Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football Week 14: Three WR/CB matchups to target and avoid

2T9J8NW Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) runs out on to the field before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023 in Seattle. The 49ers won 31-13. (AP Photo/Ben VanHouten)

• WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks vs. CB Deommodore Lenoir, San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco’s safety injuries bode positively for Smith-Njigba’s chances of recording explosive pass plays.

• WR Garrett Wilson, New York Jets vs. CB Steven Nelson, Houston Texans: Wilson enters an unfriendly fantasy environment this week, rendering him a shaky WR3.

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Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Knowing when an NFL wide receiver has an advantageous or disadvantageous cornerback matchup is critical for fantasy football start-sit decisions. This article details six players to be started with confidence or avoided at all costs, thanks in part to their primary defensive counterpart for Week 14.

WR:CB Matchup Chart

3 Wide Receivers to Target

WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks vs. CB Deommodore Lenoir, San Francisco 49ers

Update 12/10/23: Seattle quarterback Geno Smith is a game-time decision due to a strained groin. Should Drew Lock start in his stead, Smith-Njigba drops to low-floor WR3 status.

Seattle slot receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (64.0 PFF receiving grade) is a half-PPR WR3 against San Francisco’s vulnerable secondary.

The game’s 46.5-point FanDuel over/under is Week 14’s fourth highest.

San Francisco lost 2022 first-team All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga (66.3 PFF coverage grade) to an ACL tear and backup safety George Odum (61.1 PFF coverage grade) to a biceps tear, causing a disastrous ripple effect in the secondary. Opposing wide receivers have repeatedly produced big plays against the unit over the past two weeks.

Among NFL teams in Weeks 1-11, San Francisco’s 0.113 expected points added per wide receiver coverage play ranked seventh and their 14.2% rate of explosive pass plays allowed to opposing wide receivers rate ranked third. The unit helpfully tumbled to respective 0.211 and 14.9% rates over the past two weeks and likewise saw its mid-tier 53.3% success rate allowed to the position dip to 55.3%.

San Francisco attempted to address the issue by moving slot cornerback Isaiah Oliver (62.5 PFF coverage grade) to a backup safety role, flanking Tashaun Gipson Sr. (72.5 PFF coverage grade) and Ji’Ayir Brown (72.8 PFF coverage grade). Perimeter cornerback Deommodore Lenoir (64.4 PFF coverage grade) then transitioned to the slot, elevating backup perimeter cornerback Ambry Thomas (77.2 PFF coverage grade) to the No. 2 role.

The team signed 32-year-old free agent safety Logan Ryan (63.2 PFF 2022 coverage grade) for depth this week. Lenoir’s recent failings (83.3% slot-coverage catch rate allowed in Weeks 12-13) coupled with Ryan’s signing may result in Oliver returning to the starting slot role.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll decisively attacked his opponents' perceived defensive weaknesses over the past two weeks. He funneled 14 first-read targets to perimeter wide receivers against San Francisco in Week 12 while scheming just two first-read targets for Smith-Njigba. Seattle lost 31-13 while Smith-Njigba averaged a season-high 20.5 yards per reception. Carroll smartly featured Smith-Njigba against the Dallas Cowboys’ lacking slot coverage in Week 13, sending nine first-read targets his way while perimeter wide receivers D.K. Metcalf (80.1 PFF receiving grade) and Tyler Lockett (78.0 PFF receiving grade) earned eight apiece.

Among 34 NFL slot defensive backs with at least 75 slot receiver-coverage snaps this season, Lenoir (83.3%) and Oliver (92.9%) rank 30th or worse in catch rate allowed, creating significant post-catch opportunities for Smith-Njigba.

Expect Caroll to build on Smith-Njigba’s recent role. He is a half-PPR WR3.

WR Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs vs. CB Taron Johnson, Buffalo Bills

Kansas City slot receiver Rashee Rice (83.2 PFF receiving grade) bears increased explosive-pass-play potential against Buffalo’s fantasy-friendly coverage defense. He is a Week 14 half-PPR WR2.

The game’s 48.5-point FanDuel over/under is Week 14’s second highest. FanDuel implies Kansas City to score 25.0 points.

PFF’s OL/DL matchup chart gives Kansas City a 32.0% pass-blocking matchup advantage rating, ranking fourth on the week.

Rice is currently pushing tight end Travis Kelce (87.4 PFF receiving grade) for Kansas City’s No. 1 pass-catcher role. Both players earned eight first-read targets over the past two weeks.

Rice has shredded opposing coverage units since Kansas City’s Week 10 bye, averaging 2.70 yards per route run and 8.0 yards after the catch per reception. Both rates rank sixth among 65 NFL wide receivers with at least 70 receiving snaps in Weeks 11-13. His four explosive pass plays tie for 17th.

Buffalo slot cornerback Taron Johnson‘s (73.6 PFF coverage grade) 77.3% catch rate allowed to opposing slot receivers ranks 25th among 34 NFL slot defensive backs with at least 75 slot receiver-coverage snaps, far too high a rate to slow a post-catch dominator like Rice.

Buffalo’s aging safety duo, Jordan Poyer (73.3 PFF coverage grade) and Micah Hyde (69.4 PFF coverage grade), is now a liability. The unit ranks in the bottom five in catch rate allowed (76.3%), yards allowed per coverage snap (2.07) and explosive pass plays allowed rate (6.2%) among safety corps when covering opposing wide receivers.

Rice is a Week 14 half-PPR WR2.

WR Brandin Cooks, Dallas Cowboys vs. CB Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ (70.2 PFF receiving grade) 63.2 half-PPR points over the past four weeks rank ninth among NFL wide receivers. He profiles as a WR2 with WR1 upside in a surefire shootout against Philadelphia.

The game’s 51.5-point FanDuel over/under is Week 14’s highest. Dallas’ (45.8% and 0.109, respectively) and Philadelphia’s (44.5% and 0.051, respectively) offenses both rank in the top 10 in success rate and the top six in EPA per play. Philadelphia’s defense excitingly ranks in the bottom three in both success rate allowed (48.4%) and EPA allowed per play (0.157).

Dallas’ coaching staff has smartly featured Cooks as both a first-read and splash-zone weapon. His 17 first-read targets in Weeks 10-13 account for 79.3% of his 23 total targets, and his eight splash-zone targets likewise make up 34.8% and tie No. 1 wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (91.0 PFF receiving grade) for the team lead. He is one of just eight NFL wide receivers to earn at least eight splash-zone targets during that span, ranking and/or tying for first among qualifying NFL wide receivers in both explosive pass plays (six) and yards per route run (20.38). The term splash zone denotes the area of the field found between the painted numbers, at least 10 yards downfield. Targets thrown in this region yield more fantasy points than those thrown at an equivalent depth along the sidelines.

Cooks’ four-week stretch features a 47.6% pre-snap slot alignment rate, a 29.0% wide-right rate and a 23.5% wide-left rate. While Cooks’ sterling usage can bring positive results, regardless of his pre-snap position, his wide-right usage provides him ample access to cornerback Darius Slay (65.2 PFF coverage grade), whose 2023 performance creates a fantasy-friendly opportunity.

Among 67 NFL perimeter cornerbacks with at least 200 perimeter coverage snaps, Slay ties for 58th in catch rate allowed (69.2%) and ranks outside the top 32 in both yards allowed per coverage snap (1.03) and explosive pass plays allowed rate (2.3%).

He is a half-PPR WR2 with WR1 upside.

3 Wide Receivers to Avoid

WR Garrett Wilson, New York Jets vs. CB Steven Nelson, Houston Texans

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (54.3 PFF passing grade) returns to the starting lineup to face Houston’s capable pass rush and talented secondary. No. 1 wide receiver Garrett Wilson (73.4 PFF receiving grade) is a low-floor, half-PPR WR3.

FanDuel implies New York to score just 14.0 points.

PFF’s OL/DL matchup chart gives the Jets a -21.0% pass-blocking matchup advantage rating, Week 14’s eighth-worst rating. Houston’s pass rush ranks 13th in quarterback pressure rate (34.5%).

