6 Wide Receivers With Great Cornerback Matchups in Week 1
Do you like cake? Of course you do. You have a heart, a soul, and a brilliant mind (you are reading this article after all). When presented with a free piece of cake, any one of us will smile, say thank you, and then wolf it down like a monster – sorry to the gluten- and dairy-free readers. But what if the cake was covered in mashed-up baby food instead of frosting? Well, you didn’t tell me that before I said yes to the cake, Joe, you say.
Context is important.
That’s why we have to consider the matchup context for the wide receivers we start in fantasy football and DFS. The cornerbacks assigned to them do actually change the receivers’ fantasy outlooks in any given week; just like taking a cake and making it trash, a great cornerback could make a great wide receiver’s day hot garbage as well. I’m here to help you pick around the yucky parts of the wide receiver fantasy slate and enjoy the sweetness hidden underneath.
Which fantasy wide receivers have the best cornerback matchups in Week 1?
Each week we’ll tackle two star wideouts in good matchups (Lineup Locks), four receivers who you should consider starting due to their good matchups (Good Stocks), and two absolute avoids due to strong cornerback play on the opposite side (Smoking Craters). I’ll also examine the previous week’s hits and misses, so you have a bit of accountability to see that what I’m saying works. Since we have no “last week” for Week 1, I want to explain a bit of my process as to how I pick these players.
The three metrics I tend to look at that help us judge the strength and value of a receiver or a cornerback are Target Rate (percent of routes on which the player is targeted), Catch Percentage (percent of targets caught/allowed to be caught), and Yards Per Route Run (the total receiving yards caught/allowed, divided by the number of routes run/covered), with data from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and PlayerProfiler, as well as our own numberFire databanks.
You might wonder why we’re not looking specifically at fantasy points, but that metric combines a lot of other components that aren’t sticky from week to week or year to year. If we looked at just the 12 half-PPR points of a player who caught a 55-yard touchdown, we might think he’s breaking out. But it might be that he ran 50 other routes and wasn’t targeted at all – that one touchdown catch was a lucky fluke.
These metrics tell us, in order, how often a player is getting targeted when they’re on the field, how often they are productive when targeted, and how productive they are when on the field -- much more predictable skills as opposed to just analyzing the results.
Two Lineup Locks
CeeDee Lamb vs. Sean Murphy-Bunting – I’m not entirely sure what those who are begging the Dallas Cowboys to help wide receiver CeeDee Lamb “break out” in this, his third NFL season, haven’t yet seen from the young man. Over his first two years, the former 17th overall selection has been a top-25 wide receiver in PPR fantasy points per game, hauling in an average team target share of 19.2%. What more do you want, people?!
This season, Lamb no longer has to vie with a high-usage teammate, either; Amari Cooper was traded away in the offseason, which should open up things even more for him. In fact, our model projects a 26% target share for Lamb in 2022, which would have tied for the sixth-highest rate among receivers last year.
It’s not like he’s just being handed looks by default, either; Lamb earned a target on 22% of his routes run in 2021 (64th percentile among Week 1 receivers, per PFF) and racked up a strong 2.06 yards per route run (86th percentile), all in spite of a just average 68% catch rate (51st percentile).
Lamb’s upward trajectory shouldn’t be slowed by his cornerback assignment this week. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will throw Sean Murphy-Bunting in his path, but that likely won’t prove more than a speed bump; SMB can more than match Lamb in physical dimensions, but his 2021 peripherals were gross.
Murphy-Bunting was targeted last year on 18% of his coverage snaps (84th percentile among Week 1 cornerbacks), which is a strong indicator that quarterbacks saw him as a weak link in the Bucs’ secondary. He allowed a just-above-average catch rate of 65% (52nd percentile) but paired that with a tremendous 1.57 yards allowed per cover snap (93rd percentile).
Murphy-Bunting’s weaknesses match perfectly with Lamb’s strengths, which I expect will allow Dallas' young WR1 to “go off, king,” as the kids are saying.
Jaylen Waddle vs. Jonathan Jones – One of the potential beneficiaries of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's burgeoning progress is former first-round wideout Jaylen Waddle, who debuted last season with a shocking 23.4% target share (13th in the league) and put the league on notice. The top target for the ‘Phins last year, Waddle might be playing second banana to star Tyreek Hill and even scrap with Cedrick Wilson in a rejuvenated receiver room, but there’s still reason for fantasy faith.
Waddle saw a target rate of 24% on his routes run (79th percentile), as well, with a catch rate of 75% (82nd percentile). Due to Waddle operating out of the slot for 61% of his snaps, inflation in those areas is to be expected. However, we normally would have to damper our expectations on his yards per route run, given that most slot route trees operate in the shorter area than out wide. For the Alabama alum, though, he racked up a strong 1.75 in this category (65th percentile), which is a testament to how much damage he can do after the catch.
