THE SHADOW KNOWS Week 9 2020
The 2020 season has been DK Metcalf's coming-out party.
Through seven games, the second-year pos has hauled in 36 of 59 targets for 680 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranks fourth in the NFL in both receiving yards and yards per game. No wide receiver with more than 20 catches averages more yards per grab, and Metcalf's seven scores are tied for the league lead.
That Metcalf's play of the year came two weeks ago when he chased down Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (who runs a 4.45-second 40-yard dash) from behind on an interception return two weeks ago is just nuts.
I have never been more wrong about a player headed into the NFL draft in my life-something that Seattle fans enjoy reminding me of on a weekly basis.
We've already seen Metcalf more than hold his own when being covered by an elite cornerback this year. He got by Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots for a 54-yard touchdown back in Week 2-and Gilmore is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
But starting with Tre'Davious White of the Bills in Buffalo this week, Metcalf has quite the gauntlet to run over the next several weeks-a veritable who's who of corners. There's Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams in Week 10. Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11. Darius Slay of the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12. And James Bradberry of the New York Giants in Week 13.
That's a spicy meatball.
That Metcalf is an every-week fantasy start rather goes without saying. Or at least it should. But if he can come anywhere close to his per-game production to date against that bunch, Metcalf is going to have a pretty compelling argument for the title of the most matchup-proof wideout in the game.
Expect to see a lot of Mr. Metcalf in the intro to this column over the next month.
New York Giants at Washington Football Team (James Bradberry vs. Terry McLaurin)
Terry McLaurin has been a surprise star from the time Washington drafted him in Round 3 a year ago. Despite the fact that the lack of viable secondary options in the Washington passing game gets McLaurin doubled with regularity, he continues to produce at a high level-over six catches and 82 yards per game in 2020. As Michael Phillips wrote for Richmaond.com, the newly minted team captain of the Washington Football Team has taken his role as an offensive leader seriously.
"I'm trying to find that balance because I've always been a guy who leads by example, even back to my Ohio State days - I had to kind of step out of my comfort zone and become more of a vocal guy," he said. "What I learned is being more of a vocal leader is not necessarily being a dictator, it's not necessarily telling people what to do, but you know the standards, you know the expectations of your position, the team, the offense, and you're just trying to make sure that standard is upheld."
McLaurin will likely have his hands full Sunday with James Bradberry and the rival Giants Sunday though. We just saw this movie-New York's lone win of 2020 came back in Week 6 against Washington. In that game Bradberry didn't truly shadow McLaurin, but the pair saw quite a bit of one another. In that contest, McLaurin was targeted 12 times, catching seven for 74 yards.
That's certainly not a terrible stat line. But it isn't a great one, either.
Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans (Allen Robinson vs. Malcolm Butler)
Allen Robinson was nearly unavailable for fantasy managers last week-he didn't practice at all while navigating the NFL's concussion protocol. Robinson was able to get cleared and play, but per Larry Mayer of the team's website the seventh-year veteran allowed that the lack of practice time threw him for a bit of a loop.
"Yeah, it was pretty crazy," Robinson said. "Not being able to practice, pretty much just trying to look at the game plan and just try to get it on the fly, that was probably the toughest part. I'm a big guy with muscle memory, being able to get there, get lined up whether it's through walk-through or practice. So not being able to do that all week was pretty tough."
If Robinson was affected, it didn't really show-he caught six of seven targets for 87 yards and a score in an overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints. Among NFL wide receivers, only Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills has been targeted more than Robinson. Among NFL teams, only the Seattle Seahawks have allowed more PPR fantasy points per game to wide receivers than Malcolm Butler and the Tennessee Titans.
Get where I'm going with this?
Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals (Byron Jones vs. DeAndre Hopkins)
Don't look now, but the Miami Dolphins have the stingiest defense in the NFL in terms of points allowed-in no small part because of the league's highest-paid pair of cornerbacks in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard. Per ESPN's Cameron Wolfe, Jones said his level of play has only gotten better as he's been part of such a formidable duo.
"It's cool to be out there with one of the best. That dude always finds a way to get the ball. He has a natural instinct to get the ball," Jones said of Howard. "Just the communication, just understanding how we play, getting insight from him on what he's seeing on the left side of the field and telling him what I'm seeing on the right side of the field. It was fun. It was definitely fun."
As that comment hints, the Dolphins don't shadow No. 1 receivers, which means that will be Jones (in theory) who sees more of Hopkins on Sunday. Not that it really matters who is covering Hopkins-his first year in Arizona has been a hit. Or a career-killer. It depends whether you're a fantasy manager or Bill O'Brien.
Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals (DeVante Parker vs. Patrick Peterson)
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has been kicking around the NFL for a while now-a 10-year career that features eight Pro Bowl selections. But the 30-year-old told Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals website that an older, wiser Patrick Peterson might actually be even better than the younger, faster one.
"I'm not going to admit that I'm losing a step, but I am 10 years in the game right now, and things have changed," Peterson said. "I have to make sure I'm mentally sharp every week so I can put my body in the best position possible. As you get older, the game starts slowing down. Being a corner, you have to learn how to take away angles and take proper angles to put you in position. With me playing the game at a high level for so long, for ten years now, I understand the proper angles to take."
In honesty, the numbers and eyeball test don't bear that out, although Peterson has rebounded nicely from a suspension-marred 2019 that saw him post a passer rating against of almost 100. Peterson's presence doesn't help DeVante Parker's fantasy prospects, but the bigger concern here is a rookie quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa who threw for less than 100 yards last week in his debut.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Michael Thomas vs. Carlton Davis)
The last thing that fantasy managers want to endure for another week is Thomas Watch: 2020. There was the high-ankle sprain in Week 1. The one-week suspension for clocking a teammate in practice. And now a balky hamstring. But based on the comments of head coach Sean Payton this week, it sounds like both Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19) could be back Sunday night in Tampa.
"I'm excited these guys are back, "Payton said, via ESPN's Mike Triplett, "and certainly there's additional targets. Now it's up to us to be more consistent and take advantage of it."
Obviously, the Saints have a better chance of beating an exceptionally good Tampa team to take over first place in the NFC South if Thomas is on the field. And fantasy managers who haven't been able to play their first-round pick since Week 1 will be rolling him out if he's active. But Carlton Davis has quietly put together an excellent season in 2020-less than 54 percent of the passes thrown his direction have been completed and his passer rating against is a stellar 50.6.
Temper expectations. Quite a bit.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Marshon Lattimore vs. Mike Evans)
Most of the talk around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week has centered on the debut of Antonio Brown in Tampa, but there are other intriguing subplots-including another matchup between Tampa wideout Mike Evans and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. To date, this rivalry has favored the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year in Lattimore, who spoke to reporters about getting the best of Evans earlier this week.
"Just the history of, you know, what happened my first year and I just want to dominate, period," Lattimore said, via the team's website. "But, you know, I mean, it is what it is. I just want to go out there and compete, and win, dominate. So I just got to keep that going. I can't get big headed about it. I still got to go in there like it's my first game ever playing him. So I'm good with it, the history of what happened."
"What happened" is a sideline fistfight in New Orleans that got Evans ejected, in case you were wondering.
Lattimore hasn't had his best season in 2020-he has already allowed as many touchdowns (three) as in each of the past two seasons and has a passer rating against of almost 110. Evans, for his part, is coming off a 5/55/1 line against the Giants and appears close to 100 percent. Evans had just a single catch back in Week 1, but said catch was for a score and much has changed since then.
It's going to be a donnybrook-hopefully just on the field this time.