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Fantasy Football: Week 16 WR/CB shadow matchups and biggest mismatches

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) celebrates his catch in the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Clamps: Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis was deployed in shadow coverage for the first time all season in Week 15. He largely did a great job of limiting Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase.

Get your popcorn ready: Commanders WR Terry McLaurin vs. 49ers CB Charvarius Ward profiles as one of the week’s most competitive projected shadow matchups.

Possibly kryptonite: Chargers WR Mike Williams has an awfully tough test in the form of Colts CB Stephon Gilmore.

Shadow matchups are when a defense assigns a particular cornerback to follow one specific wide receiver all over the field.

Of course, wide receivers can often overcome difficult one-on-one matchups thanks to good ol’ fashioned volume. It’s also rare that a cornerback follows a single receiver around the field for each and every route. This leads to situations where Jalen Ramsey “shuts down” Justin Jefferson in direct coverage (3-25-0), but Jefferson’s full game line (8-116-0) reflects the reality that fantasy managers were still better off playing him.

What follows is a breakdown on:

  • Which cornerbacks shadowed in Week 15
  • Projected Week 16 shadow matchups
  • Notes on why certain cornerbacks aren’t expected to shadow

Week 15 shadow results

A whopping 15 defenses deployed at least one of their cornerbacks in shadow coverage last week, easily the highest mark of the season.

Note that receiving production refers to what the player achieved during the entire game, not just specifically in the referenced cornerbacks’ direct coverage.

• Broncos CB Patrick Surtain tracked Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins (7-60-0) to a largely successful degree. Nuk’s bigger issue was having to deal with Trace McSorley after Colt McCoy (concussion) was sidelined.

• Browns CBs Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson tracked Ravens WR Devin Duvernay (2-29-0) and Demarcus Robinson (6-29-0), respectively. Ward has started to consistently shadow opposing No. 1 receivers after rarely doing so throughout his first four seasons in the league.

• Dolphins CB Xavien Howard racked up another solid performance against Bills WR Stefon Diggs (5-60-0), although Diggs didn’t exactly help his own cause by dropping what would have been a four-yard touchdown.

• Buccaneers CBs Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting were deployed in shadow coverage for the first time all season against Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase (7-60-1) and Tee Higgins (5-33-1). The former receiver would have had a far bigger day had he hung on to what would have been a 24-yard touchdown.

• Jaguars CB Tyson Campbell wound up tracking Cowboys WR Michael Gallup (1-2-0) to great success. CeeDee Lamb continues to regularly avoid opposing No. 1 cornerbacks from the friendly confines of the slot.

• Vikings CB Duke Shelley followed Colts WR Alec Pierce (0-0-0) all over the field last Saturday. This marked the first time all season that the Vikings deployed a cornerback in man coverage.

• Bills CB Tre’Davious White followed Jaylen Waddle (3-114-1) last Saturday night. Note that White wasn’t on Waddle for his 68-yard touchdown.

• Colts CB Stephon Gilmore predictably shadowed Justin Jefferson (12-123-1). Congrats to Jefferson for becoming the first wide receiver all season to score a touchdown while being shadowed by Gilmore.

• Commanders CBs Danny Johnson and Kendall Fuller tracked Giants WR Darius Slayton (5-23-0) and Isaiah Hodgins (4-37-0) last Sunday night.

• Bears CB Jaylon Johnson typically only shadows on special occasions, but last week’s one-on-one battle against Eagles WR A.J. Brown (9-181-0) certainly didn’t go as the Bears would have hoped.

• Panthers CBs Jaycee Horn and Keith Taylor tracked George Pickens (2-53-0) and Diontae Johnson (10-98-0), respectively. This marks the first time all season that an opposing defense used their No. 1 corner on Pickens as opposed to Johnson.

• 49ers CB Charvarius Ward has emerged as the defense’s No. 1 corner and did a great job limiting D.K. Metcalf (7-55-0) last Thursday night.

• Bengals CB Eli Apple shadowed Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (5-92-0) with mostly great success. This marked the first time that the Bengals utilized a cornerback in shadow coverage since losing No. 1 corner Chidobe Awuzie (ACL, IR) for the season.

• Chargers CB Michael Davis strangely tracked Titans WR Chris Conley (3-19-0) to register his first shadow matchup since Week 1.

• Giants CB Fabian Moreau and Nick McCloud followed Terry McLaurin (6-70-0) and Jahan Dotson (4-105-1) on Sunday night. Moreau continues to track opposing No. 1 receivers while Adoree’ Jackson (knee) is sidelined.

Projected Week 15 shadow matchups

Jets WR Garrett Wilson vs. Jaguars CB Tyson Campbell

Campbell has made a habit of tracking opposing No. 1 wide receivers all over the field this season. PFF’s ninth-highest-ranked corner in coverage grade, Campbell deserves credit for largely dominating four of his five shadow matchups this season:

Of course, Wilson has been close to unstoppable in man-on-man situations, posting a far superior mark in yards per route run against man coverage (2.66) than against zone (1.86). The potential offensive Rookie of the Year has cleared 75 receiving yards in six of his last seven games.

Verdict: This matchup is one of three key problems facing Wilson on Thursday night. The other two are his mediocre quarterback situation with Zach Wilson under center and the rather dreadful weather expected in Thursday night’s matchup. I’m accordingly treating Wilson as more of a low-end WR2 as opposed to the must-start top-15 option at the position that he’s been for the better part of the last two months.

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