It is far too early to know which players truly won or lost in free agency ahead of the 2019 NFL season. But, even at this early stage, there are some for whom the world appears to be a much better place than it was during the last campaign. One such player is Jaguars wide receiver, Dede Westbrook. Heading into his third NFL season, there are signs that Westbrook may be a player ready to make a splash.
At present, there appears to be little enthusiasm with regards to the idea that Westbrook is more than functional in the coming season. According to the Fanball ADP and Exposure App, Westbrook is being taken outside of the first 100 players. Indeed, his current ADP is WR46. But I believe that there are enough factors in play that make this current price something of a bargain, and one that savvy drafters will be glad to have paid by the time the next season ends.
Off to a Slow Start
Westbrook’s college career suggested that he was a player who was well set for success in the NFL. After a single season at Blinn College, during which he reeled in 46 passes for 743 yards and two touchdowns, he transferred to Oklahoma. Westbrook was sensational during the 2016 college season, with 80 receptions garnering 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns, at the whopping average of 19.1 yards per grab.
His deeds saw him named an All American, the Big 12 Player of the Year and the winner of the Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the outstanding receiver in college football.1 Westbrook also finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. In the 2017 NFL Draft, he was taken in the fourth round by the Jaguars, the 15th WR to be selected.
Injury restricted Westbrook to just seven regular-season games as a rookie, with another three coming in the Jags run to the AFC Championship game that year. In all, he had 27 receptions in the regular season, amassing 339 yards and scoring a touchdown. He enjoyed a healthier season in 2018, and led the Jaguars in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Westbrook’s final numbers last year were 66 receptions from 101 targets, for 717 yards and five scores.
Not exactly a fast start to his career in the pros, you must admit. By way of entry to the NFL, Westbrook’s first two seasons stack up alongside some very ordinary players since the dawn of the 21st century.
The sight of Doug Baldwin as a close comp is a welcome one, as it shows that it is possible for a player to recover from a slowish start and become a viable WR in both reality and fantasy football. And I believe that Westbrook is capable of such a recovery.
Glimpses of the Talent
The 2018 season was, as well documented, a huge let down for the Jaguars after the exploits of the year before. They finished next to last in terms of points scored, all the while allowing fewer points than all but three teams. Questions should fall upon the teams offensive players, and in particular the quarterback.
Blake Bortles has seen his reign of terror in Jacksonville come to an end. But even in the midst of his ineptitude last year, there were signs that he was developing something of a productive rapport with Westbrook. Indeed, his Adjusted Yards per Attempt mark when targeting Westbrook in 2018 was his second highest among all Jags receivers.
Westbrook was one of 28 WRs to see at least 100 targets last season. In terms of YPT, he was 22nd with a 7.1 average. Antonio Brown, playing with a far superior QB in Ben Roethlisberger, was in 21st and managed a 7.7 average.
The Jaguars WR room is not an area that is going to be confused with the Hall of Fame. At present, Westbrook leads a ragtag bunch that includes Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole and D.J. Chark. Lee missed the entire 2018 season with an ACL tear. Cole flashed as a rookie, averaging 17.8 yards per reception on 42 grabs, but fell away in an extended role last year. Chark averaged an underwhelming 1.3 grabs per game and caught less than 44 percent of all his targets. Add into this mix that Donte Moncrief is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and you see a situation in which Westbrook doesn’t exactly have to fight for supremacy.
You should also factor in the loss of T.J. Yeldon (78 targets, 55 receptions) to free agency, as well as the genuine lack of a difference-making tight end on the roster when considering just how good a situation Westbrook finds himself in at present. Of course, the Jaguars may spend a high pick on a WR, or one of the top tier TEs, in the upcoming draft. But at the time of writing, Westbrook sits atop the totem pole for the Jaguars.
But while the Jaguars made no moves to improve the players who want the ball the same as Westbrook, they did make one move that should help him in 2019 and beyond. They signed Nick Foles as a free agent to replace Bortles.
Match Made in Heaven
Much has been made of the time earlier in his career that Foles spent outside of the Eagles organization, with some justification. His splits in and out of the midnight green since 2013 are quite striking.
When playing for the Eagles in the last two seasons, his most productive partnership from an AYA standpoint was with Alshon Jeffery. But, as we’ve touched upon, the Jaguars do not currently boast a player of Jeffery’s caliber on their roster. That’s why our eyes should turn with interest to the player next on the list in terms of efficiency, especially when one remembers where he spends most of his time these days.
That’s right, Nelson Agholor. Agholor has played around half of his total offensive snaps out of the slot in the last two seasons. He has been able to amass 8.69 AYA in games with Foles at QB. Agholor averaged a shade less when it was Carson Wentz running the offense. Westbrook lined up in the slot on 74 percent of his snaps last season.
The Jaguars have a new offensive coordinator this season in John DeFilippo, the former Eagles QB coach who worked with Foles on their way to a Super Bowl victory following the 2017 season. It makes sense to me that DeFilippo will design an offense that helps Foles feel comfortable, and a steady stream of targets to his slot WR would seem to fit the bill very nicely, especially with no safety blanket in a possession receiver on the outside.
Agholor averaged 14.1 PPR points per game with Foles over the last two seasons, all the while competing with Jeffery and target hoover Zach Ertz in the Eagles offense. Only 23 WRs averaged more fantasy points per game than this in the whole of 2018. With practically no competition, I firmly believe that is an achievable ceiling for Westbrook
Do I believe that Dede Westbrook is going to explode in 2019, and become a weekly must-start in all fantasy formats? No, not while the Jaguars are run by old school heroes like Doug Marone and Tom Coughlin. They want to run the ball and lean on a defense that they hope will remain dominant. This will, by definition, limit the opportunities afforded to any and all pass catchers. But they will look to throw the ball better than they have in previous years. This is evidenced by the money they are paying Foles. The main beneficiary of this decision is, at the moment, Dede Westbrook.
Westbrook’s current ADP makes him a player of serious value, especially considering the lack of competition he currently faces for targets in the Jaguars passing game. Until, and unless, they make a move to bolster his competition, Westbrook is the lone bankable asset in the Jaguars passing game. And even on a run first team, that is worth something more than the WR46.
- Previous winners include Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and current Jaguars teammate Marqise Lee. (back)