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The Untapped Fantasy Value of Josh Gordon

Now that we're five weeks into the season, small sample size narratives are starting to disappear and some fantasy owners are beginning to get antsy about slow starts. When you put these two elements together, it makes for a perfect opportunity to start exploring trades.

The issue is that most people try to swing a blockbuster. I'm sure your league is filled with guys making buy-low offers for DeAndre Hopkins, Le'Veon Bell, and Odell Beckham Jr. Most of those offers are probably offensive as if the owner who drafted those players in the first round has simply decided they're now bad.

Often the best trade targets are good players who had outsized expectations placed on them earlier in the season. Once fantasy owners realize those expectations may have been exaggerated, they begin to see the flaws in this player that prevented him from being a top round draft pick in the first place. Owners are more likely to give up the under-performing fourth to sixth-round picks, so those are the guys you should be targeting in trades. My favorite is Josh Gordon, who I think is set to take off over the next few weeks. Let me explain why.

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Consistent Snaps and Targets

As we continuously say, opportunity is king in fantasy football. Gordon has been on the field for 82% of the Patriots snaps, which is just behind Julian Edelman's 84.5%. The Patriots are currently a top-1o offense in total yardage and are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for most touchdowns scored with 19. In fantasy, you want to target guys who are on the field often in top offenses, so Gordon fits the bill.

According to Rotowire, he's also seeing seven targets per game and 19% of the Patriots' total targets. While seven targets may not seem like a lot, we have to keep in mind that the Patriots started the year by blowing out the Steelers and Dolphins by a combined 73 points. They weren't doing a lot of throwing in the second half of those games. Gordon is seeing nine targets per game the last three weeks, in which really only one game was close. The Patriots still have games against the Ravens, Texans, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys and Eagles left on the schedule, so Gordon won’t continue to be under-utilized in the second half like he was in the first two weeks when he saw four and five targets respectively.


He's Hoarding Air Yards

According to Rotowire, Gordon has seen 359 air yards so far, which is 25% of the Patriots total team air yards. Obviously, the more air yards a player sees, the more passes, or deeper the passes, he's seeing. Both of which are good indicators of fantasy success. Accounting for 25% of the air yards in a high-performing offense makes Gordon a valuable asset.

For comparison sake, he trails premiere wide receivers like Michael Thomas (45% of team air yards and 34% of targets) and Keenan Allen (38% of air yards and 28% of targets). Yet, we never considered Gordon among the top-10 wide receivers in fantasy. He is still in line with some other explosive players.  Cooper Kupp sees 26% of the Rams' air yards and 29% of team targets. Chris Godwin has 29% of the Bucs air yards and 27% of targets, while Tyler Lockett has 29% of air yards for the Seahawks and 24% of targets.

Gordon's 25% of air yards and 19% of total targets place him in the same range of total air yards but below the target share. With the Patriots not having to push the ball down the field much this year, Gordon's numbers could conceivably grow in closer game scripts.


There's Meat Left on the Bone

With Gordon locked into a central role on the Patriots offense, his true value can be found in seeing how much more potential return there is. His average depth of target is 10.3, which is ahead of Michael Thomas’ 8.8 and Tyler Boyd’s 7.9 and right in line with Sutton’s 10.7, Godwin’s 10.8 and Davante Adams’ 10.3. However, Gordon saw an aDOT of 10.8 during his games with the Patriot's last year, so there is a history that would suggest growth for him this season.

The biggest difference between Gordon and these other top receivers is in catchable passes. Gordon has only seen 54% of catchable passes, while most of the WR2 and above options are seeing close to 70%. Of the top WR options, Cooper Kupp has the lowest catchable pass rate at 65%. Tyler Boyd has seen 70% catchable passes from Andy Dalton, while DJ Chark has gotten 73% of catchable passes from Gardner Minshew.

A look back through Gordon's targets shows quite a few plays where Brady flat out misses him for what would be huge chunks of yardage. Here's a perfect example from this past Sunday:

via Gfycat

If Tom Brady hits Gordon there, he's looking at a 30-yard completion at the bare minimum and a possible long touchdown if Gordon is able to break one tackle. Gordon only saw 59% catchable passes during his games with New England last year, which suggests he runs lower-percentage routes, but there are enough missed connections on tape this year from passes Brady doesn't miss often. You'd have to think that if he could make the above throw 10 times, he'd hit Gordon at least eight of those times.


Getting High-Value Targets

Which leads me to the last point in Gordon's favor: he's seeing high-value targets. Gordon has seen five targets so far inside the red zone and just over 17% of the Patriots team targets in the red zone. He’s tied with Edelman and trails James White by one target. According to Rotowire, Courtland Sutton is wide receiver leader in red-zone targets with eight, so Gordon isn't too far off from the league lead there.

With the Patriots having been able to simply run in the red zone most of the season, Gordon’s five targets are a good sign. Especially since one of those targets was this misthrow by Brady on a should-have-been touchdown.
And this drop by Gordon, which is a pass I'm confident he hangs onto the majority of the time:

via Gfycat

All of which seems to indicate that more touchdowns are coming for Gordon in the near future.


Final Verdict

With all of the information at our fingertips, we have to look at what we know to be facts:

  1. Gordon will be on the field in one of the league's best offenses
  2. Gordon is a red-zone priority on that offense
  3. Gordon compares favorably in air yards and target share to strong fantasy WR2s
  4. Gordon has been on the receiving end of a fair amount of uncatchable passes from one of the league's most historically accurate quarterbacks

When you simply take the facts, it becomes clear that Gordon's value hasn't been fully realized. However, there are other key facts to consider.

  1. Gordon doesn't meet the typical WR1 target totals
  2. Gordon has good but not elite air yards
  3. Gordon's team is filled with other quality receiving targets.

What all of those facts say to me when added together is that Gordon has WR1 upside, but his relatively low percentage of looks on a good team make him less consistent than high-end WR2s like Allen Robinson, and Tyler Boyd. Yet, Gordon currently ranks 42nd in half-point PPR leagues behind guys like Mohamed Sanu and Demarcus Robinson.

Going forward, I’d put Gordon on the fringe of the WR2 discussion and acknowledge that he's a player with a high floor who could absolutely carry my team in certain matchups. It would be a good idea to see how disillusioned his owner is and see if you can't pray away a rock-solid WR2 for the rest of the season.

He's not going to consistently be beating on the WR1 door like people were hoping for when Antonio Brown got cut, but he certainly won't post the zero that Mike Evans just did on Sunday.

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