After 3 games in 2016, Carson Wentz was the GOAT and the Philadelphia Eagles were Super Bowl bound. They went 4-9 the rest of the way, however; Wentz finished the year with barely more touchdowns than interceptions. What changed after the first 3 games and can the Eagles replicate their early season success?
Who to Throw it To?
The Eagles had easily the worst receiving corps in football last year. 2015 first round selection Nelson Agholor finished dead last (115th out of 115 qualifying receivers) in PFF grades for wide receivers. The Eagles starting WR on the opposite side was Dorial Green Beckham, who didn’t fare much better, ranking No. 103 out of 115 receivers via PFF. Jordan Matthews is a solid slot receiver, but because of the poor play on the outside, he got to play the slot less than 37 percent of the time last year. It’s only natural that the Eagles made efforts to transform their wide receiving corps this offseason.
Not much favorable can be said about Wentz’s rookie season aside from his first 4 games in which he averaged 17.45 fantasy points. However, the key word there is that it was his rookie season. Until Bradford was traded to the Vikings a week before the season began, Wentz was not even expected to play. Considering he was also handed the worst receiving corps in the league, Carson Wentz performed admirably until the offensive line also began to fall apart with Lane Johnson’s suspension. With a full offseason of growth and a fully equipped arsenal of weapons, Wentz’s fantasy stock is on the rise. Just getting the unproductive Agholor and Green Beckham off the field in 2017 could do wonders for this offense. There’s a reason, after all, he has been labeled a buy high and a fantasy football sleeper candidate.
Provided Ryan Mathews is cut as expected, LeGarrette Blount will be the “thunder” to Sproles’s “lightning” in the Eagles backfield. Blount is limited as a receiver, hauling in just 23 passes over the past 4 seasons. However, as a 241 lbs back with a 32.7 BMI, he is used heavily near the goal line. That’s where his fantasy value will come from: touchdowns scored from inside the 5. Blount won’t score 18 touchdowns again; the Patriots had the second-highest red zone run rate in the league last year. Also, the Eagles won’t get to the red zone nearly as often as New England. Still though, the Eagles ran the ball at the third highest rate (79 percent) inside the 10-yard line. A healthy Blount can still score double digit touchdowns as an Eagle and is undervalued at his ADP.
LeGarrette Blount’s signing doesn’t negatively impact Darren Sproles too much. The Eagles were always going to give the early-down and goal-line work to a bigger back than Sproles. The fact that this bigger back is a non-factor in the passing game only improves Sproles’ value proposition in all formats. That leaves Darren to continue doing what he does best: reside in the top-ten among running backs in receptions and receiving yards. With his +10.2 Production Premium and 4.9 YPC against base defenses last year, Sproles can provide value to the Eagles and your fantasy team.
As part of their effort to revamp the receiving corps, the Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery to be their No. 1 target for Carson Wentz. While he burned many fantasy owners last year, he actually had a strong year, posting a top-30 8.7 yards per target. This despite dealing with a 4-game suspension and a carousel of quarterbacks the best of whom was Brian Hoyer. The other quarterbacks included one who threw 14 picks in 7 games and Jay Cutler. Jeffery had horrendous quarterback play and still posted strong efficiency numbers, showing he can lift the Eagles offense in 2017.
The former Bears receiver has shown he can be an alpha-dog in his respective offense. Even in his down year last year he had a 22.5 percent Target Share and a 22.6 percent Red Zone Target Share. In 2015, in which the Bears at least had only one awful quarterback instead of three, Jeffery had an insane 19.2 percent (No. 3 in the league) Hog Rate. He boasted a 31.3 percent Target Share and 35.6 percent Red Zone Target Share that year as well.
Everyone is down on Jeffery after a year in which he only scored 2 touchdowns. You know who only scored 3 touchdowns in 2015 and then experienced massive positive touchdown regression the next year? Mike Evans. With his usage down the field and in the red zone and positive touchdown regression coming his way, Alshon has the chance to be this year’s Mike Evans.
Starting opposite Alshon Jeffery on the outside this year in Philadelphia will be new Eagle Torrey Smith. Smith was the victim of the Gabbert-Kaepernick show in San Francisco. However, he was productive during his time in Baltimore with the competent (but not elite) Joe Flacco. Smith’s days a fantasy-relevant asset in Baltimore seem lost in the sands of time, but even in 2015, Smith was very efficient with his limited targets in San Francisco.
Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick passed for a combined 16 touchdowns and 6.9 (nice) yards per attempt in 2015. That year, Smith caught 25 percent of their touchdowns (4) and ranked No. 4 in yards per target in the league with an insane 10.7 mark. In 2015 Torrey’s Target Premium of +31.4 percent ranked No. 6 and his +24.5 Production Premium ranked No. 8 among NFL wide receivers. While his 2016 was horrendous, so was the entire season for the 49ers. Torrey is still in his prime (28 years old) and has a strong athletic profile. With competent quarterback play in 2017 he will return to his productive ways.
With Smith and Jeffrey on the outside, Matthews can return to the slot where he has been productive in the past. Due to the incompetent play of his fellow receivers Jordan only saw the slot 36.9 percent of the time last year. Jordan Matthews has shown efficiency in the past and will only benefit from an actual outside receiving presence on the roster.
Earlier in May, you were recommended to cut Nelson Agholor from your dynasty rosters. However, I would advise you to actually do the opposite; go out and add Agholor if he’s on your dynasty league’s waiver wire. Everything coming out of Eagles camp has been glowing about him. Nelson Agholor has flashed in preseason, and has strong athletic measurables. According to Nelson himself, his issues were primarily mental and in trying to improve too much at once. If he can fix the drops, he can be a valuable fourth receiver/deep threat for this team. Jeffery is on a one year deal, and the Eagles are only bound to Smith for one year as well. Agholor has opportunity coming in his future and the talent to run away with it.
There is less optimism surrounding Green Beckham’s performance at OTAs. With Nelson Agholor and his contract likely to stay, DGB may not even make the final roster. Considering the Eagles spent a first round pick on Agholor, but only traded a backup lineman for Green-Beckham, Agholor should stick around. Combined with Agholor’s exciting OTAs, it will be difficult for Dorial Green-Beckham to keep his roster spot.
Zach Ertz actually had the third most receiving yards over the final 4 games of last season. However, he was competing with Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, and the ghost of Dorial Green-Beckham for targets. With the alpha dog Jeffery in town and Torrey Smith signed on as well, Zach will be “Ertz”ing for targets in 2017. It will be tough to find value as the No. 9 tight end off the board in fantasy football drafts.
Last year ended poorly for Carson Wentz and the Eagles. However, with Wentz’s development and a vastly improved receiving corps, the Eagles will succeed on offense in 2017.