Ravens Wideouts Create Mismatches

BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 15: Anquan Boldin #81 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates scoring a touchdown with teammate Torrey Smith #82 against the Houston Texans during the first quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Yes, this is true, and to think, the rest of the league only looks at the Baltimore Ravens as a tough defensive match-up. Not so anymore, as both Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are among the toughest match-ups for the better cornerbacks in the league. This is according to KC Joyner of ESPN Insider.

Unless you have a paid subscription to this service, you won't be able to see the statistical breakdown of wide receivers having the best yards per attempt (YPA) against the league's top cornerbacks. There were four guys who averaged over ten yards per reception and eight others who averaged between eight and nine yards.

Two of those eight were the Ravens receiving duo of Boldin (9.1 YPA) and Smith (8.7 YPA). Here what they said about each:

Anquan Boldin (9.1 YPA)

Boldin has struggled in this metric in past years, so his showing here indicates he stepped up his game last season, as the Ravens were one completion away from a Super Bowl berth.

Torrey Smith (8.7 YPA)

The AFC North has a reputation for being a run-first division but the combination of Smith, Boldin, Wallace and Brown gives this division a compelling argument for having the best group of matchup-buster wide receivers of any division in the NFL.

(Check out the full list of players, including 'Honorable Mentions,' and breakdown of the statistical research after the 'Jump.')

KC Joyner wrote something up on top "matchup-buster" wide receivers, looking at guys that performed well against top cornerbacks. It involves some subjective judgements, but it's still pretty interesting. Link: http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/7995950/nfl-vincent-jackson-mike-wallace-top-matchup-buster-wide-receivers



Former MLB manager Billy Martin had a philosophy when it came to evaluating talent. He said, "You've got your mules, and you've got your race horses, and you can kick a mule in the ass all you want to and he's not going to be a race horse."

The same type of thinking applies when it comes to evaluating NFL wide receivers. There are many different types of pass-catchers, but in the end the ability to get open against good competition is skill a player either has or doesn't have. Players who are blessed with that talent are termed "matchup-buster" wide receivers.

So who are the top matchup-buster wide receivers in the NFL?

One way to find this out is to review how well every wide receiver in the league did last year when facing cornerbacks who graded out in my 2012 Fantasy Football Draft Guide (currently available for pre-order) as having a red rating (defined as allowing a yards per attempt (YPA) total of less than 7 yards, a mark that signifies they are among the best in the league) or a yellow rating (meaning they allowed a YPA of 7-9 yards).

To make this as fair as possible, there is also a qualifying bar of 35 attempts against red- or yellow-rated cornerbacks.

Using those parameters, here are the top matchup buster wide receivers in the NFL.

True matchup busters (those who tallied a YPA of 10 yards or higher against red/yellow-rated cornerbacks)

Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11.5 YPA)
Jackson was the only wideout to top the 11-yard mark in this category. Any concerns that this was due to his working extra hard to land a big free-agent contract should be alleviated by the fact that Jackson posted an 11.7 YPA on 60 targets in this category in 2009, his last full NFL season. This just provides more evidence that Tampa Bay quite possibly made the best free-agent pickup this offseason when they signed Jackson. He gives Josh Freeman a dangerous downfield target, something that was lacking for Tampa Bay last year.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (10.9 YPA)
Any thought that Cruz's season was a matter of lucky breaks should be put to rest by his ranking in this category. He is already one of the best slot receivers in the game, and is improving.

Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (10.4 YPA)
Cam Newton gets a ton of credit for the Panthers' 2011 turnaround, but let's not forget just how much credit Smith deserves in helping Newton.

Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers (10.2 YPA)
If you're wondering whether Wallace is worth a huge contract, look no further than this metric. He was every bit as good as Calvin Johnson in a midseason study last year and this metric shows that Johnson is not the only star wideout Wallace can top, metrically speaking.

Very good matchup busters (those who tallied a YPA between 8-10 yards against red/yellow-rated cornerbacks)

Laurent Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (9.7 YPA)
Robinson took full advantage of the opportunity placed before him in 2011, and his showing in this statistic proves that he did so despite concerted defensive efforts to stop him. If Blaine Gabbert can't appreciably improve his numbers by throwing to Robinson and Justin Blackmon, the Jaguars will know they need a new quarterback.

Antonio Brown, Steelers (9.5 YPA)
It will be difficult for the Steelers to keep both Brown and Wallace, but they would retain possibly the best matchup-buster wide receiver tandem in the NFL.

Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens (9.1 YPA)
Boldin has struggled in this metric in past years, so his showing here indicates he stepped up his game last season, as the Ravens were one completion away from a Super Bowl berth.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (8.9 YPA)
Fitzgerald proved he is still capable of beating the best coverage in the league on a consistent basis regardless of the level of quarterback piloting the Cardinals' offense. If Michael Floyd, Arizona's first-round draft pick, lives up to expectations, the Arizona passing game could be very difficult to defend.

Torrey Smith, Ravens (8.7 YPA)
The AFC North has a reputation for being a run-first division but the combination of Smith, Boldin, Wallace and Brown gives this division a compelling argument for having the best group of matchup-buster wide receivers of any division in the NFL.

Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans (8.2 YPA)
Chris Johnson used to be the only home run hitter in the Titans lineup, but with the combination of Washington, Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright, Tennessee now has the makings of its own Murderers' Row.

Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins (8.1 YPA)
Garcon may be the anomaly of this group, as his YPA against quality cornerback competition really declined down the stretch (3.8 YPA on 18 targets from Weeks 9-17). He needs to prove last season wasn't a fluke.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions (8.0 YPA)
Megatron may not rate at the top of this particular chart, but it should be noted that his 72 targets against red/yellow-rated cornerbacks were the second most in that category. Combine that with his rankings in the yards after catch (524 yards, third highest among wide receivers) and endurance (157 targets, third most among wideouts) categories, and there is an argument that he's the most prolific and complete receiver in the league.

Honorable mention

Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears (7.7 YPA)
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (7.7 YPA)
Hakeem Nicks, Giants (7.4 YPA)
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers (7.1 YPA)
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (7.0 YPA)
Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills (7.0 YPA

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