That’s not a good situation for a rookie quarterback like Carson Wentz, but thankfully the Eagles realized that this offseason. Philadelphia added one of the best free agents on the market in Alshon Jeffery, and the team also brought in free agent Torrey Smith, who is still a legitimate deep threat.
Now, when you marry Jeffery and Smith with Matthews, Ertz and Sproles, this is a legitimate group. And that’s great for Wentz, as well as Fantasy owners.
Coach Doug Pederson said at the NFL’s annual meeting that Jeffery will make this entire receiving corps better.
“He’s a big target,” Pederson said of Jeffery. “He’s a veteran player. Wealth of experience. Excellent in his route running. Strong to the ball. For us, and for Carson really, it’s just somebody that brings a little bit of that leadership into that room and makes that room better. The experience thing is a factor. He can lead by example. We have young guys, and this will give our young guys an ability to watch a guy practice and play and bring that competition we talk about all the time.”
Jeffery struggled in his final season in Chicago in 2016. He was suspended four games for performance-enhancing drugs and finished with just 52 catches for 821 yards and two touchdowns on 95 targets. He only had three games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league.
But Jeffery can still be a dominant Fantasy receiver, and we expect being paired with Wentz will help rejuvenate his production. Jeffery remains a solid No. 2 receiver worth drafting by Round 4 in the majority of leagues.
Smith is more of a late-round flier in deeper leagues, but we hope his return to the East Coast will help his Fantasy value. In Baltimore, where he spent the first four years of his career with a capable quarterback in Joe Flacco, Smith was basically a lock for at least 50 catches, 800 yards and six touchdowns. But he struggled the past two years in San Francisco with inconsistent quarterback play, and he had a steep decline in 2016 with 20 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns on 49 targets.
He won’t be a reliable Fantasy option, but he should improve with Wentz. And the presence of Jeffery and Smith should help Matthews, who is entering a contract year.
Pederson said Wentz and Matthews “have a great relationship,” which should be enhanced in 2017.
“You saw it I think early in the season and throughout the season, his confidence level in finding him and throwing him the football,” Pederson said. “He’s a big part of what we do. And he’s a dynamic slot guy, he’s a little bit bigger guy, he works well in there, he understands space. He understands route combinations and what we do and what we try to get done in there. I think he’s very comfortable in there.”
Many Fantasy owners are going to shy away from Matthews with Jeffery and Smith in the mix, and Matthews struggled as the No. 1 receiver last year with 73 catches for 804 yards and three touchdowns on 117 targets. But he can still have value with a late-round pick, especially in PPR leagues, and prior to 2016 he had consecutive years of at least 67 catches, 870 yards and eight touchdowns. Don’t give up on Matthews just yet.
Ertz finished as the No. 9 Fantasy tight end last year with 78 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns on 107 targets, but he came on toward the end of the season. He had a touchdown or 80 receiving yards in six of his final nine games, including three games with at least 11 Fantasy points in a standard league.
Ertz is the perfect tight end to wait on with a mid- to late-round pick, and he should continue to post top-10 production in all leagues. He should benefit with plenty of single coverage in the middle of the field.
And now with an improved receiving corps, as well as a solidified offensive line, Wentz should be considered one of the top sleeper quarterbacks this season. He played well in 2016 when his offensive line was intact, mostly before Lane Johnson’s suspension.
In his first four games, Wentz scored at least 20 Fantasy points in a standard league three times, but he reached that mark just twice in his final 12 outings. We expect plenty of 20-point performances this season, and Wentz is an excellent quarterback to target with a late-round pick.
Pederson hopes Wentz plays well because if the quarterback is good then usually the head coach is doing well also.
“It’s always the head coach and the quarterback, right?” Pederson said.
And if Wentz plays well it’s probably because his receivers are making plays, which should be good for Jeffery, Smith, Matthews and Ertz. After having a terrible receiving corps in 2016, the Eagles look formidable in that area this season.