First it was his “prove it” deal worth $14 million. Next it was his extension to the tune of 4 years, $52 million. Now there’s his impact of his return on the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles’ offense. When it comes to debate, Alshon Jeffery has no issue generating buzz.
As writers, we’re in an opinion business. There isn’t a single sliver of this team that doesn’t receive a piping hot take from each outlet covering the Eagles. Think about it; all off-season and even to this day we trade barbs over the fourth running back spot and third linebacker position. They barely play. Think of the heat a conversation surrounding a “WR1” will generate.
The seesaw slams one on side. It slams on the other. Stats get twisted and lose all meaning. In the middle, the truth is an unrecognizable blur.
And that’s when we collectively fail YOU, gentle reader. That’s when we let planting flags and buzz words like “elite” dominate and dilute the conversation. That’s when we invest too much time in creating narratives and counterfactuals that send the truth spiraling hopelessly into a black hole.
“We are here to say what he CAN and CANNOT do.”
Those words came directly to me from Dan Hatman, former Eagles, New York Jets and New York Giants’ scout and Director of the Scouting Academy. What does a player bring to the team and what does he not? Those words stuck with me. Those words force me to take off the writer hat and put on the scout hat for debates like the one surrounding Jeffery. There’s no other way to not be affected by “The Narrative”.
What follows is an honest evaluation of Alshon Jeffery. This is the result of hours of work studying Jeffery from my time at the Scouting Academy and through his 2017 campaign.
Each position has a group of critical factors; we’ll start with athleticism and body type and proceed by working snap-to-finish. At the end there will be a conclusion; a summation about what value Jeffery brings to the Eagles.
Jeffery’s tall, lean frame of 6’3” and 218 pounds comes with long 33” arms and pickle jar hands (10 1/4”) that rank in the 93rd percentile. With this combination of height and length, he has a prototype frame for contested catches and jump balls with an understanding of how to leverage his size advantage against defenders.
He’s never been very explosive out of his stance and his speed builds up quickly throughout the routes with his long strides. He’s a fluid athlete for his size, but he’s high cut and his long legs prevent him from remaining loose throughout chained changes of direction.
Athleticism Grade: 4/7
Jeffery limits the negative impact of his long lower body with step frequency at the line of scrimmage. This shows up when he’s faced with press coverage, which he defeats regularly. He understands leverage and how to attack it, getting on a defenders toes from press or off coverage and tilting them in the desired direction.
His active hands, foot quickness, and play strength are particularly daunting for overaggressive cornerbacks who attempt to jam him. He has a full toolbox to deal with these situations. In the example below, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson clearly intended to “quick jam”; his shoulders are past his toes with a forward lean and his feet are staggered, not parallel.
Jeffery processes this information and executes a single move release. First, his feet come parallel or “come to balance” by bringing his back foot up and outside. His head comes with this step to the outside selling an outside release as he simultaneously moves his outside shoulder out of reach of Peterson. Next, he darts inside and reduces his strike zone by dipping his shoulder through contact and limit its effectiveness. This happens in a flash and the route is won immediately.
While Jeffery wins these types of releases regularly, he did struggle occasionally when releasing outside and vertically from a plus split (outside the numbers). This mainly shows on his 2017 tape, and it’s unknown if his torn rotator cuff played a part in his effectiveness in this regard. Pumping your arms to build up speed or using your inside arm to stave off contact through the route stem can be tough when dealing with a shoulder injury of that magnitude.
Despite being stacked more frequently than in the past, Jeffery’s nuance at the line and when attacking press and off coverage have always been a staple of his game and he can be trusted to win much more often than not.
Release Grade: 6/7
Jeffery wins at the top of his routes not with quickness, but with technique. This allows him to be smooth throughout the break-point and snap off high difficulty cuts at high speeds.
This route is great example of how technique can make up for lateral agility on a hard angle. If Jeffery reaches for the break-point with his route-side foot and gets his first step too far outside of his frame, his hips will lock. That would cause him to be disjointed out of his break and likely require extra steps to complete the turn.
That’s rarely if ever the case with Jeffery. Starting with a inside stem on his release to influence the defender, he follows up by hitting his right foot at the break-point with his numbers over his knee. This is ideal. It allows him to sink with his steps compact through the cut as he snaps his chin back in concert with the rest of his body.
