By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport


It might seem odd that an article like this would lead off with the titanic struggle between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tennessee Titans. But if this column is supposed to be about “shadow” coverage, then that’s where we should start. Because here’s the thing…

Shadow coverage really isn’t so much a thing anymore. There are a few cornerbacks still entrusted to follow top receivers wherever they go. But for the most part, NFL corners play their side of the field and entrust their counterparts to do the same. Or a No. 1 corner will flip on the perimeter, but give way to the slot corner if a wideout kicks inside.

But A.J. Terrell of the Falcons has done as much “shadow” work as any player at his position in the league this year. After a shaky 2022 season, Terrell has rebounded in a major way this season.

Per the team’s website, Atlanta secondary coach Steven Jackson credited Terrell’s competitive nature and work ethic for his rebound this year.

"He's a competitor," Jackson said. "It doesn't matter the technique or the situation, he's going to do his job. What he does is go out there and win every single play. He's a competitor to the umpteenth degree."

Whatever the reason, Terrell has been the anchor of a Falcons secondary that has been sneaky-good in 2023. Atlanta is middle-of-the-pack in passing yards allowed, but the team has given up the sixth-fewest PPR points per game to wideouts this year…

And that might not be DeAndre Hopkins’ biggest problem Sunday.

Given the propensity rookie Will Levis showed for making poor decisions with the football at Kentucky, he may well chuck the rock to Hopkins whether he’s open or not. But Hopkins is coming off his worst game of the season. There are trade rumors galore surrounding him. He’s playing with a rookie quarterback making his first career NFL start.

And he’ll likely be shadowed by Terrell.

This isn’t to say you should bench Hopkins in Week 8.

But if you have any viable alternative, you totally should.


Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys (Puka Nacua vs. Stephon Gilmore)

In order to play professional football at the cornerback position at the level that Dallas Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore has for as long he has, it takes more than natural talent. It takes knowledge of the game. Understanding how receivers operate. The routes they run. Per ESPN’s Todd Archer, the 33-year-old made it clear he has been studying his opponents and their tendencies his entire career.

“I think I've always been that way -- being patient, being the technician, always knowing where the receiver’s going and not panicking really,” Gilmore said. “That’s my thing. And I think that comes to our advantage, being patient and not panicking throughout the route. I just think if you prepare -- you study formations, you know angles and stuff like that -- you don’t really have to panic. You just really dig into your technique, and you rely on that -- and for the most part, it’s going to be right.”

Sunday’s matchup with the Rams presents a unique challenge for the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year. Puka Nacua is the biggest surprise to come along at the wide receiver position in recent memory, Seven weeks into the 2023 season he’s the most targeted wideout in the league. The body control that Nacua has displayed to date is phenomenal. And with the Cowboys also having to deal with Cooper Kupp (who I hear is pretty good) inside, Gilmore will likely spend most of the game on an island.

If the first seven weeks of 2023 are any indication, good luck with that.


Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (Jordan Addison vs. Jaire Alexander)

Last week, rookie wideout Jordan Addison made Vikings fan forget about both the injury to their best offensive player and a rocky start to the 2023 season, hauling in seven passes for 123 yards and two scores. In doing so, per ESPN Stats and Info Addison became one of only four receivers in the past 40 years to record 400 or more receiving yards and catch at least six touchdown passes in his first seven games.

Justin Who? In case you were wondering, the other three are Ja'Marr Chase, Marques Colston and Randy Moss. And after what may have been a season-saving win over the 49ers, head coach Kevin O’ Connell raved about the latest apparent first-round hit at the position in the twin Cities.

"Jordan has been everything that I hoped for from the moment I cut on the tape of his time in college," O'Connell said. "But he's been more than that. He's been really taking on a role within our team, within our offense. He's earned an incredible amount of trust from Kirk [Cousins] and the rest of our guys."

This week’s trip to Titletown brings a stiff test for the Vikings and Addison—the Packers are eighth in pass defense and 26th in PPR points per game allowed to wide receivers. But that’s as much in spite of Alexander as because of him. He has played in just three games this year, hasn’t seen the field since October 9 and missed practice Thursday with a back injury.

