Fantasy Asch Experiment: Do You See Jeremy Maclin When You Look At Jordan Matthews?

Jordan Matthews is the primary wide receiver on the team, and in the offense Jeremy Maclin used to play for. How similar are the two beyond that? Very. 

The Asch Conformity Experiment (or Asch Paradigm) is a psychology experiment conducted by gestalt psychologist Solomon Asch in 1951. Merriam Webster defines gestalt psychology as:

The study of perception and behavior from the standpoint of an individual’s response to configurational wholes with stress on the uniformity of psychological and physiological events and rejection of analysis into discrete events of stimulus, percept, and response.

The simple explanation of his experiment is: He put eight people in a group, where seven of them repeatedly gave an obviously wrong answer, in order to see if the eighth person will then also give that obviously wrong answer. Asch found, unsurprisingly, that humans often conform:

Asch measured the number of times each participant conformed to the majority view. On average, about one third (32%) of the participants who were placed in this situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority. 

Over the 12 critical trials about 75% of participants conformed at least once, and 25% of participant never conformed. In the control group, with no pressure to conform, less than 1% of participants gave the wrong answer.

In fantasy football, we want to believe we are never that 32 percent. That we aren’t repeatedly, broadly conforming to something obviously wrong, just because everyone else is. We may be willing to admit sometimes we are susceptible to being in the 75 percent who unwittingly conform on one thing here or there, but a whole lot more than 25 percent of people believe they are the ones who never conform.

The Oracle wrote about how the Asch Experiment pertains to fantasy football for FantasyLabs this winter:

Especially in the echo chamber of Twitter, it’s easy for us to conform and to develop an informational bias by believing that which others have essentially told us to believe. For instance, my very use of the phrase “echo chamber” is a function of my existing within an echo chamber that likes to overuse that particular colloquialism. 

In the fantasy industry, it’s really easy for us to be swayed by the opinions of others, especially when they have numbers and rhetoric on their side.

And on that note, here are my numbers and rhetoric on why people are failing an Asch Experiment when looking at Jordan Matthews.

The Contrarian explained in June that Matthews has been historically productive for his age and experience, playing with terrible quarterbacks, and looks to be priced below any reasonable floor at an average draft position of WR29. He only wrote two sentences, however, of what I want to focus on, and that’s Matthews’ similarity to Jeremy Maclin.

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.

Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson has been hired as the Eagles new head coach. Last year, free agent acquisition Maclin led Kansas City in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. While it was a new team, quarterback, and surrounding cast, Maclin had four years of experience playing for Andy Reid, so it wasn’t a completely unfamiliar situation.

While Matthews has only ever played for the ousted Chip Kelly, he has experience playing both with quarterback Sam Bradford, and several key other offensive personnel including Nelson AgholorRyan MathewsZach ErtzBrent Celek, and Darren Sproles.

People thought the Eagles invested premium draft capital in Agholor last season to replace the departing Maclin, as the two look awfully similar, and Matthews primarily operates from the slot, as opposed to the outside, where Agholor and Maclin play. In one of the most disappointing rookie campaigns in recent memory, Agholor was downright awful, and finished the year with fewer fantasy points than both Riley Cooper and Josh Huff.

It was Matthews who filled the void left by Maclin, leading the team in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, finishing as the overall WR17, just 12 points behind Maclin, who was WR15.

Maclin was 27-years old, however, and playing in his seventh NFL season, typically the age and experience range when wide receivers are at their absolute peak. When we compare his first two seasons to Matthews’, they look nearly identical:

Jeremy Maclin Jordan Matthews career graphs

While Matthews played his 21-year old season in college as opposed to the NFL like Maclin, he used it well, posting the single greatest season for a wide receiver in SEC history. When looking at their collegiate histories and athletic profiles, Agholor might be the one more similar to Maclin, but Matthews looks far and away like the best prospect, which speaks more to his potential than Maclin or Agholor’s lack of it.

Jordan Matthews Nelson Agholor Jeremy Maclin Heatmap

At three inches taller and 14 pounds heavier than the other two, Matthews still has the fastest shuttle, and nearly identical forty-yard-dash, vertical, broad jump, and 3-cone times.

In his third season, Maclin posted his highest target market share, in addition to his highest targets, receptions, and yards per game, as well as his best yards per target, catch and touchdown rate. Unsurprisingly, our Sim Scores think Matthews improving is not only a reasonable expectation, but he looks a lot like several superstars who were either already in, or about to enter, their prime.

Jordan Matthews Sim Score Plots

In terms of production and athleticism, these look like the same people to me. Value wise, Matthews is being drafted four spots below where he finished as rookie, 12 spots below where he finished last year, and lower than Maclin has ever finished since 2011.

Even if Agholor lives up to his original expectations, or someone like Rueben Randle becomes relevant in the offense, Matthews should not be coming off the field. The idea his playing from the slot makes him less valuable ignores the fact that he’s been historically productive operating in that role, as well as the intentional mismatches it creates for the defense.

Seven other people in the room don’t see Maclin’s potential when they look at Matthews. Are you going to conform and agree with them?

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