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Exposed (WR/TE matchups): Week 1

Breaks down some of the best and worst WR/TE matchups this week from a defensive perspective.

FAVORABLE MATCHUPS

WR Larry Fitzgerald, ARI (vs DET)

The Lions have a strong cover corner in Darius Slay but he plays almost exclusively outside. Fitzgerald figures to spend most of his time in this game working out of the slot, where the Lions were especially vulnerable in 2016. We shouldn't expect much improvement with the return of an ineffective Quandre Diggs at nickel corner, so this is a matchup that Fitzgerald should dominate.

WR Kelvin Benjamin, CAR (vs SF)

Benjamin spends most of his time lined up on the left side of the formation, which points to a clear matchup against 2nd year pro Rashard Robinson. While Robinson has flashed some potential and could develop into a quality starter eventually, he's still very green and likely to be picked on here by the much bigger and better Benjamin.

WR T.Y. Hilton, IND (vs LAR)

The absence of Andrew Luck adds a huge question mark to the Colts offense this week, but even Scott Tolzien should look to Hilton early and often. He spends most of his time lined up in the slot or wide left, which should help him avoid the Rams top cover corner, Trumaine Johnson. Instead, look for Hilton to take advantage of Nickell Robey-Coleman or Kayvon Webster, who figure to have their hands full here.

WR Sammy Watkins, LAR (vs IND)

Watkins has struggled with injuries throughout his career to this point, but he's a game breaker who should terrorize a Colts defense that is missing their best corner, Vontae Davis. The most likely matchup here is a rookie corner, whether it's 2nd rounder Quincy Wilson or 5th rounder Nate Hairston. Either way, Watkins has one of the best matchups of the week.

WR Doug Baldwin, SEA (vs GB)

The Packers secondary was a tire fire in 2016 and doesn't appear to be significantly improved, even though they have added some much-needed depth. He figures to spend the vast majority of the game lined up in the slot going against Quinten Rollins, who allows a very high catch rate but hasn't been victimized by as many big plays as his fellow corners. The outside receivers Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson may not see as many targets, but both have big play potential and are worth considering as well.

WR Adam Thielen, MIN (vs NO)

The Saints placed Delvin Breaux on I.R., which leaves them with most of the same crew they had a year ago plus 1st round pick Marshon Lattimore. It appears the Vikings plan to use Thielen more out of the slot this year while moving Stefon Diggs outside. That likely means a matchup against Sterling Moore or a safety most of the time.

TE Zach Miller, CHI (vs ATL)

The Falcons gave up the 6th most points to opposing tight ends last year and haven't made any significant upgrades or changes apart from adding WLB Duke Riley in the draft. With Kevin White unlikely to be a factor due to tight coverage from Desmond Trufant, Miller should be a very active target for Mike Glennon and the conservative Bears offense. He posted 47/486/4 in 10 games last year which put him on pace for 75/778/6 so he is proven in this offense and should start out well.

TE Zach Ertz, PHI (vs WAS)

Washington was very generous to opposing tight ends in 2016 (114/1178/5 allowed to the position) and their defense has been left short-handed due to the sudden absence of strong safety Su'a Cravens. With Alshon Jeffery likely to be shadowed by Josh Norman on the outside, Ertz should become the focal point of the Eagles passing game. The touchdowns haven't been there for him, but he's averaged over 5 catches per game the past two seasons.

 

UNFAVORABLE MATCHUPS

WR Kevin White, CHI (vs ATL)

The Falcons missed their shutdown corner Desmond Trufant in their run to the Super Bowl last year, but he is healthy and likely to shadow Kevin White on Sunday. The injury to Cameron Meredith leaves a huge hole in the Bears offense at outside receiver, so look for Mike Glennon to rely heavily on slot receiver Kendall Wright and tight end Zach Miller rather than forcing anything to White.

WR Dez Bryant, DAL (vs NYG)

With Ezekiel Elliott likely to play, that should allow the Cowboys to stick with a conservative game plan. Even if the Giants stack the box, Bryant will likely be shadowed by Janoris Jenkins who played at an elite level last year and gave up very little in their two matchups.

WR Demaryius Thomas & Emmanuel Sanders, DEN (vs LAC)

The Chargers boast one of the best cornerback tandems in the league, so it may not matter who lines up where. Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett are both perfectly capable of playing shutdown defense behind a strong pass rush and should make things difficult for Trevor Siemian and company.

WR Michael Thomas, NO (vs MIN)

The trade of Brandon Cooks and suspension to Willie Snead leaves Thomas as the clear #1 target in the Saints offense. That points to matchup against corner Xavier Rhodes, who had a breakout season in 2016 while shadowing some of the league's best receivers. Drew Brees is not one to force things, so look for to get some other receiving weapons involved this week.

WR Alshon Jeffery, PHI (vs WAS)

Jeffery can be one of the better receivers in the league when healthy, but he's adjusting to a new team and could get off to a slow start as a result. With Josh Norman expected to shadow him all over the field, he'll need to work for everything he gets this week.

WR Keenan Allen, LAC (vs DEN)

The Broncos defense has lost Wade Phillips as their coordinator, but still, boast one of the best corner tandems in the league. Allen is the primary target for Philip Rivers but figures to see plenty of time matched up against elite slot corner Chris Harris this week. With Aqib Talib lined up outside as well, expect Rivers to make frequent use of his tight ends and running backs here.

TE Eric Ebron, DET (vs ARI)

No defense gave up fewer fantasy points to the TE position (47/418/2) in 2016. They are loaded with quality players in the back seven that allow them to match up well with whoever they face. Ebron posted 61 catches in 13 games last year but wasn't a factor in the red zone with just 1 touchdown on 85 targets.

TE Jordan Reed, WAS (vs PHI)

The Eagles have consistently been one of the toughest matchups for tight ends over the past several years as they have athletic linebackers and safeties that do a good job of clogging up the middle of the field. Reed is an elite weapon at the position so he could still produce, but he may still be recovering from a toe injury and there will likely be better weeks to use him.

Good luck this week and all season long. If you have any questions, I can be reached at rudnicki@footballguys.com or at @a_rudnicki on twitter.

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