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Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
Make the argument that Gordon is an addict who will unlikely remain clean long enough to make an impact and the counter-argument is that Gordon's repeated opportunities are a sign that he's made enough progress in his recovery—despite steps backward that are expected for addicts early on—that he's continuing to earn more opportunities to play.
If you raise the point that Gordon is only earning these opportunities because he's a massive talent, then you can't argue that Gordon has greatly diminished as a performer. Unfortunately, when it comes to Gordon, they place wheels under the goalposts of their arguments against him.
And if your only argument is that Gordon is no longer as good as his reputation, then you're ignorant about the details of a player's fit with the scheme. You may also be in denial about the substance of Tom Brady's game, which is a rampant focal point of ignorance from a variety of perspectives due to the polarizing emotions attached to his career.
Most of all, Josh Gordon holds the mirror up to fans and analysts about the nature of talent and how little we understand this prized commodity despite our constant obsession over who has it, who lacks it, and can they somehow develop it.
The safest answer for fantasy players is to stay away from Gordon. After all, every player has potential negative outcomes embedded into his season based on the inherent challenges of the game:
- Poor scheme fit
- Difficult schedule
- Competition on the depth chart
Gordon has even more on his list, including his addiction, one of the best team's football cutting him midseason while in need of receiving talent, recent injuries, a new scheme, and a new quarterback who may not trust him for a variety of reasons.
If playing the odds, Gordon has double the potential issues of the average NFL receiver. Why even bother?
Heck, Footballguys still has Gordon's Cleveland Browns photo as its go-to because no one on staff has counted on him staying in the league long enough to give him a current picture.
This is essentially what Footballguy Jason Wood wants everyone to know. You don't need to deal with the potential headache. He'll clog up roster space while potentially delivering inconsistent production, at best, and you'll miss out on free agent talents with more weekly value only to learn that Gordon is returning to rehab after the waiver wire has dried up.
Wood is speaking like a true father looking out for his surrogate fantasy sons and daughters. If you wish to be prudent and safe, listen to your father. There's little that's boring about success if you have your priorities in line. Hopefully, you've gained enough wisdom to know that dysfunction is exciting but no matter how much you think you can control it, fix it, or patiently wait it out, it's rare that you'll see it all the way through to the end.
If Wood is your surrogate fantasy pops, I'm your fantasy uncle who has been to the carnival and rode all the rides. Despite the fact that most of the ride operators look and act like characters from American Horror Story or a Blumhouse Production, your dad still lets me take you there for the afternoon (even if he's still a little worried).
It's probably because those of you that want to go with your Uncle Matt would likely sneak out of your dad's house on your own despite his protests. Better to have someone like me give you the tour of the minefield than you run through it while blindly running away from him.
I've covered his before but it's worth repeating: Gordon's addition is the only argument you need as a naysayer.
One of the best things that addicts do is relapse. When looking at the aggregate, chances are high that Gordon will again.
According to an eight-year study of nearly 1200 addicts where according to Psychology Today, "They were able to follow up on over 94 percent of the study participants..." Gordon fits the basic profile of an addict who still has a strong chance of relapse:
- Only about a third of people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent.
- For those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half will relapse (Gordon's status).
- If an addict can reach 5 years of sobriety, his chance of relapse is less than 15 percent.
It's more than enough to scare anyone off Gordon. However, there are compelling reasons to give him yet another chance. Gordon has voluntarily called timeout on his career in reception years as opposed to getting caught and 'punished' with rehab. When an individual is voluntarily seeking care, he's often further along in his rehab process.
One can argue that Gordon only voluntarily stepped away to focus on his mental health because he was aware of another violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. However, Gordon has played in 19 games between 2018-19—five more than the past three years combined. If Gordon's impending violation were true or—to side with the skeptic's argument that it was true—severe, Gordon wouldn't have been active as much as he's been.
We don't know the details of his current challenges but based on the actions of Gordon and the NFL, the chances of relapse remain significant but are likely declining.
the Scheme (Mis)Fit In New England
Would love to get a deeper explanation to this, as someone who spent the only successful year of Josh’s career with him. https://t.co/CoOgU6Mi5r— Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) November 3, 2019
I'll be glad to explain. However, I would love to get clarity about how much credit Banner is actually taking for Gordon's "only" successful year.
Because we'll see in a moment that 2018 was a successful season for Gordon and he performed well WITHOUT GETTING DRUNK IN THE LOCKER ROOM BEFORE EVERY GAME—something that happened weekly on Banner's watch.
