Fantasy Football: Nick Foles & How the Jags Offense will Function in 2019
Let’s be honest. Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole aren’t the flashiest names among wide receivers in the NFL. Compared to the heavy hitters like DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, they seem like little minnows in a sea of megalodons.
So, why should you bother to give these players, Nick Foles and the rest of the newly configured Jacksonville offense a passing glance with a lackluster to downright pitiful fantasy production in the past? Instead of dismissing this team as a defense-only, run-first team, let’s take a deeper look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and the key changes they have made to their offense.
Fix the Passing Offense with a Pass Happy John DeFilippo
If you aren’t familiar with my article, Three Potential Bust Candidates for 2019, I break down why I believe Leonard Fournette will struggle in the new Jaguars offense under new OC John DeFilippo. On the flip side, his addition skyrockets targets in the passing game. After all, one big reason he was fired from the Minnesota Vikings was due to his stubborn resistance to utilize their star running back, Dalvin Cook.
Below is an example of DeFilippo’s offenses comparing the rush versus the pass percentages.
Although he was only the quarterbacks’ coach for the Eagles, I still want to show the types of offenses that DeFilippo is used to coaching. It’s pretty clear that he gravitates toward plays that are pass-heavy.
Someone (most likely many someones) will need to step up to plate and catch the plethora of targets DeFilippo is used to scheming. Sure, he will have pressure to lean on Fournette, but that still doesn’t take away the air yards ripe for the taking.
Pair Up With a New Quarterback the Coach Knows Can Produce
Most of the blame for the shameful fantasy points should fall on the shoulders of Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler who single-handedly tanked the Jags’ passing game in one year. They went from 5th best in offensive points in 2017, to 31st in 2018, 6th in total offensive yards to 27th, and I could continue with this trend, but you get the idea.
It doesn’t make sense to hire a new OC to fix the passing game if you don’t have a reliable quarterback to deliver the targets. Fortunately for DeFilippo and the Jaguars, they found the perfect solution in Nick Foles.
Playing in only 7 games in 2017, Foles completed 57 passes on 101 attempts for 537 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season. He manufactured the miraculous ascension through the postseason in Carson Wentz‘ absence, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory and was hailed as the MVP.
His quarterbacks coach that year was John DeFilippo. Foles and DeFilippo clearly have chemistry and respect for one another. A key point to bring to light is that Foles is already familiar with how DeFilippo schemes and calls plays. The learning curve is far less steep than it would be in an entirely new offense.
Not only was Foles signed because of his talent and history with DeFilippo, but he brings a stable, veteran influence to a young and boisterous locker room. It will be interesting to see how the players develop under Foles’ iconic stoicism on and off the field.
Play to Foles’ Strengths
There are so many factors that go into figuring out the Westbrook or Cole conundrum. We are looking at Nick Foles on a new team, as the starting quarterback, a different offensive coordinator for the Jaguars, and the loss of downfield-threat Donte Moncrief to the Steelers, to name a few.
Let’s first take a look at the reception leaders on both the Eagles as well as the Jaguars and see where they lined up on offensive snaps. This will give us a better idea of how to compare each player to the other on their respective teams.
Two things are glaringly obvious in this table. First, Donte Moncrief is gone, as mentioned earlier, which leaves roughly 36% of the left and right outside offensive snaps and 86 targets open for someone else.
Then, we have Zach Ertz skewing the target distribution. I apologize, Geoff Swaim, but Zach Ertz, you are not. Foles targeted Ertz 50 times in 2018 in five games. If we look at the table above, we see that the right/left slot and right/left tight are Ertz’s production sweet spots with nearly equal numbers. If we take away the right/left tight position as an option for Foles in the Jaguars’ offense (since there is no Ertz-like player who lines up right/left tight), we are talking roughly 15 targets that will be vacated from those spots. Remember, that’s only over 5 games. We need to look at the potential for over 16 weeks. That translates to around 48 targets to split up among the other positions. Add that to Moncrief’s vacated targets and we are looking at a total of about 134.
Based on the table above, we can compare Agholor to Westbrook and Jeffery to Cole in terms of where they line up. Let’s take a look at Agholor and Jeffery’s fantasy production in half-PPR in 2018 to see if we can infer a trend for the Jaguar’s offense in 2019 with Foles as the common quarterback among them.
This is where I stopped in my research and did a double-take. For a QB not known for his downfield passing, he did an excellent job utilizing Jeffery outside on both sides and inside left slot, even though Agholor dominated both slot positions. This shows that WRs lining up either outside or slot have the opportunity for production if their routes stay within that 20-yard mark. Foles attempted only 29 passes out of 195 for more than 20 yards and only 10 amounted to a completion.
What really gave me pause was remembering that Ertz usurped a majority of the targets not included in this table. If we assumed Ertz didn’t exist, the volume would increase for both players as well as points.
Sure, that’s all well and good, but the point of this article is to help predict the Jaguars’ offense, not wax poetic over what could have been on the Eagles offense. This is where the part about Ertz not existing actually comes true. There is no Ertz on the Jaguars. The only players to line up in the right/left tight position as Ertz did are tight ends Geoff Swaim, James O’Shaughnessy, and Ben Koyack.
