Welcome to the first edition of our wide receiver cheat sheet. We’ll take a look every week at guys who have favorable matchups, unfavorable matchups, and a player who many will be sleeping on for that particular week. In Week 1, we look at a slate of matchups flooded with unknowns, thanks to the uncertain nature of the opening weekend.
Terrelle Pryor, Sr. vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Pryor is going to be the first of many big wide receivers to take advantage of the Eagles secondary this season. Pryor checks in at 6-foot-4 and will most likely be facing Ronald Darby this Sunday. Darby, who is a good starting corner, is going to struggle with Pryor. The Eagles almost exclusively play man coverage, giving Pryor the opportunity to have a field day.Pryor should quickly establish himself as Kirk Cousins’ favorite thanks to his elite size and speed. Expect a heavy dose of Pryor on vertical routes, and well as slants and digs. On vertical routes, Pryor will have the size advantage to pick the ball out of the air over Darby. While on slants and digs, he’ll be able to use his massive frame to shield Darby. Either way, Darby looks to be in for a long day on Sunday.
Sammy Watkins vs. Indianapolis Colts
Cooper Kupp seems to be getting more of the buzz this offseason, but give me Sammy Watkins this week for the Rams. When he’s at his best few corners in the NFL can cover Watkins, especially on deep routes. Unfortunately for the Colts, they don’t have anyone in Watkins’ stratosphere when it comes to talent, especially with Vontae Davis out.
Watkins should be able to torch this secondary fairly easily, even if Jared Goff struggles to stretch the field. He should see an array of underneath routes, like drags and curls, that will allow him to create after the catch. Not only that, Watkins should be schemed open much more in Los Angeles than he was in Buffalo, thanks to Sean McVay. Whether it’s on a deep ball or an underneath route, Watkins should be able to put up big numbers this Sunday for the Rams.
Martavis Bryant @ Cleveland Browns
I don’t know if you know this, but the Browns’ secondary isn’t very good. Shocking, I know. While they should be improved with the addition of Jabrill Peppers, they still don’t have the talent to defend Antonio Brown or Martavis Bryant. While Brown is an obvious must-start, Bryant should be, too. The Steelers have enough faith in Bryant that they traded their other primary deep threat, Sammie Coates, to the Browns.
That means Bryant will be running a myriad of corner routes, fly routes, and post routes as he looks to take the top off of the Browns defense. He’s bound to draw five to seven targets, and all he needs is one. If he can haul one of those deep targets in, he immediately becomes a fantasy asset. On this Sunday, I’d expect him to haul one in at the very least, with an enormous multi-touchdown game being well within reach.
Alshon Jeffery @ Washington Redskins
While Ronald Darby should be shadowing Terrelle Pryor, Josh Norman will be shadowing Alshon Jeffery. That could cause problems for Jeffery in his regular season debut for the Eagles. Norman is one of the best man cornerbacks in the NFL and has given the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant fits. Jeffery will most likely have to be thrown open to make an impact on this game.
Of course, being thrown open isn’t the worst thing in the world for Jeffery. He has an amazing catch radius and is a massive target in the red zone. I’m not saying you should bench Jeffery. If you have him, you most likely took him in the third or fourth round. That’s a must-start player. You should, however, avoid him in DFS and temper expectations if you start him in season-long leagues.
Dez Bryant vs. New York Giants
Speaking of Dez Bryant, he could be a bust in week one for a myriad of reasons. The Cowboys will be going up against one of the game’s best pass defenses. That alone would cause a slight downgrade for all wide receivers. Mix in the fact that the Cowboys love to run the ball and that Janoris Jenkins will be shadowing him, and Bryant could be in for a fantasy disaster.
Jenkins is another one of football’s best man coverage corners, and he’ll be putting that on display Sunday night. He has the size, speed, and aggression to frustrate Bryant early and often. If he struggles to get separation early, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dak Prescott go underneath more often to Cole Beasley and Jason Witten. Start Bryant at your own risk this week.
Michael Thomas @ Minnesota Vikings
Another wide receiver that will draw a lockdown corner this week. Michael Thomas will be shadowed by Xavier Rhodes this Monday night in Minnesota. That should be enough to deter Drew Brees from throwing his way. However, Thomas also has other factors playing against his success this week. Thomas will be the undisputed No. 1 receiver for the Saints this season thanks to the departure of Brandin Cooks. With Cooks gone, look for teams to double Thomas.
Making matters worse for Thomas, the Saints will be without Willie Snead this week thanks to a performance-enhancing drug suspension. Expect a heavy dose of Brandon Coleman and Austin Carr on the outside this week to go with Thomas. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The Vikings will look to make those two beat them, and do whatever they have to so they can lock down Thomas. Thomas should merely be a low-end WR2 this week as far as expectations are concerned.
Sleeper of the Week
Zay Jones vs. New York Jets
Week 1 is loaded with potential sleepers. With a barrage of talented rookies and an immense amount of wide receiver movement in the offseason, the options are endless. This week, I’ll go with one of my personal favorites in Zay Jones, especially in PPR scoring. Jones is a reliable receiver who brings down most passes that you put in his range. He has above average speed and should be able to show that off this Sunday.
Jones has had an opportunity to build a rapport with Tyrod Taylor while Jordan Matthews was hurt during the preseason. I expect that to pay off, and I would not be surprised if Jones approaches 10 targets against the Jets. Oh yeah, did I mention Jones is playing the Jets? He’s the most talented wide receiver on the Bills’ roster and will have the opportunity to prove that this week against the New York’s atrocious secondary.