Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Week 9 WR/CB shadow matchups and biggest mismatches

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) runs past Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) and linebacker Myles Jack (51) during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

  • Colts CB Stephon Gilmore did his best to hold Commanders WR Terry McLaurin in check last week, but ultimately the artist known as Scary Terry won the matchup and eventually the game.
  • Eagles WR A.J. Brown is projected to face off against the 2022 NFL Draft’s No. 3 overall pick Derek Stingley when Philadelphia takes on Houston on Thursday Night Football.
  • Rams CB Jalen Ramsey has shadowed Buccaneers WR Mike Evans in the past, but 2022 usage suggests that this might not be the same sort of every-snap matchup this time around.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

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

Of course, wide receivers often can overcome difficult one-on-one matchups thanks to good ole’ 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 their 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:

  1. Which cornerbacks shadowed in Week 8
  2. Projected Week 9 shadow matchups
  3. Notes on why certain cornerbacks aren’t expected to shadow

Week 8 shadow results

The following six defenses deployed at least one of their cornerbacks in shadow coverage last week. Note that receiving production refers to what the player achieved during the entire game, not just specifically in the referenced cornerbacks’ direct coverage:

Projected Week 9 shadow matchups

Eagles WR A.J. Brown vs. Texans CB Derek Stingley Jr.

AJB proved last week that sometimes not even two defenders are enough to slow him down. This reality has made Brown a matchup-proof WR1 for quite some time now, although the 2022 NFL Draft’s No. 3 overall pick deserves some credit for at least making his shadow opponents work for their production so far this season:

Ultimately, Brown is finally getting the sort of elite volume to complement his top-five talent at the position. There isn’t a cornerback alive at the moment who would be worthy of fully fading Brown.

Colts WR Michael Pittman vs. Patriots CB Jalen Mills

The Patriots have deployed both Mills and Jonathan Jones in coverage this season. Much like their backfield, it’s always difficult to get a read on what Bill Belichick and company are thinking with their coverage.

I lean toward Mills due to the reality that he was the most recent corner asked to hold up in one-on-one coverage. The ex-Eagles corner deserves credit for doing a pretty good job against both Amari Cooper (4-44-1) as well as Diontae Johnson (6-57-0), although both matchups were also obviously influenced by mediocre quarterback play.

The latter variable is of bigger concern to Pittman than this specific matchup. Treat him as a borderline WR2 as long as the Sam Ehlinger experience carries so much concern from both efficiency and volume perspectives.

Raiders WR Davante Adams and Mack Hollins vs. Jaguars CB Tyson Campbell and Tre Herndon

The Jaguars have asked Campbell to track the opposition’s No. 1 receiver the two times they have deployed him in shadow coverage, with Herndon on the clear No. 2. Sadly, Head coach Josh McDaniels has relegated Hunter Renfrow to part-time duties in the slot, meaning Hollins will be the one tasked with the plus matchup against PFF’s 87th-highest graded corner out of 122 qualified defensive backs.

Campbell deserves credit for shutting down both Courtland Sutton (1-13-0) and Mike Williams (1-15-1). PFF’s 11th-highest-graded corner, Campbell could very well make life tough on Adams this week. Of course, tough matchups ceased to matter for Adams quite some time ago; his combination of elite volume and talent makes him a weekly top-10 option in fantasy land regardless of whichever mere moral is assigned with slowing him down.

Bears WR Darnell Mooney vs. Dolphins CB Xavien Howard

Perhaps the addition of Chase Claypool causes the Dolphins to think differently about this matchup, but it seems unlikely Howard is asked to go that direction after sticking to his side of the field when Miami hosted the Steelers on Sunday night football back in Week 7. This means the Dolphins’ No. 1 corner should see plenty of Darnell Mooney, who is still looking to find the end zone for the first time this season.

Howard isn’t a must-fade cornerback, but he has forced most of his high-profile opponents to at least work a bit harder than usual for their production while playing through injury:

Mooney isn’t a recommended start this week due to ever-existing volume issues on what is far from the easiest matchup in the world. While Howard is just PFF’s 93rd-highest-graded corner this season, his brutal strength of schedule deserves some respect.

