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Biggest Week 1 WR/CB mismatches to leverage in DFS & fantasy football leagues

Oct 15, 2023

Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season is here! I'll be breaking down the wide receiver-cornerback matchups all season long to figure out who could be facing shadow coverage as well as the best and worst overall situations. We'll also briefly touch on each NFL team's tight end group.

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The following tables denote snap rate data by alignment, target share, air yard market share, yards per route run and yards allowed per coverage snap. Note that wide receivers regularly move all around the formation; these are just their primary alignments. Additionally, shadow matchups almost never feature a true 100% matchup rate; general practice in fantasy land is to start your studs as opposed to overweighting a perceived tough matchup.

Projected shadow matchups: Amari Cooper vs. Carlton Davis

WR/CB breakdown: Davis largely made life difficult when asked to shadow the opponent's No. 1 receiver last season:

Many of the above lines came on double-digit targets, while the listed production was from the entire game, not specifically in Davis’ coverage. This could be seen as "not fair" to Davis, but ultimately in fantasy football land the goal is to predict production; the reality that shadow matchups rarely consist of more than 60-70% or so of a player's snaps is another reason to use the occasion as more of a tiebreaker than rule of thumb when setting a lineup. Davis only spent 4.8% of his snaps in the slot last season; he’ll probably see a mix of all three Cowboys receivers despite spending most of his time across from Cooper.

The following players had at least 10 targets with Dak Prescott under center in Weeks 1-5 last season:

Preseason usage suggests the Cowboys will move each of Cooper, Lamb and Gallup more around the formation. The big news appears to be Lamb supplanting Gallup in two-WR sets; either way, I have a tough time assuming the Cowboys’ $100-million receiver takes a full back seat in the offense. The answer to Cooper vs. Lamb vs. Gallup in fantasy land is probably: yes.

Cooper (my fantasy WR13 on the week) and Lamb (WR16) should both be in fantasy lineups of all shapes and sizes; start your studs, people. Gallup (WR43) is more of a boom-or-bust option in this spot, particularly if he winds up being fully relegated to the clear-cut third option in this passing game.

TE breakdown: Either Dalton Schultz or Blake Jarwin would be a borderline TE1 at worst if granted the opportunity to work as this offense's full-time starter. Alas, a rotation seems likely at least to start the season. Rostering Jarwin in deeper leagues is preferred; the Cowboys have 22-million reasons to feature him as their starter. Still, both options are best stayed away from until there's more clarity to their respective playing time.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: This group is honestly unfair. Training camp reports surrounding Antonio Brown have been fluffy all August, Mike Evans is the only wide receiver to ever start his career with seven consecutive 1,000 yard campaigns and Chris Godwin is fresh off producing an 81-1,072-8 receiving line despite suffering a concussion, grade two hamstring strain and fractured finger all by Week 7.

The largest issue facing this passing game is the reality that there's only one ball to go around. Tom Brady fed the following players at least 10 targets in 12 games after AB entered the offense (note that Brown missed one game during this stretch):

Obviously, none of the Buccaneers players should be worried about their targets; they just won the freaking Super Bowl. However, there is some cause for concern in fantasy land. Evans had seven games with fewer than five targets in 2020; he had just five-such games combined from 2014-2019.

Volume concerns are the only thing preventing Godwin (WR12), Evans (WR15) and Brown (WR26) from being higher in my Week 1 rankings. Credit to Cowboys No. 1 CB Trevon Diggs for improving as his rookie season went along, but this is still PFF's 31st-ranked secondary entering 2021. Fire up everyone involved in this Buccaneers’ passing game with confidence; only the Chiefs are implied to score more points in Week 1.

TE breakdown: O.J. Howard played in four games last season before suffering a torn ACL. The Buccaneers utilized the following usage at tight end:

It's not like Gronk eased back into action from retirement; he played at least 69% of the offense's snaps in each of Weeks 1-4 and 92 snaps more than Howard. Still, it was clear Brady enjoyed targeting his speedy big-bodied TE down the field. Gronk will probably be the target leader this time around; just realize the renewed presence of Howard turns this into more of a multi-TE committee. Gronk is tentatively a borderline TE1; he's just more touchdown dependent than usual at this stage of his career due to all the mouths to feed in this passing game.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: The past two editions of the Seahawks have continued to enable highly productive wide receivers thanks in large part to Russell Wilson's consistency with feeding them fantasy-friendly opportunities: D.K. Metcalf (32) and Tyler Lockett (29) lead the NFL in end zone targets since 2019. Overall, Metcalf and Lockett (48.7%) boasted the league's highest combined target share between two teammates. The reigning PPR WR10 and WR12, Metcalf and Lockett each carry the sort of rare high-end efficiency that can make up for a lack of overall targets.

Both Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie are 31 years of age. This isn't a smash spot per say, but it's tough for any secondary to stop this passing game when everything is clicking. There's reason to believe Lockett in particular could be set up to smash: The Colts led the NFL in Cover 2 passing snaps in 2020, and the Seahawks’ long-time stud receiver totaled the NFL's second-most yards against two-high zone defenses last year (per Underdog Fantasy's Hayden Winks).

Both Metcalf (WR8) and Lockett (WR17) are largely must-start plays every single week, particularly if Carson Wentz and company can keep up on the scoreboard. Russ is my "most likely to win a GPP in a contrarian DFS lineup" superlative winner for Week 1; don't be afraid to bet big on the same passing attack that took over the league through the first two months of 2020.

Wait and see on D’Wayne Eskridge before considering devoting a bench spot to the rookie. This run-first offense hasn't managed to enable more than two fantasy-relevant receivers over the years; he’ll need to prove capable of turning in extreme efficiency before warranting serious fantasy consideration.