The ability to create windows out of cuts is particularly hard for men Jeffery’s size, but he wins enough with technique for it to be considered a plus aspect of his game. Additionally, his play strength (6/7 grade) and positioning often allow him to create windows at the catch-point, which is a different type of separation but equally important.
Separation Quickness Grade: 4/7
This trait details a players ability to not only settle into zones, but to process information against all types of coverages and apply that to different types of routes.
Jeffery finds seams not only in the middle of the field, but he also diagnoses the relationship between cornerback and safety in live action. This speaks to his play speed (5/7 grade), the combination of athleticism and mental processing. He’s able to regularly find soft spots in short-to-intermediate zones due to his ability to quickly read coverages pre-snap and post-snap.
He also does well to sell run looks or smoke routes and dart to space, as evidenced by his 32-yard touchdown against the Aqib Talib and the Denver Broncos.
Considering he’s had five different quarterbacks to establish relationships with over the past two years, any early chemistry issues with new quarterbacks can be forgiven and have been no issue over larger sample sizes. Quarterbacks and wide receivers need to see and process the action in unison, and the film history suggests that Jeffery works hard to cultivate that understanding.
Find Void Grade: 6/7
There are two ways to look at Jeffery’s consistency as a pass catcher. First, there’s the often cited catch rate. Last year, for the first time since being a rookie, Jeffery’s catch rate dipped below 55%, coming in at a less than ideal 47.5%. Having addressed chemistry concerns already, let’s couple that together with drop rates.
Jeffery’s drop rate typically comes in around 5%, which is perfectly acceptable. Last year, including the playoffs, Pro Football Focus attributed him with a 4.2% drop rate. That ranked tied for 7th best out of 46 qualifying receivers. From the second half of the season through the Super Bowl he caught 35 of 35 passes deemed “catchable”. In summation, catch rates can be and typically are wildly misleading.
Jeffery’s long arms and big mitts allow him to routinely pluck the ball away from his frame and above his eyes and his build allows him to absorb contact at the catch-point. There are some drops above his eyes and away from his frame which are few and far between. His willingness to make catches over the middle is also a big part of his game that facilities him being effective to all three levels of the field.
Hands Grade: 5/7
This one is easy for Jeffery. From my 2017 report from the Scouting Academy Summer Showcase:
“Very good body control; quick reaction time and capable of contorting/reaching back for throws behind his frame. Frequently wins contested catches by creating windows at the catch-point with nudges, shoves, late hands and good concentration to provide DBs less reaction time for potential breakups.”
This trait was showcased in the biggest game of his career.
Body Control Grade: 7/7
YARDS AFTER CATCH
You’ve heard of “get what you block for back”, meant to knock a running back for his lack of ability to create on his own or get extra yards otherwise. Jeffery is a YAC what you scheme for receiver.
The physicality that permeates the rest of his game vanishes with the ball in his hands and he is content to simply fall forward for a few yards when there are defenders encroaching on his, to use a Madden term, “tackling cone”. Coupled with his lack of lateral agility, this is by far the worst part of Jeffery’s game.
YAC Grade: 2/7
What does Alshon Jeffery bring to the Philadelphia Eagles and what impact does he have?
Jeffery is going to bring consistent production with a potential to take over games with his contested catch ability. Life is easier for quarterbacks when he’s on the field as he makes his impact felt at all three levels and hauls in tight-window targets with high frequency. Jeffery rarely receives double coverage, but an added bonus is that he forces deep safeties to respect his presence when he’s lined up on the weak side of formations that the Eagles like to use, like trips.
When you factor in his top-notch competitive toughness (7/7) after playing a full season with a torn rotator cuff, plus other factors not explicitly graded in this article, he comes in at the fringe of “starter you win because of” and “starter you win with”. That’s a high grade in a strict system that not many I have evaluated achieve.
Considering the production we’ve had from the outside receiver position before and after Jeffery, and even viewing it in a vacuum, his impact on this offense can not be overstated. He’s a high-level starter that brings a significant upgrade. I don’t need any fancy labels or twisted stats to see that.