Expect Jordan Matthews to Bounce Back
With the Eagles’ recent signing of Alshon Jeffery (and to a lesser extent Torrey Smith), many fantasy players are moving on from Jordan Matthews. Matthews had a disappointing 2016 season, and it was clear the Eagles were going to address their problems at the wide receiver position in the offseason to give Carson Wentz real options. Jeffery’s signing was certainly splashy and continues to overshadow Matthews’ exciting role in the Eagles’ offense. By adding another threat to their receiver corps the Eagles are allowing Matthews to return to the slot where he thrived in 2014 and 2015.
Not Just Another Slot Receiver
While the designation “slot receiver” might not excite many outside the PPR community, it should get you excited for Matthews. Matthews has seen over 100 targets in each of his three seasons and has never finished a season with fewer than 800 yards. The secret about Matthews is that despite his role as the slot receiver for his team, he presents high touchdown upside. Standing at 6’3” and running a 4.46 40-yard dash, Matthews is able to create space in the red-zone, evidenced by the eight touchdowns he scored in both his rookie and sophomore seasons with the Eagles. The three touchdowns he scored in 2016 have caused people to forget about his previous successes in the end zone, but savvy fantasy owners like the readers at FantasyPros will remember his earlier touchdown numbers.
Don’t Worry About Alshon
I’d love to just copy and paste Mike Tagliere’s great article “Fading Alshon Jeffery” here, but I’ll have to settle for linking to it. Jeffery was one of the biggest WR signings this off-season, but as Mike points out, he may not be in for the kind of production we’ve come to expect. Jeffery may not have a great season for fantasy, but his presence on the field should be a boon for Matthews. Jeffery will demand coverage from opposing teams’ top corner backs, leaving Matthews free to dominate in the slot and to escape the double-teams he frequently encountered in 2016.
Jeffery’s presence should elevate the Eagles’ offense and help them get into the red-zone more often. While we may want to assume that as the Eagles’ de facto WR1 Jeffery would receive the majority of the team’s red-zone targets, Matthews profiles very similarly to Jeffery in height and size and still managed to accumulate 12 red-zone targets in 2016. If Wentz can improve his red-zone efficiency in 2017, Matthews should be able to replicate his past touchdown numbers.
Disappointment and Recency Bias
Matthews’ 2016 season was relatively disappointing and the resulting recency bias is certainly present in his current ADP, which is hovering around 112 overall (WR 46) per the our Expert Consensus Rankings. There are a number of reasons (or excuses) one could use to explain Matthews’ weak season; rookie quarterback, new head coach, new system, no other legitimate targets for opposing teams to mark, weak offense, etc. However, one reason that I haven’t seen discussed as much this off-season is injury. Matthews suffered some low-profile injuries in 2016, but people seem to be forgetting this because of how he played through them for the most part (Matthews played in 14 of 16 games and was significantly limited in another).
Back in the preseason last year Matthews took a hit to the knee, and although he played through that injury, the ensuing tendonitis is currently keeping him sidelined in OTAs. He also appeared on injury reports for a sprained ankle and a back injury. Matthews played through all these injuries, which no doubt hampered his abilities, but he should be healthy for the start of the preseason.
Quiet Breakout Candidate
At one point or another, we’ve all heard the theory about third-year receivers breaking out, and people debate the theory’s veracity each year. If you buy the theory, then 2016 was Matthews’ third season and the season in which he should have broken out. That breakout potential was derailed by his nagging injuries, but he should still be primed for a potential breakout this year. Matthews, still just 25, now has another season of experience in the NFL and is entering his second season with his current quarterback and head coach. The Eagles have had relatively high turnover rates for quarterbacks and head coaches the past few years, so the consistency at those roles going into the 2017 season is good news for Matthews.
The opportunity for Matthews to operate as the 1b option to Jeffery’s 1a is reminiscent of Eric Decker, who coincidentally like Jeffery also played the 1b role to Brandon Marshall. Like Decker, Matthews plays a key role as a possession receiver with touchdown upside, and also like Decker, I believe Matthews was primed for a breakout in his third season. Because of delays, I believe Matthews will now break out in his fourth year.
People are being too quick to write off Matthews. The knee-jerk reactions to a disappointing 2016 and to the signing of Jeffery have caused Matthews’ ADP to drop significantly, despite his consistent production in past seasons. Due to how similarly Jeffery and Matthews profile in addition to Matthews’ capabilities in the slot, I think these two players are going to finish the 2017 season with surprisingly similar numbers.