TE breakdown: Give Wilson a single featured tight end over the course of a season, and I’d be confident in projecting that player for double-digit scores; the only problem is we just don't know if this opportunity will be afforded to Gerald Everett. He's certainly the pick for the most receiving-friendly tight end on the Seahawks’ roster, but the likes of Will Dissly and Tyler Mabry could make this an annoying three-player committee. Historically we’re better off fading free agency signings at the tight end position in fantasy land, although Everett has flashed the sort of high-upside ability to warrant a roster spot in case a high-volume role comes to fruition. I’m drinking the koolaid to an extent and had him as my priority late-round tight end at the end of fantasy draft season. Still, try to find a better option for the time being until it's more clear what sort of rotation is going on here.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: The absence of T.Y. Hilton (neck, IR) clears things up in this passing game to an extent, but the success of this entire offense largely hinges on whether or not Carson Wentz can suck less in 2021. Yes, this is a solid matchup against the Seahawks’ reigning fourth-worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing wide receivers. Also yes, Wentz was even worse than you remember last season:

Michael Pittman flashed enough as a rookie to earn de facto No. 1 receiver treatment, but even that's a bit of a guess. Parris Campbell received a rather gaudy nine targets in his only full game in 2020 before missing the rest of the year. The Colts love Zach Pascal even if the entire fantasy community continues to pretend he doesn't exist.

Last year, Hilton led the way with 93 targets in 15 games; nobody else reached even 80. The switch from Philip Rivers to an injured version of Wentz could feasibly lead to a less-effective passing attack *and* a more run-heavy offense in general. I’m fine devoting a bench spot to Pittman and to a lesser extent Campbell, but for now the answer to which Colts receiver to start in fantasy land is simply: no.

TE breakdown: Teams that utilize three tight ends consistently produce zero fantasy-relevant options at the position. Each of Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox and Kyle Granson are expected to see plenty of snaps, making each a non-recommended fantasy option unless some sort of clear-cut leader emerges.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: PFF projections call for D.J. Chark (104 targets), Marvin Jones (99) and Laviska Shenault (88) to finish within 16 targets of each other. They’re all reasonable targets in fantasy land with none priced as even a WR3; just realize it's not a guarantee Trevor Lawrence and company operate an above-average passing attack in year one.

This is about as good a spot as any receiver could ask for, particularly after the Texans shipped No. 1 CB Bradley Roby to the Saints. Still, the uncertainty surrounding each player's 1.) target volume and 2.) efficiency with Lawrence makes it tough to heavily back any individual member. For now I’m riding with Viska (WR33) ahead of Jones (WR45) and Chark (WR48) in the hopes much of Travis Etienne's designed pass-game usage falls into the rising second-year talent's lap.

The Jaguars are implied to score a rather pedestrian 23.5 points; they’re certainly capable of flying past that threshold, but it's tough to give this offense the benefit of the doubt immediately. It took until Week 3 of the preseason against the Cowboys backup defense for Lawrence to lead the offense to the end zone; don't be surprised if this game winds up being ugly for all parties involved.

TE breakdown: Each of Chris Manhertz, James O’Shaughnessy, Jacob Hollister and Luke Farrell are candidates to see snaps. None are realistic fantasy options until some sort of pecking order emerges.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: With all due respect to Chris Conley and Nico Collins, expecting Tyrod Taylor to enable more than one fantasy-relevant receiver this season seems like wishful thinking.

Brandin Cooks is the only wideout to feel good about here. He's ripped off PPR WR14, WR10, WR15, WR13, WR61 and WR17 finishes since 2015. While his concussion history is troubling, he's appeared in at least 15 games for all but two of his seven career seasons. He's set up to potentially work as the target hog in anyone's idea of an awful offense. This might be enough to produce solid fantasy value, particularly if Cooks continues to be used as more of a true No. 1 receiver (like we saw in 2020) as opposed to a one-trick pony field-stretcher (like we saw in 2019).

Please feed Brandin Cooks 150+ targets @HoustonTexans

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 8, 2021

Cooks is my WR32 ahead of guys like Kenny Golladay, Brandon Aiyuk and JuJu Smith-Schuster. It's fair to wonder how he’ll perform with likely the worst quarterback of his career; just realize the floor is pretty much the roof if double-digit targets become a weekly occurrence.

TE breakdown: Hopefully Jordan Akins is the featured tight end, although the presence of Pharaoh Brown and Brevin Jordan could complicate things. The only thing that's held Akins back from more production over the years was the presence of Darren Fells; the former talent's Week 1 snap count will be one of the more important notes to check this time next week. Don't worry about using a bench spot on Akins for now, but he’d be worthy of a chunk of FAAB if given a full-time role.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: DeVonta Smith is one of ‘My guys' in fantasy land thanks to his status as 1.) one of the best collegiate receivers the game has ever seen, 2.) a top-10 pick and 3.) the Eagles’ projected No. 1 pass-game option. There's a chance Jalen Reagor seizes this honor, but the general sentiment when Smith has been healthy during training camp is that he's been the featured guy. Credit to Quez Watkins on one helluva preseason, but any No. 3 wide receiver in a run-first offense is going to have problems producing consistent fantasy production.

Get Smith into starting lineups ahead of a Week 1 date against the NFL's reigning worst defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing wide receivers. It’d make sense if Terrell makes a year-two leap of some sorts; this is still a potential smash spot if Smith is featured as the passing game's alpha from day one.

Jalen Hurts put up some truly awful efficiency numbers as a passer last season but proved capable of putting up numbers in garbage time with two 300-plus yard performances in his four starts. I’m trusting the second-year quarterback to enable at least one fantasy-relevant receiver; Smith is my PPR WR26 ahead of notable names such as Antonio Brown and Jerry Jeudy. I won't argue with those who think the latter receivers are better than Smith at this point in time, but the potential disparity in targets between the group makes the rookie my preferred play.

TE breakdown: Months of Zach Ertz trade rumors never came to fruition; now he has a chance to (again) lead the group in targets and render both himself as well as Dallas Goedert as irrelevant fantasy options. I still favor Goedert in terms of total targets and production, but it's impossible to treat either as a top-10 option at the position as long as each remains employed by the same team.

