Jordan Matthews has put up decent fantasy numbers in his first two seasons, but the Eagles have a new regime in town, which makes things a bit more problematic when trying to assess Matthews' fantasy value for 2016.
The first question is, what kind of offense will Doug Pederson bring to the Eagles? Pederson worked for the Eagles from 2009 to 2012 as head of offensive quality control and then quarterbacks coach under Andy Reid, and then followed Reid to Kansas City to become the Chiefs offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2015. It's hard to know how much of Kansas City's offense was directed by Reid versus Pederson, but the makeup of the team was much better for rushing the ball than passing it, and that's of course how the offense has worked itself out over the last three seasons. But the Eagles' offense during his tenure in Philadelphia was much more pass-heavy. From 2004 until Reid left after the 2012 season, the Eagles never finished lower than 13th in pass attempts, and of those nine seasons, the Eagles were out of the Top 10 only three times. Pederson has learned from Reid, as he has been his only head coach while coaching in the NFL, so I believe we'll see an offense catered to the strengths of the players, but still under the umbrella of the West Coast offense.
What exactly are the strengths of the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles? Good question. With Chip Kelly at the helm, we saw such a fast pace on offense that the defense was often on the field so long that it faltered. Just by getting a little rest this defense should see a slight uptick in production, but that doesn't make this a strong unit. Philadelphia is thin both at defensive back and defensive line, and the Eagles should continue to be on the wrong side of the points allowed ranking, in which they finished 28th and 23rd the last two seasons.
The offensive line has a couple of solid players and then some riff-raff. I'd call this unit average right now, but the players also will have to make some adjustments going from Kelly to Pederson, which for the most part should make things slightly easier for them. The running back situation is okay as long as Ryan Mathews remains healthy, while Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood make for interesting, and most likely productive, changes of pace. Then, we come to the all-important quarterback position, which will be a battle between Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz and Chase Daniel. Unfortunately, these three do not inspire confidence at this point in their careers. Bradford is the quarterback I'd want throwing the ball if I am rostering any of the Eagles' pass catchers. And I think that's what will happen, at least to start the season. But we've seen Bradford at his best and worst, and those often come one play after another. Would Wentz be better for the offense? Possibly, but hopefully he'll get a little time to develop with the offense before being thrown into the fire.
The Eagles have okay talent at running back, but their receivers have the most potential, with Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz all talented players, and Philadelphia also added Rueben Randle to the mix. Last season, the Eagles threw the ball 623 times, with 120 of those going to Matthews, which is a 19.5 percentage share. Zach Ertz was second with 106 targets, then Nelson Agholor with 43 and then Riley Cooper at 39. Matthews should continue to lead the team in targets, while Ertz, Randle and Agholor follow. The question is, how many pass attempts will the Eagles have and where will Matthews' target percentage go? Andy Reid's Eagles' teams from 2004 on averaged 574 pass attempts, and his Kansas City teams have averaged 503 attempts, with a low of 472 last season. At this point, there's no easy way to project Philadelphia's pass attempts, but with a poor defense and a strong receiving group, I do think we'll at least see average numbers from the offense. Last season, the average pass-attempt total of all 32 teams was 572, which would have ranked as 19th. I don't see Pederson slowing down the game like he and Reid did in Kansas City. Bradford has a better deep ball than Alex Smith, and the Eagles' offense should be needed to score more than the Chiefs to stay in games. I think 570-ish sounds like a reasonable number, with room for more, but there's no doubt that the Eagles would rather Bradford or Wentz manage games than need to win them, so the Eagles will be shooting for fewer attempts and winning games.
So if Matthews saw 19.5 percent of 570 attempts, he'd be around 111 targets. Which would still keep him within shouting distance of the Top-20 fantasy receivers. Of course, the best fantasy receivers with low targets are players like Sammy Watkins and Allen Hurns, who either catch deep passes or many touchdowns. Unfortunately, we can't count on touchdowns and Matthews is mostly a slot receiver, which gives him shorter routes than outside receivers. This season, we could see Matthews line up outside more often in two receiver sets, but the newly signed Rueben Randle will also be working toward that role. The trouble comes in when you realize that Agholor, Randle or even Josh Huff should cut into overall targets, as Agholor should see more work in his second season, while Randle is a wild card, but someone who the Eagles will give a chance to win a starting spot, and Huff has shown he has upside despite a small role.
Matthews was all over the board last season and scored six of his eight touchdowns over the last six games of the season. He finished with four games over 100 yards receiving and eight games with six or more receptions. He wasn't the no-doubt No. 1 receiver throughout the season, but that was also Chip Kelly's offense. In Pederson's offense, we could see a more WR1-focused playbook. That would be more the way of Kansas City, which gave Jeremy Maclin a fat 25.4 percent of the targets last season, while also seeing 120 targets like Matthews. Of course, Maclin is not a slot receiver. Much will depend on Matthews' snap count this season. Do the Eagles see him as a true No. 1, even with him mostly in the slot, or will we see the spread offense actually spread the ball out too much to give any Eagles receiver a shot at top fantasy production?
Unfortunately when you bring all this together, you still don't have a very clear picture. The Eagles will most likely give up more than their share of points, which should keep them in pass mode late, but until that happens, they will most likely try to stay somewhat balanced between pass and run. If Agholor and Randle fail at making an impact, it could be the Matthews and Ertz show, which to me means a similar fantasy season to Matthews' 2015, but if Philadelphia plays well, I could see a decrease in targets and its resulting decrease in fantasy points. For me, Matthews has too many questions surrounding him. He finished as the 20th fantasy wide receiver in standard leagues last year, and his ADP is around the 23rd receiver so far this year. I like his ability, but right now just don't see a clear upside that pushes me to risk him on my fantasy team at his current ADP.