Am I saying that one of the Jaguars’ tight ends will become the new Zach Ertz? Absolutely not. I am saying that all those passes to Ertz in the right/left tight will need to go somewhere else on the Jaguars.
We’ve analyzed Westbrook and Cole in terms of Foles’ production while he was on the Eagles. That is only one part of a very complex equation. Another big factor is DeFilippo as the new offensive coordinator. Will his offensive schemes parallel with what Foles has done in the past? Below is a table detailing Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs by snap and fantasy points in half-PPR.
I think we can all recollect Thielen turning into a fantasy points machine last year finishing as the WR6, but Diggs also had himself a year finishing WR12. That was an upgrade in fantasy production from 2017 where Thielen finished WR9 and Diggs WR20. Also, something to note, the Vikings did have an Ertz-ish TE in Kyle Rudolph as well, yet both Thielen and Diggs wildly outproduced from the previous year. This leads me to believe that DeFilippo doesn’t really care if he has an elite TE that lines up right/left tight or not.
How much of that boost was from Kirk Cousins, DeFilippo, Mike Zimmer, or any number of other factors is hard to say for sure. We are simply looking at common factors to better predict who will get those coveted targets on the Jaguars’ offense in 2019.
Under a new QB who prefers the short field with an OC who helped him rise to Super Bowl MVP and turn Thielen into a fantasy superstar, Westbrook and Cole are both poised for a significant fantasy upgrade based on sheer volume alone. DeFilippo knows Foles and will scheme plays that utilize his strengths between the line of scrimmage and 20-yard mark.
Westbrook is the popular fantasy choice as the WR with best potential to see the bump in production, but that doesn’t mean you should discount Keelan Cole just yet. However, in order for Cole to become fantasy relevant, he must do better than a 50% catch percentage and needs to see a higher volume of snaps than he did in 2018 at 66.06%.
Westbrook currently has an ADP of around 10.06 in half-PPR. Other WRs drafting near him are Golden Tate, Curtis Samuel, Courtland Sutton, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Cole, on the other hand, is largely undrafted. If you have a deep bench and want to take a flier on Cole, grab him, it would cost you next to nothing. If you want to stay away from the Jaguars offense completely in your draft, keep your eye on Cole for a cheap waiver pick up if he starts to get more involved in the offense.
Of course, Westbrook and Cole aren’t the only wide receivers on the Jags’ offense this year. Marquise Lee is scheduled to return after suffering a torn ACL last season. While he is expected to attend training camp on July 22, he is still listed as questionable. Even if Lee is fully healthy and ready to go at the start of the season, he should be sliding back into his role which Moncrief vacated this year as the deep threat. I have mentioned that Foles doesn’t throw deep very often, but that doesn’t mean that he never targets wide receivers downfield. With that being said, Lee may prove to be a boom/bust player who will rely on the deep ball to be productive while WRs running shorter routes will get more volume.
Which brings me to D.J. Chark and the newly acquired Chris Conley. Chark played in only 11 games in his rookie year last season, zero of which were game starts. He had 32 targets for only 14 receptions and 174 yards in those 11 games with 43.8% catch rate. He drew only 6.1% of the teams’ targets and managed only 3.2 yards after contact battling injuries all season. If he manages to stay healthy, he could finally have the chance to prove himself in the offense if he has better hands, better yards after the catch, and has a significantly higher snap percentage than a paultry 27.3%. Lining up primarily in the left/right slot in 2018, Chark will be in direct competition with Westbrook for Foles’ targets. If he’s not on the field, he obviously won’t see the production.
Chris Conley is an interesting addition to this already thick offense. He lined up right/left tight 23/29 times last year with the Chiefs but was woefully unproductive and phased out of the offense. Ertz thrived in that spot, and while Conley is no Ertz, he may emerge as a deep sleeper to keep an eye on.
Speaking of Ertz and deep sleepers, it was remiss of me to neglect rookie TE Josh Oliver out of San Jose State, who some have touted as Ertz 2.0. At 6-foot-5 and weighing 249 pounds, he certainly has the physical characteristics to be commanding on the field in a position that is devoid of explosive playmakers on the Jags’ offense. To further stack the deck in Oliver’s favor, he clocked a 4.63 40-yard dash and a 34-inch vertical jump. He led his TE draft class in combined 1st downs and touchdowns with 39 as well as leading the NCAA TEs in contested catches with 16.
It’s not hard to understand why fantasy players are excited about Oliver’s prospects heading into 2019. However, there are some issues that make me wary of him. First, he is a rookie. Rookie tight ends do not typically explode out of the gate with massive numbers. Second, he must be better at pass protection to give himself the opportunity to remain on the field and create plays. His yards per reception was 12.7, but he struggles to create yards after the catch and has a middling 56% catch rate.
With that being said, you may be able to grab Oliver, Chark, and Conley absurdly late in your drafts or for free off waivers. If you already have your studs and want to give them a shot, you should be able to get them for pennies with very little risk. Don’t expect big production right off the bat, but they could produce later in the season.
For even more information to dominate your draft, don’t forget to check out this year’s Ultimate Draft Kit and UDK App.