Alshon Jeffery Is a Steal in Early Fantasy Football Drafts
After his one-year "prove it" deal resulted in a Super Bowl winning season and a new four-year, $52.25 million contract, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery must be feeling pretty good about life.
But it would seem that not everyone is feeling the same way about him.
In fantasy football terms, Jeffery is watching as 21 wide receivers get scooped up ahead of him in average drafts. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, he is going in the early fifth round behind wideouts such as Julian Edelman and Allen Robinson.
Given his current situation, his past production, and his place within the Eagles' offense, is there any justification for the lack of love for Alshon?
In other words, should fantasy owners continue to steer clear, or will taking Jeffery at this spot more likely amount to a league-winning gem at the end of the 2018 season?
Things started slowly for Jeffery in 2017. In the first five weeks of the season, he only had one game in which he saw at least 10 targets. That came in a Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he caught 7 of his 13 targets for 92 yards and a touchdown. He still saw 22% of the total team targets in this span, but Jeffery had returned just 20 receptions for 246 yards.
Things started to change in Week 6, after a 4-catch, 71-yard outing against the Carolina Panthers. Over an eight-game stretch, this was just the first of seven games in which Jeffery would tally at least 52 receiving yards.
Between Weeks 6 and 14, Jeffery averaged 8.5 targets, 4.0 receptions, 60.8 yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game. His 14.57 PPR points per game during this span would, over the course of a full season, have been enough for him to secure the overall WR2 spot in fantasy. As it was, his slow start and finish to the season saw him finish as the WR15.
According to numberFire's metrics, Jeffery was good but not great in 2017. Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric -- which you can learn more about in our glossary -- we can see that Jeffery's per-play efficiency and his fantasy performance were quite closely linked.
Of the 27 wide receivers to see at least 100 targets in 2017, Jeffery was 14th in Target NEP per target and 18th in Reception NEP per target.
This seasonal output does, of course, factor in the time that Jeffery had to spend playing without Carson Wentz toward the back end of the season. In the three games that Wentz did not play in the regular season (and future Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles was at quarterback), Jeffery averaged fewer than 2 receptions per game for a paltry 19 receiving yards per outing.
But what it also takes into account is that Jeffery, both with and without Wentz, played all season with a damaged rotator cuff.
If we hone in on Jeffery's mid-season run with Wentz -- 66 targets starting in Week 6 -- his efficiency, of course, looks a lot better. His Reception NEP per target in this split would've ranked him 14th among 85 receivers with at least 50 targets. His Reception NEP per catch would've ranked him second in that sample.
Reasons for Pessimism
It's almost impossible to know why everyone is waiting until late to draft Jeffery, but we can probably speculate as to some of the narrative-driven reasons people are looking elsewhere.
If Wentz is not fit for Week 1 of the 2018 season, the regular-season book on the Foles-Jeffery partnership does not make for pretty reading. Also, what if Jeffery himself is not fully healthy after his shoulder surgery?
Then there are the people holding the champion Eagles in high regard, and maybe the thoughts are that such a dominant unit may lean more on their ground game than they did last season. This could make most -- if not all -- receiving options for the Eagles somewhat unattractive.
There are, however, reasons to brush off these three main concerns.
The first is the strong possibility that Wentz, against almost overwhelming odds, will be ready to start in Week 1 of the season against the Atlanta Falcons. The same looks to be true of Jeffrey, although there are reports that he won't take any part in spring practices.
With regards the ground game, the Eagles were a good rushing attack in 2017, by our metrics, but they weren't great. They finished 11th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play, all the while having the 11th-lowest pass-to-run ratio.
Put simply, they were good last year, they ran the ball well, and they were still able to prop up Jeffery from a volume standpoint. With no drastic changes to their running back stable, the Eagles will probably hope for a similar mix between pass and run again.
Given his performance last season, Jeffery is being taken far too low in current fantasy drafts. When he and Wentz finally got their chemistry down in 2017, he showed enough to suggest that he can be a consistently strong performer in real life and, more importantly for our purposes, fantasy football.
While he didn't enjoy a similar market share to those of studs such as Antonio Brown or DeAndre Hopkins, he showed that he can get by with just a decent chunk of the Eagles' passing game. And his midseason run in 2017 supports that argument.
At present, he is being treated by drafters as if he were a backend WR2, when in actuality he has shown that he is capable of being a high-end WR1. His current ADP makes him a terrific value, and if he remains there in drafts as we inch closer to the season, then you would be smart to nab him up and hope for a repeat performance in 2018.