This article is part of our Corner Report series.
This article will go game by game for the divisional round slate looking at the top wide receivers from an offense and, based on the inside/outside and left/right splits of those receivers, identify the cornerbacks most likely to face them in man coverage.
Receivers rarely see the same corner every play, be it due to formation 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.
KC vs JAC
KANSAS CITY WIDE RECEIVERS
JuJu Smith-Schuster should be able to largely avoid Tyson Campbell, who's probably the only cause for concern among the Jacksonville corners. Campbell should have the ability to match or overrule any Chiefs outside wide receiver rep, so there could be incentive to drive the ball elsewhere. With Campbell mostly lining up on the defense's right, this might make it a little easier for Mahomes to throw to his right (the defense's left). The Chiefs tend to line up their receivers with even left/right splits, but Andy Reid would still be smart to waste Campbell's reps by lining him up against the harmless Justin Watson as often as possible. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been worse than he was in Green Bay, in large part because he was deployed in varied route depths even though he can only function far downfield, but that downfield part can still dictate defensive matchups and present the big downfield play when the defense doesn't respect that downfield threat. If the Jaguars leave Valdes-Scantling in one-on-one coverage against Darious Williams or Tre Herndon it can go badly quickly for the Jaguars. Then again, Valdes-Scantling had one of his few good games against Jacksonville earlier this year, so you'd think defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell would be careful to keep a safety over MVS as much as possible. The safety is generally all it takes to remove MVS from the play, but it's sometimes a necessary condition, too. Kadarius Toney is a YAC threat against any defense but the tradeoff is he's almost been a Jamal Agnew-type for the Chiefs so far, getting the ball consistently on his snaps but often on scripted gadget plays and always on limited snaps. Skyy Moore rarely leaves the slot on his limited snaps, so he should mostly face the beatable Herndon or some sort of linebacker/safety zone.
Upgrade: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Even: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore
JACKSONVILLE WIDE RECEIVERS
Trent McDuffie might be a rookie but he still might be a challenging matchup for Christian Kirk when the two face off in the slot. Kirk had a big game against the Chiefs back in Week 10, but that was mostly against L'Jarius Sneed, who has mostly lined up outside lately. If Sneed stays outside in this game then he might follow around Zay Jones. Sneed is far from a shutdown corner, but he's probably good enough to give Jones a lot of trouble. If Sneed is on Zay then it would leave the rookie Jaylen Watson to face off against Marvin Jones. Marvin might have some veteran tricks up his sleeve but he's much less athletic than Watson at a smaller build.
Even: Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Marvin Jones
PHI vs NYG
PHILADELPHIA WIDE RECEIVERS
Adoree' Jackson might be able to run somewhat with A.J. Brown, but if so it'd probably just be getting Jackson front-row seats to Brown making a catch Jackson can't stop. Jackson might be able to slow the similarly light DeVonta Smith, but Smith's skill set is sharp enough to beat corners who otherwise match his athletic traits. Still, the Giants might prefer to have Jackson on Smith instead of Fabian Moreau, whose fundamentals have always lagged behind his athleticism. Moreau's size (6-feet, 206 pounds) and athleticism (4.35-second 40) might play better against the hulking Brown than against a blur like Smith. Darnay Holmes should be the primary slot corner, where he should see the most of Quez Watkins.
