After five mostly abysmal years with Blake Bortles at quarterback, the Jacksonville Jaguars finally moved on, signing veteran Nick Foles in free agency. Foles clearly gives this entire offense an immediate boost, and the player that may reap the most benefits is Dede Westbrook. A combination of fit and opportunity points to a breakout campaign for the third-year wideout.
Foles has seen significant playing time in both of the last two seasons because of injuries to Carson Wentz. Unlike in 2017, when he was forced to start late in the season after Wentz tore multiple ligaments in his knee, Foles went into camp in 2018 with the expectation that he could see significant playing time, with the starter still recovering from that knee injury. The results of that increased preparation showed, and illustrate how much more efficient a quarterback Foles is than Bortles.
While Foles’s numbers certainly don’t point to an elite starter, his adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A)—an all-encompassing efficiency metric—ranked a decent 17th among quarterbacks last season, while Bortles finished the year 32nd out of 38 qualifying signal callers. Where Foles really separates himself is in his accuracy. Although completion percentage can be misleading, Foles brings to Jacksonville the second-highest on-target percentage (80.7%) over the last two seasons, per SportsInfoSolutions.
The difference here isn’t explained by a huge difference in play, at least in terms of depth of target. Since the beginning of 2017, Bortles and Foles rank 30th and 32nd, respectively, in deep-ball rate (passes traveling 15 or more yards). What is noticeably different isn’t how deep they throw the ball, but what portion of the field they use. Whereas Bortles rarely uses the middle of the field, Foles thrives in that area. This is especially apparent when we look at how often these players look to their slot receivers. Foles has targeted players lined up in the slot at the sixth-highest rate over the last two seasons—23 quarterbacks targeted the slot more often than Bortles in that span. This bodes well for Westbrook.
Despite catching passes from Bortles and Cody Kessler, Westbrook managed to turn in a respectable 2018 campaign, finishing as the No. 31 receiver in half-PPR formats. As mentioned earlier, Bortles rarely used the middle of the field last season, but Westbrook still managed the eighth-most targets in the league while lined up in the slot. On passes of fewer than 15 yards, Westbrook was the Jaguars’ most efficient receiver last season, challenged only by Donte Moncrief, who now resides in Pittsburgh.
Westbrook’s shallow routes—his 8.5 yards per target ranked 67th out of 84 qualifying receivers—keep him from posting huge yard per target numbers. That capped ceiling, however, is mitigated by his fit with Foles and usage near the goal line. His 24.5% target share in the red zone ranked 12th among all receivers in 2018. While that only represented 13 targets inside the 20, an uptick in overall offense should result in more scoring opportunities.
In addition to Moncrief leaving Jacksonville, pass-catching specialist T.J. Yeldon is no longer on the team, leaving 16.7 targets per game up for grabs in this offense, and that already high number doesn’t account for the possibility of an overall uptick in passing volume. Despite winning only five games last season, the Jaguars’ 534 pass attempts ranked 19th in the league—usually, bad teams throw a lot. Although this is a Tom Coughlin team that is committed to the run, expect them to show more trust in the passing game with Foles tossing the rock.
Westbrook managed just more than 19% of Jacksonville’s targets last season, but with his biggest threat likely being Marqise Lee, who isn’t even a guarantee to show for training camp, that target share could approach 25%. With John Paulsen’s projection of 549 pass attempts for Foles this season, Westbrook’s target ceiling could push 140 targets, a number that would have ranked 10th in 2018.
The transition to Foles should give the Jaguars’ offense a giant boost, especially in the passing game. Foles likes to throw short and in the middle of the field, a strength that matches up perfectly with Westbrook’s game as Jacksonville’s primary slot man. Along with an expected jump in volume, Westbrook could see a spike in scoring opportunity, assuming that he can maintain his target share in the red zone. Currently going as the WR43 in Best Ball 10s, Westbrook seems reasonably priced—4for4’s median projection has him pegged as the WR38. As a WR4, Westbrook provides one of the safer floors in his range, while also bringing to the table top-10 volume upside at his position. That would make him one of the best values on draft day.