Wide receiver-cornerback showdowns might be the most important individual matchups in football.
In this piece, I leverage snap data from Pro Football Focus to project NFL Week 2 WR/CB matchups, especially shadow situations.
For more, see the FantasyLabs Matchups page, where we provide basic and advanced data — including fantasy and red-zone performance — for each offensive skill-position player based on his matchup.
As we get more clarity during the week on the injury status of receivers and corners, I will update my WR/CB projections.
Let’s start with this week’s featured matchup and then run through all the potential shadow matchups and most notable upgrades and downgrades.
Jump To: WR/CB Matchup Matrix
WR/CB Matchup of the Week
Lions WR Kenny Golladay vs. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson
Golladay (hamstring) is yet to play this season due to a lingering soft-tissue injury suffered in training camp, but Lions head coach Matt Patricia reportedly expects him to suit up in Week 3 (per Tom Pelissero and Adam Schefter).
With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Golladay is an emerging star. He is unlikely ever to be an All-Pro producer because of his volume: He has never had even 120 targets in a season. But he was one of just two players last year with 1,000-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns receiving.
At his best, Golladay is better than all but a handful of NFL receivers, and if he’s healthy, he will present a significant challenge to Peterson, who has been something of a two-faced cover man for the past year.
A three-time All-Pro defender, Peterson sat out Weeks 1-6 in 2019 due to suspension. Upon returning, he struggled mightily in Weeks 7-14, allowing an ungodly 31-440-4 receiving line with 11.3 yards per target and a 79.5% catch rate in seven games.
He was so bad that for a solid month the Cardinals were like, “Thanks, but no thanks. No need to shadow. Just stay on the left side of the field and let’s hope they don’t throw in your direction.”
And then, all of a sudden, eureka! The team used Peterson to shadow Odell Beckham Jr., D.K. Metcalf and Robert Woods in Weeks 15-17, and he was back to his former self. For the final three weeks of the season, he held receivers to a 42.1% catch rate and 4.6 yards per target.
In Week 1, the Cardinals planted him at left corner against the 49ers given that wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk were out with injuries, and he was in typical shutdown, allowing zero receptions on three targets.
But in Week 2 the Cardinals used him as the primary defender against second-year superstar Terry McLaurin — and Peterson got rocked. McLaurin went off with a 7-125-1 receiving performance on 10 targets.
It was just slant route after slant route, and Peterson was powerless to stop him. On McLaurin’s 24-yard catch-and-run touchdown, Peterson didn’t even get a hand on him at any point during the route or after the catch.
Golladay and McLaurin are different types of receivers, but both are physically dominant and able to turn any target into a touchdown.
I don’t want to put too much weight on just one week, but Peterson — now 30 years old — looks like he no longer has the athleticism to stick with the league’s best receivers.
Peterson is almost certainly still an above-average pass defender, but his days as an elite cover man are likely done — unless I’m wrong.
Peterson has a lot to prove this week.
Action: No change for Golladay
Potential Week 3 Shadow Matchups
Here are the other shadow matchups I’m projecting.
|MIA – DeVante Parker||JAX – C.J. Henderson|
|JAX – D.J. Clark Jr.||MIA – Xavien Howard|
|LAR – Robert Woods||BUF – Tre’Davious White|
|MIN – Stefon Diggs||LAR – Jalen Ramsey|
|LV – Bryan Edwards||NE – Stephon Gilmore|
|PIT – Diontae Johnson||HOU – Bradley Roby|
|SF – Brandon Aiyuk||NYG – James Bradberry|
|CAR – D.J. Moore||LAC – Casey Hayward Jr.|
|GB – Davante Adams||NO – Marshawn Lattimore|
Thursday Night Football
Dolphins WR DeVante Parker vs. Jaguars CB C.J. Henderson: Over the past year, the Jags have lost cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye — but Henderson might make fans forget the past.
The No. 9 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Henderson is as good as advertised.
In Week 1, he played exclusively at left corner and outright dominated: On 10 targets, he allowed just 58 yards, broke up three passes and got his first NFL interception.
He arguably had the league’s best rookie performance in Week 1.
In fact, he was so good in his NFL debut that the Jags decided to use him in shadow coverage against wide receiver Corey Davis in Week 2.
