Jordan “Market Share Superstar” Matthews was a RotoViz infatuation in 2014. His first two NFL seasons have been prolific yet polarizing.
In the last 25 years only four players have caught more passes and more TDs in their first two seasons than Matthews. Those players are Odell Beckham, Marques Colston, A.J. Green, and Larry Fitzgerald. Not a bad group.
Of course, framing the issue like that may paint him in a more favorable light than is justified. Matthews has only averaged 12.3 yards per reception. If we look for players with more yards and touchdowns, we add two more players to the list: Julio Jones and Randy Moss.1
Matthews is athletic even by NFL standards
Jordan Matthews is a long way from the Julio Jones/Megatron tier of transcendent athleticism, but he’s also a much more athletic player than many realize.
I would place all of these receivers except Laquon Treadwell into the athletic-even-for-the-NFL category. Most of these players receive far more attention for their athletic gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean Matthews has as much functional athleticism, but it’s helpful in framing our film watching or creating a context for explaining his success.
My guess is that our intuition about Matthews is wrong, or at least incomplete. Let’s recalibrate.
Matthews has played with terrible quarterbacks
We tend to realize this, but perhaps not give it the weight it deserves. Matthews has been a star with Mark Sanchez under center, a solid player with Sam Bradford, and a disaster with Nick Foles.
Matthews is easily the top AYA receiver for Sanchez. The former New York QB has played with guys like Jeremy Maclin, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, and Braylon Edwards, although it would be incorrect to portray his Jets teammates as in their primes.2
Bradford probably isn’t an NFL QB, but he also hasn’t had much help. Regardless, he was successful throwing to Matthews.
Matthews’ AYA by pass location is better than you might think
The vast majority of Matthews’ targets have come underneath as he operated out of the slot, but the above chart suggests his low YPR might be from a lack of opportunity.
To create a context for what these numbers mean, let’s look at the heatmap for some of the more desirable members of the 2014 class.
Robinson has been targeted on far more deep passes, but he’s only been more efficient on deep passes to the left side of the field. He’s also been less efficient on short passes, but much of that may be attributed to the quality of the Jaguars offense.
Evans has also been targeted on a large number of deep passes, and he’s been a disaster from an efficiency perspective. He’s terrible in the short yardage areas and struggled badly on his 44 targets to the deep right. Part of this is can be attributed to an egregious 2015 drop percentage and part to the predilection of Tampa QBs to throw interceptions when targeting Evans.
For a player who posted 17.2 yards per catch as a sophomore at Oregon State and turned heads with a 4.33 at the 2014 combine, it’s disappointing to see Cooks with 137 short targets and only 57 of the deep variety. This fits with the narrative that New Orleans has struggled to incorporate him properly into their offensive scheme. Despite Cooks’ electric speed and agility, Matthews has been more efficient in two of the three short areas and two of the three deep sections.
That Got Dark
The arguments against Matthews aren’t without potential merit. Chip Kelly’s offense frequently created favorable matchups, and some of Matthews’ big plays were of the broken coverage variety. It’s also disappointing to read that Philadelphia’s “clean slate” has perhaps not lasted very long.
Doesn't sound like Doug Pederson has been blown away with Matthews on the outside. "He's better on the inside" #Eagles
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) June 3, 2016
It’s difficult to characterize this as anything but depressing for dynasty owners, but it’s worth acknowledging that players like Colston and Randall Cobb have played almost exclusively from the slot and remained elite fantasy performers.
Then I was tipped to the whole quote in Jordan Matthews Ready to Step Up As Eagles Leader on NJ.com:
“Jordan, he’s been good on the outside,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “He’s better inside because he’s got that big body and he knows how to sort of use it in space. One thing that he can do, particularly in tight areas, is separate from man-to-man type coverages. That’s one thing we’ve seen [from him] this spring from the slot position. Again, he’s a position-versatile guy that you can move around.
It’s always risky to assume rational decision-making from an NFL coaching staff, but it’s almost impossible to see the Eagles having success on offense if they don’t emphasize Matthews. The rest of the offensive skill position players are among the weakest in football.
Most of the predictions for the 2016 Philadelphia offense suggest a slow-paced, run-heavy attack. I wouldn’t discount that in 2016 due to the two most recent seasons in KC and the likely turmoil at QB, but the broader picture is more positive. Doug Pederson began coaching under Andy Reid in 2009.
2009-2015 Coaching Tendencies Reid/Pederson
The tendency has been slightly pass-heavy during that time period and the pace was slightly positive in Philadelphia. It’s possible that we’re seeing Pederson exert more influence over time, but it’s more likely we’re seeing Andy Reid shape his strategy to fit his personnel.3
Fantasy Douche has a good look at why Matthews may represent risk that is asymmetrical to the downside, but I like his range of outcomes relative to ADP. The players currently drafted around him in best ball appear to have less talent and/or more competition for targets.
- Doug Baldwin has told reporters that he’s unlikely to match his 2015 target numbers.
- Kelvin Benjamin is a volume-based sell even if his efficiency improves.
- Michael Floyd is a permanent RotoViz buy, but he’s also what Matthews would look like if he played two more years in the NFL without getting any better and was the No. 3 target on his team.
- Golden Tate is easy to get excited about, mostly because he’s not Marvin Jones or Eric Ebron. But drafting a minor talent4 who could be the No. 3 target for Matthew Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter is an uncomfortable proposition.
- Donte Moncrief has never produced anywhere near Matthews’ level and is extremely reliant on an overvalued situation for his 2016 breakout chances.
Matthews and Maclin enjoy the best profiles in this ADP range. They each marry established production with clear target leadership. They both face volume-based concerns in their respective offenses but appear to be valued at their healthy floors.5 It’s certainly possible that the nightmare scenario for Matthews comes to fruition, but I’m buying in all formats until the smoke turns to verified fire.6
- Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, Isaac Bruce, and Allen Robinson have managed more yards and the same number of touchdowns. (back)
- It might also be the case that catching passes from Sanchez was a quick way to torpedo the last vestiges of their careers. (back)
- It’s also worth noting that new Eagles OC Frank Reich was fast-paced and pass-happy in San Diego. (back)
- Tate has one 1,000-yard season in his six-year career and has never reached the 8-TD level Matthews has managed in both campaigns. (back)
- Last year Maclin and Matthews finished 15 and 16 respectively, and I have them projected at 14 and 16 in the Projection Machine. They sit at 23 and 24 in best ball ADP. (back)
- If we’ve learned anything from Lost, it’s that where there’s smoke, you better watch out for misdirection. (back)