Fantasy Football: Wide Receivers With the Easiest Cornerback Matchups in 2020
As a powerful man once said, “There are known knowns… there are known unknowns… [and] there are unknown unknowns… it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” I’ve never thoroughly understood this "ancient" proverb, but I believe there are all of these things and unknown knowns. That is, things we don’t know that we already know.
For instance, we all know there are offensive players and defensive players on a football field at any given time. Despite this, many of us don’t consider that defensive players affect our fantasy-eligible offensive players on every single play.
That’s what we’re looking at here: easy cornerback matchup schedules for your wide receivers. Sure, anyone can rank receivers, but you also need to feel confident about why they’re better than the other guys in that range. One more datapoint that can help convince you of a pick is how many beatable cornerbacks he faces this year.
Who ultimately wins these individual battles remains unknown, but you should know that defenders matter to your offense-only fantasy teams. Ya know?
I created a system to grade each starting wide receiver’s schedule, giving +1 point for matchups against the 30 most permissive cornerbacks by fantasy points allowed per target in 2019, giving -1 point for matchups against the 30 most stingy cornerbacks in 2019, and +0.25 points for all other matchups.
This led to a scale that largely goes from +5.0 to -5.0, with 0.0 being an average difficulty schedule in the aggregate.
I also threw out the fantasy-irrelevant Week 17 for the sake of calculation but did note them in the matchups in each receiver’s pre-blurb note. Also, positional specifics like slot usage were factored into the matchup numbers. That means that even if the top receiver on a team was a slot receiver, they won’t be projected to match up against the top cornerback unless that corner shadows into the slot (e.g., Marlon Humphrey does play slot, Tre’Davious White does not).
I also recognized that receivers lower on depth charts would naturally draw top cornerbacks less often, so their final matchup grade received a downward adjustment. This reflects the lesser impact of a second or third receiver matching up with a permissive corner, rather than a top receiver finding himself across from one.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Easiest Matchups: Week 4 vs. Kendall Sheffield, ATL; Week 11 vs. Travis Carrie, IND; Week 15 vs. Donte Jackson, CAR
Many people already have Green Bay Packers split end Davante Adams as their WR1 for the 2020 NFL season, and – as a shameless green-and-gold homer – I stand with them. Part of why I break the top receiver tier in Adams’s favor is that there’s almost no one else at his pass-catching level in the offense. Part of it, however, is his incredibly easy schedule of cornerback matchups.
Adams, interestingly, has just three plus-plus matchups on his schedule, but he also has just one tough matchup (Richard Sherman in Week 9). That gives his schedule a whopping +4.8 grade – one of only two above +4.0. Sometimes it’s not the amount of good, but the absence of bad that makes for a prime situation.
Kendall Sheffield, Travis Carrie, and Donte Jackson make for Adams’ likely biggest victims in 2020, with Sheffield and Carrie each allowing near top-30 catch rates last year and Jackson still allowing a mark in the top half of the league. Carrie and Jackson also allowed near top-30 rates of receiving yards allowed per coverage snap, indicating that big gains should be frequent for Adams in those contests.
Big target share? Check. Good quarterback? Check. Good-to-great schedule? Check. Likely increase in passing game script this year? Check. Adams is lined up for a big year, and his matchups are a key piece to that.
Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
Easiest Matchups: Week 3 vs. Kendall Sheffield, ATL; Week 4 vs. Travis Carrie, IND; Week 6 vs. Donte Jackson, CAR
Chicago Bears X-receiver Allen Robinson is a big second- or third-tier wide receiver target for people this year. He seems to be undervalued thanks to a bad Chicago passing attack that will have either mediocre game-manager Mitchell Trubisky or erratic gunslinger Nick Foles under center. Despite the question marks at quarterback, Robinson continues to produce year-in and year-out, and 2020 should be no different.
Partly, we have his second-easiest cornerback matchup schedule to thank for that. Also playing in the NFC North, A-Rob has, largely, an identical schedule to the aforementioned Adams. The one difference is that he has to play Adams’ teammate twice, stingy fantasy cornerback Jaire Alexander, which drops him down a peg to a +4.5 rating.
Carrie and Jackson both allowed QB Ratings north of 111.0, placing them firmly in the top-30 among 140-plus qualifying cornerbacks from 2019. Sheffield’s 100.9 QBR allowed wasn’t far behind, as a top-60 mark. Carrie and Jackson also forked over top-25 rates of fantasy points per coverage snap, which Sheffield avoided solely by limiting the yards after the catch his coverage targets gained. If looking for a cheap alternative to Adams’ massive schedule upside, it’s hard to find better than Robinson.
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
Easiest Matchups: Week 7 vs. Kendall Sheffield, ATL; Week 8 vs. Travis Carrie, IND; Week 11 vs. Donte Jackson, CAR
Another slot, another NFC North receiver. With the return of top-notch fantasy-facilitating quarterback Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions wideout Kenny Golladay is also in a great spot to produce against a lagging defensive division overall – and some choice non-rival cornerbacks to boot.
Golladay also draws largely the same schedule as Robinson this year, but with one key difference. Since the Bears and Packers square off in Week 17, Robinson gets to avoid a second meeting with Packers corner Alexander during the fantasy-relevant part of the calendar. Golladay isn’t so lucky. In terms of overall fantasy-permissiveness profile, Jackson and Carrie rank 7th and 33rd, respectively. Sheffield ranks much lower due to his yard limiting ability but should still be a player that Golladay and his ilk can rack up catches against.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Easiest Matchups: Weeks 2 and 10 vs. Donte Jackson, CAR; Weeks 15 and 17 vs. Kendall Sheffield, ATL
When quarterback Tom Brady – a prolific slot passer – signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, there was a lot of consternation by fantasy folks on behalf of wide receiver Mike Evans. Evans has been a downfield, vertical receiving option through his career, while Brady has largely become a short-area, rhythm passer of late. Things seemed concerning for Evans’ fantasy value.
But, honestly, we should worry a little less when we see the schedule Evans goes up against in 2020, which has four juicy matchups with mediocre NFC South cornerbacks. Funnily enough, it’s our old friends Donte Jackson and Kendall Sheffield who will have to contain the dominant Evans. The only unfortunate part is that Evans’ second tilt with Sheffield comes in Week 17, so it won’t count for most leagues.
One tidbit that may put Sheffield more on par with his peers: per PlayerProfiler, when Sheffield was targeted in coverage, they were accurate, catchable targets at among the lowest rate in the league. With Brady under center, that won’t be an issue in 2020.
Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Easiest Matchups: Week 9 vs. Travis Carrie, IND
The Baltimore Ravens’ Marquise Brown rounds out our most fantasy-friendly wide receiver schedules, despite having only one plus cornerback matchup. “Hollywood” still sits in the top-five due to a schedule with just one negative cornerback matchup in the New England Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore (Week 10). Due to this, Brown should be one of the more consistent weekly receivers in 2020, if for no other reason than a stable quality of opponents across from him.
Carrie may not be particularly used to a receiver of Brown’s type, either; passes targeting Carrie in coverage had the fifth-lowest average depth (aDOT) among all qualifying cornerbacks in 2019. Brown, on the other hand, had an 11.0-yard aDOT that ranked 44th among the 79 wide receivers to see 50 or more targets (per AirYards.com). If the larger, more physical Carrie has to run with the speedy Brown, that Week 9 performance could be a huge boom spot for Hollywood.