6 Wide Receivers With Great Cornerback Matchups in Week 4
I’m a major fan of alternate history and science fiction, and one of my favorite genres within those two areas is steampunk. Now, I’m not one of those cosplayers who does the whole top hat-meets-goggles-meets-Victorian waistcoat, and everything is decked out with cogs and gears, but I really enjoy imagining a world where technology – and society – evolved differently.
One of the silliest – and therefore one of my favorites – premises for alt-history narratives, however, is the notion that if the Hindenburg hadn’t blown up, airships and dirigibles might have become the primary form of transportation in the world. Forget waiting at the bus stop; you’re waiting for the public hot air balloon, and that’s an amazing thought.
In the same way that society and technology are always racing forward, so are NFL offenses and defenses. It wasn’t long ago that tall and strong wide receivers were the gold standard in the NFL, bringing in longer and more aggressive cornerbacks to cover them. Now the short and fast receiver is experiencing a renaissance in the league, so speed on defense is trying to match this shift. This column every week will help you keep on top of the trends in defensive coverage for your fantasy wide receivers.
Let’s not delay any further: which wide receivers have explosive matchups with cornerbacks, and which wideouts are just bags of hot air in Week 4?
One of the things I do is reflect on my process, analyzing the successes and fixing the failures, so that I can give you all the best fantasy football advice possible. Each week, we’ll look at the previous one’s hits and misses.
I consider 15.0 PPR fantasy points (the weekly fantasy average of the WR24 over the last six years) a hit for Lineup Locks, and a score of 9.0 (the average WR48) a hit for Good Stocks. A player with 7.0 PPR fantasy points (the average WR60) or fewer as a Smoking Crater is a hit as well.
Lineup Locks: Cooper Kupp and Tyler Lockett. Kupp (30.6 PPR fantasy points) continues to tear up the NFL and remains quarterback Matthew Stafford's favorite target on his new team; never overestimate the power of being a breakfast buddy. Lockett (7.1) was still above our usable threshold, thank goodness, but it was his teammate -- D.K. Metcalf -- who went ballistic in Week 3. Close, but no cigar.
Good Stocks: Julio Jones, Sammy Watkins, Christian Kirk, and DeVonta Smith. Jones (7.7) proved usable in the final box score, and -- in my defense -- played just six snaps in the second half, meaning he was pacing to be a hit for a Stock. Watkins (10.8) remains at the top of the Baltimore Ravens' target chart and looks to have re-unlocked the passing production of Lamar Jackson. Kirk (17.4) was targeted the most among Arizona Cardinals receivers and continues to make the most of this high-flying offense. Smith (5.8) was targeted the second-most on his team but turned in the fewest fantasy points among wide receivers. His upside will remain limited as long as Jalen Hurts is throwing him the ball.
Smoking Craters: Van Jefferson and Nelson Agholor. In a 34-point showing by the Los Angeles Rams, Jefferson (8.2) could’ve done a lot more damage. That he was held to a low-end WR4 type of production is a process win even if he wasn’t completely unusable. The New England Patriots remain a dink-and-dunk passing attack with Mac Jones, and with Agholor (3.7) blanketed this week, it allowed Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers to go off -- just as predicted.
Two Lineup Locks
Ja’Marr Chase vs. Shaquill Griffin – With wide receiver Tee Higgins out for Thursday Night Football, rookie first-rounder Ja'Marr Chase is in line to see a massive target share. The Cincinnati Bengals are expected to light up the lagging Jacksonville Jaguars, and Chase’s matchup with cornerback Shaquill Griffin should be a focal point of that drubbing.
Through three pro games, Chase has earned a strong-not-amazing 20% target rate (56th percentile among Week 4 starting receivers) and has just a 69% catch rate (nice; 56th percentile) on those targets. This week, though, that target rate should swell with Higgins out. Couple increased looks and a mediocre defense with Chase’s 2.8 yards per route run (92nd percentile), and you have a recipe for fantasy success.
The Jags just this week traded away 2020 first-round cornerback C.J. Henderson, possibly their best young defensive back, as they already look to be phoning in the 2021 season. Griffin now has the unenviable task of stopping Chase’s ascendancy. Griffin is above-average at target and catch prevention, with a 14% target rate allowed (40th percentile among Week 4 starting cornerbacks) and 69% catch rate allowed (nice; 55th percentile). His weakness is Chase’s strength, though: Griffin gets burned badly and allows 1.3 yards per coverage snap (73rd percentile). Chase should see some big-play chances.
