The New England Patriots have been looking to add another top receiver to the offense over the past year and this seems to be the perfect year to fulfill that desire.
Proven top receivers coming off 1,000 yard seasons like Terrelle Pryor, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Kenny Britt are available, while others with with 1,000 yard seasons in the recent past and obvious upside like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Kendall Wright, and Michael Floyd are available, as are veterans with recent 1,000 yard seasons, but are on the downturn like Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, and Anquan Boldin.
There are other receivers with unrealized potential but clear upside like Kenny Stills, Roberts Woods, Kamar Aiken, and Terrance Williams. Players like Brandin Cooks are on the trading block.
The 6’3, 215 pound Matthews is a former 2nd round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has averaged 115 targets a year over his first three seasons and has 2,673 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns while catching passes from Nick Foles, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, and Carson Wentz. Compare that to the three-year production of Brandin Cooks- 2,861 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns via Drew Brees- and perhaps Matthews is worth another look.
It’s important to note that in his two seasons under head coach Chip Kelly, he averaged 934 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. In his third season under new head coach Doug Pederson, he recorded 804 receiving yards and just 3 touchdowns.
Matthews is a slot receiver, so he’s not what you would consider a traditional number one target. Matthews spent 92.4% of his rookie snaps in the slot, easily the highest rate in the league, and repeated the feat in his sophomore season. It’s also worth noting that the Eagles have one of the worst receiving corps in the league, so no player was drawing away the attention and clearing space for Matthews to produce.
Matthews’ biggest strength is his ability to generate yards after the catch and he has solid speed and quickness as evidenced by his 4.46s 40 yard dash and 6.95s three cone time. He’s also a quality route runner. Matthews offers limited upside as a sideline receiver and he suffers from drops at times.
Matthews has dropped 17 passes over the past three seasons, the 7th highest amount in the league. It is worth noting that #1 receivers Demaryius Thomas (26 drops, most in league), Mike Evans (22 drops, t-3rd most drops), Brandon Marshall (22 drops, t-3rd most drops), and Julian Edelman (21 drops, 5th most drops) are all at the top of the list.
Players that receive more targets will drop more passes and Matthews was pretty much the only wide receiver in the Eagles offense; TE Zach Ertz and RB Darren Sproles ranks 2nd and 3rd in targets over the past two seasons. WR Nelson Agholor has seen 113 total targets over the past two seasons, a milestone that Matthews has surpassed in both years along (126 and 117).
Of the 116 receivers to see 100+ targets over the past three seasons, Matthews ranks 85th in drop rate at 4.9%. That is not a great drop rate, but it’s ahead of Evans (5.0%), Thomas (5.1%), Marshall (5.4%), and Edelman (5.5%), along with talented players like Michael Floyd (4.9%), Amari Cooper (5.0%), Allen Hurns (5.0%), Torrey Smith (5.4%), and Marvin Jones (5.8%).
In other words, the drops should be a factor, but shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
There is a legitimate question about why the Eagles would be interested in trading Matthews, who is easily their top receiver. It would indicate that the Eagles aren’t planning on extending Matthews after the 2017 season, when he will become a free agent, and that perhaps the Eagles are looking to revamp their entire group of receivers in the next season or two.
The Patriots would be acquiring a player with just one year left on their contract, but it could be similar to claiming Michael Floyd off waivers in giving the Patriots a chance to scout Matthews before potentially signing him to an extension. Matthews would be expected to replace Danny Amendola in the line-up and could offer a potential line-up of Matthews, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Rob Gronkowski for years to come.
What would it cost to acquire Matthews? It could be similar to the Martellus Bennett trade, where the Patriots gave up a 4th round pick for the proven success of the tight end. The Eagles don’t have too much incentive to move Matthews unless they sign a couple star receivers in free agency, but the team has shown a willingness to move players they don’t believe fit into the future of the team (see: CB Eric Rowe).
Don’t expect anything to happen with Matthews until after the first wave of free agency settles- and don’t be surprised if you hear the Patriots linked to every eligible wide receiver this month.