Projected shadow matchups: Calvin Ridley vs. Darius Slay

WR/CB breakdown: Slay deserves more benefit of the doubt than most corners. Yes, he lost some high-profile matchups against D.K. Metcalf and Davante Adams last season. Also yes, a lesser player wouldn't have been asked to match these stud receivers in one-on-one coverage in the first place.

This is my way of saying don't beat up Slay too bad when Calvin Ridley inevitably puts up some numbers this week. The rising fourth-year receiver has literally never missed in 19 career games with eight-plus targets:

Madness. PFF's No. 1 projected receiver on the week deserves to be locked into your fantasy lineups WR1 spot all season long.

I’m inclined to fade Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus due to the likelihood that rookie TE Kyle Pitts works as the passing game's No. 2 option. Matt Ryan has historically been miserable without Julio Jones; don't be surprised if the auxiliary options in this offense sputter more weeks than not.

TE breakdown: Pitts is my TE6 on the week ahead of a matchup against an Eagles defense that was eviscerated by the likes of George Kittle (15-183-1) and Tyler Higbee (5-54-3) among others last season; the rookie should be in your starting lineup each and every week due to the likelihood he obtains triple-digit targets on the season. There's always a chance irrational coaching prevails and Pitts is forced to split time with Hayden Hurst, but that’d be an awfully precarious move after spending the fourth overall pick on the former Florida Gator. Pitts already looks the part of a matchup nightmare; his $4,400 price tag on DraftKings could be laughable as early as Week 2. b

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Keenan Allen's target totals in 11 non-injury-shortened games with Justin Herbert: 19, 19, 13, 12, 11, 11, 11, 11, 10, 10 and seven. Madness. One of three receivers along with DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Thomas to rack up at least 100 receptions in three seasons since 2017, Allen is a top-10 option at the position ahead of a potential blowup against the Football Team's zone-heavy defense. Did anyone else just hear that helicopter go by?

Then there's Mike Williams, who has never been blessed with triple-digit targets in a single season; that hasn't stopped the former No. 7 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft from posting 43-664-10, 49-1,001-2 and 48-756-5 receiving lines over the past three seasons. Nobody averaged more yards per reception than Williams (17.3) during this span. Never one to jeopardize a reception by worrying about silly things like breaking a fall to protect his health: Williams has always looked the part of a high-end NFL receiver and now might just be looking at the biggest workload of his career. He's my WR35 on the week and holds near 30-pound size and four-inch height advantages over each of the Football Team's starting corners.

Third-round rookie Josh Palmer is tentatively expected to start ahead of Jalen Guyton in three-receiver sets, although a rotation is likely. Either way: Palmer will at best be the No. 4 pass-game option behind Allen, Williams and Austin Ekeler. He's a fine bench stash in deeper leagues; just don't expect more than boom-or-bust production as a likely one-trick pony field-stretcher.

TE breakdown: Jared Cook is expected to lose snaps and targets alike to Donald Parham, as well as potentially Stephen Anderson and Tre’ McKitty. The 34-year-old veteran tight end seemed to lose a step in New Orleans last season — there are better streaming options at the position.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Ryan Fitpatrick's signing is great news for everyone involved in the Washington offense. The ceiling is the roof for Terry McLaurin considering the fantasy success of Fitzpatrick's No. 1 wide receiver over the years. Overall, his No. 1 receiver has posted target totals of 128, 128, 137, 134, 141, 146, 148 and 173 in his eight seasons with double-digit starts. McLaurin is my overall WR10 on the week and shouldn't be left out of a single fantasy lineup, not even if there's a fire.

I’m inclined to fade the rest of these receivers for a week. Curtis Samuel (groin) just resumed practicing this week after missing virtually all of August, and he might be out for longer after leaving practice early on Wednesday. Adam Humphries could feasibly be on the outside looking in depending on whether or not third-round rookie Dyami Brown starts from day one. This Chargers defense allowed the sixth-fewest PPR points per game to opposing wide receivers last season and figures to be operating at an even higher level with both S Derwin James and DE Joey Bosa currently healthy.

TE breakdown: The presence of James is scary for Logan Thomas managers, but this is still an every-down tight end who has already demonstrated some solid chemistry with Fitzpatrick. Fantasy's reigning TE3 is my TE8 on the week; it's good practice to use matchups as more of a tiebreaker than iron fist when deciding whether or not to start wide receivers and tight ends alike in fantasy land.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Diontae Johnson looks a lot like the next-great Steelers No. 1 WR and it's like none of you even care.

Mama, there goes that

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) August 26, 2021

Check out the 8/26 edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for a breakdown from myself and Reception Perception creator Matt Harmon on why Johnson is a great fantasy value.

Preseason usage suggests Johnson and Chase Claypool could work as the team's wide receivers in two-WR sets; either way the rising second-year talent has the more fantasy-friendly field-stretching role. Hopefully JuJu Smith-Schuster is healthier in 2021 and gets back to racking up some YAC; he encouragingly broke several tackles in Week 2 of the preseason. Still, this offense is trending towards being more of a run-first unit moving forward; Smith-Schuster is my pick for the receiver most likely to take a step back in this offense.

The Bills were the league's seventh-stingiest defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing wide receiver rooms in 2020. Perhaps Tre’Davious White is asked to follow Johnson, but this wasn't the case when these teams matched up in Week 14 last season.

Johnson (WR18) needs to be in starting lineups of all shapes and sizes. The likes of Claypool (WR29) and Smith-Schuster (WR39) are better treated as upside WR3 types; make sure the 2021 edition of the Steelers offense still plans on throwing the piss out of the ball before assuming Ben Roethlisberger will again enable three top-24 fantasy receivers.

TE breakdown: Eric Ebron will be pushed by rookie Pat Freiermuth, likely leading to another two-TE committee that doesn't produce a single high-end option. Pass.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Stefon Diggs joins a select few receivers with legit potential to have a target total starting with a two by the end of 2021. The Steelers had zero answers for Diggs last season; his 10-130-1 line on 14 targets came in style. The only reason why Diggs should leave your fantasy lineup's WR1 spot is to try and light an imaginary spark.

