Preseason Shadow Report: fantasy football wide receiver upgrades and downgrades

Even for teammates, not all wide receiver opponent strength of schedule is created equal. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Football analysis has reached a new era in which player participation data has allowed us to analyze, predict and project wide receiver/cornerback matchups.

Though this data becomes exceptionally useful during the regular season, a thorough examination of each team's depth chart can allow us to determine potential upgrades and downgrades for each wide receiver before the season even begins. "Strength of schedule" is one of many variables that allow us to generate rankings, projections and draft-day decisions, and WR/CB matchup data allows us to take that analysis to the next level.

For this exercise, I've ranked each cornerback unit by focusing primarily on each team's top three corners (offenses had three wide receivers on the field for 73% of pass plays last season), while also considering the health, talent and pedigree of each team's additional depth at the position. I also examined team's "shadowing" tendencies to determine how each unit figures to fare against top-end No. 1 targets, as well as secondary and slot receivers.

Once I had each cornerback unit ranked and analyzed, I took a look at each offense's 2021 schedule and determined which wide receivers will face the easiest and toughest cornerback slates this season.

Note that since many of your leagues won't include Week 18 in the fantasy schedule, only Weeks 1-to-17 are included in this analysis. Weeks 15-17 are given some extra attention, as that will be the fantasy playoffs for many of you.

It's important not to overreact to any one variable when it comes to player evaluation, but this analysis should help you make better decisions (or at least break some ties) on draft day.

Check back throughout the season for the weekly WR/CB Matchup chart and analysis.

Cornerback rankings

Where else to start but with a quick look at what our favorite fantasy wide receivers will be dealing with in coverage this season? Here is my ranking of each of the league's 32 cornerback units: