“OH SH**T, he’s got to deal with him this week?” – A thought shared globally by fantasy football managers they’d rather not bring up with their league-mates. This is a safe place, however, where we will overcome the story our mind tells us after a first glance at an NFL matchup.
Offenses move the ball through the air these days, meaning fantasy leagues reward receptions, and receivers are commonly used in flex slots. Evaluating the coverage performance THIS SEASON of the secondaries facing your surefire fantasy starters will dial in your starting lineup so it’s YOU and not your pals cashing in this week.
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Let’s peek under the hood at the most interesting fantasy matchups of Week 5.
The elites outside – Week 5 wide receiver matchups
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers and Cowboys both come in through four weeks with top-five coverage grades in the NFL (PFF.com). The 49ers’ secondary features Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenior on the outside and Isaiah Oliver in the slot.
CeDee Lamb has been in the slot on 72.4% (PFF) of snaps in 2023, up almost ten percentage points from his usage inside all of last year. I’d expect a Sunday night showdown between Lamb and Oliver, with Lamb coming out on top.
Most of the coverage for Oliver thus far has been inside five yards and Lamb is typically targeted closer to nine yards down the field. Oliver will need to cover him longer than he is used to, and Dak Prescott may take a shot or two deep with CeDee. If Lamb is a piece of your receiving core, sleep easy, despite the San Francisco defense.
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk carry most of the receiving load in San Francisco with Aiyuk being a true outside receiver in the first four games and Samuel being moved around, everywhere. I am expecting Stephon Gilmore and DaRon Bland to hold their own against Aiyuk on the outside. Kyle Shanahan may opt for Deebo out of the slot where he will find Jourdan Lewis. Lewis could cause Samuel some issues as he has done well in YAC situations thus far, an area that Samuel excels in.
The 49ers’ offense may lean heavily on Christian McCaffery and George Kittle in this one, build in some additional risk if you manage Aiyuk and Samuel.
Matchup winners: CeDee Lamb (DAL)
Matchup losers: Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk (SF)
Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (London)
Across the pond in London, we have another elite coverage matchup this week. The Buffalo Bills will bring the third-ranked coverage group (PFF) in to face a duo of threatening Jaguar receivers. With the loss of Tre’Davious White last week we can expect Dane Jackson to step in on the outside alongside Christian Benford.
If you are a Calvin Ridley manager and would like to see some sort of explosiveness (like me), this week could be the week. Ridley is playing almost entirely on the outside to this point and with Benford conceding 18 YPC (PFF) and Dane Jackson seeing his first full-time action of the year, a vertical threat like Ridley could certainly break loose in a potentially high-scoring game.
Christian Kirk should be coming out of the slot where he will be met by Taron Johnson, who has respectable coverage grades but will concede YAC. Kirk may have a slower day when it comes to receptions, as his manager you may need him to break one from underneath to hit his ceiling, so plan accordingly.
The Jaguar corners playing outside, Darious Williams and Tyson Campbell, are off to excellent coverage starts with Williams (90.1, PFF) at the very top of the NFL. If you manage Stefon Diggs I wouldn’t worry too much regardless of who is out there covering him, Josh Allen’s passer rating while targeting Diggs in 2023 is a mouth-watering 134.5 (PFF).
Gabe Davis could have a much slower day as he will see Williams at times and Campbell will reflect an almost identical coverage grade of 71.6 to his receiving grade at 70.6 — I do not consider Davis as reliable of a flex as he would be in other matchups.
Matchup winners: Calvin Ridley (JAC), Stefon Diggs (BUF)
Matchup losers: Christian Kirk (JAC), Gabe Davis (BUF)
Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
Despite the Minnesota Vikings’ slow start at 1-3, they have posted a top-ten coverage grade at 6th in the NFL overall (PFF). The Minnesota safeties, not their corners, have been pumping out solid performances in coverage setting up an alluring matchup for Travis Kelce managers as he will often see the strength of this secondary.
Per usual, Kelce is doing his damage in the middle of the field at the first and second levels. Expect a rotation of Harrison Smith and Josh Metellus primarily, with Byron Murphy Jr. coming in to spell the safeties in the matchup with the elite tight end. If Metellus is exposed, Kelce could be in for a big day — the Vikings’ safety is conceding receptions at a very high rate, 89.5%, (PFF) while being targeted. If Harrison Smith is able to locate Kelce on more plays, Kelce may still haul in catches but will have a reduction in YAC opportunities as Smith has conceded 38 total yards in the category versus 100 yards from Metellus. The weakness of the Vikings’ secondary is certainly their corners, so it is possible Patrick Mahomes will look to the outside more in this game.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ top coverage corner is Trent McDuffie who plays primarily in the slot; Justin Jefferson should have no issues on the outside where the Chiefs’ primary corner, L’Jarius Snead, is allowing nearly 10 yards per catch. I would expect Jordan Addison and TJ Hokcensen to check in as well with K.J. Osborn handling the slot duties for this receiving core and drawing the matchup with McDuffie.
This game is set for a shootout; I wouldn’t be overly concerned unless Osborn is in your lineup as a back-end flex you are relying on to compensate for a bye.
Matchup winners: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, T.J. Hockenson (MIN), Travis Kelce (KC)
Matchup losers: K.J. Osborn (MIN)
Los Angeles Rams vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The success of the Philadelphia secondary in 2022 was well documented, but if you manage Puka Nacua, I wouldn’t hit the panic button just yet. Darius Slay is struggling so far in coverage this season, giving up 121 YAC (PFF) and conceding catches on 75% (PFF) of plays on which he is targeted.
Now if you manage Tutu Atwell there is more concern as he spends more time in the slot where he will draw the more difficult matchup with James Bradberry. This could very well curb Atwell’s production as he is averaging over 12 yards per catch. I like Nacua’s matchup with Slay as he can take advantage of Slay’s early season struggles tracking receivers down once they have the ball; Puka is third in the NFL in YAC with 167 yards. Puka should continue his breakout season, but Atwell should not be considered reliable this week.
The Los Angeles cornerbacks have simply not graded out well in coverage over 4 games; with that being said they have conceded only one touchdown collectively in 2023. The aDoT (average depth of target) for the outside LA corners, who are Derion Kendrick and Ahkello Witherspoon, is deeper than that of AJ Brown and Devonta Smith who come in at 13.1 (PFF) and 13.6 (PFF) respectively.
With this considered, I believe the catches and yardage will be there for Brown and Smith but they may not have an explosive ceiling for scoring touchdowns. Philly may rely on their run game to move the ball down the field and mix in looks for Brown and Smith underneath. It may be wise to add a goal-line threat in a flex slot alongside one of the Eagles receivers this week to account for a potential missed touchdown from either of them.
Matchup winners: Puka Nacua (LAR)
Matchup losers: Tutu Atwell (LAR)
Top coverage corners so far in 2023 (via PFF ratings)
- Darious Williams (JAC) — vs. Stephon Diggs/Gabe Davis
- Trent McDuffie (KC) — Justin Jefferson/Jordan Addison
- Kendall Fuller (WAS)
- DaRon Bland (DAL) Deebo Samuel/Brandon Aiyuk
- Steven Nelson (HOU)
- Sean- Murphy Bunting (TEN)
- Brian Branch (DET)
- Asante Samuel Jr. (LAC)
- Chavarius Ward (SF) — vs. CeDee Lamb
- Rasul Douglas (GB) — vs. Davante Adams
Struggling in the secondary
Darius Slay (PHI)
New England’s corners
NYG corners (vs. Dolphins — yikes)
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