At best, Banner didn't know about the drinking, which means as a leader he was out of touch with a major issue happening with the personnel under his leadership and at worst, he turned a blind eye to it.
Looking at Banner's resume, he had no football experience or training. He ran a chain of clothing stores and co-chaired a community service organization before his buddy Jeffrey Lurie hired him. So I understand why Banner might need tutelage in football. I'm at a loss for him bragging about work with Gordon, given the circumstances.
The Patriots organization has earned a reputation among fantasy players that New England is the place where the careers of successful receivers die. Chad Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Nate Washington, Eric Decker, Michael Floyd, and Reggie Wayne have all met their career demise as Patriots.
We presumed that excellent route runners such as Johnson, Lloyd, and Wayne would all fit into New England because they earned praise for their technical skills. Most of us didn't realize that New England's scheme requires its receivers to think like quarterbacks. Henry McKenna of PatriotsWire got Brady and his teammates of past and present to explain:
If a receiver is going to play in New England, he has to think like a quarterback...
"A lot of other offenses, you can kind of have freedom on how you run your routes sometimes, because a lot of coaches think that as long as you get open, you’re good,” receiver Phillip Dorsett told Patriots Wire. “But in this offense, you have freedom to a certain extent, but dependent on the coverage. Maybe if it’s zone [defense], man [defense], there’s a certain way you have to run routes. It’s very distinct. Tom wants you to run it a certain way because everything is about timing. He wants to know where to throw it and when to throw it, so if you’re not in that spot, he’s going to be off. It’s very different, not necessarily difficult, just detailed...”
“It’s a tough system to play in for a receiver,” Brady said. “I definitely don’t think it’s easy, and I know that because we’ve had a lot of guys from a lot of different places and we’ve had a lot of memorization. Being on the same page with the quarterback and changing routes at the line of scrimmage and changing routes in the middle of the play and you’ve got to be on the same page.”
In New England, route running may be just as challenging mentally as it is physically. When a receiver lines up, he has to recognize the defense, which may determine his route. Often, the receiver will run an option route, which is more involuntary than it sounds. There may be options, but there’s generally only one right answer. It’s dictated by the defense’s vulnerability. Brady will identify the defense and develop an expectation for what each receiver will run. That means the receiver needs to read the defense in the same way.
“In that aspect, you’re kind of like the quarterback yourself,” retired Patriots receiver Troy Brown told WBZ The Sports Hub. “You’ve got to be able to consistently make those good decisions, especially when you’re in the slot...”
“Basically, if you were a quarterback,” Dorsett said, “say you were throwing to yourself. How would you want to get open versus what coverage it is?”
Brady can change his mind mid-route about where he’s going to throw the ball and where he expects his receiver to be. Dorsett gave an example: a go route, where the receiver streaks directly downfield.
“If I’m thinking like a quarterback and I have a go route, and I release [off the line of scrimmage] and I don’t get on top of the defensive back, would I throw it in the air or would I throw it back-shoulder to make it easier? So sometimes, if you don’t make it on top, you’ve just got to look, because you might get it back-shoulder,” Dorsett said.
The defense did its job — the defensive back has covered the receiver. But in the case of a good back-shoulder throw, the play is almost indefensible. It’s just that a back-shoulder throw requires a great deal of unspoken chemistry, and, without that rapport, the play can go very wrong.
And in that case, it wasn’t exactly an option in the route tree. It would be a decision based upon feel and muscle memory because it’s not enough to know what route needs to get run. The route has to be run with exactitude.
“Tom would talk to me about the places where he didn’t feel comfortable,” Brown said. “Things that he really can’t see on the backside of things, so he’s looking to the front side. And then you’ve kind of got to be his eyes and make good decisions and not lead him into interceptions.”
How many strikes do you get for mistakes?
“Not very many,” Brown said. “Depends who you are and how long you’ve been there.”
Based on the film portfolios of Gordon and the other receivers listed, we can't conclude that these players were all past their prime. However, this is what happens when receivers fail out of New England.
The truth lies with Randy Moss. Considered past his prime before arriving in New England, Moss teamed with Brady to blow the lid off the league and earn Bill Belichick's praise as the smartest receiver that the coach has been around.
Moss' trajectory confirms what the Patriots are saying: Performing well in the New England offense requires skills that aren't as in demand to be successful elsewhere. Unfortunately, we like simple answers to our football conundrums. Josh Gordon didn't have the success to match his promise? He's not good anymore.
Didn't you learn anything with Moss or recently, Adrian Peterson? After an unbelievable campaign post-ACL surgery, Peterson struggled behind a decimated Vikings offensive line.