Other notes:

  • Eagles CB Darius Slay has only been asked to travel with Terry McLaurin, so it’s far from a given that he’ll follow Brandin Cooks all over the field.
  • Colts CB Stephon Gilmore has made a habit of tracking the opposition’s No. 1 receiver all season, although he’s only spent three total snaps in the slot. This means a shadow date with Jakobi Meyers is unlikely, while it’d make sense if neither Tyquan Thornton nor Kendrick Bourne boast a secure enough role to warrant the treatment with DeVante Parker (knee) likely sidelined.
  • Packers CB Jaire Alexander unsuccessfully shadowed Terry McLaurin in Week 7, leading to him sticking to his spot at right cornerback in Week 8 despite facing off against stud Bills WR Stefon Diggs. Alexander rarely goes into the slot; don’t expect him to shadow Amon-Ra St. Brown or any other specific receiver this weekend.
  • Lions CB Jeffrey Okudah and Amani Oruwariye have only shadowed against teams with very clear-cut top-two outside wide receivers. Specifically, the Cowboys, Vikings, Commanders and Eagles; it seems unlikely that Romeo Doubs and Sammy Watkins get the same sort of treatment; if they do, expect Okduah to make life tough on Doubs in particular.
  • Chargers CB Asante Samuel Jr. hasn’t always been tasked with locking up the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. Example: He took K.J. Hamler and Nico Collins as opposed to Courtland Sutton and Brandin Cooks. Samuel did check Davante Adams back in Week 1. Ultimately, the Falcons have the NFL’s most run-heavy offense since the 2009 Jets; Drake London probably won’t be specifically game-planned for with an individual shadow matchup.
  • Perhaps the Falcons ask one of Cornell Armstrong or Darren Hall to track Chargers WR Josh Palmer if both of the Chargers’ top two wide receivers are sidelined; either way, it’s more of a desperation move with A.J. Terrell (hamstring) and Casey Hayward (shoulder, IR) sidelined. The Falcons’ 32nd-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers remains a liability.
  • Even if he’s back, All-Pro Bills CB Tre’Davious White (knee, PUP) was only asked to shadow once in all of 2021. The Bills did have CB Kaiir Elam follow Diontae Johnson (5-60-0) in Week 5, but the reality that the Jets don’t exactly have a definitive No. 1 wide receiver — with all due respect to stud rookie Garrett Wilson — will likely prohibit such a matchup from occurring Sunday night.
  • All-universe rookie Jets CB Sauce Gardner hasn’t followed a specific receiver around all season; he’s spent 82% of his snaps this season as the defense’s left cornerback. Don’t expect this to change against Stefon Diggs and company.
  • Normally Bengals CB Chidobe Awuzie (knee) would be expected to check D.J. Moore; unfortunately, he’s believed to have suffered a torn ACL. There’s no guarantee No. 2 CB Eli Apple (hamstring) is healthy enough to suit up this week, and you don’t need me to tell you that Apple isn’t a matchup worth worrying about if he does wind up playing through the pain.
  • Panthers CB Donte Jackson and C.J. Henderson have combined for three shadow matchups this season, but neither has been consistently asked to do so — and zero-such matchups have occurred since Week 5. Look for Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to spend time across from all corners involved.
  • Seahawks CB Tariq Woolen has the size (6-foot-4) to potentially give DeAndre Hopkins some problems at the catch point; just realize Woolen has spent 92% of his snaps as the defense’s right cornerback this season and isn’t expected to follow one particular receiver this Sunday.
  • Cardinals CB Byron Murphy and Marcos Wilson didn’t travel with a specific Seahawks receiver when these squads faced off in Week 6.
  • Even when healthy, neither Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis (hip) nor CB Jamel Dean has been asked to track a specific receiver this season despite Davis in particular having a chance to face off against past matchups like Michael Thomas and CeeDee Lamb; don’t expect that to change against the Rams.
  • Rams CB Jalen Ramsey hasn’t been asked to track a specific receiver all game this season despite regularly doing so in the past. This has included matchups with clear-cut No. 1 receivers seemingly deserving of the treatment like Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb and D.J. Moore. While Mike Evans has been a constant shadow target of Ramsey over the years, the Rams didn’t assign this matchup in Week 3 last season. They did in the NFC Championship game, but I lean toward the former scenario playing out here due to the aforementioned point that Ramsey hasn’t been asked to shadow anybody so far this season.
  • Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey shadowed once against Ja’Marr Chase last season and it went so terribly (8-201-1) that he wasn’t asked to do so again all season. This has continued into 2022.
  • Saints CB Marshon Lattimore (abdomen) usually checks the opponent’s clear-cut No. 1 receiver when healthy, but it seems unlikely that treatment is given to Devin Duvernay with Rashod Bateman (foot) expected to miss a few weeks.

Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit