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Player Spotlight: Jordan Matthews

A detailed look at Jordan Matthews' fantasy prospects for 2015

As a Player

Now, far be it from me to disparage a receiver like Jordan Matthews. He certainly hits several boxes on almost anyone’s checklist for great possession receiver prospects, and there is almost certainly a place for him in an NFL passing game. And his collegiate resume – the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions (262) and yardage (3,759) – was impressive.

But it’s fair to note that college reception totals don’t translate well to NFL success in a vacuum. Among the SEC’s top-15 career leaders in catches, only Alshon Jeffery has posted a WR2+ fantasy season. In fact, only three others (the wholly forgettable Wendell Davis, Earl Bennett, and Andre Caldwell) have recorded more than 13 career NFL receptions. Bear in mind that huge college numbers typically come from three- and four-year starters, often guys who stick in school longer than the premier talents who bolt for the NFL out of demand. Matthews, for what it’s worth, was in the former group.

Looking deeper into his college production, we can see how those obscene numbers were constructed. At Vanderbilt, Matthews was overwhelmingly a screen receiver. And that specialized role carried over into his rookie year, where he posted a shockingly low average depth of target and was thrown to just four times on the outside. Now, this Eagles offense is adept at creating space for its screens, and Matthews saw some real success there as a rookie. But he’s simply not a special athlete, especially in terms of NFL agility and stop-and-start quickness. Those productive screens at Vanderbilt seem very unlikely to turn him into some kind of Brandon Marshall-esque dynamo on underneath balls. Matthews could be fairly aptly described as a plus-sized outside receiver, minus the game-breaking speed, shoehorned into the slot and schemed away from the NFL’s better cornerbacks.

And it is those limitations that give me pause on Matthews as a fantasy lynchpin. There’s plenty of expectation to see him play Jeremy Maclin’s Z role on the outside, but it’s hard to see much success there. Matthews is not a burner, and for all of his size, he’s also not a particularly physical or dominant receiver. Sigmund Bloom wrote a great piece on Matthews as a prospect last February, detailing (among other concerns) his college struggles in that arena. It’s hard to expect much downfield production; not one to use contact to separate or overpower defenders for the ball, Matthews is largely dependent upon timing and ball placement to rack up his receptions. On his best day, he’s certainly more dependent than most of the options currently being drafted as fantasy WR2s.

Opportunity Knocks

Here’s where Matthews derives his true fantasy appeal. He may not be dynamic enough to transcend offensive systems, but he’s landed in a fantastic one for his skillset. Chip Kelly’s offense runs more plays than just about anyone, which opens up gobs of opportunity for all of his skill position guys. In 2014, the Eagles’ top-three wideouts saw a robust 341 targets; even with a regression in pass attempts, that torrid offensive tempo (and the team’s lack of a proven #3 weapon) should send a baseline of 110 targets Matthews’ way. And the spread scheme allows Matthews to use his solid hands and knowledge of zone coverages to produce out of the slot. As a result, he’s a certainty to see a boost from the solid 16.6% share of Eagles targets he saw as a rookie.

The question is simple: how much of the departing Maclin’s opportunity will now be steered toward Matthews? A climb in the pecking order would a big deal, but Maclin and Matthews are apples and oranges; the former is a skinny yet explosive downfield threat on the outside, while the latter is a somewhat lumbering possession type used primarily on the inside. Therefore, it would be naive to merely pronounce Matthews the new #1 wideout and allocate him Maclin’s 2014 target count.

Furthermore, a climb in priority is no guarantee. Complicating Matthews’ volume outlook is the presence of first-round pick Nelson Agholor. Like Matthews, Agholor is a slotman at heart, but his draft pedigree (#20 overall) suggests the team has big plans. It’s certainly possible he hits the ground running and occupies a huge chunk of Maclin’s lost usage. Also in the mix for opportunity are career Eagle Riley Cooper and second-year Oregon (and Chip Kelly product) Josh Huff. Cooper is wildly overmatched in the NFL, ranking dead last in Pro Football Focus’ WR rating in 2014, but he has drawn 179 targets over the last two years. And Huff has already been speculated on heavily throughout the offseason:


He’s a Kelly favorite and seems likely to soak up some of Maclin’s outside usage. Simply put, the rosiness of Matthews’ post-Maclin fantasy outlook has dimmed a bit over the last few months.

But with Sam Bradford or Mark Sanchez at the helm, both Matthews and Agholor still project into solid, perhaps abundant volume. One of the era’s stereotypical dink-and-dunkers, Bradford has spent five NFL seasons in abject horror of throwing the ball beyond the intermediate levels. And Sanchez, should he win the starting job through injury or ineffectiveness by Bradford, presents a similar outlook. He’s iffy down the field and outside the hashes, and the Eagles severely handcuffed their deep-ball offense once he took over for Nick Foles in 2014. Those small-armed passers are likely to saturate their short and intermediate targets – namely Matthews, Agholor, and tight end Zach Ertz – with targets.

So while Matthews may lag in efficiency and dynamism down the field, he’ll likely get all the work he can handle underneath. Depending on Agholor’s development and integration into the offense, there is real 90-catch upside for Matthews, and a floor around 75-80 makes him a choice PPR target.

Final Thoughts

By now, you’re likely rolling your eyes and wondering why any of these criticisms should matter. Matthews posted impressive counting stats for a rookie wideout, and his role only looks to grow with Maclin out of the picture. He’s anything but valueless, especially in PPR leagues. But this game of ours is rooted in future expectation, and how strongly we can expect past/present success to continue once a rookie is a veteran with his tape on display in every NFL film library. And how long of a limb should you crawl onto for a guy who’s limited by nature and this reliant upon his teammates for production? There are numerous options in Matthews’ ADP tier with similar usage outlooks but more dynamic, independent ability.

We don’t recommend fading Matthews entirely. He’ll catch plenty of balls, giving him very healthy PPR value regardless of what he can or can’t do with them. But treating him like Jeremy Maclin looks pretty shortsighted. He’s a different player altogether, one with smarts and hands but without a dominant NFL profile. As the Eagles offense goes, so will go Matthews, not vice versa.

Projections

 

G

Rec

Yd

TD

Justin Howe

16

73

947

7

Maurile Tremblay

16

74

955

8

David Dodds

16

71

944

8

Jason Wood

16

80

1000

8

Bob Henry

16

77

1060

10

Other Viewpoints

Pro Football Focus’ Mike Clay also values Matthews’ slot/PPR prowess, while wondering about the rest of the package:

“With Jeremy Maclin now in Kansas City, Matthews is sure to see more work on the outside by default, but questionable separation skills means Chip Kelly will continue to keep him busy in the slot on passing downs. Think Marques Colston 2.0 and thus a solid, high-floor WR2.”

FFToday’s Mike Krueger also wonders whether Matthews is capable of serving as a true #1 wideout in 2015:

“[Jeremy] Maclin is gone and the Eagles don't appear to have a No. 1 wide receiver waiting in the wings - although a case could be made for Jordan Matthews. More than likely, the numbers will be divvied up among a group that will include more than just receivers.”

But the local Philly Voice has a rosier outlook on his fantasy prospects:

“Matthews broke into the NFL the wrong year. Because the draft was so absurdly strong in 2014, he's a bit of an afterthought nationally, and even a bit underrated locally. Personally, I think Matthews is going to be a really good player who consistently puts up big numbers over the course of a long career. In the short term, I expect Matthews to have a big season.”