By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

It's Justin Jefferson's world. The rest of us are just taking up space in it.

Last week, one of the premier wide receiver vs. cornerback matchups was Minnesota's star wide receiver vs. Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander-a player that some consider the league's best at his position. Granted, it wasn't all Alexander's fault (or even mostly his fault), but Jefferson did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, piling up eight catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

Now, after watching Alexander get turned into a meme by Jefferson, the next cornerbacks with the unenviable task of trying to shut down Jefferson will fall to Darius Slay and James Bradberry of the Philadelphia Eagles. And as Alec Lewis wrote for the Athletic, Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu of the New Orleans Saints thinks the duo has its work cut out for them.

"I mean, he's just so slippery, man," Mathieu says of Jefferson. "Like, his route running, I would describe it as silk. If you just hold silk in the wind and watch it just blow, he's like that. Every time I see him run a route, the defender is so far away from him. Like he's an illusion."

The good news for the Eagles is that in theory, they are better positioned to defend Jefferson than the Packers were. Bradberry and Slay both have Pro Bowls on their NFL resumes and have experience shadowing some of the NFL's best wideouts. The Eagles also have a pair of excellent slot defenders in cornerback Avonte Maddox and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, which should come in handy after Jefferson decimated the Packers inside last week.

The bad news is that given what we've seen over the first 34 games of Jefferson's career, none of that really matters.

It's not a matter of if Jefferson is going to get his.

The only question is when the next meme will come.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (Mike Evans vs. Marson Lattimore)

There isn't a more heated rivalry between a cornerback and a wide receiver in the NFL than the one between Mike Evans of the Buccaneers and Marshon Lattimore of the Saints. Simply put, from the moment Lattimore entered the NFL, the pair just don't like one another. However, per Gladys Louise Tyler of Going For 2, it has also been a rivalry mostly won by Lattimore.

"The Evans versus Marshon Lattimore duel has been one-sided," she said. "Evans averages 51.4 yards against the Saints while he gets 81.7 on average against all other teams. This week it becomes even more complicated as Evans appears to be dealing with a calf injury. I would be leery playing a healthy Evans against Lattimore."

The idea of sitting Evans is anathema to many fantasy managers, and to be fair he has occasionally gotten his in the rivalry. But in 10 career meetings with Lattimore, Evans has topped 80 yards just one time. Throw in the calf injury that sidelined Evans in practice on Thursday, and you have the makings of a risky WR1 play.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (Carlton Davis vs. Michael Thomas)

The Saints needed every minute of last week's game to outlast the Atlanta Falcons, and one of the heroes of the team's fourth-quarter comeback was wide receiver Michael Thomas, who caught his first two touchdown passes since December of 2019 in the win. Per ESPN's Mike Triplett, after the victory Saints quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry lauded the seventh-year veteran.

"He's in a great space," Curry said. "I think he appreciates the game a little bit more. Not that he didn't at first, but I think the game just means a hell of a lot to him. You know, he missed playing. You could tell that with his energy, his focus, when he's out here competing."

Fantasy managers were no doubt giddy to see Thomas show flashes of the dominance he displayed over his first four NFL seasons. They may well have been even giddier when Thomas was removed from the Saints' injury report altogether. But before you pop the champagne, consider that Carlton Davis has had as much success against Thomas as any corner in the league-in three meetings with Thomas, he has allowed just eight catches for 68 yards.




Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens (Xavien Howard vs. Rashod Bateman)

The Baltimore Ravens won in emphatic fashion last week against the New York Jets, but the team had to be having unpleasant flashbacks to 2021 while doing it-just like much of last year, the passing game was forced to carry the offense. However, Ravens wideout Rashod Bateman told reporters that what he saw against New York was a dangerous passing game capable of a chunk play at any time.

"Yes, for sure," Bateman said. "It definitely shows signs that we can make some explosive plays for the offense. We're definitely going to need that later down the line, so to show ourselves that we're capable, it definitely helps us a lot, for sure."

The downfield passing game was certainly working in the opener, but there's a difference between doing that against the Jets and getting behind Xavien Howard and Byron Jones in Miami. On some level it underscores the kind of fantasy option Bateman will likely be in 2022. There are going to be smash weeks. But there will also probably be a vanishing act or two.





Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys (Ja'Marr Chase vs. Trevon Diggs)

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs are considered two of the best young stars in the NFL at their respective positions. Diggs paced the league last year in interceptions, and as Geoff Hobson wrote for the team's website Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow knows that he will have to be careful with the football at AT&T Stadium Sunday.

"He makes a lot of plays, with however many interceptions he had last year. It felt like a million," Burrow said. "He's not afraid to take chances, he's going to jump routes and you've got to be aware of who you're throwing a 50-50 ball to when he's covering them, because he's going to make a play. I think he's a former receiver at some point in his career. You've got to be aware of that."