Davis did score a touchdown against him, but Henderson allowed just 26 yards and two receptions on three targets.
For the year, Henderson has a sterling PFF coverage grade of 80.5. He is quickly becoming a star, and the the success he had in Week 2, he seems likely to shadow once again in Week 3.
While wide receiver Preston Williams is a candidate for coverage, Parker will probably be Henderson’s target. Parker (hamstring) was limited in Week 1, but he played an 88% snap rate in Week 2 and appears to have put his training camp soft-tissue injury behind him.
With 1,202 yards last year, Parker is probably the best receiver (at this point in his career) that Henderson has faced.
This matchup will be a challenge, and I normally defer to veterans — but I give Henderson the slight edge. He already has some serious “2017 Marshon Lattimore Defensive Rookie of the Year” vibes.
Action: Small downgrade for Parker
Jaguars WR D.J. Chark Jr. vs. Dolphins CB Xavien Howard: A surprise second-year breakout with 1,008 yards receiving in 2019, Chark has caught literally every target directed his way in 2020. The problem is that he has just seven targets.
There’s nothing shabby at all with Chark’s 7-109-1 receiving line, but he will need more than 3.5 targets per game to reach his potential this year — and targets might be hard to come by against Howard.
In Week 1, Howard was limited with a knee injury and played exclusively at left corner, but he played fully in Week 2 and lined up all across the formation.
Even though the Dolphins just allowed quarterback Josh Allen to have the best passing performance of his career with 417 and four touchdowns, Howard for the most part held his own.
It was everyone else in the secondary — namely rookie cornerback Noah Igbinoghene — who was exploited.
Given that cornerback Byron Jones (groin) is unlikely to play in Week 3 and that Igbinoghene showed in Week 2 that he had no business defending an opposing team’s No. 1 wide receiver, we could see Howard shadow Chark for most of this matchup.
For his career, Howard has held opposing receivers to a 56.1% catch rate.
Action: Small downgrade for Harry
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Rams WR Robert Woods vs. Bills CB Tre’Davious White: This is Woods’ first #RevengeGame against the team that drafted him 2013 and squandered his talent for the first four years of his career.
It won’t be a pleasant homecoming.
Although White doesn’t shadow in every game, he has tailed opposing No. 1 receivers in most weeks since the second half of last season. In Week 1 he played at left corner against the receiver-deficient Jets, but in Week 2 he once again was deployed in shadow coverage.
With back-to-back seasons of 1,200-plus yards from scrimmage, Woods is one of the league’s most underrated receivers — but White is fresh off an All-Pro campaign, and he has looked as good as ever this year, allowing just 37 yards on eight targets through two games.
For his career, White has held opposing receivers to just 7.1 yards per target on a 54.2% catch rate, and since last year he has allowed just one touchdown in his coverage.
Action: Large downgrade for Woods
Bills WR Stefon Diggs vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey: Because of his size (6-foot-1, 208 pounds), Ramsey isn’t talked about as the kind of corner who can stick with anybody. He’s thought of as more of a defender against the big-bodied alpha types.
And those are primarily the guys he shadowed in 2019.
- DeAndre Hopkins (Week 2): 4-27-0 on seven targets, 81.8% of routes
- Julio Jones (Week 7): 4-69-0 on seven targets, 73.3% of routes
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (Week 10): 3-44-0 on three targets, 79.1% of routes
- Allen Robinson II (Week 11): 0-0-0 on two targets, 57.1% of routes
- D.K. Metcalf (Week 14): 5-69-0 on five targets, 97.0% of routes
- Amari Cooper (Week 15): 0-0-0 on zero targets, 58.3% of routes
And in Week 1, Ramsey shadowed Cooper once again. He does tend to tail big receivers.
But in 2018 he also matched up against a number of receivers who all weigh less than 200 pounds.
- Odell Beckham Jr. (Week 1): 5-57-0 on seven targets, 74.4% of routes
- Tyreek Hill (Week 5): 2-46-0 on four targets, 51.2% of routes
- T.Y. Hilton (Week 10): 1-35-0 on three targets, 55.6% of routes
- Antonio Brown (Week 11): 4-110-1 on nine targets, 64.0% of routes
- T.Y. Hilton (Week 13): 3-34-0 on seven targets, 77.8% of routes
And in Week 2 he spent many of his snaps defending small speedsters DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor.
