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Fantasy Football: Wide receiver shadow dates, matchup notes and Week 1 rankings

  • Seven different cornerbacks are tentatively expected to travel all over the field with their assigned receiver this week.
  • Best/worst overall matchups ahead of Week 1 along with notes on the week’s top streaming options.
  • Week 1 fantasy football rankings and analysis.

Happy Week 1; let’s break down all things wide receiver ahead of another electric slate of NFL football. What follows is a look at the week’s projected shadow matchups followed by answers to bunches of key questions before getting to the fantasy football rankings.

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
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Week 1 Shadow Matchups

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.

In 2021, only 12 cornerbacks registered at least five shadow “dates” throughout the regular season. The Raiders (10), Giants (10), Panthers (9), Bengals, (9), Browns (9) and Patriots (8) were the only defenses to have at least one of their cornerbacks shadow in at least eight games.

A good rule of thumb: Start your studs. Still, fantasy managers are always looking for an edge, so what follows is a breakdown of the week’s projected shadow matchups defined by instances in which a defense will ask one of their cornerbacks to travel with a specific opposing wide receiver for at least 50% of the game.

Philadelphia Eagles WR A.J. Brown vs. Detroit Lions CB Amani Oruwariye

Oruwariye did a good job on Tee Higgins (3-44-0) and Allen Robinson (4-32-0). Things didn’t go quite as well in two shadow dates against Justin Jefferson (7-124-0, 11-182-1), but that’s obviously pretty understandable. Either way, this is a neutral matchup and doesn’t warrant a downgrade or upgrade for AJB.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson and George Pickens vs. Cincinnati Bengals CB Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple

Awuzie at least made Johnson (9-95-0) work for his numbers when they met in Week 12 last season. Meanwhile, Apple did his best against Claypool (9-96-0, 3-82-0) in two matchups. I’m anticipating Apple sticking with Pickens this time around due to Claypool projecting to work as the Steelers’ starting slot this season. Johnson has a neutral matchup here, while Pickens deserves and upgrade ahead of this juicy matchup.

Cleveland Browns WR Amari Cooper vs. Carolina Panthers CB Donte Jackson

Jackson was hardly invincible in shadow matchups against Brandin Cooks (9-112-0), Justin Jefferson (8-80-0) and DeVonta Smith (7-77-0) last season, but those numbers represent the reality that the Panthers’ speedy CB1 is capable of making some of the league’s better receivers at least have to work for their numbers. I’m fading Cooper more so because of his quarterback situation and lack of assured volume than the matchup.

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