Fantasy Football: Wide Receivers With the Toughest Cornerback Matchups in 2020
I’ve worked for about a decade and a half now and in a number of different jobs and career fields. I’ve noticed that, in the professional workplace (whatever it may be), it is crucial to never be made to look stupid. Even if you did do something stupid, you must always save face by blaming your mistake on the weather, the amount of work you had that day, or dopey Paul from Accounting.
One of those critical contextual pieces is which cornerbacks your fantasy wide receivers might be lining up against. If you’re stuck between two wideout options in your fantasy drafts and one has a schedule chock-full of lockdown, top-tier cover corners, you might find you want to break the tie away from that guy. You don’t want to look silly starting a receiver who turns in a goose-egg, so learning the matchups can help.
Schedule analysis isn’t the be-all, end-all of fantasy football research, but a tough cornerback matchup can make a great player look just good, a good player look average, an average player look bad, and a bad player look like Paul from Accounting. In this article, I will help you figure out which wide receivers might have production issues this year due to who they face.
Which wide receivers have the toughest individual matchups in 2020?
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, -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 tough 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.
DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
Toughest Matchups: Weeks 1 and 15 vs. Stephon Gilmore, NEP; Weeks 2 and 17 vs. Tre’Davious White, BUF; Week 7 vs. Casey Hayward, LAC
The Miami Dolphins waited on their 2015 first-round receiver, DeVante Parker, to blossom into his full potential for what seemed like forever. Then 2019 hit and Parker posted his first 70-catch season, his first 1,000-yard season, and nearly scored double-digit touchdowns – finishing as the WR11 in PPR scoring. As of the end of July, Parker’s ADP via BestBall10s is down to WR24, though, and our model projects him even lower as the WR27 this year.
There may be reason to be even more dour about Parker’s 2020 potential, as he draws the toughest individual schedule among wide receivers with a grade of -4.0.
Over the first seven weeks of the season, Parker will line up against five of the toughest cover corners in the NFL, with only Week 3 and Week 6 (both away games) as average matchups for him. Most notably on his docket are cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Tre'Davious White, and Richard Sherman, who allowed the 13th-, 14th-, and 4th-fewest fantasy points per target, respectively, in 2019. The second half of the season gets easier for Parker, but he still won’t see a single plus matchup in 2020.
Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams
Toughest Matchups: Week 3 vs. Tre’Davious White, BUF; Weeks 6 and 12 vs. Richard Sherman, SF; Weeks 10 and 16 vs. Shaquill Griffin, SEA
While theoretically not the top target in the offense, Woods is the team’s leading outside receiver and as such will draw more top cornerback matchups (since many boundary corners don’t shadow into the slot). Our model still likes Woods a lot as the WR17 in 2020, but he has a nasty matchup schedule.
Even worse for every receiver on this list, the AFC East and NFC West are scheduled to play each other this season. That means that even when avoiding two helpings of each of Sherman, Shaquill Griffin, and Patrick Peterson, Woods will have to deal with one serving each of Gilmore, White, and Byron Jones.
There’s an argument to be made that Woods’ schedule is worse than even Parker’s, since most of the Dolphins' bad matchups come in the first half and the Rams' are spread evenly throughout the year. While you can largely mitigate Parker for the first two months, you’ll have to ride things out with Woods.
DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
Toughest Matchups: Weeks 1 and 16 vs. Richard Sherman, SF; Weeks 7 and 11 vs. Shaquill Griffin, SEA; Week 12 vs. Stephon Gilmore, NE
Newly minted Arizona Cardinals star DeAndre Hopkins should see a lot of similarities between his former team and his current one. Both are young, in the middle of rebuilding, and have talented young passers. But the challenge of his new home division will certainly be a change of pace.
Hopkins’ talent is undeniable and should buoy his fantasy value no matter what, but it’s worth noting that my grading doesn’t even account for Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey as a “hard” matchup due to his slip in production last season.
Fortunately for Hopkins, he’s the first of our receivers who gets an “easy” matchup in Week 4 against the Carolina Panthers and 2018 second-rounder Donte Jackson. Jackson gave up a fairly league average catch rate but allowed a bundle of fantasy points per target (the eighth-most, to be precise), so Hopkins should make up some decent ground against him.
Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Toughest Matchups: Weeks 8 and 16 vs. Stephon Gilmore, NEP; Week 9 vs. Shaquill Griffin, SEA; Week 12 vs. Casey Hayward, LAC
Another old face in a new place, the fairly diminutive Stefon Diggs got to bully lackluster NFC North corners before. Now, he too will face the joys of the AFC East’s murderers’ row of defensive secondaries. Diggs does avoid Tre White, since they both play for the Buffalo Bills, but two meetings with Gilmore should be an unpleasant experience. Gilmore is also a candidate to move into the slot at points, so Diggs won’t be able to escape him there.
Week 8 onward sees Diggs accrue all of his tough matchups, with his second contest against Gilmore coming for the fantasy championships in Week 16 at Foxborough. Diggs will also have to deal with Casey Hayward this season, who did give up some big plays in 2019 but largely limited receivers to low catch rates and discouraged quarterbacks from throwing his way.
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
Toughest Matchups: Week 7 vs. Stephon Gilmore, NEP; Week 8 vs. Shaquill Griffin, SEA; Week 9 vs. Jaire Alexander, GB
With every wide receiver on this list, there are plenty of reasons to have confidence that their talent can overcome tough matchups and still eke out reasonable fantasy showings.
San Francisco 49ers wideout Deebo Samuel is the first one who I think you should have real caution about drafting as a result of how difficult his matchups are (not to mention his foot injury that should sideline him into the season). He gets five legitimately bad games against the NFC West and AFC East, as well as a three-week stretch where he might be borderline unusable from Weeks 7 to 9.
In addition, the Niners aren’t the most pass-happy team to begin with, and against the better secondaries in the NFL, they could opt to lean into their dominating run game hard.
Samuel’s most unique matchup for this list comes when San Francisco hosts the Green Bay Packers in Week 9, and Jaire Alexander should be his cover man. Alexander limited opposing catch rates to just 56.1 percent in 2019 and had a low target rate, too -- his positioning discouraged throws in his direction. While he may not have the lockdown concern of other cornerbacks, he should certainly dampen Samuel’s fantasy upside that week.