This article is part of our Corner Report series.
UPDATE 2: CEEDEE LAMB IS OUT – DALLAS TWO-WIDE IS GALLUP AND WILSON, THREE WIDE GALLUP OUTSIDE WITH WILSON IN THE SLOT, NOAH BROWN POTENTIALLY THE NEW THIRD OUTSIDE WR
UPDATE: Since this article was posted it was indicated that Jared Goff (oblique) will start for the Lions at quarterback, not Tim Boyle. That maybe improves the outlooks for the Lions receivers from a downgrade to 'even,' though Goff is of course not good either, and might not be healthy.
More importantly, it looks like CeeDee Lamb (concussion) might have a better than expected chance to play for the Cowboys. If so, it knocks Noah Brown out of the discussion and reduces Cedrick Wilson to the slot specialist in three-wide sets.
This article will go game by game for the Sunday main slate looking at the top wide receivers from an offense and, based on the inside/outside and left/right splits in the alignment data of those receivers, identify the cornerbacks most likely to face them in man coverage.
Receivers very rarely see the same corner every play, be it due to formational quirks or zone coverage calls by the defense, so a receiver's fortunes depend on much more than just the quality of the corner they're likely to see the most in a given game. Even against a bad corner, a good receiver can be denied the opportunity if the pass rush or something else outside his control complicates things. But it's part of the puzzle, and it's worth keeping track of.
Receivers are left with an Upgrade, Downgrade, or Even verdict based on their projected matchup. This shouldn't be read as 'good' or 'bad' but rather a measured tweak from the receiver's baseline projection.
This article is normally posted on Fridays behind paywall, and this week will still feature a Friday post regarding the Sunday games, but this one-off unlocked post will break down the Thanksgiving games.
DET vs CHI
DETROIT WIDE RECEIVERS
The Lions receivers are so bad they gave a three-down workload to Josh Reynolds just days after signing him after the Titans cut him. It allowed the Lions to bench the highly ineffective Trinity Benson while cutting back slightly on the snaps for Kalif Raymond, who's the team's best wideout yet still overexposed in that role, especially as a blocker at around 5-foot-8, 180 pounds. Those two are your main outside wideouts in any case, with the rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown in the slot.
St. Brown would have run against Duke Shelley in the slot, but he just went on IR and the Bears need to replace him. It's not clear how they'll do that, but it's probably a player weaker than Shelley, and Shelley wasn't a terrible matchup for St. Brown. Reynolds probably can't get open against outside corner Jaylon Johnson, though Kindle Vildor is more beatable on the other side. Raymond is Detroit's best bet to actually get open on the outside – Reynolds might need to live by the jumpball.
Then again, TIM BOYLE is the quarterback. There is probably no hope for the Detroit pass catchers as a result. Boyle threw for 11 touchdowns versus 26 interceptions while playing at UConn and Eastern Kentucky. It's wild that he's in the NFL – he must be someone's nephew or something. Boyle out, Jared Goff in.
CHICAGO WIDE RECEIVERS
It's unreal how much drama is circling the Bears right now, and it's fair to wonder whether the sum of it is enough to reduce the Bears offense to something (even) worse than its normal self. Andy Dalton is in for Justin Fields (ribs), but more importantly there's a deafening chatter that coach Matt Nagy might be fired after the game. With that said, here's the matchup breakdown.
If Allen Robinson (hamstring) is out again (he wasn't practicing as of Tuesday) then Marquise Goodwin would be expected to step up as the WR2 alongside lead man Darnell Mooney. Whoever runs routes against the Detroit secondary has a good matchup – Robinson and Mooney are definitely good enough to produce against it, and Goodwin might be too. Goodwin isn't on Mooney's level and is more likely to end up with a decoy route on a given play, but Goodwin is still a burner and he showed his big-play ability last week, catching four of eight targets for 104 yards and a touchdown. Damiere Byrd was the primary Bears slot receiver in Robinson's absence last week, but despite his own burner background Byrd has been highly ineffective this year.
Mooney and Goodwin should mostly run against Amani Oruwariye and Jerry Jacobs. Oruwariye is fairly toolsy and much bigger than Mooney and Goodwin, but he's not intimidating and Jacobs is an easy target on the other side. The Lions might be breaking in a new slot corner if A.J. Parker is out, and Parker probably isn't very good himself. Maybe Byrd can't capitalize, but the slot should be wide open too. Even with Dalton throwing and even with the Bears a disorganized mess, this secondary might be weak enough to let the Bears get going through the air in this one.
DAL vs LV
DALLAS WIDE RECEIVERS
If Dallas is without Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb as expected, then the whole offense needs to be reimagined. Lamb might play, Cooper will not. If Lamb can't play then Cedrick Wilson is the primary replacement after previously playing more like a two-down slot specialist. Wilson did well enough in that role and was a very productive player in the Mountain West – about the same time Michael Gallup was – so Wilson might be able to play competently as the WR2 while Gallup draws most of the defensive attention. In three-wide sets Wilson might move back into the slot , while the incredibly unproductive Noah Brown appears to be the favorite to step in outside in those cases. The Cowboys might want to seriously consider preparing Malik Turner or Simi Fehoko instead, because Brown pretty much can't do anything.
If Brown is on the field the Cowboys are in trouble. It leaves Las Vegas free to shadow Gallup with Casey Hayward, and the standout rookie slot corner Nate Hobbs on Wilson. If Gallup and Wilson can't go, the play can't go. A tight end or running back needs to make the catch at that point, realistically. This is not a good matchup for the Cowboys on paper, but in the cases of Gallup and Wilson the usage projection is quite encouraging.
LAS VEGAS WIDE RECEIVERS
Bryan Edwards has struggled to draw targets playing as an outside, downfield target in a Raiders offense where the ball rarely goes to that part of the field. Derek Carr might be adequate as a quarterback (MIGHT), but the fact is that even if he's good he'll never make a player like Edwards as productive as he would be on other teams. His zero-target showing in Week 11 is a worst-case scenario of how that occurs, but Edwards is still a good player and when Carr does throw to him good things happen. In this one Edwards will probably see a lot of Trevon Diggs, and to a lesser extent Anthony Brown. Edwards can beat either player, and Carr might even try throwing it his way a few times if/when it happens. Diggs is notably a gambler and Brown is more toolsy than skilled, so Edwards could slip them up enough to get Carr's attention at a couple points. It's a boom-or-bust proposition, though.
Hunter Renfrow gets an easier matchup against Jourdan Lewis, a decent but only decent slot corner. Renfrow is a very good slot receiver, so he should see consistent usage here. The Raiders should try to get Zay Jones off the field in favor of DeSean Jackson, because the latter is especially good at beating a team like Dallas deep.
NO vs BUF
NEW ORLEANS WIDE RECEIVERS
Marquez Callaway might draw the shadow coverage of Tre'Davious White, especially since Tre'Quan Smith generally doesn't leave the slot very often, and for a guy like Callaway that's a definite negative. White is probably only a top-15 corner rather than a top-five one, but he's still a problem for a guy of Callaway's abilities. Smith would more so run against Taron Johnson, who has had good results this year and mostly matches Smith's physical traits. Throw in Trevor Siemian at quarterback and, well...
Deonte Harris is more dangerous, at least, and the Bills don't have an obvious candidate to cover him, especially when he's in the slot. The problem comes back to Siemian again, as well as the point that Harris' tiny build leaves him unable to build a big snap count. Harris can do as much damage as Smith on half as many snaps, but he also needs to in order to be relevant.
BUFFALO WIDE RECEIVERS
Stefon Diggs ought to draw the shadow coverage of Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore is a good player, and capable of great play. Lattimore's best traits as a corner tend to pertain to his athletic gifts, though – he's very athletic for a guy as big as he is. Diggs' is plenty athletic, but what makes him difficult to cover has more to do with skill. Diggs as a route runner is singularly good, and as DeVonta Smith showed last week, a high-level technician will beat Lattimore sooner than a size/speed freak will. It's not an easy matchup for Diggs, but it's not a downgrade.
Emmanuel Sanders gets a crack at his former team here, and if the Saints shadow Diggs with Lattimore then Sanders could be in a position to produce. Bradley Roby might be a tough matchup for Sanders, but Sanders could also see Paulson Adebo a good amount. It's probably manageable for Sanders. Cole Beasley should more so run against P.J. Williams, who is vulnerable deep but Beasley doesn't run deep.