In Week 3, it makes sense for Ramsey to tail Diggs, who has an NFL-high 236 yards receiving on 16 receptions and 22 targets in his first two games with the Bills.
He especially went off in Week 2 with a dominant 8-153-1 performance.
Given quarterback Josh Allen’s swashbuckling ways, Diggs will likely still get targets despite the matchup — and targets matter more than anything else — but Ramsey represents a real challenge.
Despite facing No. 1 receivers almost every game of his career, Ramsey has allowed just 7.4 yards per target and a catch rate of just 56.7% for his career.
Action: Large downgrade for Diggs
Raiders WR Bryan Edwards vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore: As of writing (Monday afternoon, Sep. 21), Henry Ruggs III (knee) is uncertain to play in Monday Night Football, but he participated in practice on Saturday, so I assume he will probably play in Week 2 and be ready for Week 3.
Even with that in mind, I still expect Gilmore to shadow Edwards, not Ruggs.
Against Ruggs-similar players — like wide receiver Tyreek Hill — the Patriots have historically used corners other than Gilmore, who matches up better against bigger receivers.
Given that Ruggs split his time between the perimeter and the slot in Week 1, he seems likely to face a combination of Patriots defenders. When he’s on the perimeter, he’ll go against cornerback J.C. Jackson; in the slot, Jonathan Jones.
And that will allow Gilmore to focus exclusively on Edwards — and that’s exactly the kind of matchup the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year needs to get his mojo back after having it stolen from him in Week 2 by second-year star D.K. Metcalf.
Even though Gilmore was the primary defender on Metcalf for most of the game, the big-bodied bruiser overpowered the Patriots defense for 4-92-1 receiving on six targets.
Edwards isn’t the physical specimen Metcalf is — nobody is — but he has an elite size/speed profile in his own right. Although a foot injury prevented Edwards from working out at the combine, as a 17-year-old four-star high-school recruit he ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds.
Edwards has prototypical perimeter athleticism, and he broke out in college as an 18-year-old true freshman, so he has talent. He could develop into a star.
But he had just one target in Week 1, and he will face a rage-driven Gilmore in only his third NFL game.
In his three-plus years with the Patriots, Gilmore has held receivers to a 50.5% catch rate and 6.5 yards per target.
Action: Large downgrade for Edwards
Steelers WR Diontae Johnson vs. Texans CB Bradley Roby: Living, it ain’t always easy. Sometimes it’s a struggle.
As highly as I think of Smith-Schuster, the numbers cannot be ignored. Although their basic receiving stat lines look comparable (13-117-2 for JuJu, 14-149-1 for Johnson), the underlying numbers favor the second-year perimeter receiver.
- Diontae Johnson (two games): 23 targets, 2.04 yards per route
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (two games): 14 targets, 1.50 yards per route
Johnson has gotten Antonio Brown-level usage to start the year, and in 2019 — in a loaded wide receiver class — he led all rookies with 59 receptions while playing almost all the season without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
His target volume is almost certain to diminish, but there’s a very real chance that he will outproduce Smith-Schuster this year.
At a minimum, he — and not Smith-Schuster — is the one likely to draw Roby’s coverage in Week 3.
Under the impression that Roby is a shutdown corner, the Texans have had him tail No. 1 receivers over the past three games (going back to the Divisional Round of the playoffs).
On the one hand, the guys he faced didn’t have big performances against him.
- Tyreek Hill (Divisional Round): 3-41-0 receiving on four targets
- Tyreek Hill (Week 1): 5-46-1 receiving on six targets
- Marquise Brown (Week 2): 5-42-0 receiving on six targets
On the other hand, the Chiefs and Ravens racked up 51-31, 34-20 and 33-16 victories against the Texans and didn’t need to throw the ball.
Hill and Brown combined for an 81.3% catch rate in their three games with Roby as the primary defender. If the Chiefs and Ravens had wanted or needed to give them more targets, they probably could’ve done something with them.
Roby isn’t a bad corner, but to this point in his career he hasn’t been someone a quarterback would seek to avoid.
