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Wide Receivers vs. Cornerbacks: Week 4: WHAT WR TO START


Justin Jefferson has had two bad games in a row, but in neither case because the defensive personnel had an advantage. The Vikings have some issues to figure out and in the last two weeks they only seem to get further away from where they should be. This is no easier than the last two matchups, as Jefferson is a candidate to be shadowed by Marshon Lattimore and Bradley Robyisn't bad either. Justin Evans has been the primary slot corner for the Saints so far, but 2021 standout Paulson Adebo is making his way back from injury and figures to get involved more in the near future. Whether that will be at Roby's expense or Evans' isn't so clear. Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn have tough draws whatever the specifics, with Osborn playing outside more than Thielen after the opposite was the case prior years. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn NEW ORLEANS WIDE RECEIVERS The quarterback play might be prohibitively bad with Andy Dalton stepping in, but Chris Olavecan't be covered by this corners. Patrick Peterson would have had a prayer eight years ago but not now, and no past or future version of Cam Dantzler is built to mirror an athlete like Olave. Slot corner Chandon Sullivan might be the most vulnerable of the three yet, though Olave should mostly line up outside. The slot wideout will be Jarvis Landry if he can play through his ankle issue, otherwise it would be Tre'Quan Smith. Smith posted 100 yards off the bench last week so he might have some momentum on Marquez Callaway, who functioned as the top outside wideout going into last week. With Michael Thomas out Callaway and Smith are both candidates for increased snaps, but it's not clear on what basis. Whereas these corners can't cover Olave, they might be able to manage replacement types like Smith and Callaway. Upgrade: Chris Olave, Jarvis Landry (though keep the injury in mind) Downgrade: N/A Even: Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway ATL vs CLE ATLANTA WIDE RECEIVERS Drake London won't be running away from any of the Browns corners – especially not Denzel Ward or Greg Newsome – but London is rapidly earning the benefit of the doubt even against formidable corners, and guys like Ward/Newsome need to worry about getting dunked on given London's ability to win at the rim. Rookie Martin Emerson has some promise but not against a player of London's caliber. The other Atlanta receivers don't project as well, though Olamide Zaccheaus has quietly been productive from the slot. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus CLEVELAND WIDE RECEIVERS Amari Cooper has been red hot over the last two weeks and there's no reason he should slow down here. Kevin Stefanski did a good job of scheming open Cooper the last two weeks and if he keeps it up he'll get Cooper plenty of slot looks in this game, getting him away from A.J. Terrell. Cooper can beat Terrell at least occasionally, but the other Falcons corners don't pose much resistance. Corners like Terrell and Casey Hayward can probably slow down Donovan Peoples-Jones a bit, but DPJ's bigger concern is the light pass attempt volume with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Upgrade: Amari Cooper Downgrade: N/A Even: Donovan Peoples-Jones PHI vs JAC PHILADELPHIA WIDE RECEIVERS The Jaguars pass defense has done better the last two weeks and guys like Tyson Campbell and Shaquill Griffin can be good starters outside, but the Jaguars pass defense overall is still a work in progress and not nearly suited to dealing with receivers like A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith. Upgrade: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith Downgrade: N/A Even: Quez Watkins JACKSONVILLE WIDE RECEIVERS Zay Jones (ankle) might be out, which would be a substantial loss for the Jaguars if so. Although, Darius Slay and James Bradberry both project as heavy favorites against Zay and Marvin Jonesboth. If Zay can't play then Tim Jones (yes, seriously) might be the next receiver up. Tim is interesting but even if he turns out good he won't beat Slay or Bradberry types yet. Avonte Maddox is the slot corner and the Jaguars should be able to isolate him against Christian Kirk. This is a glaring mismatch to the point that I almost don't want to point it out – the Eagles must know that Kirk is their only issue here and they ought to be able to come up with some adaptation to account for him, especially since the Jaguars can't threaten the defense outside. But if the Eagles do leave Maddox on Kirk with no help for some bewildering reason you can bet they'll wish they had. