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Josh Gordon is Back... Again


By now, you've heard the news that New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon has been reinstated by the NFL. Gordon is expected to be eligible for New England's season opener and would add some much-needed firepower to the New England receiving corps.

How much is Gordon needed? Well, with the departure of tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots are fielding a team that has Julian Edelman and [intentionally left blank] as the top receivers. Rookie N'Keal Harry hasn't looked great this preseason. Guys like Cameron Meredith have a chance to make this team, Maurice Harris has been their best wideout in camp and the tight end replacement for Gronkowski is Benjamin Watson, who is suspended for the first four games of the season.

Of course, there are also negatives with Gordon. Is he in game shape? Can he play a 16-game NFL season for the first time since 2012? Is the 28-year-old still going to be as good as he was earlier in his career? Can Tom Brady still throw a football down the field? Lots of questions. Let's try to answer them.

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1. How important is Gordon to this Patriots WR corps?

Look, I'm not trying to sound overly pessimistic about the state of the New England Patriots pass-catching pre-Gordon reinstatement, but it was...not great.

Julian Edelman is obviously a very good receiver, but the depth after that got questionable. It looked like Phillip Dorsett was in line to start as the team's primary outside receiver. In 16 games last year, Dorsett caught 32 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. He played a lot in the early part of the year and then was virtually a non-factor for awhile, and he's also dealing with a thumb injury right now.

N'Keal Harry was another option for that role, but the rookie has spent most of training camp not looking like he was ready to start at the NFL level. The former Arizona State receiver has the strength (99th percentile bench press among receivers) and hops (84th percentile vertical leap) to be a viable outside option, but something hasn't been clicking yet.

Beyond that, things get even foggier. Undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers has had a really good camp, but it's hard to know exactly what you have in a player like until Week 1 rolls around. A team with Super Bowl aspirations doesn't want to be in that kind of predicament. Meanwhile, if Edelman plays outside more, the battle for slot snaps appears to be between Braxton Berrios and Maurice Harris, which is, again, not the kind of situation you want to be in.

Gordon lets you keep Edelman in the slot and then hope that Dorsett can breakout as your third receiver. It lets you feel more comfortable bringing Meyers along.

Factor in the drop-off at tight end from Rob Gronkowski to a collection of guys who aren't Rob Gronkowski, and you see even more of the need for Gordon. James White can't catch 120 balls out of the backfield, right?

 

2. Can Gordon make an impact? What does 2018 tell us about his ability to succeed (or not)?

The next question is what Gordon can add this year. One of the most interesting things I've seen since the Gordon reinstatement was the split of Gordon's performance in games with/without Gronkowski.

Per RotoViz -- and as seen on a post in our partner Facebook group, FSA -- if Gordon's games without Gronkowski in 2018 were extrapolated over a full season, he would have finished with 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns on 128 targets. Now, obviously you can't just extrapolate a small sample size and say "look, Gordon's going to be a WR1" because it takes a lot of the context away, but we do have evidence that Tom Brady will look to Gordon heavily with Gronkowski not involved.

Gordon's real numbers last year were 40 catches for 720 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games with the Patriots, plus a 17-yard touchdown reception before the Browns traded him. He had 65.5 receiving yards per game while part of the Patriots.

On the advanced level, Gordon was 33rd among receivers in fantasy points per target and 19th at the position in production premium. On a non-advanced level, his 18 yards per reception was third among receivers.

Gordon's numbers last year suggest he can definitely still be a productive NFL receiver, though expecting Josh Gordon to be the dominant force he was in Cleveland feels like a stretch. Gordon has WR1 upside, but 2018's numbers suggest to me that he's more of a WR2 at this point. His catch rate is a little too low for me to feel entirely comfortable with him, but I mean...Gordon's a dynamic player. He's the best downfield option that the Patriots have, and if he plays a full season I can't see any way he isn't a top-24 wide receiver when all's said and done.

 

3. Tom Brady is getting older. Should that be a concern?

Oh, definitely. Brady's 2018 numbers weren't nearly as bad as people make them out to be, as he threw for over 4,000 yards and had 29 touchdowns.