The simple answer? Peterson's career took a swan dive off the age cliff. Next thing you know, folks who had no understanding of how to analyze on-field play were drawing inaccurate conclusions: He has lost his burst and acceleration. He can't cut anymore. He can't run from the shotgun and he's only an I-formation back.
Peterson is at his best in the I-formation. As an aside, it's funny how Dalvin Cook asked Mike Zimmer for a fullback during the offseason and the Vikings are now having great success from the I-formation once again. When Washington's offensive line has been healthy, we've seen Peterson show every skill people said was gone with the exception of his top-end speed.
However, we spent two years reinforcing that false narrative that Peterson lost his talent. We were hasty with the conclusion during his short stint in New Orleans (prime Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara anyone?).
Then, after a strong start with Arizona, the Cardinals lost key components of its line and quarterback Carson Palmer. Here we are again with Gordon, who some believe has dropped off the talent cliff because he didn't reprise Randy Moss' performances with the Patriots.
Again, Josh Gordon is a great talent with far more technical skill than many characterize his game (more on that later). Randy Moss was also a great conceptual football player, which isn't as vital in other schemes as New England.
Route running in New England is a lot more than memorization and rehearsed movement.
This analysis point broaches a lingering presumption that the Patriots cut Gordon because he wasn't that kind of conceptual receiving talent. We don't have a clear answer here but the data supports the idea that Gordon caught on just fine.
Despite not delivering as Randy Moss II, Gordon was more successful than most of the receivers listed above. NFL.Com's Mike Giardi assessed Gordon's impact on the Patriots offense during the 2018 season, and it's clear that Gordon was a difference-maker despite not having Moss's supporting talents in their primes such as Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez:
The difference in New England's offensive output with and without Gordon, who played for the Patriots from Weeks 4-15, is a reminder of just how gifted the 28-year-old is. The Pats' production was better when Gordon was active, as they threw for slightly more than 60 yards per game and scored 2.5 points more per contest. Gordon's 18 yards per catch placed him second in the entire league, trailing only then-Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson (now with the Eagles). And Tom Brady averaged 11.3 yards per attempt to Gordon, which is the best mark of any Brady-to-receiver combo since 2006, according to Pro Football Focus. The sample size is small, but that's better than Brady to Randy Moss (9.2) and Brady to Rob Gronkowski (10.3).
It took a few games and a bye week to establish an efficient connection between the pair. Once it did, the production took off. What's most interesting about the Gordon and Brady on-field relationship is the routes that succeeded and failed during their time together.
Gordon's insertion into the lineup wasn't an instant success, though -- he averaged just three catches for 41.3 yards through his first three games -- and it took some trial and error to figure out what worked best between he and Brady. For instance, Brady had a completion rate of 50 percent or less when targeting Gordon on go, back-shoulder, post, out and corner routes, per PFF. He was just 2-of-7 on the back-shoulder routes and 2-of-5 on the go routes, although two of Gordon's four touchdowns did come via those routes...
Much of Gordon's production came courtesy of slants and in-routes, which highlight the wideout's massive 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame and willingness to play physically. With New England combining Gordon's size with Brady's accuracy, the opposition's smaller, lighter defensive backs often found themselves in situations where they couldn't win, unable to go through Gordon or to work around him. The numbers don't lie: Brady was 11-of-15 for 145 yards when targeting Gordon on slants, and 8-of-9 for 198 yards and a TD on in-routes.
While Gordon is a beast on slants and in-breaking routes, he's as dangerous on the deeper routes that Brady could not deliver to him as consistently. These deeper routes also require more time in the pocket and this year, the Patriots' offensive line has been the offense's greatest weakness.
If Brady doesn't earn time for deeper routes, he's not going to be as effective in this phase of the game and that capped Gordon's upside. We credit the Patriots and other winning organizations for making difficult choices with talented players. Our community devotes a lot of air time to the idea that Gordon is no longer good. It's possible that the Patriots determined that Gordon was no longer a match for the surrounding talent and the direction of the scheme.
This leads to the next subject: Brady's skill set.
Tom Brady is still good but his quarterbacking style was never an island
Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes II, (prime) Cam Newton, and Aaron Rodgers possess the combination of skills to force opponents to respect the vertical game without a strong offensive line. Brady has never been that quarterback.
The losses to the Patriots offensive line between last year and this have been substantial enough to hurt Brady's downfield passing this year. However, even with a better offensive line and Gordon, Brady was 30th in average accuracy percentage in the vertical game.
