The Case Against Jordan Matthews
Jordan Matthews is probably my favorite player in this draft class. After all, by our criteria he dominated 29 college games. Or the equivalent of Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Odell Beckham combined . . . plus 7. When someone says that a player “doesn’t look as good on tape as he does in the spreadsheet,” the evaluator is essentially1 saying he values flash over the little things. They say you can’t measure intangibles,2 but it might be more accurate to say most people are simply going the Bartleby route.
Having said all that, I’m trying not to let my affection for Matthews distort my approach to 2014 drafts. Here’s my argument against overpaying and why I believe he may end up being overrated both in redraft and dynasty this season.
1. There’s a (slight) chance Matthews isn’t as talented as we believe.
I don’t favor this interpretation, but it’s never a good idea to ignore dissenting views. Sigmund Bloom recently made a strong case against Matthews, and Rumford Johnny put Matthews outside the top tier in his post-draft wide receiver rankings.
2. The Eagles offense may be high volume, but it’s very run-heavy.
Courtesy of PFF, it’s worth noting that only Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick dropped back to pass on a smaller percentage of their overall snaps than Nick Foles. Starting in Week 6, Foles ranked No. 24 in drop backs. The perception of the Eagles as an up tempo juggernaut can obscure this fact. Foles only attempted 30 or more passes three times.
3. The Eagles may be up tempo, but they didn’t run as many plays as you might think.
Philadelphia ranked No. 13 in total plays with 1,054. The Eagles probably have a high floor when it comes to projecting 2014 snaps, but they’re not necessarily going to separate from the field.
4. The Eagles offense may be fairly egalitarian.
It’s easy to salivate over Matthews filling in for DeSean Jackson as the No. 1 receiver for Philadelphia, but that may not be as valuable a role as it seems. Even with Nick Foles setting quarterback efficiency records, Jackson only finished as WR12.
In part, that’s because Foles was better at distributing the targets. With Michael Vick starting in Weeks 1-5, Jackson averaged 19.7 points per game. With Foles starting in Weeks 6-17, Jackson averaged 15.3. The opposite was true for Riley Cooper. He averaged 4.6 with Vick and 14.2 with Foles.
This can also be seen in the Game Flow splits Rich Hribar recently provided. When trailing, Jackson owned a 28% to 15% target edge over Cooper. In neutral situations the gap dropped to a 21-18% margin. My money is on Philadelphia leading in a high percentage of their games over the next five years and thus spending a lot of time in clock killing mode.
5. Jordan Matthews will have a lot more competition for snaps than DeSean Jackson did.
Matthews is almost certainly going to be a better player than DeSean Jackson, but he’s also going to be competing with better players. Jason Avant played 858 snaps last year, ran 462 routes and saw 71 largely ineffectual targets. It remains to be seen how the Eagles will divide snaps and roles between Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, and Josh Huff, but the third and fourth receivers will play a larger role. Of course, the biggest route thief could be one of my Top 10 Sleepers. Zach Ertz was more efficient on a per snap basis in 2013 than Julius Thomas but he ran nearly 200 fewer routes.
6. Rookie Derangement
I expect Matthews to emerge as the clear No. 1 in Philadelphia, but that doesn’t mean it will happen in 2014. Coleman Kelly penned arguably the most important article RotoViz published last year. Despite our universal love for DeAndre Hopkins, he recommended going with Alshon Jeffery in redraft. I think it’s possible Matthews becomes the focal point of Philadelphia’s attack right away – neither Maclin nor Cooper is the type of talent who’s going to necessarily block a star and early reports are very favorable – but it also wouldn’t surprise me if he languishes as the fourth option behind Maclin, Cooper, and Ertz.
7. His long term future
Matthews probably possesses the talent level to become a Top 10 NFL wide receiver, but it’s equally possible he becomes a cog in a dominant Philadelphia attack. This may be a misleading analogy, but the Kansas City Chiefs offense under Dick Vermeil offers something of a cautionary tale.
From 2001 to 2005, Trent Green captained one of the best offenses in NFL history. The Chiefs were run-heavy with the transcendent Priest Holmes scampering behind All Pro offensive linemen like Willie Roaf, Will Shields, and Brian Waters. Kansas City finished in the top five in total offense every year during that span, and Green threw for 4,000-plus yards in 2003, 2004, and 2005 at a time when it was far less common. Green actually led the NFL with 556 attempts in 2004, but his top wide receiver, Eddie Kennison, finished as WR21.
I was the lowest on Jordan Matthews in the RotoViz Composite Rookie Rankings by a wide margin. I wanted to offer a quick look at my rankings and explain why I ended up where I did despite loving Matthews as a player.
1. Sammy Watkins – Matthews may be just as good as Watkins, and I ranked the Buffalo’s draft dead last due the absurd decision to trade a 2015 1st to mortgage the farm for an arbitrary star, but the Clemson product could benefit from an argument that is equal and opposite to the one I’ve made against Matthews. While his efficiency numbers may lag with E.J. Manuel at the helm, he should lead this rookie class in targets for years to come.
3. Bishop Sankey – The man who could be the next LeSean McCoy landed in the best position for immediate fantasy value.
4. Eric Ebron – I’m not entirely comfortable with this ranking. Rookie tight ends rarely contribute in fantasy, which makes Ebron a questionable pick in terms of time value. He’s also not the same caliber athlete as Vernon Davis or Jimmy Graham. But I agree with the Intersect on his general projection. When you consider the overwhelming advantage conferred by Graham and Rob Gronkowski in dynasty leagues, Ebron becomes worth the pick. He’ll be catching passes from an underrated quarterback and playing a New Orleans-style system.
5. Brandin Cooks – Take another look at the value of speed for small receivers, and then consider that I’ve compared Cooks to an unholy hybrid of T.Y. Hilton and Wes Welker. (The hyperbole filter was evidently turned off for that one.) Plus: Drew Brees.
6. Jeremy Hill – Max Mulitz has a good look at why Hill’s situation in Cincinnati is so favorable. I think he’s quite a bit better than Carlos Hyde. Plug-and-play runners have a lot of value as you try to win the 2014 title. And then they have a lot of trade value next offseason.
7. Johnny Manziel – Johnny Football won’t be worth this much in many formats, but I’m going to be pushing for all of my new leagues to include the Super Flex. In that system, this is way too low. I think Manziel is one of the best quarterback prospects ever.3 Even following Cleveland’s travesty of a draft – yeah, that No. 1 ranking didn’t exactly hold up through Friday and Saturday – I love Manziel in dynasty.
8. Davante Adams – Check out Ryan Rouillard’s look at Davante Adams and then consider he landed with Aaron Rodgers.
9. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – If Ebron can rank fourth, then this might be too low. After all, ASJ is probably the better player. (You can use the College Career Graphs to check out his gaudy heat map.) I’m not completely thrilled with Tampa as a landing spot, but Lovie Smith’s first Bucs draft suggests a potentially changed man.
10. Allen Robinson – Robinson was Jon Moore’s favorite receiver pre-draft. The Jacksonville landing spot doesn’t seem ideal on its face, but the Jags also appear interested in going up-tempo. Robinson is a player who projects as a clear No. 1 and yet he should get plenty of field-spreading help from Marqise Lee and Cecil Shorts. If Blake Bortles develops as they expect, Robinson’s ceiling remains very high.
11. Jordan Matthews – I still love Matthews. This ranking isn’t a criticism. After all, I’m extremely high on Marqise Lee as well.