Best, worst wide receiver matchups for Week 1 in fantasy football

Mike Clay
ESPN PLUS


By utilizing our play-by-play data, we're now able to identify where each wide receiver and cornerback lines up on each play. By tracking matchups between the two positions, including potential shadow situations, we can offer the best projections, rankings and fantasy advice each week.

Below are the receivers with the best and worst Week 1 matchups, as well as the corresponding fantasy impact.

To view the primary defenders the top three wide receivers for each team will see this weekend, be sure to check out our weekly WR vs. CB cheat sheet.

Advantageous matchups


Bengals' A.J. Green and John Ross vs. Colts' Kenny Moore II and Pierre Desir

Indianapolis bizarrely allowed top corner Rashaan Melvin to depart via free agency, leaving them with one of the shakiest cornerback rooms. Moore was solid on 161 coverage snaps as an undrafted rookie, but receivers aligned against him were targeted on 24 percent of those plays and posted a massive 0.43 fantasy points per route. The journeyman Desir is expected to start on the other side after posting 22 percent/0.43 marks on 209 coverage snaps last season. This bodes well for Green and Ross, who figure to handle most perimeter snaps for Cincinnati. The Bengals' offense is a good place to look for Week 1 DFS options.

Tyler Boyd is name to monitor in deep PPR leagues, but you may want to shy away in Week 1 against slot corner Nate Hairston. Hairston had his ups and downs last season, but Indianapolis allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to slot receivers with him handling a generous chunk of those duties.

Chargers' Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin vs. Chiefs' Orlando Scandrick and Steven Nelson

The Chiefs traded away Marcus Peters and struck out on David Amerson during the offseason, leaving them with Kendall Fuller (who was terrific in the slot for Washington last season, but is unproven on the perimeter), Scandrick (who was waived by cornerback-needy Washington earlier this year) and Nelson (the Chiefs' primary slot man when they allowed the second-most fantasy points to slot receivers in 2017).

This obviously sets up very well for Allen, who should be upgraded in Week 1. The snaps and targets are trickier to figure out behind Allen, with Williams, Benjamin and Mike Williams competing for that work. All have nice matchups but still are risky plays.


Saints' Michael Thomas vs. Buccaneers' Carlton Davis and Vernon Hargreaves III

Despite failing to find the end zone, Thomas posted a 14 catches for 159 yards and was the No. 5 scoring fantasy wide receiver during the two weeks New Orleans faced off with Tampa Bay last season. A big reason for that was the Buccaneers' secondary woes, especially at corner, and a pair of draft picks were their only real attempt the issue during the offseason. Brent Grimes, 35, took a step back last season and Hargreaves has struggled on the perimeter thus far in his career. A pair of second-round rookies Davis and M.J. Stewart figure to make a sizable contribution this season, but both are unknowns until they get a few games under their belt.

The Buccaneers didn't shadow last season, so Cameron Meredith and Ted Ginn Jr. both get the Week 1 upgrade as well.

Cowboys' Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley vs. Panthers' cornerbacks James Bradberry, Donte Jackson and Captain Munnerlyn

Dallas enters the season with a multitude of question marks on offense, but the team's new-look wide receiver group will benefit from a light Week 1 matchup.

Bradberry is the Panthers' top corner. He was busy last season, with receivers aligned against him targeted on 23 percent of their routes. He allowed 795 receiving yards, which was fewer than only Kareem Jackson, and a massive 0.40 fantasy points per coverage snap. Granted, he ranked third in coverage snaps (597) and allowed a 79.5 QB rating. Behind Bradberry, the rookie Jackson will start on the other side and Munnerlyn is back in the slot after a rough 2017 (Carolina allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the slot).

Eagles' Nelson Agholor vs. Falcons' Brian Poole

Poole isn't a bad player, but he's the "weak" spot in a cornerback trio that also includes Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Poole was Atlanta's primary slot man when the defense allowed the third-most fantasy points to slot receivers last season. Agholor will be the team's primary wide receiver target with Alshon Jeffery out and with Alford and Trufant rarely moving to the slot or shadowing, Agholor is set up for most of his routes to come against Poole. Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins will handle the perimeter routes in three-wide sets.

Other notables:





Tough matchup


Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Jaguars' Jalen Ramsey (shadow)

The big showdown of Week 1 will feature the now-healthy and well-paid Beckham vs. one of the game's top corners in Ramsey. Ramsey doesn't shadow exclusively, but chased the likes of Antonio Brown, Kelvin Benjamin, DeAndre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton, Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green last season. That suggests he'll be in charge of keeping Beckham in check in Week 1.

Even if Beckham dodges Ramsey occasionally, A.J. Bouye (position-best 31.6 QB rating allowed last season) is just about as good as Ramsey and offers just as much of a challenge. Ramsey aligned in the slot 7 percent of the time last season, but when he did move inside, it was usually to shadow an elite wideout. That could again be the case this week if Beckham gets more run inside (as was reported). Beckham needs to be downgraded in what will be one of the toughest matchups of 2018. Meanwhile, Sterling Shepard gets the upgrade against new Jags slot corner D.J. Hayden.