In other words, this may have just been an excuse to talk up Addison. The kid deserves the dap.


Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Commanders (Darius Slay vs. Terry McLaurin)

The Washington passing game is rather a mess right now, partly because the Commanders’ offensive line is doing its’ level best to get Sam Howell disemboweled, and partly because Jahan Dotson has decided that catching touchdowns is for dorks. But through it all Terry McLaurin has maintained at least some fantasy value, and as ESPN’s Mike Clay pointed out he’s likely the only Washington player happy to be taking on the Eagles.

“Plain and simple, McLaurin seems to have the Eagles' number,” he said. “The veteran receiver is averaging 17.3 fantasy points per game in nine career games against Philadelphia. That includes four 20-plus point games, two of which came in his two most recent contests against the Eagles. McLaurin posted receiving lines of 6-102-0 (nine targets) and 8-128-0 (11 targets) in the two 2022 matchups before producing an 8-86-0 (11 targets) line in Week 4 earlier this season. The Week 4 showing of 22.6 fantasy points marks his only game with 18 or more fantasy points since Week 13 of last season.”

This is why Clay beat me for a writing award almost 10 years ago that I still haven’t forgotten about—he knows stuff, because everyone on TV does.

The Eagles have actually been a solid fantasy matchup for opposing wideouts this year—third in PPR points per game allowed to the position. Starting Dotson is still begging to be disappointed, but McLaurin should be fine.

Just pray for Howell, who has already been sacked a staggering 40 times this season.


Cleveland Browns at Seattle Seahawks (Denzel Ward vs. DK Metcalf)

That the Cleveland Browns head to Seattle a 4-2 team despite being without their starting quarterback and best offensive player is remarkable. It’s also a testament to a defense that leads the league in multiple categories under first-year coordinator Jim Schwartz. But before the season ever started, cornerback Denzel Ward told the team’s website this was the best defense he’s played on since entering the pros.

"I believe so," Ward said. "I definitely believe so since the time that I came in. But as I said before, you can have a lot of talent, but you just got to bring it together and bring all those pieces together. So that's what we're doing and focusing on making it happen."

The Browns are certainly making it happen—Cleveland leads the league in total defense and pass defense and has allowed the fewest PPR points per game to wide receivers despite facing the likes of Brandon Aiyuk and Ja’Marr Chase. DK Metcalf can win one-on-one against anyone. But Cleveland’s other cornerbacks are solid in their own right, and if Tyler Lockett (hamstring) sits, Ward would likely get safety help against Metcalf.

You’re starting Metcalf (duh), but tempering expectations isn’t a bad idea.


Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (L’Jarius Sneed vs. Courtland Sutton)

While Jerry Jeudy’s biggest contribution to the Broncos this season has been giving Steve Smith someone to bag on during pre-game shows, Courtland Sutton has quietly having a good season for a bad Broncos team. And given the way that Russell Wilson gushed about Sutton after last week’s win over the Green Bay Packers, it’s abundantly clear that the fantasy community whiffed badly on who would be Denver’s No. 1 receiver this year.

“I think a guy that no matter what the circumstances are, he’s always going to believe,” Wilson said. “He’s one of my favorite teammates that I’ve played with because he goes up and down the sideline just bringing energy, talking to guys, letting them know what we’re going to do. He’s like that every day. He’s a great leader. He’s a great competitor. He made some clutch plays [and] that was exciting.”

When reached for comment, Ciara said, “Geez. Get a room.”

Joking aside, Sutton’s touchdown last week against Green Bay was his fifth of the season, and he’s been a top-20 fantasy option in PPR leagues. The Chiefs are no joke defensively in 2023—Kansas City is sixth in pass defense and has allowed the 10th-fewest PPR points per game to wideouts this year. These teams just met—and Sutton posted a 4/46/1 line on six targets in a game where Wilson passed for 95 yards.

You read that right. 95 yards.

Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year, Follow him on Twitter @IDPSharks.