10 Wide Receivers With Great Cornerback Matchups in Week 14
I’m not a car guy. Anyone who knows me knows that I am lucky to have a clue which side of the car the gas pump is on or how to find the rear window’s heating function.
Still, I love to drive.
With this lack of knowledge about the actual workings of a car, you’d think I wouldn’t really get into a show for real gearheads like Top Gear on the BBC, but I love it. They review souped-up speedsters, luxury cars, and the like, but the best part is when they “put a star in a reasonably-priced car” and have celebrities race around the show’s outdoor track in a hatchback or sedan.
It gives me hope that someday I can toss my girlfriend’s little Scion into “race mode” and drift around a corner like in the movies.
This is sometimes the decision we have to make when looking at our fantasy football starting lineup choices: do we want to play with our fancy collector’s cars, even if there’s a muddy gravel road outside, or do we get something cheaper and more reliable? Only, in our case, the cars are wide receivers and the terrains are their cornerback counterparts.
So, as we roll into Week 14, which wide receivers can we consider all-terrain options in fantasy football this week?
Six Lineup Locks
A.J. Green vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Secondary – Maybe this isn’t as much of a lock as I’d like, but I’m not going to take one game against a 40-year old game manager quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck as a sign that Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell have figured out how to cover top receivers. Over the last month per Pro Football Focus, they have given up 10 catches on 14 targets, and 14 on 19, respectively. In addition, both still rank among the worst starting cornerbacks in the league in Receiving Yards per Snap allowed, as Blake has given up 1.65 (17th-worst) and Cockrell has allowed 2.19 (4th-worst). The Steelers secondary as a whole is a buoying 12th in numberFire’s Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play metric but still has weaknesses.
One of those weaknesses is the Bengals’ A.J. Green. The last time he faced the Steelers, in Week 8, he went off on Blake for 7 catches on 10 targets. He converted that into 73 yards. He caught 2-of-4 over Cockrell for 11 yards and a score, also. Green is going to go big again, in what could be a Week 14 shootout.
Allen Robinson vs. Vontae Davis – For a player once heralded as a lockdown shadow cornerback, Vontae Davis has gotten battered and beat a ton in 2015. In Week 14, he gave up 3 catches to Antonio Brown on 4 targets for 60 yards receiving, including both of Brown’s touchdowns. He did shut down Markus Wheaton, but Jacksonville Jaguars’ wide receiver Allen Robinson is much better than that. Sure, when these two last met, Davis surely won the duel, limiting Robinson to just 2 catches on 6 targets for 23 yards. That was the game, however, that Davis suffered the foot injury that has hampered him since; in the last month, Davis has given up the 14th-most receiving yards per snap among starting cornerbacks (1.71). Robinson should toast the once-stellar shadow corner.
Allen Hurns vs. Greg Toler – Even if Robinson gets smothered by Davis, Jaguars’ wideout Allen Hurns should roar back off of the trainer’s table to scorch Greg Toler. The Colts second cornerback is giving up a 66.7% catch rate and 2.05 receiving yards per snap (5th-worst) to opposing receivers over the last month. Just last week, he gave up 4-of-6 targets for 114 yards and a touchdown to Steelers’ wideout Martavis Bryant.
Odell Beckham vs. Miami Dolphins’ Secondary – Last week, we recommended (yet again) that you take advantage of Brent Grimes’ floundering coverage with Baltimore wide receiver Kamar Aiken. Of course, Aiken did more damage when Grimes covered him (2-of-2 for 20 yards) than Bobby McCain, but the latter seemed to cover Aiken less often than the former. Miami is appearing to account for their cornerback deficiency by masking Grimes on lesser receivers. That means that the inimitable Beckham may see more McCain this week, but he also gave up 6 catches on 11 targets last week, for 97 yards. This is a good matchup either way. The Dolphins as a whole rank 30th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.
Mike Evans vs. Brandon Browner – Brandon Browner has greatly improved his coverage production since former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired, but he seems to have a big weakness: red-zone coverage. Last week, against the Carolina Panthers, Browner limited their receivers to 5 receptions on 10 targets when he was in coverage on them. Those five receptions included two short touchdowns, however. Despite ranking near the middle of the starting cornerback pack in receiving yards per snap allowed over the last month, he’s very susceptible still. Mike Evans could see a big day facing Browner, even if he just scores touchdowns. The Saints have the worst passing defense in the NFL on a per play basis, per numberFire’s defensive metrics.
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker vs. Tennessee Titans’ Secondary – This one is easy to call. Per our defensive passing metrics, the Titans’ defense is the fifth-worst in defending the pass in the NFL. Add in that Coty Sensabaugh and Perrish Cox are the 24th and 25th-worst starting cornerbacks in the NFL in receiving yards per snap allowed (1.51 and 1.50, respectively), and the New York Jets should have a field day with them. They each are allowing more than 60.0% completion rates to opponents’ receivers, and Marshall and Decker will love to take advantage of that. Just last week, Allen Robinson had 10 catches on 13 targets for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns against this defense. Vroom vroom.
Four Good Stocks
Torrey Smith vs. Tramon Williams – I’m not a huge fan of Torrey Smith’s, but I’m even less impressed by the performances Williams has put up this year. With Joe Haden likely out for the year, it’s a no-brainer that Williams will get the top outside matchup, and he’s giving up a 72.7% catch rate to opposing receivers, not to mention the seventh-most receiving yards per snap among cornerbacks over the last month. Torrey’s a good Hail Mary play this week.
Harry Douglas vs. Buster Skrine – I recommended Skrine against Rueben Randle and the New York Giants last week, and it appears that the Jets faked me out. Antonio Cromartie took Randle and shut him down, but Skrine drew Beckham, and allowed him 4 catches on 5 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. Douglas doesn’t have that much upside, but there’s something exploitable there.
Brian Hartline vs. San Francisco 49ers’ Secondary – This section seems to be the Week 14 “All-Slot Team,” as Brian Hartline has been the Cleveland Browns’ primary option when anyone lines up there. If he’s in that position, he’ll face Jimmie Ward, who has given up 11-of-14 slot targets for catches over the last month, as well as the second-worst receiving yards per snap of slot corners. If he’s outside, Hartline may get Kenneth Acker, currently allowing a 76.5% catch rate and the 18th-most receiving yards per snap to opposing wideouts. If Hartline can't play Sunday, Terrelle Pryor or Taylor Gabriel could exploit this secondary as well.
Anquan Boldin vs. Charles Gaines – And one more slot play for you all: Anquan Boldin has seen 38 targets over the last month. Sure, he’s caught just 21 of them, but he’s playing with Blaine Gabbert; cut him some slack. The Browns appear to have demoted slot corner K'Waun Williams, who has been atrocious of late, promoting Gaines. Still, in Week 13, Gaines allowed Marvin Jones to get free for 4 catches on 4 targets, racking up 48 yards and a touchdown.