Matchups to Attack
Larry Fitzgerald vs Fabian Moreau
Larry Fitzgerald has done nothing but consistently produce in the NFL since being drafted in 2004. He’s coming off another elite season, posting a 109/1,156/6 line on 161 targets. He recorded a 67.7% catch rate, while averaging 10.6 yards per reception. He also averaged a healthy 10.1 targets per game. The Arizona Cardinals did not add many offensive options throughout the season, meaning he could average double digit targets once again this season.
Last season, Fitzgerald played 62% of his snaps in the slot, and he will likely face off against Fabian Moreau for the majority of the game this week. Moreau struggled last season, although he only played 12% of his snaps in the slot. Still, Moreau allowed a 58% catch rate, while being targeted on a league-high 29% of his routes covered. Moreau has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second worst starting cornerback for the first week of the season, and it likely will not be an easy transition for him from outside to the slot, especially against one of the league’s premier wide receivers.
Tyrell Williams vs Orlando Scandrick
Tyrell Williams is a player that seems to always go overlooked in an offense that features bigger names, such as Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Antonio Gates. Still, he recorded 43 receptions, 728 receiving yards, and four touchdowns on only 69 targets last season. He averaged a healthy 16.9 yards per receptions, while featuring a 62.3% catch rate. Williams is entering the season as the Chargers second option in the passing game, meaning he could be in line for a healthy dose of targets to start the season.
The Chargers tend to move their receivers around the formation, which is frustrating from a matchup perspective. Still, Williams is tentatively expected to man the right wide receiver spot, meaning he will matchup against Orlando Scandrick, who is expected to play left outside corner for the Kansas City Chiefs. Scandrick graded out as the fourth worst cornerback in the NFL last season, per PFF, while allowing a 71% catch rate. Scandrick also struggled throughout preseason, allowing receivers like Kevin White to easily score touchdowns against him. Williams may not be peppered with targets like some of the bigger name players, but he comes with tremendous upside in a plus matchups.
Cooper Kupp vs Leon Hall
Cooper Kupp enjoyed a dominant rookie season for the Los Angeles Rams last season. He totaled 70 receptions for 938 yards and six touchdowns on 107 targets. He averaged a healthy 13.4 yards per reception, while featuring a 65.4% catch rate. The Rams will welcome Brandin Cooks into their offense, but Kupp’s role is not expected to change. He will still be one of Goff’s top receivers, while getting peppered with targets inside the redzone.
Kupp played 59% of his snaps as the Rams slot receiver last season, and he will man that role once again this year. He gets a great matchup against Leon Hall, who struggled in limited snaps in 2017. Hall is expected to guard the slot after allowing his opponents to record a 70% catch rate last year. Overall, Hall graded out as a bottom-six cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Kupp ranked third in the NFL in red zone targets last season, and he’s playing in a matchup he can take advantage of this week.
Matchups to Avoid
Keenan Allen vs Kendall Fuller
Keenan Allen was an elite player in 2017, showing off what he can do in a full season. In 16 healthy games, he recorded 102 receptions for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns on 159 targets. He also posted a 64.1% catch rate while averaging 13.7 yards per reception last season. He’ll likely continue to be the focal point of the Los Angeles Chargers offense, but there have been offseason rumblings that they are looking to get Melvin Gordon and Mike Williams more involved in the offense, along with Tyrell Williams.
Allen lined up in as LA’s slot receiver on 51% of his snaps last season. He’ll line up against Kendall Fuller for the majority of this game, who played 93% of his snaps as Washington’s slot corner last season. His role is expected to stay similar in Kansas City this season after finding plenty of success in 2017. Fuller allowed only a 45% catch rate, while being targeted on only 16% of his routes covered last season. Fuller also graded out as Pro Football Focus’ third best cornerback in the NFL in 2017. Allen has the skillset to find some success against Fuller, but there are significantly better matchups in this game to take advantage of.
Mike Evans vs Marshon Lattimore
Mike Evans is coming off a sizeable stepback in 2017. After dominating in each of his first three seasons, Evans turned 136 targets into a 71/1,001/5 line last year. He struggled with a 52.2% catch rate, although he posted a 14.1 average yards per reception. Evans will also have a new quarterback for this game in Ryan Fitzpatrick with Jameis Winston suspended to start the season. In four games with Fitzpatrick last season, Evans averaged a 4.3/56/0.3 line per game, although he did nearly all of his damage in one game against the Buffalo Bills.
Evans tends to move across the Bucs lineup, and that could be the case with Tampa Bay trying to get multiple receivers into their games this season. That won’t matter this week, though, as Marshon Lattimore is expected to shadow Evans. Lattimore enjoyed an elite rookie season, grading out as PFF’s eighth overall cornerback last season. He was targeted on only 18% of his routes covered, allowing a 58% catch rate. Lattimore also held Evans to six receptions for 68 yards on 19 targets in two games last season. Evans is a great bounce back candidate this season, but not in this matchup.
Kansas City Chiefs vs Los Angeles Chargers
The Kansas City Chiefs enjoyed a great 2017 season, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. With that being said, over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns came from running backs and tight ends. The Chiefs added Sammy Watkins to pair with Tyreek Hill to make one of the better wide receiving pairings in the NFL. Chris Conley is also expected to return to play in three receiver sets this season, as well. One major concern is that Kansas City will be moving on from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes, who is a bit of an unknown commodity at this point.
Regardless of who lines up where, the Chiefs receivers are in for a tough matchup. Casey Hayward, Desmond King, and Trevor Williams are the starting corners for Los Angeles, and they rank first, ninth, and 16th, respectively, in Pro Football Focus’ rankings last season. Tyreek Hill has the potential to beat any team deep, but could struggle outside of that. Overall, Kansas City would be wise to lean a bit more on Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce in this game, limiting the opportunities for their receivers this week.
By: Justin Bales (Twitter)