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: Zay Jones, Marvin Jones, Tim Jones Even: Christian Kirk HOU vs LAC HOUSTON WIDE RECEIVERS The Chargers might attempt to shadow Brandin Cooks with J.C. Jackson when lined up outside, leaving him against Bryce Callahan when in the slot. Such a pairing would be a difficult matchup for Cooks, though not an unbeatable one. Nico Collins is trait matched well by the tall and fast Michael Davis, though Davis' skill set has always lagged his athleticism. Chris Moore continues to run from the slot though he would be more effective working downfield. Moore can post up a 5-foot-9 corner like Callahan but Callahan locks up tougher wideouts than Moore. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: Chris Moore Even: Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins CHARGERS WIDE RECEIVERS The Texans have used Derek Stingley all over, but not very often in the slot, where Keenan Allenshould make his desperately awaited return this week. Stingley should more so face off against Mike Williams – perhaps even in the form of a shadow assignment. It would be a big test for the rookie, but Stingley looks like an uncommon talent and might soon be one of the most feared corners in the league. Desmond King is the slot corner for Houston, and he should be at once beatable but also formidable. Allen's volume is nearly locked in, but explosiveness might be hard to come by. Joshua Palmer would likely be the outside receiver opposite Williams, and from there he should mostly face Steven Nelson. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer IND vs TEN INDIANAPOLIS WIDE RECEIVERS Michael Pittman is schemed so heavily into the Colts offense that matchups just don't matter for him. Either he gets numbers or the Colts don't move the ball. They've built this certainty into place by choice, and no one else can be counted on for anything. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Michael Pittman TENNESSEE WIDE RECEIVERS The Colts don't play that much man coverage and might not have the personnel to match up well even if they wanted to, so the question of which Titans receiver does anything useful might come down to game-planning details we can't know from outside. If the Titans expect certain zones then they'll have certain route combos in mind to counter those zones, at which point the designated routes need to succeed or else the play sort of goes nowhere. Robert Woods is picking up scheme and has the veteran prescience necessary to navigate zones, but of course he lacks the brute athletic traits offered by the less polished Treylon Burks. Whoever is in the slot/seam might have the easiest look, if only because slot corner Kenny Moore is more of an all-purpose rover than a coverage standout specifically. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: Nick Westbrook-Ikhine Even: Robert Woods, Treylon Burks, Kyle Philips DAL vs WAS DALLAS WIDE RECEIVERS This Jack Del Rio defense just isn't happening. Washington has been a no-show against the run and the pass both so far, even though their personnel isn't half bad. Dallas can choke, but this defense isn't stopping them. The most interesting question here is whether Michael Gallup (knee) can return as anything resembling his pre-injury self. If Gallup is at 85 percent he is probably at an advantage against this defense. Upgrade: CeeDee Lamb Downgrade: N/A Even: Noah Brown, Michael Gallup WASHINGTON WIDE RECEIVERS Can Carson Wentz manage the pressure? Sometimes he can, sometimes he can't. He couldn't against his former team last week, but perhaps his nerves won't get to him as much against the Cowboys. Dallas won't make it easy for Wentz like the Jaguars did in Week 1, but if Wentz can keep himself together he will have opportunities to beat this defense all over the field. Terry McLaurinis well above the level of these Dallas corners, and Curtis Samuel might be too. If he isn't now then Jahan Dotson will be soon. If Wentz has a problem here it will have less to do with the Dallas secondary than its front seven, which features a dizzying number of highly athletic disruptors. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson NYG vs CHI GIANTS WIDE RECEIVERS Richie James continues to thrive from the slot, where he should see the weak Kindle Vildor in this matchup. Jaylon Johnson is the corner you want to avoid, but he might be out again this week. Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Jones are not intimidating for Kenny Golladay or David Sills, or whatever else the Giants try at outside receiver. Upgrade: Richie James Downgrade: N/A Even: Whoever else plays CHICAGO WIDE RECEIVERS Adoree' Jackson doesn't often go to the slot, where Darnell Mooney mostly runs from. Will the Bears try to throw the ball enough for it to matter? Perhaps not, but Mooney is way too good for any of the non-Jackson corners on the Giants. Upgrade: Darnell Mooney (moot?) Downgrade: N/A Even: N/A DET vs SEA DETROIT WIDE RECEIVERS DJ Chark needs to step up with Amon-Ra St. Brown out, though the two play different positions. Chark normally runs outside, where he'll see a lot of the big corner duo of Mike Jackson and Tariq Woolen. Jackson and Woolen probably lack refinement and specifically the ability to defend laterally, so Chark should be able to beat them in the intermediate, just probably not deep unless on a double move. Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond should pick up most of St. Brown's vacated slot snaps, and from there they should mostly see rookie Coby Bryant. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds SEATTLE WIDE RECEIVERS If the Lions shadow DK Metcalf with Jeff Okudah then it's not the easiest matchup for Metcalf, but it's still one he should win, especially the deeper downfield you go. Amani Oruwariye is a marked corner for the rest of his career – target him deep and watch the flags fly. Seattle almost certainly will try to dial up something against Oruwariye, be it to Metcalf or Tyler Lockett. Upgrade: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett Downgrade: N/A Even: N/A PIT vs NYJ PITTSBURGH WIDE RECEIVERS Corner Sauce Gardner best matches the traits of Chase Claypool, but so far the rookie corner has only lined up on the left outside, whereas Claypool is usually in the slot. The right corner is D.J. Reed, who matches the traits of Diontae Johnson but probably not the skill. Michael Carter steps in to the slot, where he'll face the much bigger Claypool. George Pickens is matched traitwise by Gardner but not Reed. Upgrade: Diontae Johnson Downgrade: N/A Even: Chase Claypool, George Pickens JETS WIDE RECEIVERS The Steelers play more zone than most teams because they lack the cornerback personnel to match up in man coverage. Where the coverage busts might occur can differ from game to game, depending on the respective game plans and how they interact. To this point Garrett Wilson has been the primary slot receiver for the Jets, while Elijah Moore and Corey Davis respectively line up on the left and right most of the time. Levi Wallace might need to step in for Ahkello Witherspoon at left corner, the position that most often matches up against Davis. Moore should more so see Cameron Sutton, while Wilson should mostly see Arthur Maulet. None of these corners are well situated, but Maulet might be the most vulnerable one. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis BAL vs BUF BALTIMORE WIDE RECEIVERS Kaiir Elam is young but extremely toolsy on one side, while Dane Jackson is less toolsy but more polished on the other. Rashod Bateman faces a challenge with either one, but Elam hasn't faced a technician like Bateman and Jackson is a subpar athlete. Devin Duvernay is more likely to beat Elam or Jackson than slot corner Taron Johnson, who is largely an athletic mirror to Duvernay. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay BUFFALO WIDE RECEIVERS Stefon Diggs might see a shadow assignment from Marlon Humphrey, but it probably doesn't matter much. If the Bills are determined to get Diggs going then they should be able to. Whether Gabe Davis and his bad ankle can get open against Marcus Peters is less clear, but it's not the easiest matchup even for a healthy receiver. If the defense spams deep coverage the Bills are content to check down at rapid frequency to the running backs or/and slot wideouts Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder, but their games don't result in much traditional coverage. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder CAR vs ARI CAROLINA WIDE RECEIVERS This is an upgrade spot for DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson. Whether they can capitalize comes down to the play of Baker Mayfield. No more complicated than that. Oh, it's a downgrade for Shi Smith or whoever else sees the most of slot corner Byron Murphy. Upgrade: DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson Downgrade: Shi Smith Even: N/A ARIZONA WIDE RECEIVERS The Panthers might choose to use Jaycee Horn to shadow Marquise Brown although... that would just mean playing Horn on the right side every play, since Kliff Kingsbury so helpfully lines up everyone at the same spot almost every play. Horn is the better corner, but Donte Jackson can run with Brown, too, at least vertically. Whether Horn or Jackson can actually stop Brown is a separate question, but he'll certainly have the full attention of the Panthers defense. If Rondale Moore (hamstring) can play then he'll mostly see Myles Hartsfield, but if Moore can't play then that should be the assignment of Greg Dortch. If Brown can't play through his foot injury then it's not clear just what the Cardinals are going to do. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch GB vs NE GREEN BAY WIDE RECEIVERS If the Patriots keep trotting out Myles Bryant at slot corner then he's going to just keep getting beat, including by Allen Lazard in this game. Romeo Doubs might also get a couple cracks at Bryant but might mostly see shadow coverage from Jonathan Jones. It would be a tough matchup for Doubs if so, especially if Lazard is matched up against the comparatively helpless Bryant, but Doubs is about four inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Jones, so he can still make catches even without separation. Christian Watson might not be very skilled but he's still fast, and Jalen Mills is still slow. If the Patriots put Mills on Watson then Watson can run past him. Upgrade: Allen Lazard Downgrade: N/A Even: Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson (arguable upgrade if Jones shadows Doubs) NEW ENGLAND WIDE RECEIVERS If Jaire Alexander (groin) can't play then it leaves a massive void at right corner, presumably to be picked up by Rasul Douglas while Eric Stokes plays the left. Keisean Nixon took over as the slot corner last week. It's tough to know how good or bad Nixon might be, but he would probably be considered at a disadvantage against a fairly established player like Jakobi Meyers. DeVante Parker usually lines up on the left and should therefore mostly see either Alexander or Douglas, both of whom would probably be challenging matchups for Parker – especially Alexander. Nelson Agholor will see some of Douglas/Alexander but should more so see Stokes, who counters Agholor's speed well. Upgrade: Jakobi Meyers (arguably lower to Even if Alexander is active) Downgrade: N/A Even: DeVante Parker (arguable downgrade if Alexander is active), Nelson Agholor LV vs DEN LAS VEGAS WIDE RECEIVERS Pat Surtain is a menace and Davante Adams is not benefiting from plus scheming like he did in Green Bay. Las Vegas needs to try to feed Adams but the returns might not be great in this setting. Mack Hollins has been very productive the last two weeks, mostly because defenses haven't cared what he does as much as what Adams and Darren Waller do. Hollins will fall back to earth eventually, especially when Hunter Renfrow (concussion) returns, but he's still the guy defenses care about least. Particularly if he's against Ronald Darby, Hollins could keep producing as a big wideout who sees single coverage in a pass-happy offense. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: Davante Adams Even: Mack Hollins DENVER WIDE RECEIVERS If Nate Hobbs (concussion) can play then we might see him shadow Courtland Sutton. If Hobbs can't play then Sutton has an advantage over whoever else he might see. Jerry Jeudy should mostly face Amik Robertson if Hobbs is on Sutton, and that would probably be a plus matchup for Jeudy. Of course, their playcaller and quarterback aren't exactly impressing right now. Upgrade: Jerry Jeudy Downgrade: N/A Even: Courtland Sutton (upgrade if Hobbs is out) TB vs KC TAMPA BAY WIDE RECEIVERS Most of the gang should be back for this one, with Mike Evans no longer suspended and Russell Gage and Julio Jones practicing more than in previous weeks. Evans and Jones could be difficult to cover as the Chiefs utilize the rookie Jaylen Watson on the left and underwhelming vet Rashad Fenton on the right. Slot corner L'Jarius Sneed is the best defender of the three, but he'll mostly see Gage. Upgrade: Mike Evans, Julio Jones Downgrade: N/A Even: Russell Gage KANSAS CITY WIDE RECEIVERS After WR1 Travis Kelce the primary concern for the Buccaneers defense will be JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is unfortunately a candidate to see shadow coverage from Carlton Davisan almost exact trait match to JSS. Smith-Schuster can beat Jamel Dean laterally but not vertically. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is almost mirror-matched by Dean, so the Chiefs better hope Tampa doesn't use a Dean-Davis shadow system against MVS and JSS, respectively. Mecole Hardman can dust Davis deep but probably can't get anything done underneath against these guys, and defenses are going to keep spamming two-high (cutting off the deep route) as long as the Chiefs show they can't run the ball. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling SF vs LAR SAN FRANCISCO WIDE RECEIVERS Deebo Samuel tends to rake against the Rams, so any effect of Jalen Ramsey apparently doesn't apply to Samuel. Brandon Aiyuk is the 49ers wideout more dependent on separation downfield for production, so he might theoretically have more to lose against Ramsey. It's not clear whether the Rams will use Ramsey as a shadow assignment, though. The Rams have no depth anywhere, so Kyle Shanahan should be able to keep their personnel in difficult spots regardless of the matchup specifics. Jauan Jennings should be an imposing presence in the slot, where the Rams trotted out Grant Haley last week. Upgrade: N/A Downgrade: N/A Even: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings RAMS WIDE RECEIVERS Allen Robinson simply might not possess the burst necessary to thrive in this scheme, in which case it's difficult to see how anything gets much better for him. It's difficult to see how Cooper Kupp slows down in this setting or any other, especially if Robinson keeps looking toothless. The 49ers will need to give a lot of help to slot corner Deommodore Lenoir, who made his debut at the position last week. Robinson, meanwhile, projects poorly against both Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley outside. Upgrade: Cooper Kupp Downgrade: Allen Robinson

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