One of the bigger questions in Fantasy Football this off-season has been what to do about last year’s top wide receiver, Josh Gordon. With league drafts kicking into high gear, this has become an even more pressing issue. If he plays this year, he is a sure fire difference maker that could lead a team to a championship.
But where should teams draft Gordon? To determine that we need to look at what we know about his current situation and also look at what value he can provide when he returns.
First lets look at his chances of playing this year and then we can delve deeper into his value.
WHAT WE KNOW
Unlike the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, which provides the Commissioner with relative autonomy, the rules governing substance abuse are much more clearly defined. Gordon and his team met with the league on August 1 and 4 to appeal his impending one-year suspension. To help in this process, Gordon hired attorney, Maurice Suh, who had previously helped Richard Sherman avoid a four game suspension on a urine collection technicality. While the league is required to provide a ruling within a “reasonable” time, Richard Sherman had to wait 2-1/2 weeks to discover that he won his appeal of a four-game suspension. Right now we are one-week in, so we can expect to realistically hear a ruling anytime between today and August 25th.
Gordon’s appeal centers on his defense that the failed test was a result of secondhand smoke. Gordon reportedly passed 70 straight tests before failing this one by barely going over the league’s legal limit of 15 ng/ml of THC. His second sample was tested to be around 13.6 ng/ml. But as long as the second sample merely showed the existence of THC, then the first sample was said to be confirmed. So per league rules, technically Gordon failed the test, as he is required to be in charge of what goes into his body, no matter how it gets there. That must have been one major hot box.
Some sources have recently reported that the hearing officer’s findings are an all-or-nothing proposition, since the plain language of the substance-abuse policy contains no wiggle room. On the other hand, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, citing an unnamed source, that the hearing officer, Harold Henderson, could impose a suspension between zero days and a year, if he so chooses.
However, last Friday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello stated that on appeal, the hearing officer’s responsibility is to determine whether the violation was established and, if so, he is bound by the agreed-upon sanctions. This would mean that the league insists that Henderson has no discretion to do anything other than impose a full-year suspension or no suspension at all. Henderson is also a long time NFL employee acting as NFL Executive Vice President for Labor Relations and Chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee for sixteen years. He is now Executive Vice President for Player Development, so it’s not like he is some outside, independent arbiter looking at this case. The league may also not be happy that someone, possibly on Gordon’s team, has been leaking information to the media about the case trying to ramp up public pressure.
But while the hearing officer may not be allowed to impose something less than a year, the Commissioner certainly has that power to do so, and has done so in the past, as we saw last year when Josh Gordon’s suspension was reduced from four games to two. The Commissioner can essentially do as he wishes and suspend him for any amount of games, and can also decide if Gordon can be around the team for meetings, conditioning and training camp.
Looking at some recent cases, Will Hill of the Baltimore Ravens just tried the secondhand smoke defense with no luck, although we don’t know exactly what his THC levels were and he was also facing just a 4 game ban. LaVon Brazill on the other hand just got banned for the year, and the league and the players union put these rules in place to avoid favoritism.
Regardless, the Commissioner seems to be impervious to the precedent of prior decisions or creating any new precedent. In the other high profile suspension case this off-season, the Commissioner let Ray Rice off with a mere slap on the wrist, giving him just a two game suspension after he was caught on video tape dragging his girlfriend out of a hotel elevator after he allegedly knocked her out cold.
There is also the issue of Gordon’s recent run-in with the law. He got citied for speeding and the police found marijuana in the car and then he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol just a few weeks later. Somewhat fortunately, it was the passenger in Gordon’s car who had the marijuana on them and in his drunk driving arrest; he blew a reported 0.09, just a hair above the legal limit of 0.08. This means the drunk driving charge will most likely get knocked down to a reckless driving charge. As we saw in Marshawn Lynch’s DUI case, this can also be kicked down the road. So I don’t see either coming into play here since these new infractions fall under the conduct policy and not the substance abuse policy. But when you are pleading for mercy, neither incident is going to endear you to the Commissioner.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS
Playing the percentages is complete guess work, but taking into account all of this information does give us something to go on. Putting on my swami hat, here is how I see it:
- 75% chance Gordon gets the full year and misses all 16 games. He is guilty of failing the drug test under league rules and the Commissioner is dealing with a repeat offender. I think it is more likely than not that he misses the full season.