Cole Beasley hasn't been the recipient of much positive press this offseason, but that doesn't mean his status as Josh Allen's No. 2 pass-game option has gone anywhere. The Bills’ stud slot receiver remains a late-round value: There's more upside here than people realize.

Things are a bit up in the air behind Beasley with Emmanuel Sanders replacing John Brown. It’d make sense if Manny splits time with Gabriel Davis to an extent, although Buffalo's status as the reigning No. 2 offense in most dropbacks with at least four wide receivers on the field should lead to plenty of opportunities for both.

I lean Diggs-Beasley-Sanders-Davis as Allen's pecking order; each of Beasley and Sanders are upside WR4 options, while Davis is a worthy bench stash thanks to his status as arguably the single-best No. 4 wide receiver in the league.

TE breakdown: Dawson Knox flashed as both a receiver and blocker during his short career, but he remains the likely No. 4 (at best) pass-game option in this offense. He could finish as low as sixth or seventh depending on how involved backup TE Tommy Sweeney is from day one. Monitor Knox's snap count; we’ll take an every-down player in one of the league's consensus top-five offenses, but nothing more than a DFS dart in Week 1 against the NFL's reigning second-best defense in PPR points per game allowed to opposing tight ends.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) has been banged up throughout camp but is expected to be good to go for Sunday. His playmaking ability was already borderline erotic as a rookie; it's hard to fathom how good an improved version could be in year two. Still, the 49ers’ status as 7.5-point favorites makes this a potential matchup in which Kyle Shanahan leans more on the run game than Jimmy Garoppolo. There's nothing scary about this Lions secondary; just realize Aiyuk could feasibly be the No. 3 option in this passing game behind Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.

Fun fact: Samuel is the only wide receiver in at least the past decade to total more yards after the catch than actual receiving yards in a single season (min. 25 targets). Essentially used as a running back in the passing game, Samuel will seemingly have the least amount of problems adjusting to whichever quarterback is under center. I give Samuel (WR36) the slight edge over Aiyuk (WR37) in Week 1 due to similar target projections and superior health.

None of the 49ers’ auxiliary receivers are realistic fantasy options; this offense utilizes plenty of two tight end formations and often leans on do-it-all FB Kyle Juszczyk.

TE breakdown: Kittle was on pace for a whopping 126 targets last season if it wasn't for those damn injuries. Perhaps the presence of Aiyuk and Samuel leads to coach Kyle Shanahan leaning more on Kittle as a blocker. Good news: if there's a tight end capable of making the absolute most out of limited opportunity, it's the guy who just finished second to only Davante Adams in yards per route run in 2020. I’ve prioritized one of Travis Kelce, Darren Waller or Kittle inside the top-three rounds in every fantasy draft I’ve entered this offseason; folks that somehow landed two of these alphas on the same team should feel fine starting both considering the likelihood each finishes as their passing game's No. 1 target.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Gun to my head: Tyrell Williams leads this wide receiver room in targets and production. Luckily, there isn't a gun to my head, so I don't have to roster or consider starting any of these receivers in the league's single-most unclear passing game. We’ll reconsider things next week once things are a bit more defined, but it's tough to imagine confidently starting any of these receivers in the near future with matchups against the Packers, Ravens and Bears on deck.

TE breakdown: T.J. Hockenson finished 2020 as the overall PPR TE5; he missed a TE3 finish by a whopping 1.4 points. He might very well experience some regression in the efficiency department, but there's potential for well over triple-digit targets in an offense that is replacing the most total pass-game volume in the league. Look no further than Tyler Higbee's overall TE1 fantasy finish during the final five weeks of 2019 to catch a glimpse of what Hockenson's upside could be as Jared Goff's passing game's No. 1 option. With all due respect to Kyle Pitts and Mark Andrews: Hockenson is my TE4 with legit top-three potential as one of the league's few players at the position that functions as their team's No. 1 pass-game option.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Last season, only D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett (48.7%) boasted a higher combined target share than Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen (48.6%) among every team's top-two pass-game options. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson (71%) were the only duo to beat Jefferson and Thielen (68.2%) when it came to air-yard share. The Vikings certainly figure to again utilize a run-first offense, but Kirk Cousins does a good enough job focusing on his top-two targets to enable multiple high-end fantasy-relevant receivers (again).

This is particularly true in a potential smash spot against a Bengals secondary that will be without long-time No. 1 CB William Jackson (now with Washington) along with Trae Waynes (hamstring). Arguably the largest concern is whether or not Cousins and company will need to keep their foot on the gas long enough to rack up enough pass-game volume, but the Vikings’ status as 3.5-point favorites indicates this should be a fairly close game.

Jefferson is my overall WR6 on the week and carries his usual blowup potential. Thielen (WR23) should be started in lineups of most shapes and sizes. Get your popcorn ready for this passing game through October: Minnesota follows up this week's potential smash spot with dates against the Cardinals, Seahawks, Browns, Lions, Panthers and Cowboys. Sheesh.

TE breakdown: Head coach Mike Zimmer said earlier in the offseason that Tyler Conklin would essentially replace Kyle Rudolph as opposed to Irv Smith (knee, IR) getting more playing time. This makes it tough to believe Conklin will suddenly be elevated to the clear-cut No. 1 option after the Vikings felt the need to send draft picks to the Jets in order to acquire Chris Herndon, who might start the season behind Brandon Dillon. The answer to which Vikings’ tight end to start in fantasy land sure looks like no, but we’ll have a better idea of the rotation after this week. None of these options are recommended bench stashes for the time being.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Offseason reports haven't painted Joe Burrow and the rest of this passing game in the kindest of lights, and their Week 1 matchup could be a bit harder than anticipated. Yes, the Vikings finished 29th in points per game allowed last season. Also yes, they previously didn't finish worse than 11th since head coach Mike Zimmer took over in 2014.

