on the field and play a full serving of snaps. If he is able, we’ll have a good amount of film of him facing top defensive backs to evaluate his Week 2 role.
DeVante Parker, MIA vs. Jason McCourty, NE
The majority will only remember Parker punishing CB Stephon Gilmore in Week 17 for yet another dominant performance. Parker was, arguably, the hottest receiver over the second half of last season. But, if you don’t remember what happened in Week 1, you should set aside time to watch the footage. Missing from the field during Parker’s stud Week 17 showing, after reaggravating a groin injury, was Jason McCourty. But, when McCourty was tasked with mirroring Parker in Week 1, he ghosted the former first-rounder.
In all but the most shallow of leagues, benching Parker is not advisable. This matchup fade is solely recommended on DFS platforms. Considering the vagueness of questionable tags listed by the Patriots, the fact that McCourty is still questionable due to the same groin should be taken with a grain of salt. Should McCourty sit, Parker would be back on the table as a solid DFS target. Since several Miami receivers opted out of the season, Parker could even find himself double-covered. The Patriots roll out more man coverages (Cover 1 & Cover 0) than most teams. Since Parker has such a solid track record against these shells, McCourty’s status must be monitored.
Amari Cooper, DAL vs. Jalen Ramsey, LAR
For as much talent as Cooper possesses, we have more than enough historical evidence telling us that he should be avoided wherever possible. This will not take much convincing. When Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Rams, he left a defense that plays a majority of Cover 3 & Cover 4 zones to join a defense that plays a majority of Cover 3 & Cover 4 zones. When Cooper faced Jacksonville in Week 7 of 2016, he posted a line of 0/0/0 within Ramsey’s zone responsibility (4/29/0 overall). In Week 15 against the Rams last season, Cooper posted a line of 0/0/0 within Ramsey’s coverage (1/19/0 overall). You know what to do.
Odell Beckham Jr., CLE vs. Marlon Humphrey, BAL
Make sure you check out my full writeup of the coverage success of the top-10 outside receivers, including Beckham, within the Fantasy Points’ rankings. In the piece, I passed along that Beckham has not played up to the level fantasy owners remember from his days ripping down otherworldly one-handed catches halfway down the field. We can attribute part of the reason to defenses becoming wise to OBJs strengths. When I charted his ‘19 season, I came away amazed to find that he was unable to capitalize on any coverage type in particular. And his struggles against zone coverage were rather shocking. We did learn after the season that Beckham played throughout the season with a painful sports hernia injury.
I’m perfectly fine giving Beckham a pass for last season but, in doing so, we must consider ‘19 as yet another season in which he was mostly “lost” due to injury. He posted a 1,000-plus yard season, yes, but entirely unimpressive with Beckham’s talent level, price tag, and target share. Even if we believe he’s entirely healed, Beckham will face a formidable challenge Week 1. In Week 4 last season, Baltimore shifted slot CB Marlon Humphrey outside to shadow Beckham. ODB responded with a 2/20/0 line while the slot coverage suffered. Jarvis Landry erupted for 8/167/0.
The Ravens left Humphrey in the slot in Week 16, where he contained Landry to 3/13/0 within his primary coverage. This time, Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith were tasked with the man coverage of Beckham. Sans a three-yard TD catch midway through the 4th quarter, down by 23 points, the duo limited him to 3/41/0. Should the Ravens shift Humphrey back out to cover Beckham, sit him, and play Landry. Add the well-documented fact that Baker Mayfield was not the same QB that we saw in 2018 on passes over the top last season. Even if Baltimore assigns Peters and/or Smith to Beckham, the evidence points to him being a very risky DFS investment. In year-long leagues, keep your fingers crossed.
Other matchups to avoid: Preston Williams, MIA vs. Stephon Gilmore, NE / Christian Kirk vs. 49ers Cover 3 / Sterling Shepard, NYG vs. Steelers Cover 3