Growing up as a hometown fan of any Cleveland sports team is immensely difficult for anyone, let alone my generation. I have endured the likes of The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble, and most recently The Decision. There is reason and foundation for my favoritism of Michael Jordan exceeding the preference of my Cavaliers, and an even more prominent rationality for my infatuation with fantasy football football; the Cleveland Browns.
Calling the Browns organization a fantasy wasteland since my earliest days – building up this devotion for the fantasy industry - would be an understatement. Lousy draft pick after another, untapped “potential” resulting in positional turnaround within a couple of years, and dreadfully embarrassing season after season grows tiresome. Welcome to my life, and that of any Clevelander with hometown pride who still cherishes and is passionate about our beloved Browns.
Once again there is a new regime in town, a sense of hope that we pray is not false, and continued buzz from the fallout of the NFL Draft and the upcoming 2013 season. Finally there are pieces in place, and a direction has finally begun to form. The epitome of my enthusiasm revolves around a sophomore running back who has graced the NFL as a workhorse, a rule-changer, and a long-awaited centerpiece to an organization desperately in need. Trent Richardson is our nucleus, but the pieces surrounding the nucleus create chemistry and cohesiveness, and TRich’s sophomore peer is my spotlight today for this exact reason.
Welcome to the final installment of my sophomore wide receiver series. The first three quarters are complete (Blackmon, Wright, Hilton), but try and catch up as I take a shot deep in the 4th Quarter: Josh Gordon.
There was no indication if Gordon would even be playing in the NFL to begin the 2012 NFL season. Suspended indefinitely by Baylor University in July of 2011, Gordon transferred to Utah and sat out the entire 2011 season. He would never play another down as a collegiate wide receiver following his transfer from Baylor. Missing his entire 2011 season paired with no NFL Draft combine, left a lot of question marks surrounding Gordon. With his future promise fading, Gordon’s final opportunity would have to derive from the 2012 Supplemental Draft.
Cleveland struck gold in the past within the Supplemental Draft back in 1985, and the Bernie Kosar era was the last time the Browns had seen any type of consistent success. Taking Gordon in the 2nd round of the 2012 Supplemental Draft was a risk by Cleveland, but a well merited one at that. Their talent and depth at wide receiver was somewhat laughable for years, and even though Gordon’s skill was raw, and he hadn’t been in the midst of game action in over a year, the possibility was still appropriately intriguing. With the current draft concluded, I think we can all equally agree that Gordon was worth the loss of their 2nd round selection. Standing at 6″3, 224 pounds, and possessing the speed to stretch the field against any defense; Josh Gordon has the measurables to become an efficient NFL receiver. Being the primary target of Robert Griffin III - prior to his indefinite suspension at Baylor – displayed his capabilities and skill set. Considered to be primarily a deep threat during his rookie tenure, I look for Gordon to develop and expand on his immediate success.
Gordon finished his 2012 rookie season with a respectable 50 catches on 89 targets, 805 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Considering we didn’t know what to expect from him, and Brandon Weeden was slinging him the pigskin, I find this to be a very productive season. The Browns offense has been anemic in previous years, and the fact that their top three offensive players were all rookies exemplifies this outcome. It is very understandable that the argument of defenses being caught off guard by Gordon’s speed and ability benefited him greatly through the first half of the year, but the lack of offensive weapons leaves no excuse. A healthy TRich and improved Weeden are going to be essential to Gordon’s growth and development.
The strongest aspect of Gordon’s ability was easily his vertical presence. Speed can’t be taught and I surely don’t expect him to diminish this dangerous aspect of his game, but size can’t be developed either and has to be utilized effectively. Polishing his route running skills and sharpening his intermediate routes will only aid the difficulty of covering this multi-talented receiver. Defenses are well-aware of his vertical speed, and I fully expect him to see coverage over the top more often than not. Defensive coordinators can’t live with 50+ yard touchdown receptions, but they can’t stop precise routes that result in moving the chains if they want to take away the deep ball. Adding the possession receiver dimension to his game will make his skill set lethal.
Even lacking the consistent intermediate part of his game, Gordon was able to successfully put together a strong season. An impressive 16.1 yards per reception placed Gordon within the Top 10 of NFL receivers with at least 50 targets last season. His 56.2% catch percentage was mediocre at best, but with a sub-par rookie quarterback throwing him the ball this could have ended up much worse. Out of eight catchable passes 20+ yards down field, Gordon hauled in six of them in which four resulted in touchdowns. When the deep ball is accurate, watch out for this guy.