- 15% chance Gordon is found guilty, but has his suspension cut down to just 8 games. Gordon did pass 70 straight tests and barely failed this one. The Commissioner can’t be exited about bannishing another marquee player and forcing him to stay away from football and the team for a full year. It certainly didn’t work for Justin Blackmon; football probably provides the only true stability in his life.
- 5% chance he is found to not be in violation and gets zero games. Suh would be a miracle worker, but under the league rules it is technically either pass or fail. The longer the decision takes to come down, the more it leads me to believe that something is going on. If Gordon failed the test, it shouldn’t take long to come out with their ruling. If it starts taking weeks, the league may be second-guessing things as they did with Sherman. Gordon aside, waiting until the season essentially starts is not very fair to the Browns organization who are not culpable in any of this.
- 2.5% chance he gets 12 games. There is not much difference between 12 and 16 games, so throwing him a bit of a bone doesn’t make much sense when compared to the amount of criticism he may receive for being lenient on a marquee player.
- 2.5% chance he gets 6 games. Kicking it all the way down to 6 games seems a bit too low.
- 0% chance Gordon gets 4 games. If he is found to be in violation, I just don’t see the Commissioner commuting his sentence all the way down to 4 games.
WHEN TO DRAFT
To determine what sort of value Gordon may hold if he plays, we need to determine what he would score he if played a full season. Since nobody has projected him out for the whole year as of yet, let’s use Julio Jones as his equal, even though Gordon would probably score even better. Let’s also assume we are playing in a league that starts 3 WRs.
David Dodds has Jones to record 87 catches for 1,227 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. This means Dodds has projected him to average 11.41 FP/G in standard leagues and 16.85 FP/G in leagues that award one point per reception (ppr). Using these values, if Gordon played all 16 games his value would be around 183 FP in standard leagues and 270 FP in ppr leagues. If Gordon played 8 games his value would be 91.5 FP in standard leagues and 135 FP in ppr leagues.
If we were to compare this to some other players, in just 8 games Gordon is projected to score 3 more points than Kelvin Benjamin (88.1 FP) in standard leagues and 2 more points than him (133.1 FP) in ppr; 11 more points than Tavon Austin (80.5 FP) in standard leagues and 4 more points than him in ppr (130.5 FP); and 6 less points than Ruben Randle in standard leagues (97 FP) and 23 less points in ppr (157 FP).
Using this data, I think around this tier is where it makes some sense to reach for Gordon, which is right around WR 50. But even then, playing the odds that is a poor bet. The safer range to reach for him is just after this when you start getting into the flyers with players such as Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Andrew Hawkins, Rob Streater, Doug Baldwin and Markus Wheaton. In this range, Gordon is projected to score 20+ more points in half as many games. In this range you are also not relying on Gordon to be anything more than a mid to low WR 5. In terms of ADP, this would be drafting him in round 12 at the earliest.
A couple caveats to keep in mind: 1) It may take Gordon a few games to get back into game shape and play at game speed once he does return and 2) there is always the risk of injury when a player isn’t in football shape and tries to play. Although, fortunately Gordon has shown the ability to be able to thrive with just about any quarterback throwing him the ball, so not getting in work with Johnny Manziel (yes - I predict him to the starter) isn’t an issue. And when he does return, barring injury, he will be a sure fire #1 receiver with much more reliable week-to-week consistency than players initally drafted as WR4s and WR5s.
Time to ante up!