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Nelson Agholor vs. Jordan Matthews: Target Hog Who?

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Less than 48 hours after the NFL Draft concluded, fantasy football analysts were gleefully ranking Nelson Agholor in their top-3 rookie wide receivers for dynasty leagues. Even before OTAs began, the Agholor hype train/engine/machine/thingy was pumping out tout pieces sending Agholor’s fantasy stock sailing over “the shark” as he leapfrogged athletically superior prospects with more productive college resumes such as Dorial Green-Beckham, DeVante Parker, and Breshad Perriman moments landing in Chip Kelly’s high volume offense that recently lost its top receiver, Jeremy Maclin.

Given that Agholor and Maclin are close comparable on PlayerProfiler.com, a large swath of the fantasy football community jumped to the conclusion that Agholor would seamlessly fill the flanker role left vacant by Jeremy Maclin, and his fantasy scoring would be reasonably close to Jordan Matthews, who would likely remain slot role.

The Agholor exuberance continued into OTAs:

WR Nelson Agholor “has some Reggie Wayne to his game.”
-Rotoworld

WR Nelson Agholor has been “as advertised” during offseason practices.
-Sheil Kapadia, Philly Mag

WR Nelson Agholor is “almost 100 certain of starting.”
-Phil Sheridan, ESPN

Beyond fantasy football, among Philadelphia sports reporters, a debate smoldered throughout Eagle’s organized team activities (OTA) regarding the projected roles, utilization patterns and estimated the 2015 production of Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor respectively.

Eagles beat reporters have seemingly come a consensus in recent days — Jordan Matthews will play flanker/Z receiver and slot/Y receiver and focus on short and intermediate routes, while Nelson Agholor plays split end/X receiver and runs most of the team’s deep breaking routes, double moves, and outside screens.

In the face of new reports that Jordan Matthews would be playing the flanker position and the idea that Nelson Agholor would fit seamlessly into Maclin’s previous role fading, fantasy football analysts simply changed the conversation. The latest Matthews = inside, Agholor = outside assumption was spun into a positive for Nelson Agholor and a negative for Matthews.

According to the experts, Agholor has virtually unlimited upside, and Matthews’ potential is limited to fantasy WR3 status. Got it?

This makes sense except for one logical problem: Jordan Matthews is a better wide receiver than Nelson Agholor by almost every measure.

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Jordan Matthews-Nelson Agholor Profile Matrix

A one-for-one comparison of the Matthews and Agholor profiles on PlayerProfiler.com, before examining Jordan Matthews‘ 2014 NFL productivity and efficiency, demonstrates that Jordan Matthews was a far more impressive wide receiver prospect coming out of Vanderbilt than Nelson Agholor was coming out of USC.

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Jordan Matthews Advanced Metrics Profile

Matthews’ most impressive metrics were a 48.3-percent College Dominator Rating and an 18.1 Breakout Age — both are exceptional. On the other hand, Agholor shows a slightly better straight line speed and burst.

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Nelson Agholor Advanced Metrics Profile

Now factor in Jordan Matthews’ 2014 per target efficiency:
+19.0 Production Premium (No. 13 among NFL wide receivers)
+20.2-percent Target Premium) No. 10)
8.5 Yards Per Target (No. 30)
4.0 YAC Per Target (No. 17)
65.0-percent Catch Rate (No. 25)

Not only does Jordan Matthews have a full year of NFL experience compared to Nelson Agholor‘s none, that one year was exceptionally efficiency for a rookie wide receiver. An objective comparison of Matthews and Agholor reveals that there is no comparison. The “veteran” Jordan Matthews has no peer on the Philadelphia Eagles roster.

This season, you can expect the Eagles to distribute targets as follows. Most short-range targets should go to DeMarco Murray, Darren Sproles, and Zach Ertz mid-range targets to Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, and long-range targets to Nelson Agholor. The real contrast is there: Agholor is the more likely big playmaker, not Matthews.

Even without the occasional long touchdown, Jordan Matthews‘ physical profile and experience still sets him up nicely to be the teams’ most productive all-around wide receiver in a flanker/slot target hog role, while Nelson Agholor plays the volatile outside receiver role who can still outproduce Matthews in weeks when the Eagles play weaker secondaries and/or Agholor secures a long touchdown. This deployment seems optimal. The problem is Chip Kelly is the same coach who turned Riley Cooper into a fantasy weapon. Just because we think something is obviously optimal, does not make it obvious to Chip Kelly.

As exciting as both Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholorr may be, the presence of DeMarco Murray, Darren Sproles, Zach Ertz , Miles Austin, and Josh Huff will throttle the total targets afforded to any given receiver. It is unlikely that any Eagles receiver will be a WR1 in fantasy football in 2015.

Chip Kelly wants to win NFL games, not your fantasy league.