Calvin Ridley vs. Benjamin St-Juste – Based on expectation, the beginning of the 2021 season has been a disappointment for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley. After the team traded away star wideout Julio Jones, Ridley was going to be the clear number-one, and we assumed a breakout was imminent. So far, things have been good, not great. This week, that could change in a big way.
Ridley faces a Washington Football Team whose defense was gutted in Week 3 and gets the choice matchup of cornerback Benjamin St-Juste. BSJ is a big, physical corner who has the potential to smother a receiver at the catch point but is liable to get his ankles broken by a good route runner like Ridley. St-Juste so far has allowed a 20% target rate (89th percentile), though he has prevented catches well with his 57% catch rate allowed (22nd percentile). His 1.5 yards per coverage snap (78th percentile) is also vulnerable, though, meaning one good move and Ridley could be off to the races.
Ridley comes in with mediocre production and mediocre peripherals. His catch rate is an above-average 69% (nice; 56th percentile) and his 1.5 yards per route run (50th percentile) is exactly average. Where he makes his fantasy hay is his 24% target rate (80th percentile), and he should see enough looks to make him a good fantasy option in Week 4. His matchup with BSJ should solve the other issues, too.
Four Good Stocks
Tyler Boyd vs. Chris Claybrooks – Remember how bad the Jags’ secondary is? Chris Claybrooks is part of that. He is allowing production in the 94th percentile or higher across the board. Tyler Boyd has an 80th percentile target rate and strong numbers elsewhere. Think of Boyd this week as Ridley-esque: high floor from volume and high ceiling from matchup.
Marquise Brown vs. Kyle Fuller – Another week, another good matchup for a Baltimore Ravens receiver. Marquise Brown is dazzling opponents with a whopping 93rd percentile target rate and 91st percentile yards per route run. Pretty good for a “deep threat only” guy, huh? Kyle Fuller has had a rough go of it in his new Denver Broncos uniform, though he is allowing just a 10th percentile catch rate. Still, give Brown a few targets, and he’ll make Fuller pay.
Jaylen Waddle vs. Kenny Moore – The Indianapolis Colts’ Kenny Moore is one of our favorite punching bags, and Week 4 is no different. Moore is now allowing a 95th percentile target rate and 93rd percentile yards per coverage snap from the slot. Enter Jaylen Waddle, who will need to be a reliable target for Miami Dolphins backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Waddle currently has a solid 63rd percentile target rate and a strong 90th percentile catch rate. Expect targets to flow his way in the slot.
Jakobi Meyers vs. Ross Cockrell – I think this is the week Jakobi Meyers gets off the schneid and post his first career NFL touchdown. The New England Patriots fed their slot receiver last week and should do so again against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that funnels to the pass -- and specifically funnels to the slot. Ross Cockrell was our crash-test dummy in Week 3 and gave up 90-plus yards and two touchdowns to Cooper Kupp. Maybe that volume doesn’t repeat here, but a 76th percentile target rate for Meyers and 97th percentile target rate allowed for Cockrell is a good sign that it could.
Two Smoking Craters
James Washington vs. Jaire Alexander – Don’t get cute here. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing attack is a mess with the aging Ben Roethlisberger under center, and James Washington is hardly getting used anyway. The former mid-round receiver is seeing just a 17th percentile target rate and a paltry 2nd percentile yards per route run through three weeks, and that's with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson sitting last week. JuJu didn't practice Wednesday while Johnson did in a limited fashion.
That makes Green Bay Packers star cornerback Jaire Alexander a nasty matchup for him. Alexander likely won’t shadow Chase Claypool due to the massive size and strength difference (that’ll be Eric Stokes or Kevin King's job if they employ shadow technique), meaning he’ll end up shutting down Washington for half of the game. Alexander is allowing a 33rd percentile target rate, 22nd percentile catch rate, and 25th percentile yards per coverage snap. Avoid him here.
A.J. Green vs. David Long – If we’re talking about no-fly zones, the Los Angeles Rams also have to be mentioned. David Long Jr. was not the cornerback everyone thought would be the best on LA, but through Week 3, he’s proving to be worthy of the starting job. Long has allowed an 8th percentile target rate, 27th percentile catch rate, and 14th percentile yards per coverage snap. A.J. Green is having a bit of a career resurgence for the Arizona Cardinals, but this is not the week to trust him with a shadow situation brewing. Green has produced a 44th percentile target rate and just a 13th percentile catch rate. Expect Green to be shadowed by Long and DeAndre Hopkins to be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey. This will be a tough go for Arizona.