How Should We Be Treating Jordan Matthews in Fantasy Football?
After last year's performance, if you asked the general public about Jordan Matthews, most would simply dismiss him and his value entirely. After all, Matthews isn't a lock for the New England Patriots' final roster, having been guaranteed just $170,000 on his prove-it one-year deal.
Matthews has dealt with his fair share of issues -- especially medically -- but the short memory of fantasy football owners can be perplexing. Less than a year ago, there was still a good amount of hype around Matthews, who at the time headed into his first year with the Buffalo Bills after three with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was selected, on average, as WR49, according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
Prior to the year, Pro Football Focus had even listed him as the most productive receiver out of the slot from 2014 to 2016.
Jordan Matthews had done what most wide receivers fail to do upon entering the league: he produced immediately. In his first three seasons, he totaled 346 targets, 225 receptions, 2,673 yards, and 20 touchdowns.
Going all the way back to college, Matthews has always been an incredibly productive wide receiver. He holds the SEC records for receptions and receiving yards, as well as Vanderbilt's record for receiving touchdowns in a career. And the reason we can even take that into consideration is because he's still so young.
Quarterback Play and Offensive Scheme
Matthews' problems have been inconsistent quarterback play and injuries. During his three seasons with the Eagles, Matthews had four different quarterbacks: Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, and a rookie Carson Wentz. Ignoring Wentz' second-year progression, this list of quarterbacks doesn't really strike fear into most. And in those three seasons, Philadelphia ranked 13th, 23rd and 23rd, respectively, in adjusted passing efficiency.
Then, he landed on the Bills, an organization that barely seemed to trust their main quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, at the time. Even ignoring the quarterback chaos, the Bills' offense was a low-volume pass offense. Their pass ratio was a mere 52% (31st in the league), according to teamrankings.com, and their 523 pass plays -- which yielded 2,825 yards -- were also the second-fewest. In comparison, the Patriots passed 60% of the time (10th in the league) with 622 pass plays (7th) and 4,418 passing yards (2nd ).
Adding injury to Jordan Matthews' situation on the Bills led to a dismal season for fantasy. It also could be why we saw a dip in production in Matthews' third season in Philly. But was that his fault?
There are reports that Matthews blames the Eagles medical staff for "two really bad diagnoses", causing issues (or at least further aggravation of them) with his ankle and knee. Former Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho was also critical of the Eagles' staff. And further increasing the overall murkiness of this medical staff are the recent firings of key personnel.
Injury and medical situations can be hard to predict with NFL players, and given his previous problems, it remains to be seen whether Matthews can excel on a football field again. The Patriots signed him to a contract that would be easy to part with. He carries risk because of that. With that being said, we also need to remember that he's only 25 years old. Younger players have easier times coming back from injuries, so let's hold out some hope for the fifth-year receiver.
The Role in New England?
Where does all of this leave us? What can we reasonably expect Matthews to do in this Patriots offense? As with late-round fliers, he poses an obvious risk not not produce, for one reason or another. But is there a spot for him to produce?
Assuming Rob Gronkowski can stay relatively healthy this upcoming season, he will likely be Tom Brady's number-one option in both yards and touchdowns (and we project him to as much). If Julian Edelman is still explosive and wins his appeal of a PED-related four-game suspension, he should lead the team in receptions. If not, Chris Hogan could lead the way rather than play third fiddle to Brady's more familiar targets.
Most likely, Matthews will be competing with Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and others for the role most recently held down by Danny Amendola. The value is in the spot starts when Gronk or Edelman miss time. Matthews' prior production in the NFL and his slot experience should be enough to prove he can take over that role. If healthy, he has a good chance to seize it at some point in the season. To boot, Matthews has a proven track record of elite production at both levels of play. As for Mitchell and Dorsett, they are also 25 but have combined for a mere 15 starts, 95 catches and 7 scores, and are absent a proven track record.
Matthews should take hold of the Amendola role, and he could turn into a viable starter for four weeks of the season if Edelman is suspended. That's an awfully good floor for a guy currently going undrafted in 12-team PPR drafts, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.
Yawn. Floors and likely outcomes of sleeper wide receivers can put you to sleep. Where's the magic, the excitement, the fire take? Well here it is: Jordan Matthews has WR1 upside in fantasy football.
Hear me out.
Volume in the Slot
From 2007 to 2017, Brady has heavily utilized slot receivers. In that time, New England slot receivers have fared much better than other wide receivers. They have accounted for 13-of-18 (72%) of the Patriots' 50-plus reception seasons, along with 14-of-23 (61%) of 500-plus yard seasons and 8-of-14 (57%) of the team's 5-plus touchdown seasons.
Production out of the slot is a mainstay of the Brady-led offense. And if you have Brady's trust, this can lead you to high-end fantasy production. That is particularly true when looking a guy like Wes Welker, who did this in his five seasons as Brady's go-to guy in the slot.
In those five seasons, Welker finished as a WR1 four times and a WR2 once (2010).
Digging deeper, Welker had his breakout season with the Patriots at age 26, his fourth season. Jordan Matthews will begin the 2018 season at age 26 in his fifth season. Unlike Edelman, who hovers around 50% of routes run out of the slot, Welker ran 74% of his routes from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. Matthews, in his rookie season, ran 92% of his routes out of the slot for the Eagles.
He already has NFL experience as a volume slot receiver. If his injuries are behind him, he'll quickly soar up the depth charts past the likes of Mitchell and Dorsett, and his production could move closer -- or even beyond -- to those of Edelman and Hogan.
Knowning that Brady typically leads an offense with at least three viable fantasy options, with Gronk as number one and Edelman number two -- both dealing with injuries or off-the-field issues -- and currently, there's opportunity for Matthews to carve out a role at the expense of Hogan and others.
Plus, his price tag -- up against Hogan and Edelman -- in both 12-team PPR and best ball leagues is just saying, "Give me a shot":
|Player||PPR ADP||Best Ball ADP|
|Chris Hogan||WR26 (61 overall)||WR40 (99)|
|Julian Edelman||WR30 (70)||WR26 (63)|
|Jordan Matthews||Undrafted||WR69 (199)|
Matthews is basically free. Don't overlook the upside and lock him in. If his injury woes are behind him, he could become a relevant fantasy asset in 2018.