What exactly does the future hold for Alshon Jeffery?

“He’s a big part of our offense.”

Doug Pederson didn’t have to add much else on the matter of Alshon Jeffery in his press conference on Tuesday morning. With that short phrase, many of the doubts surrounding Alshon’s place on the team seemed to wash away like sandcastles in a rising tide. With all the shade and controversy thrown at the feet of the star wide receiver, there was reason to wonder if he even wanted to be in Philadelphia. Although he has had his ups and downs with the team, it seems as if the 30-year old had hit somewhat of a gully over the span of the 2019 season.

Still, he’s here; and despite having some existing injuries to surmount, he will be in midnight green for the 2020 season. Beyond that? Who knows. He’ll be on the books for almost $13M in 2021 and could very well become a cap casualty as the Eagles look to rebuild their wide receiver group. For some, a looming cloud of that magnitude could mean strife. For Alshon, it will be fodder.

He has never been a man of many words, as we found out during the Eagles’ historic Superbowl run. To wit, he has handled the media’s digs with similar silence. All it took was a rumor for the player that was once a hero in the City of Brotherly Love to quickly become an outcast. At the end of the day, nobody is even certain he said anything — it seems as if saying nothing is much more within his character. Regardless, there are still some concerns as to how he will mesh with the team this season.

The first step to success will be solidifying his relationship with QB1 Carson Wentz, both on the field and off. While Carson and coaches alike have shirked off any animosity between the two, media vultures have been relentlessly circling the duo for the last two seasons. Unfortunately in the pro sports world, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Even if the off-field quandaries have been blown out of proportion, there is a tangible disharmony with the pair’s on-field production.

There has been some discussion that pushes the argument that Carson and Alshon simply aren’t a good match. With a bulk of Wentz’ targets going to tight ends and deep threats, a long, jump-ball specialist may be left out in the cold. However, after seeing the signal-caller cobble together wins with an assembly of practice squad receivers last season, it seems as if he might be able to produce with just about anyone. After all, one of Wentz’ favourite targets in college was a 6’2″, 200 pound Zach Vraa, who also made his money in the 15-25 yard range. The question then becomes does Alshon fit what the Eagles do?

That isn’t necessarily an easy question to answer. Due to injury, roster holes or inconsistent game plans, Doug Pederson really hasn’t been able to run his offense for a full 16 game span. Still, it’s not hard to understand that the key to Pederson’s offense, as with all offshoots of the West Coast offense, is spacing.

As alluded to earlier, Jeffery operates best in the 15-25 yard range. As a longer receiver, it takes him some space to build up speed create separation. You’ll see in the video below, full of Alshon highlights, a large majority of his catches are made 15-25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

In case any further evidence was required: below are the routes Jeffery ran in two of his better games in the last two years. They are filled with 15-25 yard receptions (although admittedly a lot are a shade under 15 yards). In the 2018 Rams game, there were also some screens mixed in there for good measure. He is also very proficient on in-breaking routes. His deceptively long strides allow him to create quick separation at the top of his breaks. It’s no secret to the coaching staff that this is where Alshon wants the football.

Alshon Jeffery Week 13 Route Chart
Alshon Jeffery Week 15 Route Chart

Because…when he is unable to take advantage of his length and out leverage defenders, his routes run and stats look like the two charts below. Lacking from the first is any semblance of in-breaking routes, and in the second there is nothing beyond 10 yards.

Alshon Jeffery Week 9 Route Chart
Alshon Jeffery Week 5 Route Chart

Now, creating that space for Alshon — as space is essential for this offense to function — can be easier said than done. The team also has a Pro Bowl tight end on the roster that eats up 10-yard receptions and another waiting in the wings that operates in about the same area. All that clutter in the middle of the field and close to the line of scrimmage can make it difficult to squeeze the football into Jeffery.

The solution? Speed. The Eagles now have plenty of it. A healthy Desean Jackson in combination with three absolute burners at wide receiver drafted by the Birds should provide the boost the offense needs. Safeties can no longer linger 25 yards deep and make life difficult for Alshon. That window from 15 to 25 yards is now wide open. The growth of Miles Sanders will also be a boon for Jeffery’s ability to work inwards. We saw just how effective Sanders was last season on swing and wheel routes. 2020 will bring more of the same unless defenses adjust.

Remember how good Alshon was when Nelson Agholor gave us two years of a pseudo deep threat from 2017-2018? He was 122 receptions for 1,632 yards, 15 TDs, and 13.4 yards per reception good. While he may not be able to replicate those numbers with all the mouths to feed on the 2020 iteration of the Eagles offense, there is no doubt that he will be a ‘big part of the offense’ this season.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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