The Shadow Knows Week 4 2022

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport


As it turns out, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson may not be a pass-catching robot from the future after all.

After humiliating the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 to the tune of 184 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches back in Week 1, Jefferson has just nine catches for 62 yards in the last two games combined. That pedestrian production has made more than a few fantasy managers antsy. But Jefferson told reporters this week that he's fine with being double-covered-because it means one of his teammates are going to be open.

"(I'm) not really frustrated," Jefferson said. "Just being the type of player I am, I know I'm going to get the double covers and the triple covers. That leaves K.J. and Adam 1-on-1. If they want to feel confident in their other DBs to carry KJ and Adam 1-on-1, so be it. We know we're going to have a feast and kill it on their side."

Fantasy managers don't want to hear that sort of thing, but they might feel a little better about Jefferson chomping at the bit at the notion of being shadowed by Marshon Lattimore of the Saints in London.

"I'm pretty sure Lattimore is going to be following me a little bit," Jefferson said, via Andrew Krammer of the Twin Cities Star-Tribune. "Our schemes and different plays we have up, we're definitely feeling confident about it. It's going to be a tough, tough day [for] him having to follow me and go through all our concepts."

To his credit, Lattimore is a four-time Pro Bowler who spends as much time shadowing opposing No. 1 receivers as any cornerback in the league. He has faced off once with Jefferson, who had a 6/85/0 line on 10 targets in Week 16 back in 2020.

The bigger concern for Jefferson isn't Lattimore-or any single cornerback. But he's being bracketed in coverage almost constantly. Opponents are doing their best to remove him from the equation, even if that means Thielen or Osborn going off.

That could be a real problem for Jefferson's fantasy managers-but you still have to start him every week. Including maybe his bye.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles (Zay Jones vs. Darius Slay)

When the Jaguars signed Zay Jones to a three-year, $24 million contract in the offseason, they were roundly blasted for overpaying a receiver who has never had even 700 yards in a season. But three games into the season, Jones leads the Jags in catches. Per Demetrius Harvey of the Florida Times-Union, Jones credits Doug Pederson and the Jacksonville coaching staff for the best start to a season of his career.

They work tirelessly," Jones said. "I mean, these guys are going home 11:30, midnight back home to their families, so to see it pay off, I know it means a lot for them. And it means a lot to us as players knowing that we have a coaching staff that's trying to give us every availability and possibility to win."

Three weeks into the 2022 season, Jones ranks 27th in PPR points among wide receivers-numbers that made him a hot commodity on the waiver wire this week. But Jones needs to be benched in Week 4, and not just because he missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury. The Jaguars can move Christian Kirk into the slot to scheme him open, although Philly's nickel corner (Avonte Maddox) is no joke. But Jones is a boundary wideout-and that means being matched up with a corner in Darius Slay playing as well as anyone in the NFL at his position.


Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions (DK Metcalf vs. Jeffrey Okudah)

There was a time not that long ago when Detroit Lions cornerback Jeffrey Okudah was being muttered about as a bust-the third overall pick in the 2020 draft struggled through two injury-marred seasons to open his career. But after helping to limit Justin Jefferson to just three catches for 14 yards, the lightbulb appears to be coming on for the former Ohio State star. Per the Detroit Free Press, Okudah is less focused on the praise he's getting and more focused on continuing to improve.

"Honestly, I'm just doing whatever the team asks of me right now," he said. "Just building that reputation of being someone who's dependable, consistent week in and week out, that's really one of my top priorities. But anytime you can put a one-on-one and erase somebody from the field, that obviously helps the coordinators with what they're going to call. I feel like I'm capable, but I want to earn the trust of all my teammates first."

Metcalf already fired a verbal salvo ahead of this game, stating that, "There's a safety over the top of him, so he's really not locking people down." Given that Metcalf has 135 receiving yards for the season and is barely averaging eight yards a catch, perhaps verbal sparring isn't the best use of his time. Given his size and ridiculous athleticism, Metcalf is always one long catch away from a big game. But between Geno Smith's limitations as a passer and the outstanding coverage Okudah is playing, this has the look of a Tyler Lockett week.




Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys (Terry McLaurin vs. Trevon Diggs)

There isn't a more polarizing cornerback in the NFL than Trevon Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys. His supporters laud his ability to make big plays. Detractors point to the fact that no cornerback in the NFL surrendered more yards in coverage. As Diante Lee wrote at the Athletic, the truth (as it usually does) lies somewhere in the middle.

The film on Diggs shows a corner who's better with his technique in press, using his physicality without being a liability for holding or pass interference penalties, and playing with patience in his ability to break on routes and contest the catch point," Lee said. "He's taking fewer chances, but just like last season, his turnover production - even after his interception helped seal a win for Dallas on Monday night - won't be reflective of his level of play."