Similar to the Seahawks: The 2020 Vikings defense had a horrific combination of porous pass-rush and even worse coverage. Unlike the Seahawks, it appears the 2021 group will be in a better place. Stud edge rusher Danielle Hunter is back, Everson Griffen should also supply some much-needed pass-rush juice, while the likes of Patrick Peterson and Breshaud Breeland are at least an upgrade over what was on the table last season.

Nobody had more dropbacks than Burrow before getting injured last season — this passing game is capable of overcoming tough matchups with pure volume. The Bengals’ big-three receivers could go either way, a point which seems to be lost on the fantasy community. I remain perplexed why Tyler Boyd, the overall fantasy WR11 before Joe Burrow was injured last season, was by far the cheapest option throughout the offseason. This isn't to suggest Boyd should be projected ahead of Tee Higgins or Ja’Marr Chase, but the disparity between their respective average draft positions (ADP) was simply far too high.

Higgins (WR22) and Boyd (WR24) should be starting in the heavy majority of fantasy lineups, while Chase (WR30) shouldn't be purely faded for his much-publicized drop issues. It’d make sense if Higgins and Boyd put up better numbers in 2021; they’re great receivers in their own right. Still, Chase didn't go for 84-1,780-20 at 19 years of age for LSU by accident; scoop up the No. 5 overall pick at a discount if you can before he inevitably puts some great plays on film.

Free Auden Tate.

TE breakdown: C.J. Uzomah has made a rather shockingly quick recovery from his 2020 Achilles injury, although he only out-snapped Drew Sample 8-5 in the Bengals' second preseason game. Teams with two often-used tight ends usually have zero fantasy-relevant options at the position. Even if Uzomah wins out and gets more of a full-time role, he's still the No. 5 pass-game option in this offense at best.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Corey Davis has been targeted on 10 of his 13 routes this preseason. Seriously, the man had a chance to catch the ball on 76% of his routes. No other receiver with even five targets cleared the 50% mark. Obviously, this will drop during the regular season; that doesn't mean Davis isn't positioned to work as an upside WR3 at worst from day one in a passing game that doesn't have anywhere to go but up after living through the Adam Gase experience.

Then there's Elijah Moore, who may or may not start in three-WR sets if Jamison Crowder (covid) winds up playing. It's probably a small blessing the rookie was injured to begin with in terms of keeping his ADP down; Moore was reportedly one of the best players on the field throughout training camp. Don't count out Zach Wilson enabling two fantasy-relevant receivers if he can keep cooking against first-team competition.

Check out the 9/8 edition of The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for my full thoughts on Moore as well as every Week 1 matchup.

For now, Davis (WR31) is the only recommended start in most leagues. Moore (WR50) is a worthwhile DFS dart at the stone cold $3,000 minimum on DraftKings, but the potential for this offense to rotate four-to-five receivers leaves at least some concern over his Week 1 role. Do everything you can to acquire the 34th overall pick before his inevitable breakout; just realize it might take more than a week for that to occur. Neither Keelan Cole nor Crowder are recommended fantasy options in a sneaky-touch matchup against the league's reigning 12th-best defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to opposing receivers.

TE breakdown: Trading generational talent Chris Herndon shrinks the likely rotation at tight end down to Ryan Griffin and Tyler Kroft; it seems unlikely either player earns enough consistent target share to be a worthwhile fantasy target.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: D.J. Moore slots in as the projected top option based on his status as a fooking baller. Seriously: the man was born to play football.

Go DJ. That's my

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 25, 2021

Last year, Robby Anderson out-targeted Moore 136 to 118, but Moore had the far more fantasy-friendly target depth (13.7 vs. 9.8). Ultimately, they project to be fairly neck and neck vying for Sam Darnold's attention, while the emergence of rookie Terrace Marshall could feasibly make this a 1.A/1.B/1.C situation of sorts.

The case for all three receivers having a great year would be helped mightily by Christian McCaffrey dipping back to the No. 4 pass-game option in this offense. His receiving usage in last season's three-game sample was a bit off compared to past years:

There are seven cornerbacks on the Jets roster: four rookies, two in their second season and absolutely zero drafted higher than the fifth round (per PFF_Mike). I’m not buying Darnold's comeback szn as a whole, but hell, Teddy Bridgewater enabled three top-24 receivers in this offense despite only throwing 15 touchdowns last season. Get used to these receivers being set up to smash: The Panthers open up 2021 with matchups against the Jets, Saints, Texans, Cowboys, Eagles, Vikings, Giants and Falcons.

I’ve been lower on this passing game than most throughout the offseason, but this is arguably the single-best spot in Week 1. Moore (WR19) and Anderson (WR32) should each by in most if not all starting lineups, while Marshall (WR50) figures to (deservingly) be one of the highest-rostered players on DraftKings thanks to his minimum $3,000 salary.

TE breakdown: Dan Arnold is tentatively considered the passing game's fifth option, but incumbent starting TE Ian Thomas will also be involved. It's fine to be a fan of Arnold's talent, and the idea of screaming "Darnold to Arnold!" sounds fun; just realize it's going to be tough for any part-time tight end to produce consistent fantasy value as the likely fifth option in their offense.

Projected shadow matchups: DeAndre Hopkins vs. Janoris Jenkins

WR/CB breakdown: It remains to be seen if the artist known as Jackrabbit will follow the artist known as Nuk all over the field. Either way, DeAndre Hopkins can safely be fired up as a top-five option at the position. The man has at least 150 targets in six straight seasons; you don't need two hands to count the number of receivers who could finish with more total pass-game opportunities in Week 1.

