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Jordan Matthews Fantasy 2016: Undervalued From the Slot

Changes in the City of Brotherly Love

Every offseason a number of changes to coaching staffs and rosters are made across the NFL. From a wide range of free agent pickups to the addition of rookies at the draft in May, each NFL season presents fantasy football fans alike with a brand new landscape.

This season, no team has arguably had more of a facelift than the Philadelphia Eagles. With the acquisition of Carson Wentz, the controversy surrounding Sam Bradford and the changes on offense coming from new hire Head Coach Doug Pederson, fantasy owners are left curious to what they can expect. Despite all the drama, the big questions most want to know is: Will the Eagles’ offense be able to produce in 2016, and through what players will this production run through?

Despite what the media as a whole might like you to think about Philadelphia, they do have football players on their roster other than quarterbacks. Ryan Mathews and Zach Ertz are both presumed locks for the Eagles if they’re healthy, as they each have little competition for their positions. Doug Pederson loves his backs and tight-ends, and that trend should continue in his new home. The wide-receiver position in this new offense, however, is a big question mark for fans everywhere. Let’s take a look at the performance of the top five Eagles’ pass-catchers over the past two seasons:

One of the few consistent wide-receivers for the Eagles over the past two years has been Jordan Matthews, who has started all 32 games and averaged 116 targets for 934.5 yards and 8 touchdowns. Besides him, Zach Ertz has been the only other truly consistent pass-catcher. This was all done in a situation where Matthews saw three different quarterbacks throw him the ball. Since the beginning of the 2014 season, the Eagles have had Nick Foles start 7 games, Sam Bradford start 12 games, and Mark Sanchez start 13 games. Wide-receivers and their report with the team’s signal caller is overwhelmingly important in the NFL, so the fact that Matthews was able to average over 900 yards over the past two seasons is quite the feat.

2014 Eagles Pos. GP Rec Yards TD
J. Maclin WR 16 85 1318 10
J. Matthews WR 16 67 872 8
Z. Ertz TE 16 58 702 3
R. Cooper WR 16 55 577 3
D. Sproles RB 15 40 387 0
2015 Eagles Pos GP Rec Yards TD
J. Matthews WR 16 85 997 8
Z. Ertz TE 15 75 853 2
D. Sproles RB 16 55 388 1
D. Murray RB 15 44 322 1
B. Celek TE 16 27 398 3

*Stats from NFL.com

Offseason-Frenzy

Jordan MatthewsThe big storyline out of Eagles training camps and OTA’s was the controversy surrounding who should be their “official” outside receiver. This is quite interesting news, as Doug Pederson has put forth a few conflicting statements on his wide-receivers and what he’s expecting from them. In May, Pederson addressed the media regarding his receivers and said that he wants all of them to be “interchangeable,” in the fact that they could all rotate through the X and Y receiver spots. In early June, Pederson said he wants to try Matthews on the outside, which seemed to make a lot of sense given his size and prowess in the red-zone. Now, in a quick turnaround mid-June, he’s saying Matthews has not done enough to impress on the outside and that Philly will probably keep their leading receiver from 2015 in the slot.

Matthews biggest criticism over the past few years has surrounded his somewhat frequent drops, but given the carousel of quarterbacks, you have to expect some miscommunication to happen and mistakes to be made.

Nelson Agholor, Reuben Randle, Chris Givens, and Josh Huff are the alternate receiving options on the roster for outside. All of these names are extremely lackluster, having neither the benefit of consistency, nor the possibility of high upside. Randle could possibly emerge as a deep threat, but the role will be very limited, especially with the quarterback situation in question. If Doug Pederson and the offenses he’s coordinated have shown us one thing over the years, it’s that he does not need depth at wide receiver to remain successful. I wouldn’t expect any of these four players to be poised for any sort of breakout season in 2016 considering what they have demonstrated in the past.

New Coach, New Scheme

The Kansas City Chiefs loved to run the ball when Doug Pederson was their offensive-coordinator, that’s no secret, so it begs one to question just how much will the Eagles rely on their pass-catchers this season.

From first glance, it would appear that Pederson’s purely devoted to the run, as he just came from one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL. While he was the offensive coordinator there for three years, however, he only began calling plays a little under halfway through last season. As you can see here, the top three targeted players and their positions changed a bit when he took over these play calling duties.

2013 Chiefs Pos GP Rec Yards TD
J. Charles RB 15 70 693 7
D. Bowe WR 15 57 673 5
D. McCluster RB 6 53 511 2
2014 Chiefs Pos GP Rec Yards TD
T. Kelce TE 11 67 862 5
D. Bowe WR 15 60 754 0
J. Charles RB 15 40 291 5
2015 Chiefs Pos GP Rec Yards TD
J. Maclin WR 16 87 1088 8
T. Kelce TE 16 72 875 5
A. Wilson WR 12 35 471 2

In both 2013 and 2014, when Andy Reid was making the offensive play calls, a TE or a RB led the team in receptions, with their leading WR never surpassing more than 754 yards each year. When Pederson took over in 2015, the Chiefs finally saw a receiver lead the team in receptions, and also saw a receiver come in at third on the reception list as well. Granted, Maclin was brought in as an upgrade to the position, but even as a running team there was a dedicated focus to get him the ball.

It’s very important to note here that in 2015, from Week 7 on, the Chiefs were undefeated. It is no coincidence that Week 7 was the week that Doug Pederson took over offensive-play calling duties for the Chiefs. Obviously they have a very stout defense in Kansas City that played a very big role in the their success last year, but Pederson can definitely be credited with turning that offense around. He also managed to make these improvements AFTER their best player, Jamaal Charles, went down with a torn ACL. That’s ridiculously impressive.

One Size Fits All With Pederson

Obviously with the injury to Jamaal Charles, the offense was bound to change a good bit, but replacements Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware were more than capable catching the ball out of the backfield, and Pederson still chose to lean on his receivers and Travis Kelce. This should translate nicely into Philadelphia, as a much similar situation could present itself to the new head coach.

Ryan Mathews (who is quite high in our RB Rankings for 2016) is far from an iron-man athlete, and could go down at anytime this season just like Charles did last year. If that is the case, or if Mathews proves to be less than ideal in passing situations, I fully expect Jeremy Maclin-like numbers from Jordan Matthews in 2016. As Pederson likes to spread out opposing defenses to open up the run game and the play-action, Ertz and Matthews should take snaps from numerous spots on the field this season. They both have the talent and ability to play all over the field, so why restrict them to a single set of routes? If Randle or Givens can somehow establish themselves in the Eagles’ offense in a similar fashion, great, but taking a gamble on them is not advised in the least.

The simple truth is that no matter where Matthews lines up on the field, he is now the best pass-catcher option for the Eagles by miles. He is going to targeted immensely in the passing game, especially when Philadelphia squares off against their high-scoring division rivals.

Jordan Matthews, has been peg for the 4th round of most fantasy drafts, no matter the format. He carries a sneaky combination of upside and consistency that could prove invaluable to anyone hoping to win a fantasy championship in 2016. Personally, I feel the 4th round is a nice place to draft him, yet if his ADP slips in the coming months he could very well be one of the best bargain WR1’s in the NFL, despite lining up in the slot.

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