Diggs and Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin have history-three meetings in which Diggs shadowed McLaurin. Per ESPN's Mike Clay, McLaurin won the first, catching seven passes for 90 yards and a score. But McLaurin had just three catches for 40 yards in the next two combined. McLaurin's dwindling target share was already worry enough. A bad coverage matchup doesn't help matters any.




Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons (Amari Cooper vs. A.J. Terrell)

Over the past two weeks, there aren't many wide receivers in the NFL who are hotter than Cleveland's Amari Cooper. In each of the past two games, the eighth-year veteran has hauled in at least seven passes, topped 100 receiving yards and found the end zone. After downing the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett told the NFL Network's Tom Pelissero that he's eternally grateful the Cowboys traded Cooper to Cleveland in an offseason salary dump.

"I'm glad they did it," Brissett said. "I mean he's been unbelievable, he's one of the smartest, hardest-working players I've ever worked with, comes out here every week, every day working hard, putting in the work and it's just a pleasure to play with him. I know that he wants to just continue to keep this going."

Had this been 2021, a matchup with A.J. Terrell of the Falcons might be seen as a problem. But after looking the part of a rising young star last year, Terrell has looked the part of an overcooked piece of bread in 2022-his passer rating against has more than doubled (from 61.0 to 124.1), and Terrell has already allowed as many touchdowns in three games this year as he did in all of 2021.




Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (Patrick Surtain II vs. Davante Adams)

Three weeks into the 2022 season, only two defenses are allowing fewer yards through the air than the 170.0 the Denver Broncos are allowing. It has been a collective effort, but second-year cornerback Patrick Surtain has played a major part, looking every bit like the shutdown corner the Broncos expected him to be. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett had nothing but good things to say about his young No. 1 corner while speaking to reporters.

"I probably wouldn't throw his way either," Hackett said. "First and foremost, as a person, this guy is special. I think that is what makes him such a great player up to this point. He's just going to continue to get better. Just his natural athletic ability, his ability to not panic is huge. When you take this amazing athlete, you take this guy that's so humble, a guy that wants to be coached, wants to be great, that's when you see him continually grow and get better."

Surtain has been outstanding this season, allowing just 45 yards in coverage with a completion percentage against under 54 and a passer rating against south of 60. But for all that Surtain has done well, shadowing Davante Adams is a different kettle of fish-especially with the 0-3 Raiders certain to throw everything they can think of at the Broncos in the hopes of starting to salvage their season.




Houston Texans at Los Angeles Chargers (Brandin Cooks vs. Asante Samuel Jr.)

As a rookie, Samuel had his highs and lows. This is not unusual for first-year corners-even ones with his pedigree. But in his second season, Samuel has come into his own-he has a completion rating against of just 48 percent and a passer rating against of 60.7. Per the team's website, head coach Brandon Staley is excited to see Samuel come into his own as a player.

"I'm really excited about Asante Samuel, Jr. I feel like he's playing at a high level, very much improved as a player," Staley said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence. To earn confidence, he has been around the ball. He's had to cover a lot of good players, a lot of tough downs the first two weeks, but he's impacted the game and that's the best thing you can say about a corner is that he's making a lot of plays and he's not giving very many up. I think he has improved in all ways. He's just at the beginning. He has to make sure that he continues to work. That's part of why we love him. He's a gym rat. He'll continue to improve because he puts a lot into it."

In 2021, Brandin Cooks overcame iffy (at best) quarterback play thanks to a combination of target volume and some good fortune. So far this year, the volume has still been there-29 targets in three games. But the good fortune hasn't been. Most fantasy managers don't have a better option to roll out ahead of him, but right now Cooks looks more like a WR3 than a high-end WR2. And that's without taking into account a tough coverage matchup.





Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers (Jalen Ramsey vs. Deebo Samuel)

Deebo Samuel and Jalen Ramsey are two of the best players at their respective positions in the NFL. They are also unicorns-players with unique skill-sets. Ramsey plays all over the Rams defense. Samuel is every bit as dangerous as a runner as he is a receiver. And as Rob Guerrera wrote for Niners Nation, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan is convinced his 1-2 team has failed to maximize Samuel's ability to do damage so far this season.

"We're not surprising anybody, that's for sure. Everyone knows how committed all 11 guys have to be when Deebo's back there, because they know what he can do," Shanahan said. "So that always makes it harder when you can't surprise the league, because everyone knows how good he is. He's still got his numbers to a degree, but I still believe if on a number of those plays if we can execute the blocks just a little bit better, I think Deebo's got a good chance to get a big one and that's why you get those opportunities because he's the best guy on our team that has the chance to get the big one and we just have to get him back there when we have a better look for him."

Samuel hasn't been as effective running the ball as last year-outside one long tote against the Seahawks, he's averaging less than four yards a carry. Ramsey and the Rams pass defense have been beatable in 2022-no team in the NFC is allowing more fantasy points to wide receivers. And neither paradox is likely to be resolved Monday night. The Rams tried having Ramsey shadow Samuel once last year, it didn't go well (12 touches, 140 yards and a touchdown) and that was that. Don't expect a repeat.