The rest of the passing game is also set up well in this likely shootout; just realize our understanding of the pecking order is a bit weak at the moment. Ultimately, Moore is the one I’m prioritizing behind Hopkins. The Cardinals fed him a whopping eight targets and three carries on just 45 preseason snaps. Nobody has called more screens than the Cardinals since Kliff Kinsgubry arrived ,and Moore looks poised to take over the Larry Fitzgerald role from the friendly confines of the slot. This sort of voluminous high-percentage usage is a godsend in full point-per-reception (PPR) formats.

The Cardinals getting Rondale Moore the football

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) August 17, 2021

Only the Falcons allowed more PPR points per game to opposing wide receivers than the Titans last season; both AJG and Moore are worthwhile DFS darts. The latter receiver should be scooped up off any and every waiver wire if available.

TE breakdown: The only reason Dan Arnold was even mildly productive in this offense last season was because they essentially just lined him up as a receiver; don't expect any of Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels or Demetrius Harris to garner that same sort of usage. Stay away from this group until further notice.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Having A.J. Brown and Julio Jones on the same offense should be illegal, particularly against a Cardinals secondary already looking the part of a bottom-10 unit before Malcolm Butler retired.

If the answer to your cornerback problems was supposed to be Butler, good luck my friend.

It's always AJB WR1 szn; he's my overall WR7 on the week. He's produced 10-151-1, 8-114-1, 7-112-1, 4-101-1, 6-83-1 and 7-82-1 receiving lines in six career games with more than eight targets. Madness.

Julio sure looks healthy and comes in as my WR11. Usually the only issue for this passing game is volume; the likelihood that Kyler Murray keeps pace in this one should help force Ryan Tannehill into dropping back more than usual. Only Browns-Chiefs (55) has a higher game total than Cardinals-Titans (52.5).

Fade the rest of this offense's receivers due to the likelihood TanneThrill condolences the majority of his target share around Brown and Jones.

TE breakdown: Anthony Firkser was a favorite late-round dart of mine earlier in the offseason, but preseason usage suggests his role won't change much in 2021 despite the absence of Jonnu Smith and Adam Humphries. A$AP FIRK was essentially a slot receiver last year; perhaps he winds up starting ahead of Chester Rogers in three-WR sets. Still, this is more of a pipe dream than educated guess, so stay away from this tight end room until there's more clarity for everyone involved.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Baker Mayfield fed the following receivers at least 10 targets in six games with a full healthy Odell Beckham last season:

I maintain the best version of OBJ with the best version of Mayfield produces a fantasy WR1. The idea this offense is better off without him has always been absurd; Beckham is one of ‘My guys‘ in fantasy land this year thanks to the opportunity to buy him as cheap as ever.

Landry could improve his efficiency in 2021 after a full season removed from hip surgery, although the Browns’ run-first offense might struggle to enable more than one consistently fantasy-relevant option. The same problem impacts Hooper, Hunt, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones: Mayfield has a lot of places to go with the ball, but not a lot of total balls to throw around.

Luckily for these receivers, Mayfield could be forced to keep his foot on the gas in order to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and company. Browns-Chiefs presently has the highest game total of the week at 55. OBJ (WR22) is someone I’m comfortable starting after reportedly looking great throughout his recovery. Landry (WR52) is a bit harder to get behind, although he's a solid contrarian game stack option in DFS land for those looking to load up on the Chiefs offense.

Only the Rams allowed fewer PPR points per game to opposing wide receivers than the Chiefs last season; this is far from an easy spot. Still, the Browns have the look of a truly elite offense if all parties involved reach their potential. Don't be surprised if there are fireworks on both sidelines this Sunday.

TE breakdown: Hooper is a solid streaming option for those hurting at tight end. PFF projects him to rack up a respectable 71 targets on the season, and it's simply hard to find available options at the position that have a full-time role. Bryant and David Njoku will in all likelihood remain annoyingly involved, but it’d make sense if a big season from Mayfield coincides with a stellar touchdown total for his $42 million tight end. Hooper is my TE16 this week and someone that could be a prime waiver wire addition if he manages to find the end zone against Tyrann Mathieu and company.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Concerns over there only being one football to go around in this offense are out-weighed by Patrick Mahomes, who has done a great job featuring his top-two studs. Overall, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are one of just six pairs of teammates to combine for at least 1.) 60% of their offense's air yard share and 2.) 45% of the group's target share. PFF projects both players to clear 130 targets with ease. Anyone ranking Hill outside of the position's top-five options may very well be on crack.

Mecole Hardman is the only other potentially viable pass-catcher: only Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown have averaged more yards per target than Hardman over the past two seasons (min. 100 targets). The absence of Sammy Watkins *should* open up a more consistent spot in three-receiver sets, although Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle figure to remain annoyingly involved. Ultimately, Hardman started his collegiate career at Georgia as a cornerback; it makes sense that he’d need an extra season or two to really learn the nuances of the receiver position. Wait a week before trusting him with any level of confidence as a starter, but even five to six designed touches per game could go a long way for a player with his level of speed.

TE breakdown: Kelce is obviously the top play at the position this week. Even the Browns’ No. 1 cornerback couldn't handle the man last time these squads faced off.

The fact Travis Kelce can make true No. 1 corners look this silly is absolute

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 29, 2021

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: The Dolphins are presently implied to score the fifth-fewest points in Week 1; even the absence of Stephon Gilmore (quad, PUP) isn't enough to make this anything resembling a good spot.

Waddle (WR39) is a worthy flex play and someone I’ve been particularly high on all offseason; just realize Bill Belichick likely won't make life easy on the offense's rising second-year quarterback. I’m more inclined to trust Tua Tagovailoa in Week 2 and moving forward once ace field-stretching WR Will Fuller is done with his suspension.

Perhaps DeVante Parker proves capable of bullying the Patriots’ relatively undersized corners; he's still profiles as someone that figures to take a step back without YOLO-DGAF gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.

The Dolphins, like any other NFL passing game, could put together a solid Week 1 performance; it's just tough to outline their path to success with any level of confidence as road underdogs against the league's reigning fifth-best defense in PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers.

