Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?
July 20, 2016 | Chet
(Editor’s Note: Below we have Jon Previtera’s entry that came in second for the first round of the writing contest)
I’ll start this by introducing myself as a lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m 35 years old. Yes, I know you’re probably about to offer your condolences. I welcome them, of course, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I lived through many eras of the Eagles, including Doug Pederson’s. I never had a chance to start Doug Pederson in fantasy football, though if I did, I’m sure he’d be looked at as the Sam Bradford of his day, and that would make Carson Wentz the Donovan McNabb. Chase Daniel, well, let’s move on. Unless you’re a backup quarterback starring in a Verizon commercial, I won’t give you the time of day.
Doug Pederson supplanted Chip Kelly as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. I was admittedly a big fan of the move. It wasn’t the sexiest move, but after the sexiest coaching move of a couple years ago (Chip Kelly) didn’t pan out, I was ok with an unsexy move. Pederson came from Andy Reid’s system in Kansas City, and take that as you will. Andy Reid called many of the offensive plays for the Eagles during his tenure, despite what Brad Childress and Marty Mornhinweg will tell you. Many knew Reid was calling the offensive shots in Kansas City, though it later came out that Pederson called the 2nd half plays for the Chiefs during their 11-game winning streak.
But what can we really gather from a fantasy football perspective when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles offense now that Doug Pederson is head coach and has such a small sample size to judge him on? Well, like anything in fantasy football, you look at statistics, trends and, ultimately, player values.
First, you can’t ignore that the Chiefs offense took off during that 11-game winning streak; they had the second-best rushing attack, according to metrics from NumberFire.com. In the last 8 regular season games versus the first 8 regular season games (courtesy of ESPN stats & info), the Chiefs rushed the ball more times (231 carries vs. 205), ran for more yards per game (136.8 vs. 118.8) and averaged a slightly higher run per carry (4.7 vs. 4.6). In other words, Pederson liked to run the ball, despite being without his team’s best rusher/player, Jamaal Charles. And Alex Smith became a more efficient passer. In his first 8 regular season games, he had 270 pass attempts (63.7% completion percentage), averaged 226.6 yds/game, threw for 9 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 92.1. His last 8 regular season games? Less pass attempts (203), but a better completion percentage (68.1%), more touchdowns (11), and a better passer rating (99.8).
So, Pederson took over an offense that was without arguably their most talented player and the Chiefs became a more efficient offense, leaning more on the rushing attack and less on Smith’s arm, yet there was fantasy value across the board with the Chiefs offense, including Smith and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
Which brings us to the Eagles offense in 2016. We have fantasy trust issues with the Eagles after a subpar 2015 season. You over-drafted Jordan Matthews in the early rounds. Sam Bradford was the late round quarterback that everyone wanted. DeMarco Murray, a consensus first or second round pick, was going to lead a rush-heavy Chip Kelly offense, with Ryan Mathews as a key mid-round handcuff and Darren Sproles gaining PPR value in the later rounds. Zach Ertz was supposed to break out earlier than the last few games of the season, and Nelson Agholor played the role of the rookie WR who made us think he’d break out. That was August 2015. We were so much younger and naïve when it came to fantasy. Because one month later, it became excruciatingly clear we were in for a long season of fantasy busts. If you had a championship team with any Eagles player on it, congratulations and I want to know your secret (and I’d like to play in your league). Otherwise, chances are you underachieved if you invested any fantasy capital in an Eagles player this year.
So, you’re hesitant to commit again to anyone on the Eagles. Looking at ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator, only three Eagles offensive players are being drafted – Ryan Mathews, Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz. We’ll get to their value in a minute, but let’s go back to your hesitancy to commit. It’s understandable, but you have a couple things going for you if you are willing to give fantasy love one more chance: Chip Kelly is no longer the head coach, and Doug Pederson is the head coach. Yes, Pederson is taking over an Eagles offense that has a run-of-the-mill quarterback (Bradford), running backs that have their best years behind them (Mathews, Sproles), and talented, yet raw wide receivers (Agholor, Huff). But there’s benefit to being a WR1 in an offense, and Jordan Matthews plays that role this year. He’s currently being drafted as the WR30 (70th overall) in standard 10-team leagues, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. You won’t find many cheaper first-option receivers in the draft this year. He provides some nice value in the mid-rounds as someone who may come with a WR2 ceiling. Ryan Mathews is the RB25 off the board in standard 10-team league drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. A RB2, and while I don’t see his ceiling getting higher than that, if he can stay healthy, he provides nice RB2 upside, which would be over-performing his draft price. Ertz is going 12th in the same league formats, behind Jimmy Graham and ahead of Antonio Gates. As a reminder, Ertz developed nice chemistry with Bradford towards the end of last season, especially over the last 4 games. During that stretch, he caught 35 balls (on 46 targets) for 450 yards and 1 TD. TE1 numbers. That’s a pace of 140 receptions, 1800 yards and 4 TDs. It’s almost certain he won’t reach those numbers this season, but even a sizable drop-off would have him close to, say, 80 receptions for 1,000 yards a 3 or 4 TDs? That’s higher than his TE12 draft position, and the value you should be looking for in your draft.
You win your fantasy football leagues by finding high-performing players at low values, and avoiding underachievers at high values. The underachievers are a bit harder to determine, as a bust candidate is a CJ Anderson-draft pick away. But low value players often require a leap of faith. Anyone can draft a stud in the early rounds and feel good about it. Yet, you don’t win your leagues in the early rounds. My first four picks last year: Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson, DeAndre Hopkins and Frank Gore. Only 1 truly returned value (Hopkins). I won my league for the first time ever, breaking a 12-year-long Susan Lucci-like streak. If only my luck could translate to the Eagles. But this isn’t about me. This is about you winning your league. I’m not saying that an Eagles player will win your league for you this year. But they could help. If I told you last August that Spencer Ware would be fantasy relevant come December, you’d ask me who that was, and I’d say that I traveled back in time to give them this information and then it would create this paradox of sorts that likely would cause a bigger issue than fantasy. Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t pull a Marty McFly. But there’s a Spencer Ware out there this year. Maybe he’s on the Eagles and about to break out…