Action: No change for Johnson
49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk vs. Giants CB James Bradberry: Last week, Aiyuk made his NFL debut with a 72% snap rate and 2-21-0 receiving performance on three targets.
There will be better days ahead for the first-rounder. In the 2020 rookie class, he was a top-five receiver in a number of key statistics (per Sports Info Solutions).
- Yards per target: 11.5 (t-4th)
- Yards after catch: 10.9 (2nd)
- Yards per route: 3.2 (t-2nd)
And with wide receiver Deebo Samuel (foot) and tight end George Kittle (knee) injured, Aiyuk should eventually find his way to more targets.
But quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) suffered an in-game injury in Week 2 and is uncertain for Week 3, and Aiyuk’s potential matchup with Bradberry is tough.
A physical press-man defender, Bradberry was used just at left corner in Week 1, and he gave up 70 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets.
In Week 2, the Giants let their new No. 1 corner shadow wide receiver Allen Robinson, and he responded with a dominant performance: On six targets, he allowed just 14 yards, broke up three passes and snagged his first interception of the season.
With his size (6-foot-1, 212 pounds), Bradberry has generally been at his best — and has generally had success — against big-bodied No. 1 receivers. Aiyuk (6-foot-1, 206 pounds) doesn’t entirely fit that description, but he is the closest thing the 49ers have right now to an alpha wideout.
Action: Medium downgrade for Aiyuk
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Panthers WR D.J. Moore vs. Chargers CB Casey Hayward Jr.: It’s always hard to anticipate what the Chargers will do with Hayward. In Week 1, he had a prime shadow opportunity against wide receiver A.J. Green, and yet the Chargers just parked him at left corner.
In Week 2, though, he played on both sides of the perimeter, matching up with Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson, who were collectively held to 4-39-0 receiving on seven targets.
Hayward is already in midseason form: Through two weeks, he has allowed just 4.8 yards per target on a 45% catch rate.
Given that the Panthers have two good perimeter receivers in Moore and Robby Anderson, the Chargers might choose to use Hayward at left corner again — but they historically have had him shadow bigger No. 1 receivers and Moore (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) fits that description.
Although Moore disappointed in Week 1 with just 4-54-0 receiving, he had a team-high nine targets, two of which were in the end zone, and in Week 2 he flashed his upside with an 8-120-0 performance on 13 targets.
For the season, he leads the Panthers with 22 targets and 271 air yards (per RotoViz Statistical Summary) — and last year he balled out with 1,175 yards receiving in his 22-year-old second season.
He very much has the look of a top-10 receiver-in-formation.
But Hayward entered the season as PFF’s No. 3 cornerback, and Anderson should draw targets given that he has a much easier matchup against cornerback Michael Davis and has exploded with a 15-223-1 receiving line with the Panthers.
Expectations for Moore should be tempered in Week 3.
Action: Large downgrade for Moore
Sunday Night Football
Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore: After a masterful 14-156-2 receiving performance in Week 1, Adams was limited in Week 2 by a rolled ankle and then a tweaked hamstring. He played just a 52% snap rate and is uncertain for Week 3.
There’s a case to be made that Adams is the NFL’s best wide receiver — but he’s not healthy, and if he plays he’s likely to draw Lattimore’s coverage.
For his career, Lattimore has held opposing receivers to a catch rate of just 58.1%.
Action: Medium downgrade for Adams
Week 3 Shadow Borderline
These two matchups are on the shadow borderline. Although these cornerbacks shadow periodically, I cannot say with confidence that they will follow opposing Nos. 1 receivers across the formation this week.
Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Eagles CB Darius Slay: Green easily leads the Bengals with 22 targets and 338 air yards — but he has just 80 yards receiving. A near-elite shadow man for years with the Lions, Slay has allowed just 5.3 yards per target in his first two games with the Eagles.
Slay shadowed in Week 1 but played at left corner in Week 2.
Action: Small downgrade for Green
Saints WR Emmanuel Sanders vs. Packers CB Jaire Alexander: True No. 1 wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) will almost certainly miss Week 3, so Sanders could be the team leader in targets. Alexander has an 84.0 PFF coverage grade for the year.
Alexander shadowed in Week 1 but played at left corner in Week 2.
