What Does Alshon Jeffery's 2015 Outlook Look Like Without Brandon Marshall?
Alshon Jeffery has been hovering. He's been on the brink of fantasy football stardom.
But there has always been an obstacle in his path: Brandon Marshall.
Entering last year, Marshall's familiarity with quarterback Jay Cutler was reason enough to hesitate on Jeffery's fantasy football ceiling. Of course, Marshall is now a New York Jet, and Jeffery stands alone as the team's primary, undisputed number-one wide receiver.
Jeffery's On-Field Potential
At numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP quantifies a player's production and compares it to expected production (or league-average production). A 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-15 is nice, but it doesn't mean nearly as much as a 10-yard pass on 3rd-and-5.
Those plays add up during the course of the season, and according to NEP, Jeffery added 105.26 points above expectation with his receptions in 2014. That mark ranked 11th among receivers, and Jeffery was one of just 14 wide receivers to surpass 100 Reception NEP.
Jeffery's efficiency was solid enough: his 0.73 Reception NEP per target tied for 16th among the 40 receivers with at least 100 targets.
Marshall, for some context, tied for 25th with 0.63 Reception NEP per target. His Reception NEP of 66.46 ranked 41st among all wide receivers and was worse than the touchdown-less Dwayne Bowe (68.13).
Perhaps more promising than even Marshall's departure is that Jeffery is no stranger to elite NEP numbers. In 2013, his Reception NEP of 117.41 ranked eight among all wide receivers, and his Reception NEP per target of 0.79 ranked 11th among 37 receivers with at least 100 targets.
He's no stranger to making a difference on the field.
One thing that might scare off some potential fantasy owners is the fact that Jeffery's quarterback is Jay Cutler, the interception-prone king of not caring, but check this out.
Jeffery has had back-to-back top-11 seasons in terms of Reception NEP, and he's finished as a top-12 fantasy wide receiver in those as well. Cutler, though, posted a paltry Passing NEP of 19.12 in 2013, and Jeffery did most of his damage with Josh McCown at the helm. (Jeffery managed 15.0 fantasy points in games started by McCown in 2013 and just 10.1 with Cutler.)
Even last year, Jeffery was a WR1 despite playing on the 27th-most efficient passing offense in the NFL (according to our Adjusted Passing NEP per play).
Marshall is leaving behind 106 targets, too, but Jeffery's 145 targets already ranked sixth in the league. There's only so many more he can get. His 21 red zone targets ranked seventh in the league among receivers, but he caught only 9 of them (6 for touchdowns). However, Marshall did see 15 red zone targets of his own and caught 7 of them for 6 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Jeffery wasn't the only red zone threat aside from Marshall for the Bears last year. Martellus Bennett had 21 targets and caught 5 touchdowns (on 11 receptions). There's animosity enough surrounding Bennett's contract situation that there have been offseason trade rumblings. Still, Jeffery is going to contend with at least one red zone threat if Bennett is utilized similarly this year under the new coaching staff.
If rookie wide receiver Kevin White realizes his potential in 2015 (especially in the red zone), then Jeffery might be seeing more of the same yet again.
So, a knock on Jeffery last year was the competition for targets and touchdowns. That will likely still be a thing. He's being drafted as the 10th overall receiver in best-ball leagues right now. Is his upside priced into his draft-day cost like it was last year when he was picked as the ninth overall receiver?
Despite his unclear opportunity, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. New head coach John Fox likes Jeffery plenty, and all indications point to Jeffery's playing the Demaryius Thomas role in offensive coordinator Adam Gase's offense.
In 2014, Thomas not only led the NFL in targets (184), but he was also the top option in the red zone (with 39 red zone targets) in the NFL.
Whether Cutler is tossing picks or not, Jeffery has been on the brink for two seasons. With a potential clear-cut path to a Demaryius Thomas type of role, Jeffery has the chance to outperform his current draft-day cost.
Even if he doesn't, it's hard to see how he takes a step back and doesn't at least return the third-round draft investment it'll take to draft him.