Today is my birthday and the Patriots got me arguably the best present I’ve ever received in Josh Gordon. The first game I ever watched was the 49ers vs Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV in 1990 when I was 9 years old. The only thing I can remember was thinking Jerry Rice was the coolest thing I had ever seen. He was fluid, gliding across the field with what looked like relative ease and had 7 catches for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns.
From that moment on I was a Jerry Rice fan and more importantly a football fan. I have been watching and studying the game ever since. Growing up watching him and then being fortunate enough to watch Tom Brady and the Patriots for the last 18 years and the efficiency with which he works the entire field has been a big part of every fall and winter for me.
He’s done it with the likes of guys like David Givens and Reche Caldwell. Every year Patriots Nation clamors for a “legit” wide receiver 1 and every year are generally disappointed with retreads but presented with Championship and Lombardi trophies year after year. So after 2007 with Randy Moss I never thought I’d witness something like that again. But with Josh Gordon that possibility is there again and it is exciting as all hell to think about what might happen….as a fan.
But as a fantasy football analyst both here with Fantasy Hard Knocks and with some of the best high stakes players in the world at Arbour Pro, I’m a little less optimistic and here is why.
The Patriots offense is notoriously difficult to learn as some of the best wide receivers have figured out the hard way. Guys like Ocho Cinco and most recently Eric Decker have failed to grasp the offensive system in New England, one reason the Patriots have focused on high aptitude receivers over the years.
Ian Rapoport retweeted an observation made by Scott Zolak, voice of Patriots radio and 98.5 The Sports Hub, that Todd Haley was brought up in the Charlie Weis system, meaning that the base terminology of the offense should be similar:
That’s an interesting wrinkle. One reason why trading for a talented WR midseason makes sense https://t.co/8eAfLkI1xA
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 17, 2018
This bodes well for Gordon and was, as Ian stated, a likely factor in the trade. The Patriots are desperate for a deep threat after trading Brandin Cooks. That deep threat helps open the middle of the field, Brady’s bread and butter, allowing him to be more efficient and move the ball quickly.
But the offense is still far more complex than that run by the Browns and Gordon’s route tree has been pretty simplistic since his return late last year. Here is one example from week 17 of 2017 that shows what his routes have looked like since his return:
Brandin Cooks ran similar routes while here last year and had an up and down season. Overall his stats looked good but from a fantasy perspective he had 6 out of 16 games with under 10 points and that was in PPR leagues. In standard leagues that number jumps to 10 games and 12 games under 13 points. I fear a similar scenario with Gordon where he not only needs to grasp the system but also gain Brady’s trust. And lets not forget Brady has his binky coming back in two weeks in Julian Edelman and still has Rob Gronkowski.
But, you say, you could flip that information and say with all of those weapons it will only help Gordon draw single coverage. While that’s true, lets take a peak at how the Patriots and Tom Brady operate
QB Efficiency and the Patriots system
Tom Brady has never been an elite deep ball passer; He never had Aaron Rodgers arm strength. When we look at Brady’s deep ball efficiency in 2017 we see he was within the margin for the NFL average in passes to the left and center of the field over 20 yards and was above average to the right:
Sounds great for Gordon right? Put an elite wide receiver in there and perhaps those numbers go up pushing him above average over 20 yards.
But when I started looking deeper at Brady’s QB efficiency I found that he is actually below the league average in Passing Air Conversion Ratio(PACR) when his depth of target exceeded 25 yards.
PACR is an efficiency metric developed by Josh Hermsmeyer that measures how often a yard thrown in the air is converted into receiving yardage on the field. It combines signals from both catch rate and yards after the catch (YAC). If you aren’t following Josh on twitter do yourself a favor and follow him at @friscojosh and soak in all the data and great work he’s doing.
Brady and the Patriots system works and works well because they target the short field where the shorter the throw the more likely it is caught and positive yards are gained. In 2007 with Randy Moss Tom Brady was exceptional with the deep ball but we must remember Moss was a generational talent where as Gordon has not played a full season in 5 years and that one year(2013) is the year we are all holding on to.
Off the Field
All of the above does not even take in to account the human side of things. Having spent countless hours around people suffering from substance abuse and addition I can say it’s something that never truly goes away. He has landed in arguably the best spot for him. The Patriots leadership and structure will be good for him and if he has really turned the page he’ll stick in New England and latch on to great locker room presences like Matthew Slater.
We all know Gordon has missed a year on suspension and is one small screw up from being banned. He’s exhausted his chances and the Patriots will not hesitate to cut bait at any hint of an issue given the conditional nature of the trade compensation.
I’m rooting for Josh to succeed, not as a fan but as a human being. His success story could help others and ultimately save lives. Gordon is going to stretch the field for Brady and open up that short and intermediate passing game where he thrives I’m just not sure he is going to be the savior some are touting from a fantasy football perspective.
If it’s me and I own Gordon in a league and someone offers me a really good offer I’m taking it, unloading the risk, and getting myself a solid piece or pieces for my championship run. And then I’m hoping Josh proves me wrong in the end and lights up the field.