There was a brief renaissance with the deep game in 2017 but overall, Brady's accuracy has been on the decline since 2007. Let's not get simplistic here, Brady can still connect with the deep ball but it's no longer the weapon in his arsenal that it once was. Sure, Moss is a superior vertical receiver to Gordon but not by such a drastic margin that Gordon is massively responsible for Brady's inaccuracies in this range of the field.
Wilson, Mahomes, and Rodgers are also islands onto themselves as tight-window passers. Brady is not. Last year, Pro Football Focus broke down Brady's game and discovered that while he remains one of the four most accurate quarterbacks in the league throwing to open targets—two steps or more of separation as well as targets with "up to two steps of separation." In other words, if the receiver is wide open, or what I call "college open" Brady remains among the best.
Tight throws where a defender is within arm's reach of the target or a tight passing window? Brady was in the middle of the pack.
When you look at the scheme it's clear that the Patriots thrive off pre-snap assessments of coverage to create wide-open looks. This is a conceptually-demanding offense on receivers because they want to leverage Brady's strengths to read the defense while minimizing his worst traits as a tight-window thrower. A middle-of-the-back thrower in this area isn't bad, but it's not going to make this offense as unstoppable as putting the onus on the receivers to get wide-open.
This is the genius of the Patriots coaching staff. And it's also why Gordon wasn't as much of an asset as a vertical threat who thrives in tight windows.
Even when Gordon was dominating in Cleveland, he often made tight-window catches than the pulled away from the defense. If Gordon has lost any athletic ability during that unbelievable year in Cleveland, it wasn't a huge loss. Brady's skills aren't good enough in those specific areas to make the most of Gordon and it's better for the offense to have another excellent option-route receiver with YAC skills like Mohamed Sanu.
This may sound nutty, but if you reconsider the argument above, the logic is there. Watson isn't a bad quarterback because he lacks the velocity and accuracy on perimeter timing routes. The Texans scheme around it and pick players who maximize his talents.
Brady is aging and his game has changed. It doesn't make him bad, just weaker in some areas than he once was. They accepted it and moved on from Gordon. Why can't we?
Gordon in Seattle
Yes, Russell Wilson wanted Antonio Brown as Seattle's first priority of consideration ahead of Josh Gordon. This was pending an investigation into each player's availability to join the team. And if you think this was a statement that Wilson didn't want Gordon, you're overthinking it.
I like the Italian deli in my neighborhood. It's my go-to spot. However, if you're going to give me a choice of Italian meals, the dinner-only restaurant further down the street that makes its own pasta is always going to be my top pick. That's no slight to the deli.
Pete Carroll told ESPN that Seattle had no intention of using Gordon against the 49ers until he watched Gordon during the walk-through practice over the weekend and knew that he'd be crazy not to make their new receiver available. Sure enough, Gordon caught a pair of targets at key points of the contest to keep drives alive.
Despite knowing little of the offense, Gordon made pivotal plays in a game his coach had no intention of putting him into. If you saw a guy built like D.K. Metcalf with superior route skills and better hands, what would you do?
Gordon will complement Wilson more than Brady because Wilson buys a lot more time as a passer and Gordon's physicality will come into greater play. Wilson also delivers trust throws and tight-window targets with greater skill than this iteration of Brady.
The rapport between the two will be a work in progress but where Brady and the Patriots offense is a dense maze of "if/then" statements—that as we see above, Gordon acclimated within a few weeks—Seattle's offense is a little more freewheeling, open court play that leverages physical skills more than New England.
With the bye week, Gordon and Wilson should earn extra rehearsal time and perhaps even more than usual due to Tyler Lockett's shin injury that will keep him off the practice field for at least more time than usual.
Despite protests from my Footballguys brother, Gordon remains an excellent receiving talent despite the Patriots system and quarterback obscuring the luster of his game. It took Gordon three weeks to acclimate to the Patriots' demanding scheme for receivers. Seattle's offense shouldn't be as difficult and Gordon gets the bye week earlier in the process.
If you need to go for broke to get a playoff berth, Gordon is worth the risk. If you have Gordon and your roster is in strong shape, sit on him for a few weeks with the hope of reaping fantasy postseason dividends. If you need help elsewhere and have Gordon as an asset, I'd bet his trade value will have greater variation than comparable talents—between a fantasy WR2-WR4.
Don't run out to grab Gordon but if someone is selling because they have the mindset that they're peddling defective goods and selling high, consider the upside if you have nothing to lose.
I still have Gordon in dynasty formats and at this point, he's worth holding onto until the bitter (or sweet...) end.