TE breakdown: Mike Gesicki has the talent to be one of fantasy's most-productive tight ends; the question is whether or not he’ll have enough opportunity. Both Adam Shaheen and Durham Smythe saw plenty of time alongside Gesicki with the first-team offense throughout the preseason. It’d be surprising to see Gesicki not lead all Dolphins tight ends in production, but he’ll need to be ridiculously efficient in order to function as the top-12 tight end most have treated him as throughout the offseason. The overwhelming majority of Gesicki's production in 2020 came when lined up in the slot or out wide; those roles now belong to Waddle and Fuller. The galaxy brain in me wonders if this is the week to cash in on Gesicki with the latter receiver sidelined; just realize the production here will likely be far more volatile than during the end of 2020 when the wide receiver room was essentially a walking graveyard.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: On the one hand, Jones was nothing short of magnificent in the preseason:

On the other, this Dolphins defense is no joke. Xavien Howard and Byron Jones form the league's best one-two punch at cornerback, and it’d make sense if Jones, like most rookies, doesn't kill it out of the gates.

I’m inclined to wait and see on all receivers in this offense; the top-three options in this passing game could theoretically be Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and James White. The primary bench stash is definitely Jakobi Meyers, but it still makes sense to get a feel for everyone's route and target shares before starting anybody with any level of confidence.

TE breakdown: The only teammates to function as season-long top-12 fantasy tight ends since 2010 are Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as well as Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Historically, we’re better off fading free agency signings at the tight end position in fantasy land ; at least this offense is run by one of the two guys to enable this sort of scheme in a fantasy-friendly manner. Both Smith and Henry are quality bench stashes for those in a pickle at the position; just wait a week before starting either to have a better idea of the split at hand. Imagine if Smith starts the season off at running back. I’d lose it. Seriously, please make this happen.

Projected shadow matchups: Courtland Sutton vs. James Bradberry, Jerry Jeudy vs. Adoree’ Jackson

WR/CB breakdown: The Giants suddenly offer a true top-three cornerback duo. Look for Bradberry to consistently match the bigger-bodied option, and Jackson to track the speed threat. I’d be more concerned about Bradberry limiting Sutton than Jackson holding back Jeudy. Credit to Sutton for looking crisp in the preseason, but Jeudy is already in another stratosphere than most when it comes to pure route-running ability.

This Giants secondary was one of just 11 units to hold opposing wide receiver units to fewer than 36 PPR points per game last season. No matchup has a lower game total than Broncos-Giants (41.5). As much as I’d like to think Teddy Bridgewater will help Jeudy take his game to the next level, the two-gloved assassin was responsible for D.J. Moore finishing alongside Jeudy as the top-two most-unlucky receivers from 2020.

Jeudy (WR28) and Sutton (WR41) are both upside WR3 plays I’d rather go out of my way to start in a more high-scoring environment. It remains to be seen if K.J. Hamler will work as the offense's undisputed No. 3 receiver, or if ace No. 4 option Tim Patrick will siphon away a solid amount of snaps. Fade these auxiliary options for at least a week.

TE breakdown: Noah Fant (leg) is good to go for Week 1. Hopefully the YAC-machine is healthier than in 2020, when an endless array of knicks and bruises kept the rising third-year talent from looking 100% for essentially the whole year. Fant comes in as my overall TE7 on the week; I’m buying the idea that the best is yet to come for the 23-year-old baller.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: The Giants have 72-million reasons to feature Kenny Golladay as their No. 1 pass-game option. Kicking off his career in New York with a hamstring injury obviously wasn't ideal, but he's reportedly progressing along just fine and tentatively expected to be good to go for Week 1. He and Sterling Shepard should function as Daniel Jones’ top-two options, although Darius Slayton and first-round pick Kadarius Toney also figure to be plenty involved.

Golladay literally admitted he expects this offense to start slow. This looks like Vic Fangio's best Denver defense yet thanks to the addition of Fuller as well as the presence of both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. The Giants are tied with the Lions for the lowest implied total of the week; tiebreakers between Golladay and Shepard vs. whoever is on your roster should probably go to the other guy.

TE breakdown: Evan Engram (calf) opened up the week with a DNP; he should be considered very questionable and isn't a realistic starting option in Week 1. The newfound presence of Kyle Rudolph was always going to make it tough for Engram to receive another triple-digit target total; fade this group until it's clear there's a healthy No. 1 option to be had.

Projected shadow matchups: Davante Adams vs. Marshon Lattimore

WR/CB breakdown: There truly isn't a more cemented No. 1 pass-game option in the league than Adams. He's the only receiver PFF projects to hit 160 targets; DeAndre Hopkins and Calvin Ridley are the only other guys above 140. Credit to Lattimore for occasionally rising to the occasion in high-profile matchups, but there isn't a cornerback alive worth fading Adams for.

None of Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb or Marquez Valdes-Scantling are recommended redraft fantasy options despite the winnable matchup due to the uncertainty surrounding their rotation. Third-round rookie Amari Rodgers could also be involved. I’m cool with throwing darts at MVS as part of a DFS stack; just don't get carried away with exposure to the ever-volatile field-stretching veteran.

TE breakdown: Robert Tonyan won't have more touchdowns than incomplete targets again because he's literally the only person to pull that off since the metric began being tracked in 1992. Of course, efficient production can be rewarded with more opportunity; just because Tonyan was awesome in 2020 doesn't mean we need to blindly fade him in 2021. Fire up Tonyan as a top-10 option at the position until proven otherwise.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Marquez Callaway's breathtaking preseason performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starters could be enough to elevate him as the passing game's No. 2 option behind only Alvin Kamara. The 2020 undrafted free agent sure looks like Sean Payton's next no-name star, particularly if Jameis Winston is forced to go full Jameis in this potential sneaky shootout. Don't fret about a potential Jaire Alexander shadow; the Packers didn't ask him to track opposing No. 1 receivers after Week 7 last season.

