Eagles Release DeSean Jackson
The Eagles have released veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
Other media outlets are successfully covering the ‘why’, which frees me up to discuss the fantasy implications.
In his first season operating in Chip Kelly’s offense, Jackson handled exactly one quarter of the team’s targets (125 total). Not coincidentally, his receiving OTD worked out to almost exactly 25 percent of the team’s scoring opportunities. In 17 games, Jackson caught 85 passes for 1,385 yards and nine scores. His 14.3 aDOT and 16.3 YPR were career lows, but his 68 percent catch rate was both a career-high and eight percentage points above expected when you consider his high down-field usage.
Jackson usually played on the right side of the Eagles’ offensive formation, lining up wide right 72 percent of the time and in the right slot another 9 percent. Jackson was in the slot on a total of 22 percent of his 2013 snaps. He was excellent in that spot, hauling in 29 of 35 targets, many of which were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Although Jackson was clearly the Eagles’ top receiving weapon last season, it’s important to note that his usage dropped quite a bit when Nick Foles took over as starter. In the 10 games Foles handled at least 90 percent of the quarterback snaps, Jackson averaged 21 percent of the team’s targets (six per game). That’s down from 29 percent (9.3 per game) when Foles was out. Consider that Jackson eclipsed six targets in a game only once in games started by Foles. And that was an extremely fluky 15-target game in which Philadelphia was playing from well behind against Minnesota.
I mention all this about Jackson because we now have to figure out how Kelly will replace his snaps and targets.
The big winners here are unquestionably Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. Both players re-signed with Philadelphia earlier this offseason and now slot in as clear starters. Based on wide receiver usage in 2013, we can assume each wideout will handle right around 20 percent of Foles’ targets. Cooper is a better bet for down-field looks and touchdowns, while Maclin will pick up slot work and run a lot of underneath routes. Cooper was in the slot on only 13 of his 89 targets last season. In his last full season (2012), Maclin handled 33 percent of his targets from the slot.
The player I’m most excited about as a result of Jackson’s release is tight end Zach Ertz. Standing 6’5/250, the No. 35 overall pick in last year’s draft is primed for a near every-down role in 2014. With Brent Celek handling the blocking last season, Ertz moved all over the field, lining up with his hand in the dirt only 48 percent of the time. Of his 59 targets, 10 came while out wide, 21 from the slot, and 28 while in-line. Ertz was quietly fantasy’s No. 20 tight end despite playing only 41 percent of the offensive snaps. With an expanded role going forward and plenty of usage near the goal line, Ertz is unquestionably worth TE1 consideration.
The release will also lead to additional snaps and targets for Darren Sproles. Essentially another wide receiver, Sproles figures to play even more now that the Eagles depth at wide receiver is poor. He caught 34 of 40 targets when lined up in the slot for New Orleans last season. Sproles also caught nine of 10 targets when lined up out wide. He’s on the Flex radar in PPR leagues.
Speaking of the Eagles wide receiver corps, it’s now a near-guarantee that they’ll be looking to address the position early in May’s draft. After Maclin and Cooper, Jeff Maehl, Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn, and Damaris Johnson are left competing for snaps. B.J. Cunningham, Ifeanyi Momah, and Will Murphy are also on the roster.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL
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