clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The problem with using stats to defend Jordan Matthews

New, comments

JMatt isn’t a bad player, but just how good is he?

Philadelphia Eagles v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

I don’t hate Jordan Matthews. I felt the need to tell you that because I’m anticipating a lot of criticism and negative response on this post. I also felt the need because it’s true. Matthews is a hard-working, likeable guy. If money weren’t a factor, I’d probably want to keep Matthews around in Philly for quite some time.

But that’s the problem. Money is absolutely a big consideration with the NFL salary cap in place. And I think there’s a strong case to be made Matthews, who is set to be a free agent after this season, will not be worth the money he commands.

It all comes down to the stats. If/when Matthews and his agent approach the Eagles in contract negotiations, there’s little doubt Matthews’ numbers will be brought to the table. Since being drafted in 2014, Matthews has racked up 225 receptions for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. Since 1920, only 41 wide receivers have posted better numbers in their first three seasons.

Of course, stats don’t always tell the whole story. This is especially true when it comes to Matthews. As I’ve stated numerous times before, Matthews’ stats are inflated. There are three main reasons why.

1 - The Chip Kelly Effect

Kelly was arguably the most fantasy football friendly head coach in the NFL during his tenure with the Eagles. His fast-paced offense made it so that Philadelphia often ran a lot more offensive plays than other teams. More plays meant more statistical opportunities for the players. Here’s a look at how the Eagles ranked in offensive plays per game during the Kelly era (while Matthews was also on the team) PLUS the first year of Doug Pederson’s tenure, which also saw the Eagles run a lot of plays.

2014 - 1st (70.7)

2015 - 2nd (68.9)

2016 - 4th (67.5)

It’s no coincidence a number of players had career years in Kelly’s scheme. It was a volume-boosting offense. But while Kelly’s scheme looked successful in terms of volume, it did not hold up in terms of efficiency. It doesn’t matter how plays you run if you’re not gaining yards on them.

Matthews gained a lot of production simply based on the fact the Eagles ran so many plays over the past three years.

2 - The Best Of The Worst

Matthews’ stats aren’t just the result of the Eagles running a lot of plays. They’re the result of the Eagles running a lot of plays ... and having no other viable targets to catch passes. Check out the last three years of Eagles receiver targets.

2016 Eagles wide receiver targets

1 - Jordan Matthews - 117
2 - Dorial Green-Beckham - 74
3 - Nelson Agholor - 70
4 - Josh Huff - 17
5 - Paul Turner - 14
6 - Bryce Treggs - 12

2015 Eagles wide receiver targets

1 - Jordan Matthews - 127
2 - Nelson Agholor - 44
3 - Riley Cooper - 41
4 - Josh Huff - 40
5 - Miles Austin - 31
6 - Jonathan Krause - 4
7 - Seyi Ajirotutu - 3

2014 Eagles wide receiver targets

1 - Jeremy Maclin - 143
2 - Jordan Matthews - 105
3 - Riley Cooper - 95
4 - Josh Huff - 8
5 - Jeff Maehl - 5
6 - Brad Smith - 3

Other than the 2014 season when Maclin was still around, it’s not exactly like Matthews had much competition in terms of targets. He became the obvious No. 1 guy as soon as 2015. Some of that is a credit to Matthews for not being as awful as the other receivers, but a lot of it has to do with the fact the Eagles have employed some truly dreadful “pass catchers.” The quarterbacks had to throw to someone, and Matthews ended up being that guy.

Moving forward, there’s a two-fold argument with Matthews regarding the Eagles’ improved receiving corps. Yes, the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith could help Matthews by taking the defense’s attention away from him. But the addition of Jeffery and Smith also likely means Matthews will see less targets. And that means his volume stats will likely decrease.

3 - Garbage Time

An anecdotal observation of mine has been that Matthews seems to really excel in garbage time. So I went back and looked at every game of his career to see if that was true. Before I reveal what I found, it’s only fair to point out that there’s a good deal of subjectivity in defining garbage time (click here to see my method). There’s no also information easily available to see how Matthews compares to other receivers in terms of garbage time numbers. With all that said, here’s what I found.

Jordan Matthews’ actual stats: 225 recs, 2673 yards, 19 TD

Jordan Matthews’ garbage time stats: 42 recs, 549 yards, 9 TD

In other words, nearly 20% of Matthews receptions, nearly 20% of his yards, and nearly 50% (!) of his touchdowns have been scored in garbage time. The touchdown number is especially alarming.

What does it mean?

The inflation of Matthews’ stats poses a big concern when it comes to contract negotiations. There could be a significant disparity between Matthews’ perceived value and his actual value.

If the Eagles had a ton of cap space to work with, it might be OK to overpay Matthews in order to keep him around. He’s still only 24. He’s hard-working. He’s a good locker room guy. Perhaps more importantly than anything, Carson Wentz likes him a lot both on and off the field.

But the decision won’t be that simple for Philadelphia. Matthews is just one of 18 Eagles players projected to be unrestricted free agents after the 2017 season. With Alshon Jeffery, Timmy Jernigan, and Nigel Bradham among those names, it’s fair to wonder just how much Matthews should be prioritized. The Eagles simply won’t be able to pay everyone. Philadelphia currently projects to have the second lowest amount of cap space ($3.2 million) in the NFL next season. The Eagles will be able to free up some money by cutting some veterans, but a lot of those funds might be better spent on keeping key pieces such as Jeffery/Jernigan/Bradham. Not to mention Jordan Hicks will be eligible for a lucrative contract extension next offseason.

The feeling here is that the Eagles don’t view Matthews as a long-term piece. If they did, they would have already extended him by now, just like they did with a bunch of core players last offseason (Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Vinny Curry, Malcolm Jenkins, etc.) There’s been no indication at any point that the Eagles have had negotiations with their starting slot wide receiver.

And this is exactly why trading Matthews makes sense for the Eagles. If they’re not going to keep him around for the long-term anyway, they might as well get value for him. Now, I’m not saying Philadelphia should just trade him away from anything. Matthews has higher value to the Eagles on their roster than he does in a trade netting them, say, a sixth-round pick. But getting a third-round pick should be a no-brainer for Philadelphia. Think about it this way: the Eagles swapped thirds with the Ravens to get Jernigan. Getting a pick straight up for Matthews would be very good value.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure anyone will be trading that much for Matthews. They know he’s on the last year of his deal. They also might realize the disparity in his asking price versus his actual value. Matthews is not a flat out bad player by any means, but he is very flawed. He can’t play on the outside regularly. He’s had drop issues dating back to college. Some of them are just soooooo bad, too.

Game-ending drop versus the Falcons.

This drop cost the Eagles at least a field goal. There wasn’t even anyone within 10 yards of him!

This should be a touchdown.

This should also be a touchdown.

Not versatile. Doesn’t have great hands. Can’t consistently drag his feet. What is Matthews particularly good at, exactly? I recently posed this question on Twitter. There wasn’t any kind of consensus answer.

Look, it’s not personal. It’s just that this is not the kind of guy worth prioritizing when there’s only so much money to go around.

There’s a very good chance the 2017 season is Matthews’ last in Philadelphia ... if he’s not traded before then.