Waddle will be opposed this week by New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones, possibly in a shadowing situation (which Pats head coach Bill Belichick loves to utilize). Jones shouldn’t strike a ton of fear into your hearts, however; last season saw him draw targets on 19% of his coverage snaps (91st percentile), allowing 67% of those to turn into catches (62nd percentile). From there, receivers racked up 1.56 yards per cover snap on him (92nd percentile), which makes me think New England might have a better chance of stopping Waddle with a loaf of burnt toast.
Four Good Stocks
Mike Williams vs. Anthony Averett – One of the most underrated moves of the offseason was the quietly massive re-signing Mike Williams made with his Los Angeles Chargers. Williams had constant pressure earlier in his career as a top-10 pick who looked like an injury bust, but 2021 saw him transition from a low-volume deep-ball specialist to a low average depth of target (ADOT), high-usage bully of a possession receiver – and fantasy managers rejoiced.
His catch rate and target rate from last year are still nothing to write home about, but Williams is finally turning in efficient and effective yards per route run marks (84th percentile in 2021), and he’s exactly the kind of gamble I’m looking to play in Week 1.
His cornerback matchup is Anthony Averett of the Las Vegas Raiders. Averett has bounced around a bit but now looks to be a starting outside cornerback for the Black-and-Silver. Averett is notable for limiting opponents’ catch rates (18th percentile), but he allows a ton of targets (91st percentile) and forks over big plays (89th percentile). Williams is in a good place to build off his 2022 season.
D.K. Metcalf vs. Ronald Darby – Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf has so far made a career full of highlight-reel plays, and he isn’t even yet 25 years old. Metcalf hasn’t had a season with fewer than 100 targets, 900 yards, and seven touchdowns in his three-year career – and he only keeps getting better somehow.
That statistical progress will surely slack in 2022, given the trade of star quarterback Russell Wilson, but there’s enough in Metcalf’s 2021 peripherals (85th-percentile target rate, 78th-percentile yards per route run) to assume he won’t completely fall off without Russ.
Working against Denver Broncos cornerback Ronald Darby should help this week, too. Early in his career, Darby was no slouch, but injuries have diminished his defensive prowess (62nd-percentile target rate, 70th-percentile yards per cover snap). Even with some combination of Geno Smith and Drew Lock tossing him the rock, Metcalf has high upside in Week 1.
Christian Kirk vs. Benjamin St-Juste – This notion goes for the next matchup, as well, but the Jacksonville Jaguars-Washington Commanders game in Week 1 has sneaky shootout upside. Both offenses should take a step forward, but neither secondary is particularly intimidating, either.
Case in point -- Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste got walked up and down the field last year, allowing surprisingly high rates across the board: 75th-percentile target rate, 52nd-percentile catch rate, 97th-percentile yards per route run.
That last one is particularly tempting for new Jags WR1 Christian Kirk, who has major burn potential to go with his newfound target share upside. Kirk last year had a shallower role, but you still can’t ignore an 84th-percentile catch rate and 71st-percentile yards per route run in a matchup like this.
Terry McLaurin vs. Tyson Campbell – Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin doesn’t need to progress much to continue being a fantasy sensation. Last year, T-Mac drew a 64th-percentile target per route run rate, with a 71st-percentile yards per route run rate to boot. If he can get slightly higher quality targets, those above-average peripherals could vault him into the stratosphere this year.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’ll square off with second-year Jacksonville cornerback Tyson Campbell for much of Week 1. Campbell got roasted in his rookie season, forking over 62nd-percentile marks in both target rate and catch rate, as well as an 81st-percentile rate by yards per cover snap. We should expect some development from the gifted second-rounder Campbell, but McLaurin should also still have his way here.
Two Smoking Craters
Nelson Agholor vs. Keion Crossen– It’s a Keion Crossen #RevengeGame! The former New England seventh-rounder gets to take on slot wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the kickoff week. Crossen let up a ton of catches when targeted last season (99th percentile), but plays tight enough coverage to deter almost all targets anyway (1st percentile). Crossen also kept his assignments in front of him, limiting yards per cover snap (11th percentile) to one of the best rates in the league.
Agholor was one of the least efficient receivers in 2021, so Crossen should have a fairly easy time keeping him in check. Agholor drew a 6th-percentile target rate, caught his targets at a 34th-percentile rate, and converted them into yards per route run at a paltry 12th-percentile rate. I’d recommend you keep Agholor on the bench this week while things sift out for the Pats against their division rival.
Randall Cobb vs. Chandon Sullivan – Speaking of a #RevengeGame slate, former Green Bay Packers cornerback Chandon Sullivan signed with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Sullivan brings an underrated flair for defense to the slot spot in the Vikes' secondary, having limited opposing targets to a 7th-percentile rate and keeping yards per cover snap at a mediocre 40th percentile. He could allow catches if targeted, but I’m banking on Sullivan's tight coverage stopping veteran slot receiver Randall Cobb cold in his tracks.
Rapport with his quarterback or not, Cobb was dreadful last season. He saw a 12th-percentile target rate on his routes and converted them into a disappointing 41st-percentile yards per route run. I know we’re all hunting for which receiver will be Green Bay’s focal point nowadays, but I can promise: it ain’t Cobb in Week 1.