Are the Eagles Ready to Soar with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith?
On March 9, the Eagles signed wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (1 year $9.5 million, $8.75 million guaranteed) and Torrey Smith (3 years $15 million, $500k guaranteed), giving Philadelphia the sixth-highest cap number allocated to the wide receiver position of any team in the league as of this writing.
Should we expect a return to dominance for Alshon and a career resurgence for Smith in the City of Brotherly Love?
A Wide Receiver Season to Forget
In 2016, the Eagles finished with one of the least productive receiving corps in the league:
While some of the poor wide receiver play can be attributed to a rookie quarterback under center, the poor production in Philadelphia last season can also be blamed on a lack of an outside presence -- no team targeted the wide receiver position on a lower percentage of passes than the Eagles (48.2%). A look at Carson Wentz’s Adjusted Yards/Attempt (AY/A) broken down by receiver lends some insight into why Philadelphia rarely targeted their outside options.
Jordan Matthews was clearly the most talented pass catcher on the Eagles last season, and when Wentz looked J-Matt’s way, the rookie signal caller posted an AY/A that would have ranked 12th among quarterbacks last season. When targeting Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor, Wentz’ AY/A fell below that of Jared Goff, who had the worst AY/A of any quarterback in the league.
Not surprisingly, Philadelphia’s wide receivers, and passing game as a whole, struggled in the red zone as well.
|Passing TD Rate||15.9%||27|
|WR TD Rate||15.8%||28|
|Player||RZ Tgts||TDs||TD Rate|
When the Eagles did decide to throw in the red zone, they targeted wide receivers on just 46.3% of passes, the sixth-lowest target rate to the position in the league. The league average red zone touchdown rate for receivers usually hovers around 23%, a rate that only Matthews surpassed last season.
What do Alshon and Torrey Bring to the Table?
In terms of efficiency, Alshon and Torrey have had strikingly similar careers:
Jeffery and Smith have career yards/target numbers that would have ranked 26th and 31st, respectively, among wide receivers last season. Their FP/target number would have ranked 33rd and 37th, respectively. No Eagles receiver ranked better than 60th in either category last season.
Even though Jeffery has consistently posted better volume numbers than Smith, it’s Smith who has maintained better efficiency over the last two seasons, even in an abysmal 49ers offense.
Multiple different quarterbacks have been relatively successful when targeting both of the Eagles' new additions at wideout.
Both receivers should give Philadelphia a boost in the red zone as well. Jeffery has converted 21.9% of his career red zone looks into scores -- a rate bested by just one Eagles pass catcher last season. Smith has been a sneaky-good red zone target as well, converting 20 of his 65 career red zone targets into touchdowns, a 30.8% rate.
Is the Pie Big Enough to Feed Everyone?
Last season, Philadelphia threw 59.9% of the time in game-neutral situations (when the game was within seven points), which ranked 14th in the league, but attempted 609 passes overall, which was the sixth most. The Eagles wanted to be balanced last year, but were forced to throw more often than desired -- only nine teams ran more plays when trailing by a touchdown or more. Given their investment in the receiving corps, Philadelphia could approach their passing volume from last season, only this time as part of their game plan.
Assuming that the Eagles don’t jump to a Saints-like level of pass-happiness, the range of outcomes for each player's targets looks like this:
With the roster as it stands, it’s difficult to imagine any Eagles receiver commanding a target share above 25%. Consider the following:
- Matthews has seen roughly 20% of Philadelphia’s targets in each of the last two seasons.
- Ertz has seen exactly 18.2% of targets both years.
- Jeffery capped out at 26% of team targets in 2013 and saw 23.9% in 2014. Over his last 16 games, he has commanded 23.6% of his team's overall targets and 24.6% of its red zone targets.
- Smith saw at least a 17% market share in each season in Baltimore and peaked at 22.3%. Even though his usage dropped with the 49ers, Smith’s efficiency numbers suggest he may still have plenty left in the tank.
- As of now, Darren Sproles remains on the roster, and if it stays that way, the pass-catching specialist will surely siphon off targets from the receivers and tight ends.
The Bottom Line
The addition of Jeffery and Smith certainly bolsters the Eagles’ receiving corps, but how that translates to fantasy value on an individual level for each of the team's pass catchers may prove to be a frustrating puzzle to solve.
Because the Eagles gave Alshon a contract that carries the 15th-largest cap hit of any wide receiver and he’s on a one-year deal, both sides should be motivated to get him the ball. Jeffery could realistically see 23-25% of Philadelphia's targets without cutting too much into Matthews’ or Ertz’s target share. Instead, targets may be removed from the underperforming ancillary players of last season -- Green-Beckham, Agholor, and backup tight end Trey Burton combined for 35% of the Eagles' 2016 targets.
Given that a season with 135-140 targets and double-digit touchdowns is near the top of Jeffery's range of outcomes, he has the potential to flirt with WR1 numbers and return value on his current ADP as the WR17. If Alshon does take over the primary pass catcher role while Matthews and Ertz maintain their place in the offense, consider the latter two's prices (7.02, WR36 for Matthews; 8.11, TE9 for Ertz) fair value with some room for upside -- Matthews finished as the WR25 in 2015 with the same workload, while Ertz was the TE6 last year.
In all likelihood, Smith will be the fourth option, but given his surprising consistency -- at least in terms of efficiency -- fantasy owners probably shouldn’t completely write him off, even though most will after two ugly seasons in San Francisco. Although Smith is probably too inconsistent to consider in traditional redraft leagues, he could have enough boom weeks to justify using a very late-round pick on in MFL10s.
For the extremely risk-averse crowd, a fair option to consider is rostering Wentz. With markedly improved pass catchers, taking a stab at Wentz as a late round quarterback option, or as a QB2 or QB3 in MFL10s, could have considerably more reward than risk.
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