The Philadelphia Eagles finished the 2013 season with one of the most explosive offenses in football, pleasing fans of the team and fantasy owners alike. Chip Kelly's offense translated better than expected to the NFL, as the Eagles finished in the top half of the league in plays run, boasting a top-10 passing offense and the best rushing offense using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. (For more on NEP and what it means, head over to our glossary.)
But the offense took a bit of a blow this offseason as explosive receiver DeSean Jackson was let go and signed with division rival Washington. Jackson finished 12th among receivers in Reception NEP this past season, while teammate Riley Cooper finished outside the top 30. Speedster Jeremy Maclin will return from an ACL injury in 2014, but the Eagles weren't going to sit back and allow their offense to stay stagnant at best. Instead, they added more talent in the draft.
They used their second-round selection on Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews, a player I loved when I broke down his film before the draft. I was also terrified of the thought of Matthews in Philadelphia, as his size and speed combined with his ability in the screen game make him an ideal fit for Kelly's offense. As it turns out, the numbers agree.
Using numberFire's READ algorithm, which uses a player's combine or pro day results and rookie landing spot to determine similarity to rookies in recent history (You can learn more about READ here), there are some very impressive comparables for the Eagles rookie. The most similar athlete in the most similar situation in recent history was A.J. Green in 2011, who posted 1,057 yards and 8 touchdowns as a rookie.
Other names that show up as strong comparables are Denarius Moore (618yards, 6 touchdowns), Kendall Wright (626 yards, 4 touchdowns), and Marques Colston (1,038 yards, 8 touchdowns). There are some concerning comps, such as 2005's Troy Williamson, who was a top-10 pick that flamed out quickly in the pros, and Greg Little, who produced decent numbers as a rookie but has never panned out.
But overall, Matthews steps into a perfect situation where he'll be playing with a capable quarterback in Nick Foles and a mastermind technician of offense in Kelly. Matthews will line up in the slot and may come off the field from time to time, but if last year was any indication, he'll still see a ton of action in the passing game.
DeSean Jackson's departure opens up 126 targets from the 2013 offense, which won't all go to Maclin. Riley Cooper had 83 targets, while the departed Jason Avant had 76. No other receiver had more than 9. Tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz both picked up over 50 looks in the passing game, and those numbers should stay the same with both players returning. So there are over 200 targets available in the Eagles' offense, and a one-year track record for favoring the top three receivers on the depth chart (which is where Matthews is almost guaranteed to wind up).
Nick Foles' competence as a quarterback led to decent catch rates for his top receivers, who all hauled in between 50 to 66 percent of his targets this past year, which compares favorably to receivers in the top half of the league. So if Matthews gets 100 looks in the passing game and only hauls in half, he'll still have 50 catches and a good chunk of yards. But considering the large catching radius Matthews has due to his hand size and strength, it's probably a bit more accurate to project him for 55-60 catches, which means if the A.J. Green comparison holds true, we can expect Matthews to approach 1,000 yards and score about 5 or 6 times.
And that's just his rookie season. The future is incredibly bright for Matthews, as he steps into a high-octane offense which will feed into his ability as a screen threat and a playmaker in space. So whether you're an Eagles fan or a fantasy football owner, don't let the Philadelphia depth chart scare you away from a player who could outshine fellow rookies Marqise Lee, Sammy Watkins and Odell Beckham Jr. and be a real contributor for Philly and for your fantasy team.