Among 40 NFL quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks, Wilson ranks 31st or worse in adjusted completion rate (72.1%), average time to throw (2.92), yards per passing attempt (6.1) and big-time-throw rate (2.4%).

PFF’s WR/CB matchup chart gives Wilson respectively below-average 38.8, 25.1 and 28.2 receiving matchup advantage ratings against defensive-right cornerback Steven Nelson (73.5 PFF coverage grade), defensive-left cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (79.7 PFF coverage grade) and newly installed slot cornerback Desmond King II (78.3 PFF coverage grade).

Wilson’s talent shines through, despite his dismal circumstances. Among 65 NFL wide receivers with at least 290 receiving snaps, Wilson ranks 16th in target rate (24.2%) and ties for 10th in missed tackles forced (11). But his overall offensive environment yields poor fantasy results. He ranks outside the top 32 in both yards per route run (1.57) and explosive pass plays (11).

Among 71 NFL perimeter cornerbacks with at least 190 perimeter coverage snaps, Nelson’s 0.93 yards allowed per coverage snap tie for 23rd and Stingley’s 55.0% catch rate allowed ties for 14th.

King debuted as Houston’s new slot cornerback starter last week, and his 78.0 PFF slot coverage grade tied for third among 39 NFL slot defensive backs with at least 10 slot coverage snaps.

Wilson is a low-floor WR3.

WR Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals vs. CB Kenny Moore II, Indianapolis Colts

Cincinnati slot receiver Tyler Boyd (64.5 PFF receiving grade) faces Indianapolis’ best coverage defender, slot cornerback Kenny Moore II (81.7 PFF coverage grade), this week, rendering him just a half-PPR WR5.

As detailed in Week 14’s “QB Matchups to Target and Avoid, Streamer of the Week, Rankings and More,” Boyd’s negative matchup is compounded by the advantageous matchup on deck for his pass-catching counterparts.

Boyd is largely an afterthought in head coach Zac Taylor’s scheme. No. 2 wide receiver Tee Higgins (67.4 PFF receiving grade) missed three games due to a hamstring strain, yet Boyd has just 10 more first-read targets than him (56 to 46). Boyd distantly trails No. 1 wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase’s (88.4 PFF receiving grade) 85 such targets.

Boyd’s middling productivity bodes poorly for his matchup against Moore. Among 34 NFL slot receivers with at least 140 slot snaps, Boyd ranks 19th in target rate (15.9%) and yards per route run (1.07) and 13th in catch rate (72.1%).

Among 34 NFL slot defensive backs with at least 75 slot coverage snaps, Moore ranks in the top six in targeted rate (18.3%), yards allowed per coverage snap (1.08) and explosive pass plays allowed rate (2.0%). His 67.9% catch rate ranks 15th.

Boyd is just a half-PPR WR5.

WR DeVante Parker, New England Patriots vs. CB Joey Porter Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers

New England de facto No. 1 wide receiver DeVante Parker (60.3 PFF receiving grade) cannot be started in Week 14. Fantasy managers should expect a shadow matchup between Parker and breakout rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (75.3 PFF coverage grade).

The game’s 30.5-point FanDuel over/under is Week 14’s lowest. FanDuel implies New England to score just 12.25 points.

PFF’s WR/CB matchup chart gives Parker a poor 10.8 receiving matchup advantage rating against Porter.

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin has tasked Porter with covering the opposition’s No. 1 perimeter wide receiver since the rookie earned a starting role in Week 9. Among 67 NFL perimeter cornerbacks with at least 200 perimeter coverage snaps, Porter ranks fourth in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.71) and first in catch rate allowed (41.7%).

The 30-year-old Parker struggles to produce in New England’s out-of-touch offense, ranking outside the top 60 in yards per route run (1.03), catch rate (56.4%) and explosive pass plays (six) among 73 NFL wide receivers with at least 250 receiving snaps.

New England coaches bafflingly refuse to assist their wide receivers with effective route trees. The team’s wide receiver corps has totaled just 28 splash-zone targets this year, tying for 25th among team wide receiver corps.

Parker cannot be trusted in Week 14, even when operating in the No. 1 wide receiver role.


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