Fantasy Football Profile: Josh Gordon
The year 2017 was one to remember for a lot of players, but maybe none more than Josh Gordon, who had been held out of football activities since 2014. It was a long road back for the former No. 1 fantasy wide receiver, but did he live up to the expectations in 2017, and will he reclaim his place atop the wide receiver rankings in 2018?
That’s an extremely tall order and not one that many are expecting given his current early ADP (average draft position) as the 16th wide receiver off the board. Still, that’s pretty lofty for a wide receiver who is part of an offense that didn’t produce a single wide receiver in the top-85 last year. But looking at this team, it’s not the same one he was playing on in 2017.
We knew the Browns had more talent on the roster than their 0-16 record last year suggested, but we also knew they had tons of draft picks inside the top few rounds of the NFL Draft. Rather than sitting tight and rebuilding the roster through there, they decided to go out and not only sign Carlos Hyde in free agency, but trade for both Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry. Those are three players who have played in the Pro Bowl, or were at the very least, considered an alternate to the Pro Bowl. It wasn’t all sunshine, though, as long-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas decided to retire. Needless to say, this offense is going to look much different in 2018.
In addition to the player moves, the Browns hired offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was with the Steelers from 2012-2017 where he coached top-8 scoring offenses in each of the last four years. You can say that the talent there made it pretty easy, but at the very least, he didn’t screw it up. In each of his years there, the offense ranked inside the top-16 in pass attempts, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. In fact, the only time Haley finished outside the top-16 was when he was asked to be a head coach. Similar to Hue Jackson as a head coach, they may just not be cut out for those jobs and serve better as a coordinator.
IS VOLUME AN ISSUE?
Knowing that the Browns will now be under Haley, you’d expect them to be a pass-heavy team, right? I mean, Haley has never coordinated an offense who has ranked better than 15th in rushing attempts. But why go out and trade for Tyrod Taylor, a quarterback who has never thrown more than 437 pass attempts in a single season? Well, some say that he was a stop-gap until No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield could take over, the sooner the better. The Browns didn’t help to deter us from the notion that they’d be more run-heavy, adding banger Nick Chubb at the top of the second-round with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson already on the roster. But the sooner that Mayfield takes over, the more aerial I see this offense going.
So far, it seems like Taylor is set to start for at least the foreseeable future, which is how we have to value Gordon’s potential upside in drafts. Splitting the difference with Haley and Taylor, we will place the projected pass attempts in the middle, though I’d always rather be cautious than optimistic because that’s how we get Gordon’s floor. That leaves us with somewhere in the range of 525-550 pass attempts for the year, though Mayfield taking over can surely make that number rise.
Once Gordon joined the lineup in Week 13 last year, he saw 43 of the 163 pass attempts made by the Browns, giving him a bulging 26.3 percent target share. To give you an idea as to how high that is, Antonio Brown was at 27.7 last year. Let’s tie the two together here, as Haley was the offensive coordinator who was with Brown last year and he’ll be the one coordinating Gordon’s offense this year. But still, even if we assumed nothing changed with the team, his 26.3 percent share of 525-550 pass attempts would range from 138-145 targets. That’s before Jarvis Landry comes in, as he wasn’t signed to a five-year, $75.5 million deal to see a piddly five targets per game.
Landry plays a completely different position than Gordon and one that traditionally doesn’t net as many targets, though the Dolphins peppered him with 142.5 targets per year over his first four years in the league. Here’s the primary slot wide receiver’s target totals for Haley’s offense over the last four years (combining players if there was multiple): 2017 – 76, 2016 – 74, 2015 – 79, 2014 – 73. As you can see, it’s been pretty consistent, but if you’re being logical, you have to bump it up with Landry in the fold. For the sake of argument, let’s say that number is 100 targets for Landry, which would be a 20-plus percent increase over what Haley did in Pittsburgh.
Over the last four years, Haley’s wide receivers have seen a combined 61.4 percent of the target share. Putting that number up against our projected 525-550 attempts, we’re looking at 322-338 wide receiver targets to go around, but that’s assuming that Taylor goes through progressions the same way Ben Roethlisberger does. Remember, every quarterback shows a trend in their career numbers when it comes to which positions they favor, though the offensive scheme does matter much more. Taylor had targeted wide receivers a lot more (over 55 percent) when he had Sammy Watkins on the Bills, but we saw that number dip significantly to just 47.1 percent last year, which is likely due to the lack of talent on the team. Similar to the Steelers, the Browns don’t have that issue at wide receiver. We’ll bump down the projections from 61.4 percent to 60 percent, just to account for the fact that Taylor may not target wide receivers as much. Remember, we’re being cautious here.
So, here we are with a rough estimate of 315-330 targets to go around. We’ve put Landry down for 100 of them, which means we have 215-230 to go. And before you tell me that Landry will get more than 100 targets, I’d urge you to step away from Gordon, because do you know how many teammates both saw more than 110 targets last year? NONE. In fact, just three sets of teammates saw 100-plus targets (Lions, Dolphins, Jets). Gordon should be the focal point of the offense, so we shouldn’t be shy about giving him 120-130 targets, leaving right around 100 for those remaining on the depth chart (Corey Coleman, Antonio Callaway, Ricardo Louis). That would be right around a 22.5 percent target share, which is where a majority of the top-20 wide receivers will be.
During his career, Gordon has now played in 40 total games, totaling 179 receptions for 3,089 yards and 15 touchdowns. Looking at the quarterbacks he’s played with, that’s quite the accomplishment. Even if Taylor is the quarterback, he’s the best Gordon’s played with on the NFL level. Prior to starting Gordon’s profile, I would’ve said that there weren’t enough targets to go around, but now that I’ve looked at everything closely, I’ve come around on him as a WR2 with upside, especially if Haley continues his pass-heavy ways. With that being said, there’s some risk that he doesn’t perform up to his current ADP as the WR16, which is essentially a high-end WR2. I’ve currently placed him as my No. 18 wide receiver, though he’d get the tie-breaker if I were torn between two players because of the upside he presents. My 2018 projection: 125 targets, 66 receptions, 917 yards, 6 touchdowns