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Could Alshon Jeffery Be a League-Winner… in 2014?
Fantasybuzzer.com
Fantasybuzzer.com

In one of RotoViz’s most popular pieces, Coleman Kelly argued that Alshon Jeffery absolutely belonged in the same discussion as fantasy studs A.J. Green and Julio JonesJacob Myers took it a step further and projected Jeffery for top ten numbers, which even he thought seemed overly optimistic. Of course both ended up being exactly right: Jeffery finished the 2013 season as WR8 in PPR leagues.

You can actually get a slight discount on Jeffery’s 2013 production. According to both My Fantasy League and Fantasy Football Calculator, he’s being drafted at the end of the 2nd round as WR9. Obviously, it’s absolutely impossible that Jeffery will give you the kind of return on investment he gave owners in 2013. But can he give you enough to swing your league in your favor?

First, I just want to establish that Jeffery is absolutely an elite wide receiver. See Coleman’s piece I linked to above if you don’t believe he was an elite prospect. Consider that he had one of the most precocious college seasons of the last decade. In fact, I don’t think there would be any disagreement about this point if Jeffery had been drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. I think his production last year should have removed any doubt, but let’s compare his athleticism to those of the other elite WRs:

WR Age Height Weight Forty Vertical Jump Broad Jump Freak Score
A.J. Green 26 76 211 4.5 34.5 126 65
Julio Jones 25 75 220 4.39 38.5 135 80
Dez Bryant 25 74 224 4.52 38 121 66
Demaryius Thomas 26 75 224 4.41 NA NA 80
Calvin Johnson 28 77 239 4.35 42 139 100
Alshon Jeffery (Combine) 24 75 216 4.48 36.5 122 68
Alshon Jeffery (PFR) 24 76 230 4.48 36.5 122 79

The difference in height and weight for Jeffery’s measurements at the NFL combine and what Pro Football Reference had are different enough that I felt I should include both. Either way, using the Freak Score Calculator we can see that his athleticism falls well within the range of the other elite WRs.

I wanted to establish that because it’s an essential part of why you need to target Jeffery this year. While the fantasy football community seems to know that Jeffery is a very good WR in a very good situation, I’m not sure they appreciate quite how good he is. That leaves some value to be had. The only WRs being drafted before Jeffery are the aforementioned elite WRs (teammate Brandon Marshall probably fits that bill, but I couldn’t find reliable workout numbers for him), elite fantasy WR Jordy Nelson, and likely disappointment Antonio Brown. That inherently makes Jeffery an arbitrage play. In fact, the WR Arbitrage App specifically lists Jeffery as an arbitrage play on Jones, Nelson, and Brown.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Jeffery’s ADP means that he is falling into the third round. If you have a top two pick and feel obligated to take Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy, there’s a very real chance you could still get Jeffery as your first or even second WR. If you take a Zero RB approach, you could potentially get Jeffery as your third WR. Regardless of who you draft with your first two picks, if Jeffery is available with your third pick he’s probably the correct pick to make. 

I want to take this opportunity to address what is perhaps the most common concern I hear about Jeffery, which is that he was more productive when Josh McCown was at QB. That’s absolutely true. Per the AYA AppJay Cutler averaged 7.34 adjusted yards per attempt when targeting Jeffery in 2013, compared to 11.38 for McCown. Here’s how the difference translated to fantasy production according to the Game Splits App:

jefferymccownsplit

 

That’s a significant difference, and I can see why it’s a cause for concern for many. The common explanation for this is that Cutler’s infatuation with Marshall is just a fact, and that will continue to depress Jeffery’s production.

Pop Quiz: Do you know the biggest red flag for McCown’s prospects in 2013? It’s that in his starts, he never once faced a top 16 defense:

mccowncutlerdefensesplit

 

So we should look at how Jeffery fared against different qualities of defenses:

jefferydefensesplit

The difference here is literally half1 of what it was above. Given the defensive quality issue, the size of the difference, and the fact that we’re dealing with a small sample, I think it makes the most sense to write off the difference in Jeffery’s production with Cutler and McCown as noise.

The second biggest concern for Jeffery is simple regression, but regression doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Have a look at Jeffery’s actual 2013 stat line and compare it to the line Jacob Myers projected for him last year:

Receptions Yards TDs
Actual 2013 89 1421 7
Projected 2013 79 1209 10

Jeffery surpassed the projection in terms of both receptions and yards, but fell well short in touchdowns. That’s especially surprising given that if he exceeded expectation in receptions you would expect him to do the same in TDs. My point is simply that he could lose some points on the reception and yardage side of things, and completely make up for that by scoring more TDs.

I also just expect the Bears offensive production to increase in general. They finished 2013 at 22nd among NFL teams in plays per game. That’s largely because they had the NFL’s worst run defense by multiple measures. Because of that, they were among the worst teams in the league at letting opponents convert on third and fourth downs. With an improved run defense, their offense should be on the field more often, resulting in more total yards and offensive scoring.

  1. 1.9 compared to 3.84  (back)

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