Alshon Jeffery Is Good, but Is He Fantasy Football Elite?
Last year, Alshon Jeffery exploded.
Despite playing alongside Brandon Marshall and his 164 targets, Jeffery managed 149 targets of his own, good for 11th-most in the NFL.
The duo combined for 189 receptions, 2,716 yards, and 19 touchdowns amidst a quarterback combination of Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. After Jeffery's emergence, the Chicago Bears duo enters the 2014 season as a premiere receiving pair in the NFL.
However, though expectations are high for both receivers, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about one of them. (It's Jeffery.)
A Look Back to 2013
I'll be dealing, for the most part, with Net Expected Points (NEP), which is how we at numberFire tend to gauge a player's on-field success. NEP works to quantify the amount of points a player adds (or subtracts) from his team throughout a season. The telling stats for Jeffery and Marshall center on Reception NEP, which is just what it sounds: the points added or subtracted through receptions only.
While Jeffery ranked 10th in receptions (89), 11th in targets (149), 23rd in touchdowns (7), and 6th in yards (1,421), Marshall ranked 5th in receptions (100), targets (164), and touchdowns (12). He was also 11th in yards (1,295).
These numbers combined for two top-10 finishes in Reception NEP for each, and some pretty good marks across the board in the receiving-related metrics. Here's a table of the top 10 receivers in Reception NEP from 2013, along with their Target NEP and Reception NEP per target numbers and ranks.
(The Reception NEP Per Target rank includes only players who were targeted at least 75 times in 2013. There were 88 of them.)
|Player||Reception NEP||Target NEP||Rank||Reception NEP Per Target||Rank|
Both Marshall and Jeffery were not only able to compile elite Reception NEP numbers but also top 15 Target NEP numbers, too, despite playing roughly a third of the season with a historically bad McCown. They'll be looking ahead to a 16-game slate with the big-money Cutler.
Just how exactly does that bode for Jeffery?
Bad News Bears for Alshon
Jeffery's greatest success this year came when McCown was in for the injured Cutler. In McCown's five starts, Jeffery amassed 33 receptions on 51 targets for 518 yards and 4 touchdowns. His per-game breakdown of this stretch indicates that Jeffery had a better time playing with McCown than with Cutler.
The following table shows Jeffery's per-game averages in games started by McCown (Weeks 9 and 11-14) and Cutler.
Jeffery's numbers surged when he was paired with McCown instead of with Cutler. He added over 20 yards per game and tallied 4 of his 7 touchdowns in those 5 games.
Before assuming straightaway that Jeffery's leap forward was because of being paired with McCown (and not because he began to figure things out in the NFL in his second year), let's check out Jeffery's numbers with Cutler. This chart shows Jeffery's production before McCown (Weeks 1-7) and after McCown's first start (Weeks 10 and 15-17).
|Splits with Cutler||Receptions||Targets||Yards||Touchdowns||Fantasy Points|
After Jeffery got his first taste of playing with McCown, his numbers with Cutler improved. However, if you factor out Jeffery's Week 10 game against the Lions (9 catches, 18 targets, and 114 yards), Jeffery managed just 4.67 receptions on 7.67 targets for 76.00 yards and 0.33 touchdowns with Cutler, albeit in a small, three-game sample.
In case you're curious, Marshall's numbers weren't inflated with McCown. In fact, they were nearly identical (except that Marshall caught 10 of his 12 touchdowns from Cutler).
What It Means for Jeffery (And Fantasy Owners)
It's hard to say, really, and I won't try to be definite prognosticator. All I mean to do is take a look back and try not to forget how well Jeffery performed with Cutler and with McCown.
But if the per-game marks are any indication, Jeffery is still on track for a good year. Even with the most modest per-game averages he recorded with Cutler this year (primarily coming from his first seven games of the year), Jeffery would still be on pace for 75 receptions, 1,282 yards, and 4 touchdowns over a 16-game slate. That would result in likely top-20 fantasy totals, which isn't bad, but it's not where he's going to be drafted.
If Jeffery plays like he did with Cutler after Week 9, he'd be able to post 92 catches for 1,368 yards and, still, just 4 touchdowns. That line would likely place him in the top-15 if not the top-12 among wide receivers. His reception total (89) can only climb incrementally higher, and Cutler has never thrown for more than 27 touchdowns in a season. That leaves Jeffery a bit yardage-dependent, which isn't a great sign considering the Bears shouldn't be as dreadful as they were last year on defense.
As a team, Chicago allowed 29.9 points per game (just one-tenth of a point away from tying the Vikings for dead last in the league). Their rush defense was absolutely abysmal, allowing a league-worst Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play of 0.15. The league average was -0.01. If the Bears are any less of a sieve, then they might find themselves in fewer positions of trailing, reducing the importance of those long bombs to Jeffery.
I don't doubt for a single second that the Bears have the top receiving duo in the NFL this year, but I can't help but think fantasy owners are going to be in for a letdown if they keep drafting Jeffery where they are now: 12th overall (as the 6th wide receiver) and ahead of Marshall since June 1st according to MyFantasyLeague.com.
If you're picking Jeffery that early for his upside, there's not much higher his production can go with Marshall by his side. If you're drafting him over another position because of safety, then you're picking the wrong Bears receiver.