After kicking off this series with ‘the bodyguard’, we shift our attention a little further afield. If I was to ask you who the most important wide receiver on this team is in 2019, you would probably beam with delight and think of some of DeSean Jackson’s finest moments in Philly the first time around. But the most important wideout of all, is Alshon Jeffery.
It’s almost easy to forget how different this group once looked. In the rookie season of Carson Wentz, Jordan Matthews was the oldest in the room at age 24. Nelson Agholor was battling mental hurdles, while Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, and Paul Turner filled out the rest of the depth chart.
One year later, after promising he’d win a ring just months before, Alshon Jeffery helped change that culture. The former Chicago Bear finished his first season with 57 receptions, 789 receiving yards, and 9 touchdowns as an Eagle, while playing all 16 games with a torn rotator cuff.
Last season, Jeffery appeared in only 13 games as he was still recovering from surgery. He somehow still finished with 65 receptions, 843 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. Here’s a fun stat to add, if Alshon had played the whole season while averaging the same 64.8 yards per game, he would’ve finished the season with 1,037 receiving yards.
But here’s my concern. Jeffery is currently the highest-paid Eagle on the roster in terms of his 2019 cap hit. After the Golden Tate trade, Jeffery disappeared for a while as the team tried, and ultimately half-failed to efficiently implement their new toy.
Alshon averaged 8.8 targets, 5.8 receptions and 68 yards per game before the trade. Going into December, he commanded 5.3 targets, 3.7 receptions and 40 yards per contest. That number evened out by week 17, with Jeffery averaging 6.4 targets and 5 receptions per matchup in those last five games, but that was ultimately the tip of the iceberg.
While nothing was ever confirmed, it was fair to assume that Alshon Jeffery was a little annoyed by the target share last year. Zach Ertz was targeted 64 more times than the Eagles #1 receiver and there was a lot of noise from anonymous sources speaking to numerous outlets about the funneling to the elite tight end. Right or wrong, Jeffery or not, it held weight. The Eagles are paying Alshon Jeffery like a WR1, and utilizing him like the second best receiver on the team, and for a few weeks, that almost slipped to third.
Then, you factor in the drafting of JJ Arcega-Whiteside, someone who is built in the exact same vein as Alshon, carries the same strengths, and arguably now has a higher upside because of his age. Jeffery is bound to feel some breath chilling the hairs on the back of his neck.
Alshon Jeffery’s impact in this offense has been invaluable. Even if he wasn’t the most targeted or most productive, without him, Zach Ertz wouldn’t have enjoyed such scintillating success last year, or the year before that. Going into next year, with a receiving corps that can hurt you from just about anywhere, his presence becomes even more important.
If Jeffery gets lost in the shuffle, it’s not totally wild to assume that his future as an Eagle would begin to look bleak. Jeffery has to shine this season, and with more attention being paid to Jackson, Agholor, and of course Zach Ertz, there may even be glaring mismatch potential given his versatility to lineup anywhere along the line of scrimmage. If Wentz was indeed hampered last year by his less than 100% recovery and later-confirmed back injury, which in turn meant scanning the entire field became problematic, this is the season all of that noise gets left in the rear-view mirror. Jeffery could well be primed for his most explosive season yet, but is walking a tightrope.
If things don’t go as planned, or his production dwindles in comparison to DeSean Jackson and Zach Ertz, it’s hard to envision the team paying $14M for Jeffery’s services in 2020.
Jeffery is one of the team’s most important Eagles as a receiver who not only takes the weight off the middle of the field and commands attention, not only as the team’s highest paid player that season, but as a player who has pressure mounting and expectations to live up to.