Diggs did indeed lead the league in picks last season. But also allowed more yardage in coverage than any cornerback in the NFL-over 1,000. Burrow and Chase have also seen him before. Back in 2019, with Burrow cucking passes to Chase at LSU and Diggs covering him at Alabama, Chase hauled in six catches for 140 yards and a score.

Is 23 yards a catch good? It sounds good.




Washington Commanders st Detroit Lions (Terry McLaurin vs. Amani Oruwariye)

When Terry McLaurin and the Commanders travel to Detroit this week, Washington's No. 1 wideout will see a pair of familiar faces-he played against Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye when the pair were in the Big Ten and was Jeffrey Okudah's teammate at Ohio State. He told Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington that familiarity will come in handy.

"I know (Okudah's) a really big corner and likes to be aggressive," McLaurin said. "He's definitely a guy that I'm going to be studying, along with Amani [Oruwariye], who I have familiarity with from Penn State. Two physical, long corners that can really pose an issue for us. But I think we're going to be prepared."

If things go as expected, it would be Oruwariye who would likely draw McLaurin most of the game in coverage. And while Oruwariye is a quality young cornerback, he has struggled mightily at times against elite wide receivers-including getting roasted by A.J. Brown of the Philadelphia Eagles to the tune of 10 catches for 155 yards last week.




Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams (A.J. Terrell vs. Allen Robinson)

There has been no shortage said and written about Allen Robinson's less-than-impressive debut for the Rams, a debut that included all of two targets (one a meaningless half-Hail Mary at the end of a blowout) and one catch for 12 yards. However, Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports is banking on a Robinson rebound in Week 2.

"He played 95 percent of the snaps against Buffalo and should remain heavily involved again, but this time with more targets," Eisenberg wrote. "The Falcons just got beat up by the Saints in Week 1 with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry each scoring more than 18 PPR points, and Robinson and Cooper Kupp should follow suit this week."

The Falcons have an excellent young corner in A.J. Terrell, but given that he rarely plays the slot (and that Cooper Kupp, is, you know, Cooper Kupp), Kupp will be just fine. Terrell struggled last week against Michael Thomas and is looking for a rebound game of his own, so Robinson's prospects are doubly cloudy-the matchup isn't great, and until we see a bump in target share it's hard to count on one happening.




Houston Texans at Denver Broncos (Brandin Cooks vs. Patrick Surtain)

In just his second NFL season, Patrick Surtain (the younger one) is already becoming the kind of cornerback that opposing quarterbacks avoid-his combination of size, speed and technique is truly impressive. But as Keith Cummings reported for Mile High Huddle, Surtain is OK with his stats taking a hit if it helps the Broncos win.

"It's a compliment, but also, it's like, 'Dang, my stat sheet isn't going to be up there.' It's also a compliment if another team's quarterback doesn't look your way," Surtain said. "Obviously, you're doing something good. On the stat sheet, it's not going to come out the way you want it to come out, but at the end of the day, you know you did something well."

Surtain is coming off an excellent effort against the Seahawks, holding DK Metcalf to just 36 receiving yards in the Monday night opener. Brandin Cooks' Week 1 stat line against Stephon Gilmore of the Colts looks OK at first glance, but much of that damage was done on one gadget play. With another tough matchup on tap, Cooks is an iffy WR2 play in Week 2.




Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (Darnell Mooney vs. Jaire Alexander)

Yes, Jaire Alexander got juked out of his shoes by Justin Jefferson on a play that will live in Twitter infamy for at least 11 minutes. But the reality is that a lot of Jefferson's huge Week 1 was Minnesota's effort to get Jefferson away from Alexander's coverage-and Green Bay's complete unwillingness to do a damn thing about it. The wildest part? Packers head coach Matt LaFleur defended letting Jefferson run amok in the slot rather than shadowing him with Alexander after the game.

"If you want to change the structure of your defense, I mean, you could certainly do that," LaFleur said. "There were many times throughout the course of that game where it wasn't just a single motion, it was a double motion, right? So now you're talking about trailing a guy, whatever it may be, but you would have to commit to man coverage. I don't know how else you get it done."

Well yeah, Matt. You could play man. Put your best guy on their best guy. Give him help. Make Adam Thielen beat you. Or you could let arguably the best wide receiver in the game just run wide open all day long. Whatever, I guess?

My aneurysm aside, one would think any competent NFL team would look at the Bears passing game and look to take Mooney out of the equation. The Niners did so last week, results notwithstanding. Couple that with my complete lack of confidence in Chicago's ability to sustain offense, and Mooney feels like a guy who's going to need garbage time to do damage in Week 2.