6 Wide Receivers With Great Cornerback Matchups in Week 1
I cannot stress enough how important it is to know about the defense when you play fantasy football.
Sure, as an Individual Defensive Player (IDP) aficionado, I might be biased. But you don’t have to play an offbeat format of fantasy to care about the other side of the ball. In fact, you need to know just as much about the defense your offensive options are playing as the offensive players themselves to succeed in fantasy.
Don’t just take my word for it, though! This weekly article will help you parse out the wide receivers that need to be in your season-long or DFS lineups – not just because they’re good, but because of the cornerback opposition they are facing.
Before you hit the “lock” button on your lineup you need to find out: which wide receivers have generous cornerback matchups for Week 1 in 2018?
Three Lineup Locks
Antonio Brown vs. Terrance Mitchell – It’s a good day when the week’s top fantasy wide receiver also has a matchup with a “permissive” defender on the boundary, and that’s exactly what fantasy players get with Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown and Cleveland Browns cornerback Terrance Mitchell in Week 1.
Per PlayerProfiler.com, Mitchell allowed a fairly low 52.0 percent catch rate last year (17th-lowest among 100 qualifying cornerbacks), but when he gives up a catch, he makes a mess of it: a whopping 15.5 yards per reception (63rd-lowest). Mitchell gave up 1.70 fantasy points per target (50th-lowest) last year on his 98 targets, a fairly mediocre showing for a starting corner. With Brown an easy top-20 in fantasy points per target with 1.90, there should be no question about starting AB in this game.
Larry Fitzgerald vs. Fabian Moreau – Wily veteran versus first-year starter; which one do you take? For us, it’s an easy solution: Arizona Cardinals slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald should dominate Washington corner Fabian Moreau in Week 1. Moreau was a third-round rookie last year, and while he saw some run over the course of last campaign, he’s not suited to stand up to 15-year pro Fitzgerald.
Moreau covered just 36 routes in 2017, but was targeted on a full one-third of them, allowing a catch rate on 66.7 percent of his targets. He allowed a 137.5 passer rating when targeted, meaning that, in essence, quarterbacks become like Aaron Rodgers in his record-setting 2011 when throwing Moreau’s way. Moreau gave up a whopping 2.50 fantasy points per target last year, which Fitzgerald – who saw 27.2 percent of the Cardinals’ targets last season – should take easy advantage of.
A.J. Green vs. Kenny Moore – A.J. Green is another wide receiver I don’t need to tell you to start this week, but this is just double confirmation that the lackluster Cincinnati Bengals’ offense shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm for him. He gets to start the 2018 season hot by squaring off against Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore, recently promoted to starting duties.
Moore is a definite upgrade on the Colts’ secondary from last year, but that’s not a huge compliment. In 2017, Moore himself allowed receivers to catch the ball 65.8 percent of the time on the 155 routes he was targeted on and gave up a sizable 1.80 fantasy points per target. While Green is less likely to outrun than outmuscle his opponents, Moore was also burned on a ridiculous 5.3 percent of his plays, which means Green could not only see red-zone success, but some big plays on broken coverage this week.
Three Good Stocks
Danny Amendola vs. Logan Ryan – There’s always a reason the New England Patriots do something, and their release of cornerback Logan Ryan last year is no exception. Fortunately for savvy fantasy owners, they can be like New England this week and make the most of the Tennessee Titans’ coverage woes by starting Miami Dolphins slot receiver Danny Amendola in Week 1.
In this duel of former Pats, it’s Ryan who should give way first. Last season, he covered 575 passing routes and allowed a reasonable catch rate of 58.8 percent (44th-lowest). What really intrigues us, though, is the fact that he gave up 1.70 fantasy points per target last year thanks to 12.3 yards per reception and a 7.1 percent touchdown rate allowed. Ryan will stick to his man like glue (0.0 percent burn rate; 13th-lowest separation from receiver on targets), but he can be beat.
Cooper Kupp vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – The Los Angeles Rams’ bout with the Oakland Raiders this week is a contest between new-school and old-school head coaches, and this matchup is yet another microcosm of that. Cooper Kupp, a second-year wide receiver, will go 60 minutes with 32-year-old cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and we believe Kupp can get the best of his veteran opponent.
Last season, DRC defended 309 pass routes and allowed a catch on 76.2 percent of them. With Kupp one of the Rams’ favorite targets (19.7 percent target share), that’s a good sign for his floor in this game. A good sign for Kupp’s upside is the fact that Rodgers-Cromartie had an inflated 4.8 percent burn rate and 13.4 yards per reception allowed. All of that combines for a very enticing 2.20 fantasy points per target allowed by DRC last season, a rate which benefits Kupp very well here.
Allen Hurns vs. James Bradberry – Fantasy players have been down on Allen Hurns as the Dallas Cowboys’ top receiver going into this season, but on a week-to-week basis there is some value for him depending on the matchup. Against Carolina Panthers number-one cornerback James Bradberry, there’s actually a good chance for Hurns to make his Dallas debut with some success.
Bradberry’s profile is very similar to Logan Ryan: he’s rarely beaten badly (0.7 percent burn rate; 20th-lowest separation from receiver per target) but when he is, he gives up a fair amount. In 2017, Bradberry allowed 14.4 yards per reception and a 4.3 percent touchdown rate, which comes out to 1.70 fantasy points per target. Hurns has done very well in contested catch situations too, with a 76.9 percent catch rate on 13 contested targets. Even with Bradberry stuck on him this week, Hurns could bring in some solid fantasy value.
Two Smoking Craters
Amari Cooper vs. Marcus Peters – Aside from the general crumbling of the Raiders’ roster, wide receiver Amari Cooper is in a bad spot for Week 1, facing down the prospect of going toe-to-toe with former AFC West rival Marcus Peters, now of the Rams.
Peters allowed receivers to catch just 56.3 percent of the passes he was targeted by last year, and spooked quarterbacks off to target him on just 18.0 percent (29th-lowest) of the routes he defended. Peters allowed 1.60 fantasy points per target, which wasn’t an elite rate, but he had the league’s 31st-lowest burn rate and 18th-lowest separation from receiver per target. Cooper had a contested catch rate of just 22.2 percent last season and the league’s fifth-highest drop rate. He’s a fade for Week 1.
Sammy Watkins vs. Casey Hayward – Similarly, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins should see a ton of attention from a top cornerback this weekend, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Casey Hayward, in our first shadow situation to avoid.
Watkins actually produced quite a bit when targeted last season, putting up the seventh-most fantasy points per target among wide receivers, but Hayward’s presence alone was enough to ward off targets all but 18.2 percent of the time. The rest of the time, Hayward limited his assignments to a 52.1 percent catch rate (18th-lowest) and was rarely beat (1.1 percent burn rate; fourth-lowest separation from receiver per target). With rumors that Watkins isn’t getting a ton of looks in the offense and the likelihood that Hayward’s eyes will remain on him, Watkins is a receiver to avoid this week.
Week 1 Shadow Situations: Watkins (KC) vs. Hayward (LAC); Odell Beckham (NYG) vs. Jalen Ramsey (JAX); DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) vs. Stephon Gilmore (NE)