Even: A.J. Brown (arguable Upgrade if Jackson shadows Smith), DeVonta Smith (arguable Upgrade if Jackson shadows Brown), Quez Watkins
GIANTS WIDE RECEIVERS
Darius Slay is a nightmare matchup for Darius Slayton and James Bradberry isn't much more favorable – Slay ran against both corners in Week 14 and didn't get much going against either (two catches for 42 yards on three targets). Isaiah Hodgins would probably be hard-pressed to create separation against either outside Eagles corner, and Bradberry especially can neutralize Hodgins' height and reach. Richie James is probably overmatched against Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Downgrade: Isaiah Hodgins, Richie James
Even: Darius Slayton
BUF vs CIN
BUFFALO WIDE RECEIVERS
Stefon Diggs is inevitable at a certain point and the Bengals corners are overmatched against him one on one, but the Bengals might try to make the matchup come down to details other than the traits of the corners. How the Bengals might roll coverage resources toward Diggs could be a varied answer, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is worth taking more seriously than most defensive coordinators. If the Bengals sell out to contain Diggs then in theory it would leave fewer coverage resources for Gabe Davis, Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring), Khalil Shakir and Cole Beasley, it's just not clear if the Bengals would actually be outgunned there. Davis doesn't win with separation and it's tougher to consistently win at the rim against bigger corners like Cam Taylor-Britt and Eli Apple. Even if Davis is a better receiver in general than those corners are, but he still might win one-on-ones more easily against smaller corners. Mike Hilton can probably handle himself against McKenzie, Shakir and Beasley, but in four-wide there might be something for Buffalo to target in the second slot rep.
Downgrade: Isaiah McKenzie, Cole Beasley
Even: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Khalil Shakir
CINCINNATI WIDE RECEIVERS
Ja'Marr Chase might or might not see a shadow assignment from Tre'Davious White, but whoever Chase runs against is going to have help. There also might be help on Tee Higgins, but still generally less than Chase. Players like White and Taron Johnson probably can't withstand extended one-on-one pressure against receivers like Chase and Higgins, but within the broader scheme the Bills secondary should still find a way to make things challenging for Chase and Higgins. That's particularly true in light of Cincinnati's offensive line injuries, which now cost them both starting tackles. If the Buffalo pass rush allows the corners to rule out certain route depths it would make it easier to jump routes underneath. Johnson is at the very least challenging in the slot, where he should make things tough for Tyler Boyd much of the time.
Even: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd
SF vs DAL
SAN FRANCISCO WIDE RECEIVERS
The personnel matchups are a little difficult to anticipate here. With the 49ers you're always facing the Shanahan System as much as you're facing the collection of personnel in question, and with the Dallas defense you have a variety of personnel types who could feature into a variety of gameplan types. As far as the wide receiver versus cornerback personnel specifically goes, though, the 49ers clearly have the advantage. Trevon Diggs can cover within certain structures but has looked awful tackling lately and could be a target of Shanahan's for that fact. Deebo Samuel is of course a nightmare to tackle but Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings aren't much fun to square up, either. Xavier Rhodes is more easily beaten in conventional coverage than Diggs, but Rhodes has a hulking build for a corner and might hold his own better as a tackler. DaRon Bland was the starter opposite Diggs against Tampa Bay and plays the slot in nickel, where he projects as neither a liability for Dallas nor a true obstacle for San Francisco. Safety Jayron Kearse also often gets involved in the slot, and he could be busy with how much San Francisco tests the open-field tackling of a defense. It might or might not be a good sign for the San Francisco wide receivers that Dallas has been exceptionally stingy against tight ends this year, and any lag on George Kittle's production could theoretically leave slack for the receivers (or Christian McCaffrey, as it were).
Even: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings
DALLAS WIDE RECEIVERS
Charvarius Ward inexplicably got smoked against Seattle but should see some return to form here. The question of how much he might follow CeeDee Lamb isn't clear and it's not obvious to what effect on the applicable snaps, both because Lamb gets into the slot a good amount and because Lamb is a bit more dynamic of a receiver than Ward would ideally see. Ward is a physical corner with reach and a lot of vertical explosiveness, but his game loses something laterally whereas Lamb is often at his best slashing across the field. Then again, going across the middle against San Francisco is only an option if you pull Fred Warner elsewhere in the play, so isolating Ward horizontally might be easier said than done. From the slot Lamb would be more likely to see Jimmie Ward, who has held his own in the role and is probably especially comfortable the closer he is to the line of scrimmage. Deommodore Lenoir is probably the 49ers corner most easily beaten, and it's possible that would be a mismatch in favor of Michael Gallup or T.Y. Hilton.
Even: CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup (arguable upgrade if Ward shadows Lamb), T.Y. Hilton (see Gallup), Noah Brown