Getting high, finding trouble, and playing football are the three things in life where Josh Gordon has proven his greatness. In that exact order.
No one call tell you that Josh Gordon will stay sober and out of trouble. It should come as no surprise that Ben Baskin's Sports Illustrated piece reveals many lurid details about Gordon's life. The most concerning part of this story line may be the present: Gordon has placed his comeback in the hands of an agent who, at best, puts his greed before his client and is a bush-league hack at public relations.
When you think about Gordon's life, it's not that surprising that the people he's sought out for help aren't from the square-haircut, I-lie-a-dozen-times-before-breakfast-without-batting-an-eye circuit.
Gordon's attempted rise from the ashes could go either way. Others will pontificate about his personal struggles and inject their desire to speak like the young man's benevolent daddy with rock-steady morals despite the fact that they haven't the faintest idea what they're talking about.
If they did, they'd be in the faces of their investment advisers, law firms, fraternity houses, school boards, and neighborhood associations. And if they really had guts, their own households.
Don't get me wrong, I care about Gordon developing more into a healthy human being. I just don't care what anyone else thinks about it in relation to football.
Since the truth hurts, let's escape reality and stick to football analysis. It's also what we know most about Gordon.
If he's clean and if he stays healthy in every way, Gordon offers the risk-friendly fantasy owner an immediate difference maker. I wouldn't worry about physical rust. Gordon is in excellent shape, ran a 4.35-second 40 upon returning to practice, and he's been training hard since spring.
Wide receivers can work on routes and stamina all year-long if they are healthy enough to do it. I wouldn't worry about rust. Gordon told the media during a presser four days ago that he hasn't felt any rust and that no one has indicated to him that he's having issues with anything on the field.
The rust is more likely to occur with the mental and conceptual side of the game — including option routes, hot routes, reading late adjustments to pre-snap looks, understanding the sudden shift of a defensive back during a post-snap read, and clear and consistent communication with his quarterback.
However, exceptional athletes can also overcome some of these adjustments because they are exceptional athletes. This is a big, strong, fast, graceful receiver with vision, timing, and fantastic hand-eye coordination.
Here's Gordon against Brent Grimes — fresh off a Pro-Bowl season — and the rest of the Buccaneers secondary after his first extended hiatus from the league.
The double move made Grimes look like an amateur. The second route is a fantastic comeback where he drops his weight and snaps the turn better than Julio Jones, a comparable athlete at his position.
The third play is Gordon cutting off Grimes late for the touchdown up the right sideline. Grimes, a small corner with great leaping ability and timing, was known for hanging with Calvin Johnson.
Two plays later, he turns and effortlessly catches a crossing route at his back hip. This effortless quality is something seen with most of his tape. It's unreal — especially for a guy playing professional football under the influence and probably 15-25 pounds heavier than than his 225-pound listing.
This was Gordon doing a Big Mike Williams impression and exceeding it.
Let's travel down memory lane to see what we can expect from Gordon now that his physical conditioning is at least as good as his 2013 season — the year he was the NFL's receiving leader with the trio of Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer throwing to him.
Remember Hoyer and Weeden submarining DeAndre Hopkins' fantasy production last year? Ponder that while taking a closer look at these clips.
lethal Size and speed
Although it is clear that he can't fight, and every time I think of him, I think about Steve Smith telling him to 'ice up,' Aqib Talib is an excellent man corner and bully on the field. After all, Michael Crabtree is a smooth, strong receiver who has difficulties with Talib.
Not Gordon. Even accounting for Talib's technical improvements during the past three years, Gordon's size and speed makes him as difficult as any receiver in the league to tackle in the open field.
There better be a defender over top with a square angle to him Gordon, or a trailing linebacker with a perfect shot as Gordon is changing direction across the field. Otherwise, reaches and wraps are merely synonyms for "missed tackles."
Gordon's speed is not of that big-man build-up variety. He's acceleration is what put Talib at an immediate disadvantage. It's the same reason that Gordon's stem has this Detroit cornerback running for his life and no chance of recovering after Gordon's break.
This sudden acceleration for his size is unnerving for cornerbacks. Gordon's ability to eat a seven-yard cushion and force a cornerback into a bad position by just making a natural turn to run downfield is crazy.
This kind of size-speed can force defensive backs to overthink their process when lining up across from Gordon.
As we know, a player who thinks is much slower than a player who reacts to the speed of instinct. Several corners who have faced Gordon have made erratic decisions or simply appeared a frozen like prey catching its first glimpse of the predator emerging into view.
The last receiver who had this early effect on defensive backs was vintage Randy Moss. While Moss was good after the catch, Gordon is in that upper tier of prime Terrell Owens skill but with that first 10-15 yards acceleration that made Jerry Rice a terror on crossing routes.
