Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to assume everyone reads Rotoworld, but sometimes I wonder if players ever read what we say about them. Come on, there had to be a rainy day this summer when Ryan Mathews broke out his MacBook and searched his own name on Rotoworld. And the poor guy walked right into an ambush too.
Yeah, well that’s just like, your opinion, man.
May 18: “The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec believes the Ravens could have some interest in Ryan Mathews.”
Ravens? Keep dreaming. What else you got?
July 3: “The Eagles can avoid paying Ryan Mathews (neck surgery) an injury settlement by waiting until he's medically cleared to release him.”
Okay, that doesn’t sound promising. Come on Rotoworld, give me some good news.
August 14: “The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Ryan Mathews (neck) has ‘arrived in Philly,’ and the sides could be nearing a resolution to his Eagles future.”
Guess I better take what’s coming to me.
And yesterday: “Eagles released Ryan Mathews.”
I hate to say I told you so, but yeah, we sort of told you so. Not that we were going out on much of a limb—Mathews was a goner as soon as the Eagles poached Blount from New England. It was a predictably anticlimactic end to Mathews’ disappointing two-year stay in Philadelphia.
Obviously Mathews’ name doesn’t carry much fantasy weight these days—particularly now that he’s unemployed—but it sure used to. The former first-round pick delivered a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons during his five-year tenure in San Diego and usually carried RB1 status in fantasy when healthy.
Around the time I started working at Rotoworld in 2015, Philadelphia’s revamped backfield was the highlight of free agency. It was a weeklong soap opera that started when the Eagles shockingly traded long-time workhorse LeSean McCoy to the Bills in exchange for linebacker and Chip Kelly favorite (remember him?) Kiko Alonso. On the heels of McCoy’s surprise departure, the Eagles zeroed in on Frank Gore, only to watch him sign a three-year deal with Indianapolis. After getting the cold shoulder from Gore, Philadelphia quickly pivoted to Mathews, who signed on the same day the Eagles inked ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray to a five-year contract.
The trio of Murray, Mathews and Swiss-Army knife Darren Sproles was supposed to take the league by storm. But the Eagles’ grand running back experiment would prove to be short-lived. Murray fell flat in his first and only season in Philadelphia while Mathews again failed to stay healthy.
After their disastrous 2015 campaign, the Eagles quickly reversed course, dealing Murray to Tennessee, where he enjoyed a resurgent season as the Titans’ lead back. They also spent a fifth-round pick on West Virginia product Wendell Smallwood. Even with Murray gone, Mathews wasn’t the difference-maker fantasy owners had hoped for, disappearing for weeks at a time while losing work to Smallwood, Sproles and even Kenjon Barner.
Hurt as usual, Mathews logged double-digit carries on only seven occasions while settling in as a glorified vulture. He was a touchdown-or-bust fantasy option, averaging a sluggish 4.85 PPR points per game in six contests where he failed to find the end zone. Injury-prone and going on age 30, Mathews should have seen the writing on the wall well before he logged on to Rotoworld.com. Mathews may turn up somewhere as a low-risk flyer, but his days of being a relevant fantasy contributor are long over.
What’s left in Philadelphia is an odd collection of runners spanning many different skill sets and ages. LeGarrette Blount produced a league-leading 18 touchdowns with New England last season and is probably the Eagles back to target for fantasy purposes. Of course, there’s a reason Blount lasted two months on the free agent market. Actually, there are several. Blount turns 31 in December and has always had suspect hands. He’s not the fleetest of foot either, though his hulking 6’0/250 figure makes him a tough man to stop around the goal line.
As with all players who become instant successes in Foxboro, Blount’s resume deserves to be met with skepticism. Did Blount turn a corner last year (unlikely at his age) or did he merely reap the benefits of Tom Brady’s continued dominance (far more plausible)? He’ll still carry value as the Eagles’ preferred goal-line back—touchdowns are the name of the game after all—but it would be foolish to expect Blount to replicate his RB9 finish from a year ago.
The carry distribution behind Blount will be far more interesting. Smallwood has been chomping at the bit all summer and surely deserves more reps after showing well in limited action as a rookie last year. Blount hasn’t exactly been a standout at Eagles camp, which could give Smallwood the opening he needs to claim a bigger piece of the backfield pie. Fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey has sparked some positive word of mouth around Eagles camp, though it’s hard to gauge what his role will be as a rookie. A capable return man with impressive hands, Pumphrey should eventually take over as the Eagles’ primary passing-down back. That role should open up soon with Sproles slated for retirement after this season.
Philadelphia’s backfield wasn’t the only tweak the Eagles made this offseason. Just in the last week the Eagles shuffled the deck at wide receiver, sending contract-year wideout Jordan Matthews to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby. Matthews was a target hog in Philly, drawing over 100 looks in each of his three seasons. Alshon Jeffery and tight end Zach Ertz will both benefit from Matthews’ departure, though the biggest winner may be Nelson Agholor.
The USC alum obviously hasn’t met expectations since arriving as a first-round pick in 2015, but with Matthews gone, slot duties should be his for the taking. It’s hard to get overly excited about Agholor given his past disappointments (career 23.1 yards per game) but if there was ever a year for him to break out, this would be it. If you’re in a best-ball league where depth is important or you’re looking for a late-round lottery ticket in PPR, Agholor belongs in that conversation. The Eagles threw a ton last year (sixth-most passing attempts), so there’s upside to be had in this offense, particularly if Carson Wentz takes a step forward as many are expecting.
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