The Jenkins judgement: Let’s talk about Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery

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As the Eagles offense splutters its way 800 miles south to meet with the Tennessee Titans, the potential return of wideout Alshon Jeffery has the fanbase on its feet with excitement. Well, most of it. Over the last few days, there have been several writers who have insisted on downplaying the impact that Jeffery has on the offense. As a result, Eagles Twitter caught fire, arguments raged and what should be a really promising storyline for the team has now turned into a battlefield of comments and criticisms that lack substance and relevance. So, let’s talk about Alshon Jeffery.

The receiver: 
Before we begin to examine Jeffery’s impact on the offense, taking a closer look at his statistics, (because you know, that’s the only value a receiver has, right?) seems to be a good starting point.

he 6’3″, 218-pound receiver had a huge impact on the Eagles in 2017. During his first year in midnight green, he hauled in 9 touchdown receptions to go with 789 receiving yards, before adding another 219 yards during three playoff games. While the numbers don’t jump off the screen as ‘elite’, he never really had to be. But in terms of being a dynamic playmaker, he was everything the Eagles needed him to be.

According to Pro Fooball focus, Alshon Jeffery dropped just 3 out of 72 catchable passes between week 1 and the Super Bowl. That, by anyone’s standards is elite. But beyond that, Jeffery finally gave Carson Wentz the confidence to challenge downfield outside of the seams.

Jeffery is a prime target for 50-50 balls. His size is backed up by mental awareness and underrated athletic ability that will see him leap up and poach balls out of thin air that should otherwise be uncatchable. What really stands out on tape however is Jeffery’s ability to diagnose a play and spot how a safety and corner are going to react. This along with a physical style of play enables him to find pockets of space and if he’s unable to get there, bully his way down the route and ensure he doesn’t get knocked off before his break. His size makes him a perfect fit for an offense that thrives on comebacks, curls and routes that desire inside leverage because he can box out corners with relative ease.

Then, there’s his catch radius…which we all know is a little bit naughty. What happens when you have a 6’3 wideout who can box you out in a heartbeat or put on the brakes to gain an advantage? Red zone dominance. It’s no coincidence that the Eagles went from a pitiful 49% of red zone drives that resulted in touchdowns in 2016, to a 2nd-best 64% in 2017, Jeffery’s first season with the team. Still don’t believe me?

 

The offensive impact:
Now that’s out of the way, it’s time to roll up the sleeves. In 2016, the Eagles receiving corps was a mess for the lack of a better word. Jordan Matthews was the oldest in the room and with a struggling Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs, Dorial Green-Beckham and Paul Turner to call teammates, it’s not as if Wentz had an arsenal to throw to.

This meant that all traffic went through security blanket 1 (Zach Ertz) and 2 (Jordan Matthews). The duo combined for 223 of 609 total targets that year 1,620 out of 3,798 receiving yards, along with 7 of the team’s 16 receiving touchdowns. Very rapidly, the offense was being ran up the gut and down the seams. Teams would key in on Matthews and Ertz knowing that they can afford to run an extra linebacker because the ball would very rarely make its way outside into a dangerous position. Even most of the huge downfield receptions by wideouts not named Jordan Matthews came on routes designed to dip underneath the Safety. Then, Alshon Jeffery arrived.

Hey may not be ‘elite’ as some keep saying, but as we’ve established, he’s not exactly a player you want to let off the leash. Like a kid in a play park, you turn your eyes for a few seconds and you’ll struggle to track him down. This alone forced defenses to either shadow Jeffery with their number one cornerback or ensure that there’s always some extra help on cue in the form of an additional Safety. By doing so, this naturally elevated pressure (finally) off of Zach Ertz and more importantly Nelson Agholor, who brought a much more versatile skillset to the slot role than Matthews. On the outside lay Torrey Smith who could take the top off of a defense and before you know it, the Eagles were stacked with weapons who could all deliver a home-run hit at a moments notice. If you focus all of your attention downfield, be prepared to perish yards on the ground due to an impressive committee effort. If you key in on the run, good luck…

And now we come to 2018. Through three weeks of the regular season, wide receivers not named Nelson Agholor have accounted for 70 receiving yards combined…less than a tenth of the offenses total. The chains are moving less frequently and the Eagles were forced to lean on their tight ends more than ever in week 3…

This may have been a saving grace, but not every defense is the Colts. On the horizon lie the Vikings, some tight NFC matches and an intimidating game in Jags territory across the pond. The Eagles cannot afford to bring a compartmentalized offense to the table…if only there was a receiver who could open up the offense and finally provide some optionality…
Oh wait.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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