The use of man coverage is on the decline in the NFL. In 2020, the league average man coverage rate was 31%. In 2021, that rate dropped to 27%. In 2022, man coverage was only used 24% of the time. Only six teams had a man coverage rate above 30% in 2022 -- compare that to 17 teams just two seasons prior.
With zone coverage schemes taking over the NFL, one might theorize that there is diminishing value in examining the splits for wide receivers when facing man coverage. I do not disagree, but I would reframe -- man coverage data's real value comes in the form of offseason analysis rather than in-season matchup analysis, and so the frequency with which opposing defenses use man coverage becomes less relevant.
Becoming familiar with team's with extreme coverage tendencies can help your week-to-week predictions, but it is just a small piece of the puzzle with man coverage rates so low for most teams. My primary application for man coverage splits is in helping to form my long-term evaluation of a player.
Typically, wide receivers who prove capable of beating man coverage also prove capable of drawing targets and piling up Fantasy points. There are exceptions, of course -- take Diontae Johnson, who is allergic to Fantasy points, for example -- but those who stand out in target per route run rate vs. man coverage tend to also be some of the best Fantasy producers at the WR position.
As I begin to reflect on the 2022 season, wide receiver data when facing man and press coverage is one of the first places that my curiosity takes me. We were treated to another awesome rookie wide receiver class in 2022 (a class that posted historic numbers against man coverage), and we saw several second- and third-year wideouts step into a more prominent role as well. I've already taken a peek at the press coverage splits, and they look juicy. No player who ran at least 150 routes against press coverage in 2022 drew targets at a higher per-route rate when pressed than Garrett Wilson -- I bet you didn't know that.
I'm getting ahead of myself here -- we are focusing on man coverage splits in this article. If you are curious about press coverage data and want to learn more about which players stood out when facing press in 2022, click this link.
Digging through the 2022 man coverage data provided some intriguing takeaways. A few names who stood out with exciting 2022 results vs. man were CeeDee Lamb, Christian Kirk, and DeVonta Smith. In contrast, the 2022 man coverage data compiled by Gabe Davis, Michael Pittman, and Deebo Samuel threw up some red flags. And did you know that no player produced receiving yardage more efficiently on a per-route basis when facing man coverage than Jerry Jeudy in 2022?
The 2022 man coverage data is full of surprising insight.
Which Year 2 receiver struggled against man coverage after an exciting 2021 rookie season? And what should we make of the dominant rookie season data from the likes of Garrett Wilson and Christian Watson? ... Join SportsLine here to see Jacob Gibbs' man coverage data deep dive, all from one of the nation's most accurate experts as graded by FantasyPros!
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