Why Rishard Matthews Needs More Looks in the Dolphins' Passing Attack

One of the most efficient players in the league, Matthews is lacking opportunity.

To say that Rishard Matthews has flown under the radar this season may be an understatement.

Matthews has seemingly been an afterthought within the fantasy football community. However, he ranks 20th in standard scoring for wide receivers through seven weeks, despite playing one fewer game than all but six receivers in front of him.

Outside of Miami’s shellacking over in London, Matthews has either put up 85 yards or scored a touchdown in his other five games. In those games, he’s averaged 13.2 points per game.

Even with this production, Matthews is only owned in 60.7 percent of ESPN leagues and 62 percent of Yahoo leagues.

But even before the fantasy community looked past Matthews, he was nearly the forgotten man within the Miami Dolphins wide receiver corps.

This offseason, the Dolphins brought in three new wide receivers:  Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and 14th overall pick DeVante Parker.

Matthews started the offseason buried deep on the Dolphins depth chart, but injuries to Parker and Stills over the summer opened the door for Matthews.

He’s since climbed up the depth chart and hasn’t looked back.

Is He the Best Receiver in Miami?

Very few, if any, people will say they believe Matthews is a better player than Jarvis Landry, but Matthews' production this season has been on par with his teammate, albeit with much less opportunity.

Coming into the season, Landry was seen as a top-20 wide receiver in PPR formats and a reliable flex option in standard leagues.

Matthews, now in his fourth season in Miami after being a 7th round draft pick in 2012, was not even considerable as a late-round flier.

But he is now on pace to shatter his previous season-high numbers, set in 2013: 41 catches, 448 yards, and 2 touchdowns.

He needs just 15 more catches and 10 yards to set career highs in those categories. He’s already scored four touchdowns, as many as he’d scored in his career prior to this year.

What’s most impressive about Matthews production this year is on how little opportunity it’s come on.

Through Week 7, Matthews has seen 35 targets from Ryan Tannehill. That’s the 48th most targets in the NFL, placing Matthews behind the likes of Robert Woods, Andre Johnson, and Ted Ginn Jr., just to name a few.

Typically, targets are a fairly reliable indicator of fantasy production, but in Matthews’s case, dependable targets aren’t there. He’s only had one game with double-digit targets, and it was a game in which Tannehill threw the ball 49 times, the most he’s thrown all season.

Despite being out-targeted nearly every week, Matthews has produced similar fantasy numbers (in parentheses) as Landry has.

Jarvis Landry Rishard Matthews
Week 1 12(12) 6(9)
Week 2 10(11) 7(11)
Week 3 13(8) 10(23)
Week 4 12(6) 3(1)
Week 6 4(12) 6(8)
Week 7 5(20) 3(13)
Total 56(69) 35(65)

Landry ranks 17th in ESPN standard scoring leagues, while Matthews, as mentioned before, is 20th

But keep in mind, Landry is involved in the return and running games for the Dolphins. He’s scored one punt return and one rushing touchdown on the season.

Efficiency Matters

So far this season, Matthews has been one of the most efficient wide receivers in the league.

Matthews' 42.74 Reception NEP, which measures how many points a player adds to his team’s score above expectation, may only rank 21st in the league among wideouts with 20 or more receptions, but his 1.22 Reception NEP per target ranks second in the league behind only  James Jones, a guy who has scored 6 touchdowns on 21 receptions.

His 34.12 Target NEP ranks fourth best in the league. Target NEP measures the points a player adds on receptions, but also subtracts the expected points lost on incompletions and interceptions when that receiver was targeted.

Matthews trails only Larry Fitzgerald (45.17), DeAndre Hopkins (38.75), and Julio Jones (38.06) in Target NEP.

When Matthews is thrown the ball, he’s making the most out of those opportunities. He's also caught 74 percent of the passes thrown his way, seventh best out of receivers with 20 or more receptions.

Compared to Landry, here’s how Matthews stacks up in efficiency metrics.

Player Rec Rec NEP Targets Target NEP Rec NEP/Target Catch Rate Rec Success Rate
Jarvis Landry 36 25.77 56 -4.32 .46 64% 78%
Rishard Matthews 26 42.74 35 34.12 1.22 74% 100%

The Dan Campbell Effect

Since Joe Philbin was fired after the Dolphins' disastrous showing in London against the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins have steamrolled the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans by a combined score of 82-36.

Subsequently, both Landry and Matthews have seen their targets dip in the past two weeks. With the Dolphins' defense dominating and Lamar Miller running over opponents, Tannehill has only attempted 24 passes per game, compared to the 42 he was slinging early in the year.

Although Tannehill’s passing attempts have dropped significantly over the past two weeks, Matthews has started each game and played 90 percent and 89 percent of the team’s snaps in Weeks 6 and 7, respectively.

On the season, Matthews has played 70.9 percent of the Dolphins' offensive snaps. For comparison, Landry has played 79.2 percent, Jennings 50.1 percent, Stills 50.9 percent; and Parker 26.8 percent.

With a trip to Foxboro on deck Thursday, the Dolphins are an eight-point underdog, which leads one to believe that Tannehill will need to air it out more than he has in the past two weeks to keep up with Tom Brady and company.

Although New England owns numberFire’s scheduled-adjusted 12th ranked passing defense, game flow could lead to more opportunities for Matthews.

Moving Forward

While Thursday night’s matchup looks promising on paper for Matthews, the next few weeks are not as bright.

After New England, Miami travels to Buffalo (6th ranked pass defense) in Week 9, to Philadelphia (3rd) in Week 10, and then hosts Dallas (13th) in Week 11.

Combine those stingy pass defenses with a Dolphins offense that is recommitted to running the football, and Matthews may not see many passes thrown his way.

But so far this season, Matthews has shown the ability to make plays, regardless of how rarely the Dolphins decide to throw in his direction.