Will Jordan Matthews Break Out in His Second Season in the NFL?
What do you picture when I say the words "slot receiver?"
And this is what makes Philadelphia Eagles second-year man Jordan Matthews so unique. Standing at a towering 6' 3" and with the quickness and agility of the aforementioned traditional slot receivers, as we'll soon discuss, Matthews can create positive matchups and be the Eagles' go-to receiver, making him an ideal candidate to take that second year leap and have a breakout year in 2015.
Rookie Year in Review
Matthews' rookie season was a pleasant surprise for the Philadelphia Eagles and fantasy football managers alike.
Being drafted in the middle of the 11th round in 12-team leagues with an average draft position of 128 last season, Jordan Matthews would exceed all expectations to put up 67 receptions for 872 yards and 8 touchdowns in a part-time role as Philadelphia's slot man.
These numbers ranked him as the fourth best rookie wideout in fantasy football standard-scoring leagues, with his 135.2 points behind only Odell Beckham, Jr. (204.0), Mike Evans (177.1), and Kelvin Benjamin (152.8).
And it's the ability to put up this type of production in his rookie year that was the reason behind why head coach Chip Kelly was ready to draft him in the first round before eventually trading up to the 42nd pick to take him in the second round.
Buried on the team's depth chart to start the 2014 offseason, Matthews' intense work ethic coupled with his size, speed, and athleticism helped him rise up the ranks to grab hold of the team's slot receiver role. Now entering his sophomore season with the team, as one of Chip Kelly's "guys" and with the team's leading target from last season, Jeremy Maclin, now playing as a Kansas City Chief, Matthews becomes the likely number one option in the passing game for the Eagles.
So given all of this, what can we expect from him in 2015?
Why Playing the Slot Matters
To assess Matthews' potential for 2015 properly, I think it's important for us to consider first his projected role in the Eagles offense. During his rookie campaign Matthews ran 92.4% of his routes his from the slot. And despite early predictions that the Eagles second year wideout may see more time on the outside with the departure of Maclin to Kansas City, all indications now are that Matthews will carry this same role from his rookie year into 2015.
A quick peak at his Combine numbers reveals why Kelly would decide to keep Matthews in this position.
|Name||Hght||Wght||Arms||Hands||40 yd||Vert||Broad||3Cone||20 ss|
|Jordan Matthews||6' 3"||212||33¼"||10⅜"||4.46||35½"||120"||6.95||4.18|
|Kendall Wright||5' 10"||196||30⅜"||8⅝"||4.61||38½"||121"||6.93||4.18|
|Antonio Brown||5' 10"||186||31"||9"||4.56||33½"||105"||6.98||4.18|
|Marques Colston||6' 5"||224||33⅜"||9⅝"||4.5||37"||123"||6.96||4.44|
Matthews' exceptional size (6' 3") and reach (33¼ arm length) combined with agility scores that rival those of heralded route-runners Kendall Wright and Antonio Brown create instant mismatches for him. Quick and athletic enough to separate from opposing linebackers and safeties and large enough to outmuscle slot corners, Matthews presents a tough cover for most defenses.
On this note, this same combination of size and skill at the slot position is what has allowed the Saints primary wideout Marques Colston to thrive in New Orleans. Standing at 6' 5" and with respectable athleticism and agility for his size, Colston has averaged 71 receptions on 110 targets for 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns per season playing primarily as Drew Brees' slot receiver.
And just like Colston, the easy target Matthews presented to his quarterbacks last season quickly made him a favorite of theirs in the passing game. Despite playing on just 65.0% of his team's snaps last year, Matthews still garnered the second most targets on the team with 103. To put this figure into perspective, outside receiver Riley Cooper received just 95 targets while playing on 81.3% of the Eagles' snaps.
With this in mind, playing the slot is also not without its disadvantages either. As the team's quick threat, slot receivers are typically tasked with running shorter routes compared to those on the outside, which normally suppresses these receivers' yardage totals. And indeed, in line with this role, Matthews received an average depth of target of just 9.2 yards compared to 12.6 for Cooper.
Fortunately, however, Matthews size advantages go well beyond his ability to outmuscle and outleap opposing corners. Despite a relatively modest average depth of target, Matthews actually outgained Cooper in terms of yards per reception (13.0 versus 10.5) thanks to the strength of his yards after the catch. To emphasize this point further, despite ranking 32nd in receptions with 67 last season, Matthews ranked 15th in the league in yards after catch with an impressive 416 yards -- good for a 6.2 yards after catch average.
So will all this being said -- with expectations for an expanded role for Matthews with Maclin's signing with the Chiefs and lining up in a highly-targeted position on this offense -- the question on all our minds is, what type of production can we expect from Matthews in year two under Chip Kelly?
Projections for Philadelphia's Number One Wideout
When we look at the five games last year where he played in 55 or more offensive snaps, we see that Matthews averaged 4.4 receptions for 61.6 yards and 0.4 touchdowns on 60.4 snaps. If we extrapolate these rookie year figures over a 16-game season we get 70 receptions for 986 yards and 6 touchdowns, which I believe is Matthews' floor for 2015.
If we assume that his target share and efficiency increase on a per-snap basis in his sophomore year in the league, then hitting Colston's career averages of 77 receptions for 1,087 yards on 120 targets isn't out of the question. In fact, these numbers are nearly identical to our numberFire projections for Matthews this season at 80 receptions for 1,052 yards and 6.6 touchdowns.
And if Matthews can find his way to the outside on a few plays per game to improve his yards-per-reception numbers up to Colston's 14.0 career average, then given the high volume of targets many are expecting for him this year, topping the 1,100-yard mark is a definite possibility for him. On this note, reports have already said that during OTAs Matthews was seen lining up outside a few times, particularly in red zone packages.
And as for fantasy football, even if Matthews plays right at our projections, these 144.4 points we have him down for would have ranked him as the 19th best wideout in standard-scoring leagues last season, just behind guys like DeAndre Hopkins (155.0) and ahead of players like Andre Johnson (136.3).
Fantasy Football Implications and Conclusions
Going into the 2015 season, the secret is out on Jordan Matthews. With an average draft position of 41 in this year's fantasy football drafts, you won't be able to get Matthews onto your team for the same discounted price many got him for last season.
However, with his combination of size and skill and as a high-volume target on a fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles offense, I would argue that as a high upside WR2 with the potential to become a WR1, he's still going at a bargain rate as a player being selected in the middle of the fourth round in most 12-team leagues.