Action: Small downgrade for Sanders
Notable Wide Receiver Upgrades
Jaguars WR Keelan Cole vs. Dolphins CB Nik Needham: Cole has emerged as the No. 3 receiver in Jacksonville with an 11-105-2 receiving line through two weeks. Needham is a backup who stepped into the slot in Week 2 after Noah Igbinoghene shifted to the perimeter following the injury to Byron Jones (groin).
Action: Large upgrade for Cole
Patriots WR Julian Edelman vs. Raiders CB Lamarcus Joyner: Edelman had a career-high 179 yards receiving in Week 2 and has an NFL-best 18.5 yards per touch.
Joyner is a miscast safety-turned-slot defender who last year had a career-worst 44.4 PFF coverage grade and allowed a gaping 73.9% catch rate.
Action: Large upgrade for Edelman
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Titans CB Chris Jackson: Jefferson is just 5-70-0 receiving, but at least the first-rounder is No. 3 on the team in targets and air yards. Jackson is a seventh-round rookie backup with a 27.7 PFF coverage grade.
Action: Large upgrade for Jefferson
Steelers WR James Washington vs. Texans CB Vernon Hargreaves III: Washington is 5-56-1 receiving and looking to hold off second-round rookie Chase Claypool. Hargreaves is one of the league’s most generous cornerbacks, allowing 9.1 yards per target for his career.
Action: Large upgrade for Washington
Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb vs. Seahawks CB Ugo Amadi: Lamb was 6-106-0 receiving in Week 2 and has averaged 7.5 targets per game to open his career. Amadi is a special-teamer forced to man the slot because of a serious injury to starter Marquise Blair (knee).
Action: Large upgrade for Lamb
Buccaneers WR Justin Watson vs. Broncos CB Essang Bassey: Watson admirably filled in for Chris Godwin (concussion) in Week 2 with a 2-48-0 receiving performance on three targets. Bassey is an undrafted rookie injury fill-in who has allowed each of the six targets in his coverage to be completed.
Action: Large upgrade for Watson
Notable Wide Receiver Downgrades
Texans WRs Will Fuller, Randall Cobb & Brandin Cooks vs. Steelers CBs Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton & Joe Haden: I like the Texans to cover in Week 3, but Fuller wasn’t targeted in Week 2 as he seemed to deal with a mystery leg issue on the sideline. Last year the Steelers were No. 3 with a -16.5% pass-defense DVOA, and they have returned all five of their secondary starters.
Action: Medium downgrades for Fuller, Cobb & Cooks
Raiders WR Hunter Renfrow vs. Patriots CB Jonathan Jones: When Henry Ruggs III is not in the slot, Renfrow will be. Jones has allowed just 3.9 yards per target this year.
Action: Large downgrade for Renfrow
Ravens WR Willie Snead IV vs. Chiefs CB/S Tyrann Mathieu: Snead is an efficient but light 6-93-1 receiving on six targets. Analysts have exaggerated the extent to which Mathieu has previously played as a hybrid safety/slot defender with the Chiefs — but the 2019 All-Pro really is the team’s slot corner with starters Bashaud Breeland (suspension) and Charvarius Ward (hand) unavailable.
Action: Large downgrade for Snead
Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman & Demarcus Robinson vs. Ravens CBs Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey & Jimmy Smith: Watkins (concussion) exited Week 2 early, and I assume that Hardman will play in his place this week. The Ravens have the No. 1 secondary in the league — they essentially have three No. 1 cornerbacks — and Peters gets a #RevengeGame against Hill and his former team.
NFL Week 3 WR/CB Matrix
I take a cautious approach to injured players who I expect to be questionable or out. If by the weekend it seems likely that they will play, I will include them in my updates.
Pos = left, right or slot WR or CB
Projected shadow matchups are CAPITALIZED
WR Exp = Wide Receiver Expectation: I rank from 3 to -3 how much I think we should adjust expectations for wide receivers based on matchups. 3: Large upgrade. 2: Medium upgrade. 1: Small upgrade. 0: No change. -1: Small downgrade. -2: Medium downgrade. -3: Large downgrade.
Thanks to Scott Barrett for providing me with some of PFF’s historical data.
Matthew Freedman is 621-506-24 (55.1%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.
He’s the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Rosemount, Minnesota, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.