These numbers don’t always correlate directly with fantasy potential. While good defences should usually be avoided, there are always weak links to be exploited. So let’s find out which weak links to exploit and which shut-down corners to avoid this week.
Matchups to target
Kenny Golladay/Marvin Jones vs Tramaine Brock/Byron Murphy
While the Arizona Cardinals finished with the worst record in football, their defence actually ranked eighth in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points per play. Unfortunately for them, their All-Pro cornerback, Patrick Peterson, was the primary reason for that, and he’s suspended for the first six games of the season.
Okay, so as of now the Cardinals will go into Week 1 with 2nd round rookie Byron Murphy, Tramaine Brock and Chris Jones as it's only 3 CBs. They'll be trying to slow Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. Yikes.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) August 31, 2019
The Cardinals tried to rectify this by adding Robert Alford to their secondary, but he is already on Injured Reserve with a leg fracture. That leaves the undrafted 31-year-old journeyman, Tramaine Brock, and 2019 second-round pick, Byron Murphy, as the primary corners.
Furthermore, both are under 6-foot and weigh less than 200 pounds, meaning Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones have a significant size advantage over them. If the Cardinals want to play at a high pace, that could equal extra snaps and targets for both Golladay and Jones. This is a very fantasy-friendly situation.
Mike Evans vs Ahkello Witherspoon
The 49ers-Buccaneers game is shaping up to be a shootout, as evidenced by the 50.5 game total on FanDuel Sportsbook. Both of these defences ranked bottom five in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play last season and both offences project to be top half units by our metrics.
This makes for an exciting fantasy target, and the best receiver on the field is going to be Mike Evans. Evans will be matched up with Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-year cornerback out of Colorado.
Witherspoon will be busy on Sunday, as Evans saw 13 targets in his coverage during Week 12’s matchup last season. Witherspoon held the Bucs receiver scoreless with just seven receptions and 40 yards, but expect Winston to target that matchup often again. Our projections have Evans fourth among receivers.
Julian Edelman vs Mike Hilton/Steelers Linebackers
The Steelers infamously attempted to cover Keenan Allen with a linebacker in the slot during their Week 13 matchup. He handed in a 14/148/1 stat line on 19 targets as the Pittsburgh sideline scratched their heads wondering what went wrong.
Keenan Allen was targeted 9 times when a Steelers linebacker was the nearest defender. No wide receiver has been targeted more against a linebacker in a game since #NextGenStats began tracking nearest defender metrics in 2016.#LACvsPIT #FightForEachOther pic.twitter.com/J4jOev3nER
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 3, 2018
Fantasy gamers should be praying for a similar gameplan on Patriots slot man, Julian Edelman. If that plan doesn’t come to fruition, Edelman should still be in a cupcake matchup with slot cornerback Mike Hilton. The undrafted Ole Miss product played plenty of snaps for the Steelers last season, receiving a 43rd-overall cornerback grade from PFF.
Fresh off a Superbowl MVP, the 33-year-old Edelman is showing no signs of slowing down. With the departure of Rob Gronkowski to retirement and N’Keal Harry to IR, he’s in for a monster target share.
Dede Westbrook vs Kendall Fuller
The Chiefs’ slot cornerback, Kendall Fuller, was a liability throughout the 2018 season. In addition to getting torched by Edelman in the AFC Championship, Fuller allowed 81 catches for 1,040 yards during the regular season, according to PlayerProfiler.
The Jaguars are likely to see negative game script in this contest. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo seems to enjoy drawing up plays for his slot receiver, as Adam Thielen averaged 11 looks per game during their time together in Minnesota last season. Dede Westbrook was targeted seven times in his one game with Nick Foles, so Fuller could have his hands full. Westbrook slots in at number 25 in our PPR projections this week.
Ted Ginn Jr./Tre’Quan Smith vs Johnathan Joseph
The 35-year-old Johnathan Joseph is far removed from his 4.32 40-yard dash. His top-end speed has been compromised for years now, and it was on full display against T.Y. Hilton and Robby Anderson last season. Hilton put up 16 catches for 206 yards in his coverage across two games last season while Anderson went 9 for 74.
First drive update on T.Y. Hilton vs Johnathan Joseph:
Hilton: 3 receptions, 63 yards pic.twitter.com/8CuOjpClPv
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 5, 2019
While Michael Thomas doesn’t have the afterburners necessary to take advantage of Joseph’s age, both Tedd Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith do. With the departure of Jadeveon Clowney, Brees should have ample time to connect deep with his speedy secondary receivers. Both would be risky options based on playing time, but if I was down 20 fantasy points heading into Monday night, I would feel good about them.
Matchups to avoid
Robby Anderson vs Tre’Davious White
The bad news is that Robby Anderson has been struggling with a calf strain over the last few weeks. The other bad news is that if he plays, he’ll be up against one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in football.
Tre’Davious White was a fantasy football menace last season. According to PlayerProfiler, White was the top-ranked corner in fantasy points allowed per cover snap and was fifth in fantasy points per target. He also allowed just 0.55 yards of separation when targeted, which ranked second.
The Bills also ranked fifth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play last year, so this should be a difficult matchup even if White isn’t shadowing Anderson. He is an easy fade this week based on matchup and health.
T.Y. Hilton vs Casey Hayward
While Casey Hayward didn’t log an interception last season, his coverage skills were still on par with his elite reputation. Hayward ranked first in PlayerProfiler’s target separation, allowing less than half a yard of space when targeted. He also ranked sixth in catch rate allowed and fantasy points allowed per coverage snap.
Even with Andrew Luck slinging the rock, this would be a matchup to avoid in fantasy football. It is worth noting that Hilton went off for 174 yards and a score in their 2016 matchup, but Brissett would need to show a willingness to push the ball downfield before trusting his weapons in a tough matchup like this.
Tyreek Hill vs Jalen Ramsey
While the advanced stats said that Jalen Ramsey underperformed in 2018, he is still a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and receivers. He’s long, athletic, and capable of removing a team’s best weapon from the gameplan.
Jalen Ramsey in shadow coverage over the past two seasons:
Jalen Ramsey in shadow coverage over the past two seasons:
Kearse: 4-17 yards-0
Larry Fitzgerald: 3-12-0
Tyreek Hill: 4-61-0
K Benjamin: 1-32-0
Alshon Jeffery: 4-35-0
T.Y. Hilton: 2-27-0, 3-51-1, 3-77-0, 8-77-0
Nuk: 4-80-1, 12-147-0, 3-50-1
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 4, 2019
Ramsey is set to shadow Tyreek Hill this week, something that he also did last season, allowing just four catches for 68 yards in his coverage. Ramsey did only travel to the slot on 4.9 per cent of his snaps in 2018. Meanwhile, Hill ran out of the slot on 35.1 per cent of snaps. You likely want to fade this matchup anywhere you can, but the Chiefs could scheme Hill into the slot more to avoid Ramsey’s coverage.