If the Browns don't run crossers with Gordon on Sunday, the coaching staff needs remedial tutoring.
And if a defender can stay with him for most of the route, then Gordon is likely saving something in reserve to close on the ball late. This late-closing burst on for a touchdown against Buffalo's corner is rare.
It's not just Gordon's acceleration and speed, but his vision, footwork, agility and rare athletic ability to re-accelerate at this level of competition.
Gordon not only runs thorugh wraps, he shrugs off hits. Here's Troy Polamalu launching into Gordon as Gordon is airborne for a catch.
Technically and conceptually skilled
Gordon is not just a big and strong athlete who can catch. He's also a smart receiver with detailed skills that many celebrated prospects never acquire.
This touchdown against the Jaguars features Gordon keeping his pads low through his release and later, cutting off the trailing corner as the ball arrives. He shields the defender perfectly.
Gordon knows how to release from press with a variety of techniques: chops, swipes, and shoulder reductions. After his breaks on vertical routes, he also stacks his man to control pace and position.
When a defender tries to get physical with Gordon during the vertical break, Gordon's strength and hand usage becomes a massive asset. This defender's arm might as well be a vase on a polished wood table.
His body control and sideline awareness is fantastic. One thing that stands out on several highlights is Gordon's ability to catch the ball while hurdling towards the sideline and almost always get his feet in-bounds. It almost appears as if he doesn't even know there's a boundary to be careful of but he's always managing it perfectly.
This body control extends to winning the ball over cornerbacks. Here's Gordon eating Pac Man Jones at the catch point. The timing of the leap and full extensin of his arms is as good as anything you'll see from a wide receiver.
It's equally impressive that Jones can get his hands so tightly into position while making a full extension across the defender's frame. Gordon dominates an above-average man-to-man cornerback from an inferior position.
This year and beyond
Gordon's last true season with Cleveland was 2013. That version of the Browns had Norv Turner as the team's offensive coordinator. As we have learned, Turner is a stickler for receivers who can run the full route tree and execute the offense.
Gordon will likely need to an offseason to grasp all of the intricacies of Hue Jackson's West Coast Offense (if Jackson keeps his job), but teammates will help Gordon lineup in the correct place and run the correct route. Expect penalties and miscommunication that will result in turnovers and incomplete passes, but also expect Gordon's physical and technical dominance to make life easier for DeShone Kizer.
Speaking of Kizer, the Browns quarterback has been the No. 9 fantasy passer between Weeks 10-12. and about 15 percent of his yardage totals courtesy of his legs. Look for similar production with Kizer, Gordon, and Corey Coleman all healthy.
Coleman was already drawing the opponent's top cornerback. Gordon and Coleman on the same side of the field will often pit one of them against an over-matched safety. When they're on the opposite sides of the field, expect the pair to run crossing routes with some natural rubs built in.
Gordon will earn targets on slants, digs, crossers, comebacks, deep outs, posts, out-and-ups, and go routes. Kizer has an excellent deep arm, and if he can get it through his rookie head to throw the ball up for grabs in any situation where Gordon has a one-on-one, their fantasy values could escalate quickly.
I can't tell you whether you should or shouldn't take a chance on Gordon. I can tell a few things around that question:
- If your root concern about taking Gordon is the ridicule you'll face from your league mates if he fails again, you're a wuss.
- If you don't know if you'd start Gordon every week unless he plays to his ability right away, you don't need to me tell you to stick with the hand you have.
- If you have to give up depth that earns starter production even if you don't typically use that player, but your wide receiver corps is already a crap shoot that has held your team back, Gordon is worth the risk.
- If your main rationale for not taking Gordon is 'it's the Browns, they'll always mess it up,' you're a football genius and you're probably too smart to be reading the likes of my work. Why are you here?
There's a lot of hyperbole when football writers broach the subject of talent. I try to avoid it because every NFL prospect — regardless of them being drafted or ever playing in the league — are among the top 95-99 percent of athletes and/or technicians at their position in organized football.
Every NFL player has a hallmark trait or two that comes easy to them. The upper echelon often has two or three of these traits or they refined skills that weren't massive strengths when they arrived in the league — Jerry Rice, Marshall Faulk, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers are good examples.
Very few players ever enter the league with dominant traits that, when they are mentally and physically on their game, can make upper echelon players look like my neighbor's kid flailing against his older brother.
Deion Sanders. Barry Sanders. Bo Jackson. Lawrence Taylor. Earl Campbell. Randy Moss. Brett Favre.
Josh Gordon is this kind of talent — the talent that people talk about endlessly but don't understand how rare it truly is. Selfishly, I hope we see Gordon's on display for much longer than we have thus far.
It's why he's been on two of my dynasty league teams for the past two years. Does that answer your question about him long-term?