He did have his highest interception percentage since 2011, but his adjusted net yards per passing attempt were slightly above his career average. Brady wasn't playing at a dominant level, which is reflected in his finish as the fantasy QB14, which was just the second time since 2004 that he played 16 games and wasn't a top-10 fantasy quarterback.

Digging deeper, though, there are some other areas of concern with Brady. He was 30th among quarterbacks in red zone completion percentage and 22nd in deep ball completion percentage. Brady was also 19th in true completion percentage and 26th in accuracy rating. BRoto's True Throw Value metric had Brady 17th last season.

Basically, yes, we can expect Brady to continue his age-based regression. Part of why I think Gordon reads as a WR2 to me and not a WR1 is that Brady struggled passing deep and passing in the red zone, and while Gordon helps that out, he doesn't negate the fact that Brady's clearly losing a step in terms of arm strength, which is most notable when throwing long or when needing to zip a ball into a tight space.

 

4. Should we be concerned about Gordon getting suspended again?

I mean, this is always going to be a concern because the NFL's going to have Gordon on a very short leash for the rest of Gordon's career. I've seen some people suggest you draft Gordon and then try to trade him after three or four productive weeks to mitigate some of that risk, but...I don't know. Drafting a guy with Gordon's suspension history and assuming someone will trade for him seems like a strategy that's making a lot of assumptions about your leaguemates.

Anyway, I think my response to this question is this: Gordon's ADP is already going to be building that suspension risk into it. We know the NFL tends to just make things up as they go, so Gordon could definitely run afoul of whatever rules they create for him. It's a risk you have to take. He seems to be doing everything right at this point, so I'm optimistic we get a full year of Josh Gordon.

 

5. Where should we be drafting him?

Well, how risky are you feeling?

Right now, I'd probably say the range in which I'd consider Gordon starts around the WR24 range and ends around the WR35 range. It's all about how the individual draft I'm in is going.

I would prefer to take Gordon as my WR3, where I think he'll be available in a lot of leagues, and not as my WR2. The risk of Brady regression and unpredictability of Gordon's career has me understandably nervous of not having two solid receivers before I take him.

The exception to that is if I'm going with a light WR start, which I've done a lot of this year. In that scenario, I'm probably going running back with my first three picks before first grabbing a receiver. Since I'm anticipating using middle round picks on the Courtland Sutton/Corey Davis tier of guys, I'm fine grabbing Gordon's upside as my WR2. It's all about balancing how I want to construct my fantasy team and how comfortable I feel with the risks involved with Gordon. But if people start drafting him as the WR15 or something, I'm completely fine steering clear of that and grabbing someone who drops a spot because of the overreaction on Josh Gordon.

 

6. Should I drop _______ for Josh Gordon?

So, you drafted early and no one in your league drafted Josh Gordon. Now, you've got a preseason waiver run going on Tuesday and you want to know who to drop for Gordon.

The easy way to approach this is to first figure out where you would have taken Gordon. At what point in your draft would you have been confident selecting him if you knew what you know now. Think about it. Weigh your various risk factors.

Now, don't drop anyone you took before that point for Josh Gordon. Yes, that seems like an obvious thing to say, but you never know what people will do when Josh Gordon Hype SZN comes around.

(Maybe this is complicated by you having gone wide receiver heavy. Maybe you drafted five receivers in the first six rounds and would have drafted Gordon in the seventh round. If you want to maintain the same roster construction in terms of position limits, just don't worry about Gordon.)

Other than that, it's pretty easy. What position player do you value the least? Is that player someone who you see as a breakout guy, or is he someone you took for his safe floor? Drop the breakout guy for Gordon, because Gordon is essentially your breakout guy.

Probably drop the safe floor guy for Gordon if you need Gordon's upside. I think there are probably certain lineups out there where you've already taken some risks -- whether on injured players or on guys who may or may not break out -- early on and used the later rounds to build yourself a solid depth chart. That might be a time to avoid Gordon.

Anyway, y'all, it's officially Josh Gordon time again. Get hype, or...maybe don't get super hype, but at least be somewhat excited by Gordon's elite upside.

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