The Gordon hype train has been gaining momentum lately, and his potential doesn’t fall short. Gordon is going to be the WR1 and primary threat for Weeden this season, but until he shows proof that he can use his frame and stature paired with his burst, it is all assumption. The initial outlook is very promising, and delving into the seasonal comparables in previous years emphasizes this mindset. I feel as if every time I gush about a specific young player and start digging into research, I tend to find astonishing comparisons to proven superstars. When the words wide receiver are spoken one name comes to mind first these days, Calvin Johnson. When I pulled the list of most comparable seasons to Gordon’s rookie year guess who the top name on the list was…yep, Megatron. At the raw age of 22 Mega posted eerily similar statistics to that of the 21 year-old Gordon. Gordon was able to garner 5.94 targets/gm, 3.12 recs/gm, 49.81 yds/gm, and 0.31/TDs/gm. I’ll breakdown a few of the comparable players below, how they developed their second season, and what they’ve blossomed to become:
Calvin Johnson: It is hard to believe Mega was anything other than the best receiver in the NFL at any point in his career. During his rookie tenure he averaged 6.33 targets/gm, 3.2 recs/gm, 50.4 yds/gm, and 0.27 TDs/gm. Nearly identical numbers to what Gordon was able to accomplish last season. By year two, Mega’s targets and receptions rose around 50%, receiving yards by 63%, and touchdowns by a staggering 178%. It didn’t take long for Calvin to breakout of his shell and four years later break the single season receiving yard record. If we could even loosely base his progress off of what to expect from Gordon, the sky could be the limit.
Andre Johnson: A consistent and solid veteran at this point in his career, Johnson posted a humble 7.44 targets/gm, 4.12 recs/gm, 61 yds/gm, and 0.25 TDs/gm during his 2003 rookie season. Not quite as quick of an advancement as Mega, but Johnson was able to improve his targets, receptions, and yards all by nearly 20% his sophomore season. His touchdowns rose by 52%, and he’s turned into a dependable pro bowl receiver who we can all count on as a WR1 contently. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t argue at all if Gordon could put together any type of a comparable career as Johnson has been able to establish.
Larry Fitzgerald: Besides being banished to the quarterback wasteland that has been known as Arizona – sorry Regan – Fitz is still one of the most talented and prominent receivers in the NFL. At the age of 21 Fitz produced 7.19 targets/gm, 3.62 recs/gm, 48.75 yds/gm, and 0.50 TDs/gm. As you already know, Fitz showed progress immediately entering his second season. His targets went up by 43%, receptions by 78%, yards by 81%, and his impressive rookie touchdown percentage by 24%. Fitz was on his way to arguable becoming one of the best wideouts of all time until the departure of Kurt Warner. I expect a bounce-back season from Fitz this year, and nobody can argue that he has always possessed the talent to light up a stat sheet throughout his entire career.
Demaryius Thomas: Not quite as deep into what is presumed will be an illustrious career as the others above, but I find this comparison to constitute the most merit. First reason being the raw talent coming out of college, and second being the inept comparability of quarterback play during their rookie seasons. At a bit more ripe age of 24 DT was able to gather 7 targets/gm, 3.2 recs/gm, 55.1 yds/gm, and 0.40 TDs/gm. As we all witnessed last season, DT added 26% to his 2011 target total, 84% rise in receptions, 63% increase in yards, and a 55% escalation to his rookie touchdown total. DT has rapidly become a top-5 wide receiver in the NFL, and his star status only continues to rise. The one unfair comparison is Peyton Manning, and the surrounding talent on the Broncos offensive roster. I do believe if Gordon’s game can evolve in the fashion of DT’s then dynasty owners may be laughing to the bank within the next few years.
Obviously quite the list of players to be associated with, and I left out a few big names that appeared as well: Pierre Garcon, Dez Bryant,Vincent Jackson, and Michael Crabtree. The four players I broke down above figured to be enough of an eye-opener to really grasp Gordon’s potential and ceiling. All the players listed were able to enhance their abilities during their sophomore season, and happily grace fantasy starting lineups to this day. If we can use these statistics and comparables as any type of measuring point, I think Gordon has immense capability of becoming the next superstar receiver.
I don’t think all this promise and potential lies in the hands of Gordon though, and the Cleveland Browns organization is going to be just as responsible for developing his premier talent, and surrounding him with capable pieces to help him succeed. I don’t expect Gordon to come out and put up Calvin Johnson sophomore numbers his second year, but I fully expect growth and development. It will be intriguing to see how the Browns plan on utilizing his talent and physical abilities to exploit defenses.
Gordon will be a promising asset to dynasty rosters, and very well may solidify some redraft teams this upcoming season, but please don’t get caught up in just hype and overdraft this sensational prospect. Gordon will be a WR1 for the Browns this season, but it doesn’t mean you should reach for him as your WR1. Keep an eye on his ADP as the offseason progresses and continue to look for the best value you can find at the position. Wide receivers seem to be a dime a dozen outside of the top stars these days, and the position is very deep. That statement may easily be forgotten in a year or two, but for now use your football intelligence.
I personally like to refer to him as Flash Gordon, and this is obviously in relation to his blazing speed. Lets just hope that one day this nickname isn’t referred to in correlation with his career longevity.