Ultimately, Callaway comes in as my WR42 on the week. This feels low, but it's also not a guarantee this offense flirts with a top-10 scoring rank in the post-Drew Brees era. Yes, the 2019 Buccaneers finished as the league's third-ranked scoring unit. Also yes, they never finished higher than 12th during their first four years with Winston under center despite offering far more firepower at receiver compared to what the former No. 1 overall pick has at the moment.

TE breakdown: A committee of sorts looks likely between Adam Trautman and Juwan Johnson. It's unfortunate Trautman doesn't look poised to cash in as the popular late-round tight end he was drafted as throughout the offseason, but sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbles. Pause on this position room for at least a week until we have a better idea of the rotation at hand.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Jalen Ramsey didn't shadow Allen Robinson last season; that's how we got the infamous Darnell Mooney double-move video after all.

Don't fade legit WR1s like A-Rob because of a perceived tough matchup. He caught all four of his targets for 70 against this defense last season, including a bomb directly over top Mr. Ramsey himself. If you’re in a five-man league and blessed with four top-15 receivers: Good for you. Otherwise, start Robinson without hesitation.

I’m out on the rest of this group while Andy Dalton remains under center against the league's reigning No. 1 defense in fewest PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers. Even the presence of Justin Fields won't necessarily lead to Mooney providing more consistency, but it’d be a nice start.

TE breakdown: There's a chance Jimmy Graham winds up being the de facto full-time slot receiver in this offense if last season's usage was any indication. Cole Kmet should have a similar role to Austin Hooper — full-time tight end who unfortunately still loses plenty of targets to his teammates at the position. Kmet is my TE19 and someone I’m fine stashing for the moment on rosters especially weak at tight end; just keep expectations in check for everyone involved in an offense implied to score a pedestrian 19.5 points.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp were the only wide receiver duo to each catch at least 90 passes last season. Now, they have anyone's idea of a quarterback upgrade and remain cemented atop the depth chart. Both should be considered upside WR2 options at worst in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes, even in a non-ideal matchup against a Bears defense that finished 2020 as the eighth-best unit in fewest PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers.

Week 1 DeSean Jackson has historically been a cheat code; the problem is he could be nothing more than a rotation member with Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell. I’ll shoot my shot on D-Jax in showdown slates, but wait a week before trusting any complementary option as a legit redraft-caliber starter. It’d make sense if Matthew Stafford manages to enable three fantasy-relevant receivers if this offense becomes awfully pass-happy without Cam Akers (Achilles, IR); we just need to clarify exactly who the No. 3 option is before taking that leap of faith.

TE breakdown: We saw what Higbee is capable of achieving as the offense's featured No. 1 TE back during the final five weeks of 2019 when he ripped off 7-107-1, 7-116-0, 12-111-0, 9-104-0 and 8-84-1 receiving lines to close the season. This coincided with Gerald Everett (now a member of the Seahawks) being sidelined. The general rule of thumb is players earn targets, but at a minimum we should give Higbee some slack considering he had at least eight targets in his aforementioned five-game stretch compared to *one* contest with that many pass-game opportunities in his other 79 career games. Obviously this passing game will flow through Woods and Kupp more than Higbee, but don't let last season's disappointing fantasy campaign distract from the fact that Staffords undisputed TE1 is set up better than ever to rack up scores and targets alike in 2021. Higbee is my TE10 on the week and that feels a tough low.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: Week 1 Sammy Watkins might as well be a god, and he's set up rather brilliantly against last season's 30th-ranked scoring defense. The potential for Watkins to work as this passing game's No. 1 receiver shouldn't be dismissed, although the ceiling is low for all parties involved. Remember: This is the league's single-most run-heavy offense, so the answer to which wide receiver to start in fantasy land might simply be: no.

Ultimately, I can't get behind Watkins (WR46) or Marquise Brown (WR55) even in this great spot. Last season Lamar Jackson fed a wide receiver more than eight targets on just two occasions; there simply isn't enough volume to go around in a passing game led by a tight end.

TE breakdown: Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and Zach Ertz are the only tight ends with more targets than Andrews over the past two seasons. Nobody at the position scored more touchdowns than Jackson's No. 1 pass-game option. Even if Andrews’ stranglehold on No. 1 duties decreases due to the presence of multiple new receivers, he should still finish among the league's top-five most-used players at his position. Treat him as such in a matchup that oozes multi-touchdown upside.

Projected shadow matchups: None

WR/CB breakdown: It's anyone's guess as to who will be prioritized between Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards. There's an argument for both: coach Jon Gruden could feasibly want to prove Ruggs wasn't a wasted pick at 12th overall, while Edwards’ infamous Randy Moss-Terrell Owens comp at least signal the rising second-year receiver has had a great camp.

Ultimately, I’m fading both ahead of this brutal Week 1 matchup against the Ravens’ ever-loaded secondary. Derek Carr was better than you remember in 2020, but a fairly-crowded passing game facing the league's reigning 10th-best defense in PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers isn't the spot to lob darts at.

TE breakdown: Darren Waller ranked 10th among all running backs, wide receiver and tight ends in total PPR fantasy points last season; he's a No. 1 receiver disguised as a tight end. Similar to an alpha No. 1 receiver: Waller is matchup proof thanks to his combination of elite talent and volume.

2021 NFL season wide receiver-cornerback matchups Preseason usage PFF's 31st-ranked secondary entering 2021 Subscribe today for access… "most likely to win a GPP in a contrarian DFS lineup" superlative winner for Week 1 fading free agency signings at the tight end position in fantasy land ‘My guys' historically been miserable The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast Subscribe today for access… was by far the cheapest option throughout the offseason keep cooking against first-team competition The PFF Fantasy Football Podcast I’m not buying Darnold's comeback szn as a whole essentially a slot receiver last year best version of OBJ with the best version of Mayfield produces a fantasy WR1 has always been absurd My guys PFF projects particularly high on all offseason when lined up in the slot or out wide fading free agency signings at the tight end position in fantasy land ; Subscribe today for access… de facto full-time slot receiver