Buccaneers' Mike Evans vs. Saints' Marshon Lattimore (shadow)

Then a rookie, Lattimore did not shadow Evans when these teams met in Week 9 last season, but did shadow him on 33 of 49 routes (32 of 38 on the perimeter) in the Week 17 meeting. Evans was limited to five catches for 55 yards and no touchdowns on 13 targets in that game. Lattimore shadowed during each of New Orleans' final six games and thus figures to continue that trend against top receivers in 2018. Especially with Jameis Winston suspended, Evans should be downgraded this week.

With new slot man Patrick Robinson on Adam Humphries' inside, Chris Godwin is a name to consider bumping up against Ken Crawley. Crawley shadowed Godwin in Week 17 last season (DeSean Jackson was out) and Godwin posted a healthy seven receptions (11 targets), 111 yards and one touchdown. Keep in mind Godwin's playing time is uncertain with Jackson still in the mix, so save him for DFS tournaments.

Texans' DeAndre Hopkins vs. Patriots' Stephon Gilmore (shadow)

With Malcolm Butler gone, Gilmore is officially locked in as New England's No. 1 corner. That was the case most of 2017 anyway, as Gilmore was asked to shadow the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Kelvin Benjamin, DeVante Parker, Michael Crabtree, Demaryius Thomas and Mike Evans. Gilmore was outstanding and it showed, with receivers facing him targeted on 16 percent of their routes while producing 0.23 fantasy points per play.

Gilmore is a good bet to shadow Hopkins in Week 1, and though it's a tough matchup, Hopkins is still going to see a generous share of the targets. Downgrade him slightly and consider going elsewhere in DFS cash games.

With Gilmore on Hopkins, look for Will Fuller V to take advantage of Eric Rowe on the other side of the field. We'll also see a pair of rookies matched up in the slot with Keke Coutee up against Duke Dawson.

Jets' Robby Anderson vs. Lions' Darius Slay (shadow)

Slay has shadowed the opposing team's No. 1 wide receiver in a majority of the Lions' games since the middle of the 2016 season. He was one of the league's top corners last season despite tough shadow assignments against the likes of Beckham, Julio Jones, Stefon Diggs (twice), Kelvin Benjamin, Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, and more.

Teams haven't been particularly afraid of targeting Slay (targeted on 21 percent of his coverage snaps last season), but that hasn't gone well for opposing quarterbacks. Slay allowed a 55.6 QB rating and intercepted an NFL-high eight passes in 2017. Anderson is safe to downgrade in Week 1.


Seahawks' Doug Baldwin vs. Broncos' Chris Harris Jr.

Baldwin is a rare No. 1 wide receiver who plays almost exclusively in the slot and thus usually dodges top cornerbacks. Harris, meanwhile, is a rare No. 1 cornerback who plays almost exclusively in the slot in nickel. That adds up to a showdown between arguably the league's best slot receiver and slot corner in Week 1, even if Harris works outside more with Aqib Talib gone. Harris wasn't quite as dominant as usual in 2017, but was still targeted on only 17 percent of his coverage snaps and allowed 28 receptions during the entire season.

Especially with Baldwin not playing at 100 percent, he's a name to downgrade.

Raiders' Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson vs. Rams' Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib

The Rams had a plan to improve their cornerback situation during the offseason and they really could not have done a better job. Both acquired via trade, Peters and Talib will man the perimeter with incumbent slot man Nickell Robey-Coleman returning after a breakout 2017 season. It's hard to find a better trio in the NFL.

That's bad news for Cooper and Nelson, who are expected to man the perimeter after Martavis Bryant was cut. Talib allowed only 250 receiving yards over 407 coverage snaps last season. Peters wasn't far off, allowing 464 yards on 513 coverage snaps, but also intercepted five passes (third most among corners) and allowed a 66.0 QB rating. Cooper should be downgraded and Nelson on benches in Week 1.

Needless to say, Seth Roberts also should be avoided against Robey-Coleman.

Chiefs' Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins vs. Chargers' Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams and Desmond King

If the Rams have a challenger for "top cornerback trio," the Chargers are it. Hayward emerged as arguably the league's best corner in 2017. He allowed 32 receptions and a 58.6 QB rating on the season despite shadowing the likes of Demaryius Thomas (twice), Alshon Jeffery, Odell Beckham Jr., Amari Cooper (twice), Kelvin Benjamin, Dez Bryant, Josh Gordon, and more.

Meanwhile, Williams was outstanding opposite Hayward, and then-rookie King dominated in the slot. Williams allowed a 70.5 QB rating and King was targeted on only 14 percent of his coverage snaps.

Because of Hill's versatility, the Chargers did not shadow Hill in either 2017 meeting. He posted 10 catches on 14 targets for 165 yards and two scores and was fantasy's No. 7 scoring wide receiver during those two weeks. This is a tougher matchup than usual, but Hill's explosive playmaking ability and usage all over the formation mean he is less dependent on matchups. He's fine to start in most formats. Watkins, however, should be downgraded.