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Week 1 WR/CB Matchups: Who to target and avoid in DFS lineups

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Identifying the best and worst DFS plays at the WR position based on CB matchups for Week 1

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When it comes to season-long leagues, your lineup will always feature your top wideouts. You just have to go with your best players no matter what. In DFS contests, though, you better keep an eye on some of the upcoming WR/CB matchups if you want to really identify the best and worst plays of the upcoming slate of games.

With wide receivers being the second-highest scoring position only behind quarterbacks, it’s critical to pick the best possible players at the position if you want to rack up big-time points every week. One important point to consider that most people forget about: different wideouts face different cornerbacks, and different cornerbacks have wildly varying defensive levels.

I’m here to highlight some of the best WR/CB matchups to target, and some of the worst WR/CB matchups to avoid for the Week 1 slate of games.

Top WR/CB Matchups To Target

Detroit Lions v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Terry McLaurin (WAS) vs. Michael Davis (LAC)

T-Mac is kicking his year off going against the Chargers in a game that might see him racking up numbers with gusto. Not only is this matchup expected to fall on McLaurin’s side, but the Footies are also (most probably) going to be without WR2 Curtis Samuel (or he will be limited at the very least) so it looks like TE Logan Thomas will be the only threat to McLaurin’s diet of targets.

McLaurin finished last season with back-to-back 14.7+ PPR performances against Seattle and Philly. He didn’t face the Chargers—nor Mike Davis by extension—in 2020, but Scary Terry should be licking his chops entering Week 1. Davis hasn’t been terrible in coverage (4 INTs in 14 games last year) but there is a reason why his men got targeted 107 times (sixth-most in the NFL). Davis allowed 63 of those passes to end in completions (60.6%) while surrendering 724 yards on them (11.5 YPR) and breaking up 11 of the 104 throws he faced.

Brandon Aiyuk (SF) vs. Amani Oruwariye (DET)

While not the easiest of WR/CB matchups of the week to PFF eyes, the truth is that this could turn into an ugly outing early for Amani entering the 2021 campaign. Aiyuk manned the left side of the offense for most of last season’s snaps (48% of them) while Oruwariye split his time into both sides of the defense. The CB is expected to be on Aiyuk most of the time this weekend, and while WR/CB matchups are pretty much not worth caring about that much when it comes to true studs (your DK Metcalfs and so on), they can prove vital to WR2/WR3/FLEX type of players. Enter Brandon Aiyuk, he of the WR35 finish last season to the tune of a 15.4 FPPG average.

Aiyuk is definitely not the first name you come up with when asked about top-tier receivers. Oruwariye, on the other hand, is definitely one of the first names you come up with when asked about easy-to-burn CBs in the NFL. Last year Oruwariye was targeted 103 times on 536 routes defended (almost 20% of the time he was out there defending), allowing 69 completions and a ridiculous 1,015 yards (only A.J. Terrell surrendered higher yardage, only he did so on 9 more targets). The 70% completion rate allowed by Oruwariye wasn’t good at all, and his 2.12 PPR points-against per target finished as the fourth-worst mark league-wide. Some folks will have concerns about San Fran’s quarterbacking, which is reasonable, but this matchup should make up for that and put Aiyuk in a prime position to snatch a WR1 finish come Sunday night.

Keenan Allen (LAC) vs. Darryl Roberts (WAS)

Back to that Footies vs. Chargers game, Keenan Allen—same as McLaurin on the opposite sideline—looks to be about to face a very tasty matchup to exploit on DFS contests this weekend. Not that Allen needs any sort of boost to bump up his fantasy ceiling, but Darryl Roberts might be exactly that type of helping corner. Excluding the two games in which Allen was targeted fewer than 4 times, he averaged a fantastic 19.2 PPR points per game in the other 13 he played and was heavily target. And although Roberts won’t be shadowing him, it’s not that Allen can beat such coverages: in two of the three games he endured such defense Allen was still able to burn his cover-men with 18.9 and 17.8 PPR points.

Roberts, who played for the Lions last season and defended 292 routes in 11 games was... well, not an otherworldly performer. Roberts gave up 0.47 PPR/Route (11th-worst mark among CBs with at least 290 routes defended), 1.99 PPR/Target (7th-worst), and allowed a stupid 69% completion rate to opposition quarterbacks while getting scored 3 TDs on. He was lucky to get targeted “only” on 19.7% of the routes he defended, but that had more to do with the absolutely mediocre Lions’ secondary than Roberts’ level of play. Washington’s corners/safeties are much better than those of Detroit last year, so Roberts could be the main defender to target by Justin Herbert this weekend... with Allen happily waiting for his bombs to arrive and help him bag a huge fantasy-point bounty.

Top WR/CB Matchups To Avoid

Tennessee Titans v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Marquez Callaway (NO) vs. Jaire Alexander (GB)

This matchup has not been highlighted anywhere—and that might end up making sense if we assume every WR/CB will stick to their usual sides/roles—but hear me out for a second. The Saints are featuring a new quarterback for the first time in forever. Not only that, but poor Jameis Winston will need to throw the rock, basically, to a group of subpar receivers led by (perhaps) Marquez Callaway of all men. Michael Thomas will be out for a while, and Tre’Quan Smith is banged up and questionable for Sunday. Other than Alvin Karama and his pass-catching prowess, there is virtually no one capable of hauling passes in.

On the other end of the field, Green Bay has a clear no. 1 corner in Jaire Alexander. The reasoning here, as I see it, would have the Packers locking Jaire on Callaway to limit him to the fewest possible targets, taking the Saints passing game to a ridiculous low production if only because of the lack of viable targets. I see this as a potential shadow coverage this weekend, rendering NOLA null at passing and forcing them to rush the ball more often than not. And hey, it’s not that Callaway’s 2020 season of 42.3 PPR total and 3.8 FPPG is anything to call home about. Jaire Alexander is coming off a season in which he posted the seventh-best PPR-against/Route mark, the fourth-best PPR-against/Target mark, and tied for the third-lowest completion rate allowed to opposition QBs at just 49%. Insane numbers to put the clamps of a rather dubious go-to receiver with tons of things still to prove.

Sterling Shepard (NYG) vs. Bryce Callahan (DEN)

The poor Giants can’t catch a break. They drafted an early-day bust in WR Kadarius Toney (who is limited in practice and questionable for W1). They lost TE1 Evan Engram not long ago and he’s expected to miss kickoff week... and they have now also gotten news about backup TEs Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith getting banged up too. And they also have their starting RB Saquon Barkley and their most-expensive FA in WR Kenny Golladay with question marks above their heads. Lord, have mercy. Shepard seems to be the only healthy body around Big Blue these days, and that alone can be good for his upside in the Week 1 matchup against Denver. Or is it?

If you read Alexander’s blurb above, and most probably even if you didn’t, you know Jaire Alexander is a mighty corner. Well, Bryce Callahan was even better. Sure, the game-sample was smaller with just 10 games played last season, but Callahan still defended 345 routes while at it allowing a measly 39 completions in 68 targets for 335 receiving yards. Just in case, and for context, here are his ranks in different categories: top-3 in PPR/Tgt, top-6 in PPR/Route, top-20 in routes defended per game, tied-top-2 in TD allowed with just one, top-20 in completion rate allowed, and top-9 in YPR surrendered. Those are absolutely crazy numbers, and while Shepard closed 2020 with 22.7 and 33.6-PPR performances, I just can’t trust him getting back to that level in Week 1, much less against a true shutdown corner as Callahan proved to be last year.

Allen Robinson II (CHI) vs. Jalen Ramsey (LAR)

This might be the marquee matchup of the NFL kickoff week. Both A-Rob and Ramsey are top-tier players at their respective positions, and they’re facing each other in W1 of the 2021 season. If you have paid the minimum attention to the preseason developments around the NFL you know what’s popping in Chicago: HC Matt Naggy named Andy Dalton the starter at least for the first week of the campaign. Ugh. That’s already a hit on a Robinson that will, once more, endure shitty quarterbacking at least for one more game as Justin Fields waits on the wings. Same as with Marquez Callaway (read above), A-Rob could be shadowed by Ramsey just because the Bears lack talent all around the field and limiting their only viable WR might prove key for LA to get the W.

Ramsey already covered Robinson last year in their Week 7 matchup, one in which the wideout was limited to just 7.5 PPR points in 42 routers against the corner, finishing with a 6-4-35 line and no touchdowns on the day while “allowing” an interception to Ramsey. Truth be told, Robinson always struggles against shadow coverage and in four such matchups last year he never topped 15 PPR points with a couple of 6-PPR performances baked into it—he missed on scoring touchdowns in all four of those games. If only for a week, and as we wait for Fields to take the reins, you might be smart fading A-Rob in DFS contest come Sunday.